The other day Wrangler linked me to a story about an academic dean (or something like that) who recommended that male professors "enjoy" looking at their female students--as a kind of job perk, sort of. We started a short dialogue:
Casey: Isn't [the dean's] mistake... only a matter of saying so... ? I mean, was there ever a time when a man didn't look? The last question, "Should Kealy be allowed to have his fun, or..." -- I mean, how are they going to stop him from looking?Wrangler: Yeah, I hear you. But he has to know better. The social, cultural, and institutional power dynamics in play here just SCREAM "don't press send."Casey: Definitely.
And it seems the Wrangler is happy to leave it at that. I've got a few more thoughts, tho'. Let's start with defining the "social, cultural, and institutional power dynamics":
Social power dynamics: I assume here Wrangler means things like the consequences that follow when a person refuses to follow well-established social mores. Everything from losing friends to being blacklisted to cold stares and so on.Cultural power dynamics: it might be okay to ogle your students in Russia, but not here.Institutional power dynamics: if you want to keep your job and get tenure, and this topic comes up, keep your mouth shut (or agree with whatever your female colleagues are saying).
And I take it that this is a good example of what a good practicing Rhetorician would do. He or she would say all the right things -- would end up making lots of friends and influencing lots of people, and probably even getting promoted a year early. Around these kinds of delicate maneuvers, an academic discipline has organized.
Is it really necessary? FLASHCARD: "You're in a meeting and your boss farts. Do you a) pretend not to hear, b) make a light-hearted joke to help them through the embarrassment, or c) say, "Jeezus, woman -- that is disgusting."
So Rhetoric can give me a sense of what kinds of things I should or shouldn't say given a certain set of social, cultural, and institutional power dynamics.
Anything missing here? Any five-letter word beginning with T, ending with H, and containing "RUT" in the middle?
I'm mildly frustrated by the fact that a Rhetorician looks at an issue like this and simply says, "Well, a good way to avoid negative consequences is to... either lie or shut up." Isn't that so obvious as to not require a discipline?
Let me get to where I'm going. I'm imagining the publication of a popular book in the field of Rhetorical theory in the year 2012 that contains the thesis, "If Jesus would've simply avoided saying he was the Son of God, he probably wouldn't have been crucified."
Really? Isn't that a pretty obvious "duh?" Doesn't that overlook the issue itself, which is whether or not he was the Son of God? Doesn't "negotiating" social, cultural, and institutional pressures without an eye and ear for Truth somewhere between vapid and unethical?
And finally, No, the Rhetorician cannot get him or herself off the hook by deconstructing Truth. I know that Wrangler, at least, has a precise understanding of what I mean by the term in this case--he said as much in our dialog: "I hear you. But he has to know better." So it's as clear to Wrangler as it was to the sketchy professor that men have ogled women since the beginning of time, but Wrangler's essentially willing to pretend that his eye is not attracted to the skirt in the front row... so that he doesn't have to suffer the social, cultural, and institutional pressures. I'm not blaming him or accusing him. I love him for being willing to drag this into the foreground. He's not alone in his playing pretend. But.
What a fucked up life we're all living when we've come to this.
N.B. -- I understand how wildly idealistic this is. I understand that Truth needs to be balanced against discretion. I don't blame those who don't want to be crucified for telling the Truth (I'm with them), but I don't like that we pretend that it's a difficult term or that there's no such thing. There is such a thing, and we all lie about it.