Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil: education, humiliation, and learning to be together.
Imagine, if you will, a certain scenario. A common interaction with, perhaps, uncommon features that might say something about silences, sightings, knowingness, and the potentialities of being human together. Jim, in the set up, is an ordinary father, if there is such a thing. He is harried by life's demands. He is conscientious, hard working, a rule-follower. He takes great pride in fitting in, in "making the world as it should be," in knowing his children. His son, Daniel, is twelve. Daniel is slow. He is not slow in intellectual understanding or in social interaction. He simply lives at a different pace of life. Daniel notices things. He can walk by an old dilapidated house, one toward which we might not offer a second glance, and notice a cat on the porch, a broken window that looks like a crescent moon, and a gray pipe sticking out of the grass. Insignificant items, and yet ones of which Daniel is acutely aware. In our scenario it is a typical Monday morning. Jim is trying to get himself and his children, Daniel included, out the door to school and work. Everyone is ready and standing at the door, but Daniel, as usual, is conspicuously absent. Jim barks down the hallway, "hurry up, Daniel. We'll be late!" After a minute or two, Jim walks down the hallway to Daniel's room. There is Daniel, still stuffing things into his backpack and at the same time trying to find his second shoe. Jim impatiently hurries him along, rushing all out the door to their places of destination. Another harried morning, complete with the annoyances of Daniel lagging behind, but accomplished, completed, passed over.
Our scenario, to this point, seems not all that unlike the routines of modern households around the world. But here, let's imagine a turn. Jim, as he travels home from work later that day, reflects on the morning. Why this reflection? For any number of reasons, but as he does his attention is drawn toward the frustration he felt toward Daniel. "Daniel is always lagging behind." "He seems to live in a distracted world, never really 'getting down to business.'" "What will I do with this kid?," Jim wonders. At this same moment, Jim begins to ask other questions, "I wonder how Daniel felt this morning when I was rushing him out the door?" "I wonder if he picks up on my frustration toward him?" "I wonder if the tensions of rushing out the door occupied his thoughts today, as they have mine?" When Jim arrived home, he sought out Daniel and asked him about the morning. "How does it feel when we are hurrying you out the door?" Daniel's reply was at the surface. "It makes me feel bad. Everyone else can get ready on time, but I'm always late. It makes me feel like something's wrong with me." This response sparked another thirty minutes of dialogue. Jim and Daniel talked about the fact that running late did not mean that Daniel was "bad." Perhaps he was simply operating on different premises of importance. Daniel noticed things. That slowed him down. Getting ready for school that morning he may have noticed an aspect of the picture on his wall that he hadn't before or a hidden compartment in his backpack. Paying attention to those details ate up time and made him late. Jim and Daniel talked about the possibility that this "noticing" was important. While many others may arrive at their destinations on time, how much had they missed of life along the way? So the conversation continued. In the end, Jim and Daniel talked of the importance of time constraints, but also of the unique wonder in Daniel's ability to notice the world as he walked along the road. In this exchange we can imagine a shift in relation. We anticipate a connection, a closeness created by seeing and hearing. But, more than a simple connection might we also anticipate a shaping of lives, perhaps even character, by the ways Daniel and Jim were together?
Among the many possible discussion points within this scenario I would like to focus on three. In the initial exchange between Jim and Daniel, Daniel's voice is missed. Jim simply deems Daniel "late." What might be the cost to Daniel of having his voice silenced? We also notice, in the second exchange between Jim and Daniel what we might call a "seeing." In other words, Jim began to see Daniel in a new light, not simply as someone he needed to "get in line," someone who needed to conform, but someone who might have a variant, yet valid, story. What, we might ask, is taken by us when we are seen and what might we gain in the act of seeing another? Finally, we notice a normed world, especially in Jim's reaction to Daniel's lateness, but also in Daniel's assumption of "being bad" because of that lateness. In other words, Jim had a concept of the "way the world should be" and we can imagine Daniel's lateness threatening the world as known by Jim. Why, we might ask, do we become uneasy when the world around us does not conform to our conception of the way it should be? I would like to raise three questions, hidden, yet embedded in this scenario, that might help us to understand its importance both to Jim and to Daniel. Simply put, my questions regarding this scenario are: What is the cost of being silenced? What do we gain when being seen? Why are we afraid of unknowingness? These are simple questions and yet they find profound influence on the ways we are with each other and the ways our lives are shaped in interaction. They find focus in non-humiliating educational practice.
The Cost of Silence
The point is that there are critical areas in the shadows, critical silences in the social worlds we study. They are there not because we are few in number and sources are recondite, but because the attentions of anthropologists and historians tend to follow the visible wake of the past, ignoring the quiet eddies of potentially critical material that form at the same time. (Cohen 1994, 118)
David Cohen in the above quote alludes to the making of history and the quiet "eddies" that one often overlooks. His premise is that those "shadows" have as much to say about what is taking place in a given situation as do the more front and center elements. We witness in our opening story an instantiation taking place. Daniel in this process is named (i.e. he's always late) and silenced (i.e. there is no room for another explanation, he simply is late). Even if Daniel would have protested with loud cries, a silencing is still evident. (1) What might this silencing of Daniel do to or in him?
Avishai Margalit in The Decent Society seeks to outline a world in which institutions are non-humiliating. "Humiliation," for Margalit, "is any sort of behavior or condition that constitutes a sound reason for a person to consider his or her self-respect injured" (Margalit 1996, 9). Margalit focuses primarily on those larger institutions in society and the ways they limit or rob self-respect, but many of the concepts he wrestles with can nonetheless help us think about Jim and Daniel. Especially helpful here is his discussion of "subhumans." Margalit asserts that there are many ways in which we treat others as "nonhumans." We can treat those around us as objects, as machines, as animals, or as subhumans. It is important to understand that, unless we are pathological, we do not actually believe that another human being becomes a machine or an animal. The argument here is our propensity to treat the other as if she were an object or a subhuman. In this process the humiliated is deprived of two things: inclusion in the "human commonwealth" and a sense of control. It is this sense of control, this sense of agency upon which I focus here.
But, before we speak of agency, I continue with Margalit's understanding of the subhuman. He uses the farewell speech of Mikhail Gorbachev to tease out human interaction.
Mikhail Gorbachev's sad face at his farewell address was not literally sad. It was Gorbachev who was sad, literally--not his face. Seeing Gorbachev's face as sad means seeing it as expressing sadness. Seeing a human being as a human means seeing the body as expressing the soul, as Wittgenstein put it. In other words, it means seeing the human body and its parts in the mental terms they nonliterally exemplify (in either a secondary or a metaphorical sense). We see persons as human when we see their expressions in human terms: this person has a friendly or a thoughtful face, a worried or a happy expression. (Margalit 1996, 94)
In a sense, in simply seeing the body, overlooking the "expression of the soul" one becomes human blind. "A human-blind person sees humans under a physical description without the capacity to see them under a psychological one" (Margalit 1996, 96). For example, we see a photograph of a group of people. We might see the people depicted as simply "pictures," or we might consider them as actual people only reflected in the photograph. If the latter, the picture becomes a mirror turning our attention toward the humans it depicts. We might also consider the example of the objectification of women by men. Seeing a woman only as a body (i.e. size or shape of her breasts, the color of her hair, the shade of her tan, the size of her waist) renders one blind to her "human aspect." Women become simply an arrangement of shapes and colors and these men, concurrently demonstrate that they are "human blind." Here, the woman is not actually mistaken for an animal or an object. The perpetrator is aware that she is a human being. But, she is diminished in his eyes. In essence she is overlooked.
It is exceptional to see human beings as nonhuman. Yet it is easy to avoid seeing a person at all. This is an easy task whether it is intentional or nonintentional. Overlooking people does not necessarily mean turning one's gaze away in order to avoid seeing those one does not wish to see. Overlooking human beings means, among other things, not paying attention to them: looking without seeing. Seeing humans as ground rather than figure is a way of ignoring them. (Margalit 1996, 101)
We might imagine our scenario with Jim and Daniel through Margalit's lens. Certainly we would conclude that Jim knew Daniel was a person, was human. We also notice that Jim did not "ignore" Daniel in a physical sense. In other words, Jim pursued Daniel, hurrying him along as he lagged behind. But, might we notice Jim seeing Daniel as a problem rather than a human being? Daniel became something to fix, an element to adjust, so all could get to their destinations on time. We might say that Daniel, as a human being, was ignored, while his lateness moved to the foreground. Daniel, we might argue, was seen as "ground" (i.e., a problem to be fixed), rather than "figure" (i.e., a person to understand), and in that process was both ignored and silenced.
The question, then, for our purposes (i.e., in understanding the cost of silencing) is, "what happens in or to the "subhuman" in this process?" What is taken from the other in this overlooking? In part, in this process of subhumanizing another person, we take away their agency or, in other words, we silence them. Elisabeth Young-Bruehl in The Anatomy of Prejudices asserts that many intrafamilial child molesters act with an "ideological prejudice that children do not have minds, memories, or sexual feelings and thus are a blank space where feelings can be put-they will not be hurt. The child must be "other" for an incest barrier to be overridden, ignored" (Young-Bruehl 1996, 228). In a sense, Young-Bruehl argues that to the molester, the child, becoming subhuman, ceases to exist. But what of the perspective of the child? Young-Bruehl, in speaking of the narcissistic personality, asserts one possible silencing outcome. The "victim's" response finds reference in a "lack of confidence in individual power and willingness to achieve power by submitting to another's power, by joining or just imagining a group, enjoying reflected glory, living in the light of other people's celebrity" (Young-Bruehl 1996, 232). We see here the case of the victim losing identity and beginning to exist only as an extension of those around him or her.
In our first encounter, as Daniel is confronted with his lateness, we notice a monologic interaction. Jim speaks. Daniel is silent. Jim does not, in our scenario, explicitly tell Daniel that he is bad, yet we can imagine Jim's frustration with Daniel (as one who lags behind) being transferred into Daniel's psyche. Daniel's words surface this internalization. He feels bad. He is late. He is not like everyone else. Something is wrong with him. He becomes what another views him to be. For Jim, lateness is bad, it is frustrating, it needs to be corrected. Daniel needs to be fixed. Daniel, here, loses his own identity and begins to exist as an extension of Jim's opinion of him. In a sense, Young-Bruehl raises for us the issue of existence, pointing out the loss of subjectivity in such monologic encounters. Moving, with this understanding, back to Margalit's picture of the "subhuman" we begin to gain a clearer picture of the cost involved in silencing another.
Jim, frustrated with Daniel's lateness, barked down the hall, "hurry up Daniel. We're late!" In this exchange, beyond tone of voice or even words that were used, we can imagine a shift in Jim's view of Daniel. Daniel moves from a person, to "lateness." He is overlooked as a human, seen yet not seen, and, in fact relegated to a subhuman category. He becomes not "Daniel," but the reason for lateness. In the exchange there is no address, no initial dialogue, no reciprocity. (2) Daniel's "voice" is silenced. (3) And in this process of monologue, Daniel, as a character, as a human, essentially ceases to exist. It is often in the making of the "other" subhuman that we silence their voice and that their subjectivity, their humanity is diminished, initially in the eyes of the "master," then, by inference, in the eyes of the "slave" as well. But, in this exchange, we recall that neither Jim, nor Daniel, actually believes that Daniel is not human. He, indeed remains human, but is shifted to a "subhuman" form, in which agency or control (his voice) is forfeited. In this we catch a glimpse of Margalit's understanding of humiliation. As Daniel is shifted to the shadows, the periphery of humanity, he becomes a diminished human, without a voice, thus removing room for self-respect. This removal from full-fledged humanity is humiliating on a personal, or individual level (i.e. I am subhuman), and also on a larger, sociological level (i.e., I am not included in the larger realm of humanity). We now turn to the question of seeing and being seen and what is given, or taken, in the process.
The Exchange of Being Seen
As Wilde saw, if education is to be, it must aspire to be a kind of art compared to which everything else seems inconsequential. Accordingly, all that educators have going for them is a sense of responsibility, at once cultural, social, historical, and political, that is accountable to no useful measure. It cannot be reduced to a formula such as Does x result in greater or lesser collective happiness than y? It only tells us that if we are not doing our best to create dissatisfaction among them [our students], we may be efficiently serving our customers but we are most certainly not doing our job. (Cottom 2003, 206)
In dialogue, by allowing Daniel to move from subhuman to human, a voice was given. Existence was acknowledged. Daniel moved from being a shadow of Jim, to a human being with some degree of agency. In this exchange I would argue that Daniel also was "seen." In other words, Jim came to understand a process of internalizing in Daniel that had theretofore been hidden. We now ask, "what is given in 'seeing' another?" And, "what is passed over in not 'seeing'?"
In Equals, Adam Phillips embarks at one point on an interesting and telling discussion of "madness." He asserts that the "mad" like the criminal demand attention. "It has been assumed that, like criminals, we must do something with them [the mad] or they will do something with us" (Phillips 2002, 77). When one sees another not "acting by the rules," not acting rationally, not understandable, we call them mad, or crazy, or nutty. In this naming we do at least two things. We remind ourselves of what it means to be in the normal group (in which we are surely included) and we create distance between ourselves and that which threatens our normalcy. From a psychoanalytical perspective Phillips elucidates this propensity:
The word mad is normally used about someone when their sociability begins to break down, but in a way that seems to endanger sociability itself (no one understanding what someone is saying, everyone feeling intimidated by someone).... Talking about madness, in other words, is a way of talking about our preferred versions of a life; of what it is about ourselves and our societies that we want to protect and nurture (if we can), and what it is about ourselves and our societies we would prefer to be rid of (if we can). (Phillips 2002, 79-80)
A friend of mine works as a water aerobics instructor. A few weeks back as the class was preparing to get underway, Handel's Messiah began playing through the pool's public address system. This is not unusual as music is constantly boomed through the system and the holiday season was at hand. As the music started one of the workers at the pool caught the attention of the class. This particular pool employee was in his teens and has Downs Syndrome. In a secluded spot, yet visible from the pool, this young man began to conduct as the music played. He conducted and danced with great passion and freedom. As his arms waved he became oblivious to any other person or activity in the building. The refreshing freedom and passion of this act brought the water aerobics class to tears. At the conclusion of the "performance" the class spontaneously burst into applause, the young man bowed, then continued on with his work. What allowed for this response, especially from those watching? Certainly if a forty-year-old man with no "mental challenges" performed a similar rendition one could imagine a degree of discomfort and awkwardness in those watching. I would argue that the "otherness" created by Downs Syndrome allowed this young man his "madness," to be free of inhibition at that moment, not necessarily in his own mind, but in the minds of those in the "audience." Madness, in a sense, has to do with what is acceptable and what is not. And, those who are mad must be cast outside of the commonwealth of humans.
Phillips asserts that "inhibition is a person's cure for conflict" (Phillips 2002, 60). In a sense we might argue that inhibitions make one acceptable, because if we were to act on our passions we might begin to conduct to Handel's Messiah in a public place. In doing so, unless we had an excuse ("oh, that's cute, he has Downs Syndrome") we might be cast out from "the community" as mad. And so, we hide behind inhibitions that we might be acceptable, subconsciously or consciously limiting our public self. In a sense our inhibitions work to create a preferred image of ourselves. I would argue that this image is partially for our own benefit, but is also for the "world out there" that we might not be relegated to madness. As Phillips clearly argues, "because when we are talking about inhibition we are also talking about the kinds of people we want to be and fear turning into" (Phillips 2002, 64).
Daniel Cottom in Why Education is Useless also provides illumination here. Education, drawn typically with utilitarian lines, often seeks to enforce conformity. Cottom contends:
Perhaps most important in the present context, a devotion to utility is also responsible for the corporatized rhetoric of evaluation increasingly brought to bear upon higher education in recent decades. This is the rhetoric of accountability, of outcomes assessment, and of consumer satisfaction with the educational product. (Cottom 2003, 165)
Education becomes a means to an end. It becomes, in some sense, not about seeing, but about producing products of a certain sort. It becomes not about questioning, but about conformity. It becomes not about conflict, but about inhibitions. Inhibitions, then, have to do with conformity, with a certain kind of product. That conformity finds its focus, I argue, in a need for inclusion in what Margalit terms the "commonwealth of mankind."
In what Margalit deems his "skeptical justification" for respecting human beings, we find non-humiliating relations centered in the idea of humans recognizing one another as part of humanity. This recognition, or inclusion, becomes foundational in creating space for self-respect. Margalit asserts that, "although self-respect is an attitude you may have toward yourself, it depends on the attitude of others toward you" (Margalit 1996, 124). He continues:
Even if the humiliated person has no doubt that she has incurred an appalling injustice, whereas she is just as human as anyone else, she cannot ignore how others treat her in shaping the way she regards herself. This is because the attitude of others, however base they may be, is required for determining what defines the commonwealth of mankind--a commonwealth that there is value in belonging to. (Margalit 1996, 124-125)
Margalit makes this sense of the "commonwealth of mankind" more specific by discussing what he and Joseph Raz call "encompassing groups." These groups are defined by six attributes. First, an encompassing group maintains a "common character" and a "common culture" that involve many aspects of life. Second, persons growing up in this group "acquire the group culture and possess its special traits." Third, belonging to the encompassing group is a matter of "mutual recognition." In other words people belong to it by the fact that other members of the group identify them as belonging. Fourth, self-identification rests on this sense of belonging to the group. Fifth, inclusion is a "matter of belonging rather than achievement." Finally, encompassing groups are large. They are anonymous groups (e.g. nationalities), often with no face to face identification (Margalit 1996, 138-140). These groups take many forms or shapes, yet all maintain a sense of "belonging." If the encompassing group is attacked, the self esteem of the group may be lowered, but one is not necessarily humiliated. But, Margalit argues, humiliation does occur when one with a legitimate right to belong is rejected from the encompassing group (Margalit 1996, 141). While our scenario with Jim and Daniel does not involve, per se, a larger encompassing group, in some ways we find similarities. Just as silencing another is a diminution, not "seeing" another brings the possibility of exclusion from belonging to the commonwealth of humanity.
It is being cast outside that we fear. Our inhibitions keep us from being posited as mad, as "other." Conformity allows inclusion, but we must ask, "at what cost?" We return to Jim and Daniel. Notice the inherent distance in Jim's opening question: "How does it feel when we are hurrying you out the door?"--when we hurry you. The distance is obvious. Daniel is other, he has been, in a sense, cast as mad. At this juncture we find two, of many, possibilities. Typical, and as indicated in Jim's initial response ("what will I do with this kid?"), is the move to conformity. In order for Daniel to move into the "commonwealth of mankind" he must conform. He has been cast as other. He feels it concretely and is called to renounce his "madness." In conformity, though, what might be lost? While Daniel may simply begin to notice less and pass over more, becoming more timely, these aspects of his uniqueness must be repressed and discarded. He is diminished and, though now acceptable to the "commonwealth" one might argue that in this diminution he is both humiliated and not seen.
Our scenario follows, though, a different path. Through dialogue, Daniel moves from a subhuman to a human. He comes to "exist" in both his and his father's eyes. Through this dialogue Daniel also is seen. Jim, through a simple questioning of the situation, begins to consider Daniel in terms other than conformity. As Daniel expresses his sense of his own lateness ("It makes me feel like something's wrong with me"), Jim is able, with Daniel, to illuminate a picture that allows Daniel back into the "commonwealth" from which he has been banished. Daniel's lateness isn't necessarily bad. In fact there are reasons for that lateness that might be considered valuable. Daniel's attention to detail as a possible cause for his lateness is raised to the surface. Rather than simple conformity, Daniel is seen. What is taken by or given to Daniel in this encounter of being seen? Daniel moves from being a "you" to an "us." I would argue that this inclusion is at the heart of non-humiliation. Granted, this is an easier case than, say a rapist or of a Nazi regime that systematically exterminated millions of innocent Jews. These crimes are horrific and there is no suggestion here that they should be seen otherwise. My simple premise is that in the act of "seeing" the other we gain the possibility of including them in the commonwealth of humanity. As to whether some should be cast from that community, I will leave to another essay. Here, I simply assert that in the ways Jim and Daniel were together, a seeing occurred and something was given. What was given was inclusion, the very thing inhibitions seek. The difference here is that for Daniel, inclusion was not based on conformity, but on being seen. Jim allowed Daniel to step outside of a propensity for inhibition (I need to conform by being on time or I'll be cast outside), he wasn't passed over ("noticing," though it results in me be late, is important), and in the process of being seen (Jim communicating to Daniel these dynamics), he was included (I may be "mad" but I'm brought inside). Self-respect was given in that "seeing." And I would argue that this inclusion becomes as important for Jim as it is for Daniel because this questioning involves the terror of "unknowingness." We now turn to the question of fear, and why it is that we try so desperately to shape the unknown and banish the unfamiliar.
The Terror of the Unknown
In Nicholas Orme's detailed account, Medieval Children, we find a colorful picture of life in the eleventh through sixteenth centuries. Granted his evidence leans heavily on the upper echelons of medieval society (the majority of extant records are from royal households), but we find in this period a profound sense of conformity. The processes of medieval birth and "arriving" illustrate this point. Specific events ordered the arrival of a baby. Birthing in this time period was fraught with peril. Typically supernatural help was called upon through the use of relics or some talisman of blessing during the pregnancy. Spiritual preparation by means of prayer was solidly a part of the birth process. Parishioners in York diocese in the later middle ages were encouraged to pray "that God comfort them [birthing mothers] and deliver them with joy, and send their children Christendom [baptism] and the mothers purifying of Holy Church, and release of pain in their travailing" (Orme 2001, 17). Hidden in the words of this prayer was the understanding that babies must be baptized immediately (the unbaptized were barred from heaven) and the hope that the mothers live long enough to be "purified" in church (forty days after birth). Orme continues to outline the guidelines of baptism, of naming, the role of godparents, etc. His work underlines the structure of church and family life of medieval times, bringing a sense of the rigidity of place and practice in this time period. Life, it seems, was not so much chosen as dictated. Living in the twenty-first century we collectively breathe a sigh of relief that we walk in lands of freedom, not bound by church, family station, or oppressive norming.
Yet, in like manner, Jim, we might imagine, carries with him a certain conception of "how one should be." In other words, being "late" means certain things, and those who are late are certain kinds of people. Jim certainly is not a late person and he works to make sure Daniel conforms to his view of how the world should be. Christian Smith, in Moral, Believing Animals, while not specifically addressing the seemingly strict confines of medieval life, would argue that we today are as equally storied. Comparing modern society to the primitive "myth-making" societies of yesteryear Smith summarizes the literature on narrative that suggests that we too, "huddled around our televisions and computer work stations," tell and are made by stories.
The point here is not that modernity's story is false. Narratives, myths, and fables can be true, in their way. The point, rather is that for all of our science, rationality, and technology, we moderns are no less the makers, tellers, and believers of narrative construals of existence, history, and purpose than were our forebears at any other time in human history. But more than that, we not only continue to be animals who make stories but also animals who are made by our stories. (Smith 2003, 64)
In explicating the stories that humans both make and are made by, Smith articulates the view that larger narratives drive our sense of morality, our sense of identity, even our sense of interaction. In this understanding we must conclude that our lives are storied by various, and at times, conflicting narratives. For example, a mobster lives within the larger narrative that a "good person" doesn't take the life of another. This same mobster also may live within the more specific "family" narrative that reads: "if someone takes the life of your friend, the 'honorable' thing to do would be to repay them in like manner" (Smith 2003, 13). We are shaped by similar, at times conflicting, stories that order our world. One asks, then, if we are storied by the norming narratives of culture, where might we find any sense of agency? Can we change our story? Smith indicates that because these larger narratives are only imperfectly embraced in our lives, and perhaps because of their conflicting natures, we find some "wiggle room" to re-narrate our lives.
Medieval children were storied. Our lives as twenty-first century humans are storied. The more important question is not so much which story is true, but, in education, how can we share common human life together given that we operate within differing narratives? Smith asserts that as "moral, believing animals" our task is not to find the one true story. Instead, the work involves learning how to be with each other, given our differing narratives. "This is the challenge of civil pluralism." (Smith 2003, 92)
Here I return to our initial question of this section, "why are we afraid of 'unknowingness'?" By "unknowingness" we might lean on the ideas of Buber (Buber 1965) or Bakhtin's "novel" verses the "epic" character (Bakhtin 1984) or Lear's psychoanalytic understanding of not allowing for curiosity or surprise (Lear 1998). By "knowing" here, I simply mean approaching the self and the other in ways that are predetermined. Knowing means I know who you are, I know who I am, and I know what the world is like, or at least how it should be. Bakhtin's epic character is static, defined, and predictable. His novel character is evolving, moving, and filled with potential. By "unknowingness," then, I suggest a world which is yet evolving. Concepts such as lateness, rather than saying who one is (i.e. a slacker), do indeed tell us something, but we are not quite sure what until we allow others the space to be other than we have predetermined them to be. I argue, here, that we most often seek to create worlds that are "known."
Returning, then, to our question in this section, "why are we afraid of 'unknowingness'?" We find help in Young-Bruehl's work on prejudice. At the heart of prejudices, according to Young-Bruehl, is a move to depict both the self and the other in certain ways. One might say that we "story" ourselves and others. But, my question here is, "Why?" Young-Bruehl, transforming Freud's concept of libidinal types, argues that prejudices are not singular. In other words, certain types of personalities carry a propensity toward certain installments of prejudice. Foundational to this discussion is the assertion that prejudices fulfill certain needs and desires within the prejudiced person. Ethnocentric prejudices are present-oriented differentiations of "groupness." We find a likeness here to Margalit's encompassing groups. This type of prejudice is based on the fact that "you are not like me." It involves the "practice of putting ones own ethnos or group (however one defines it) at the center of the world, or the culture, as well as at the center of one's attention, and it encompasses negative judgments toward one out-group, or toward a few, or many or all out-groups" (Young-Bruehl 1996, 185). This type of prejudice depends on "existing group identifications" and works to further them. The "in-group" becomes central and all others are found wanting. From this Young-Bruehl proposes a second category of prejudices that she calls "ideologies of desire" or "orecticism" (from the Greek meaning desirous or pertaining to the desires). These "orectic" prejudices are situated not in the present or the concrete (you smell different than me), but in a fantasy vision of how the world "ought" to be.
Orecticists, by contrast [from ethnocentrics] think more dynamically, more futuristically. Rather, their entire experience is colored with restlessness and a feeling that things are not--not yet--as they should be, could be, ought to be. They work constantly, in fantasy or in fact, at getting their world to conform to their visions, the images of their desires. The instrument of their work is their imaginary group, the group they bring into being by wishing it so. (Young-Bruehl 1996, 193)
Prejudices, then, become defenses. They become tools of storying the world in such a way as to bring stability and security. Orecticists designate themselves and others in certain ways. These designations allow for certain conceptions of the world and the self to stay in tact. "I know who you are and as long as you stay in that role, I am not threatened." We gain from this ordering of our world a way to identify our "enemies" and ways to keep them from "polluting" us. Prejudices move, then, from simply being a way of controlling others, to a means of making sense of the world for ourselves and of assuring our place (usually highly regarded) within that world. They also become mechanisms of control for our own lives (i.e., "I cannot be one of them, so I must behave differently"). In the same way as Jim was reacting to Daniel's lateness, he was reacting to his sense of the ways in which the world makes sense. Daniel became "one of those" who is always late (usually because of a litany of "othernesses"--they're lazy, uninterested, unintelligent, not on the ball, don't have it together, etc.). Daniel must be cast as "other" in order to preserve Jim's conception of an understandable world. And more importantly Daniel must be known, categorized, and corrected so as not to threaten Jim's status within the world as he envisions it. Young-Bruehl concludes that this distancing between ourselves and "the mad" allows us to put the other "beyond the point of being threatening" (Young-Bruehl 1996, 235).
Judith Butler reminds us that in conflict, specifically verbal conflict, we suffer a loss of context. In other words when confronted with the other and their otherness we can lose sight of where we are. "Indeed, it may be that what is unanticipated about the injurious speech act is what constitutes its injury, the sense of putting its addressee out of control" (Butler 1997, 4). This insight mirrors Young-Bruehl's concept of prejudices. When we are confronted with another story (Daniel is always late) it can unanchor us from our own narrative (lateness is bad), thus calling us to cast the other as "mad" (we think you are late) and in that distance, continue to keep our story (being on time means we're "on top of it") in tact. So, in a sense, we come at life "knowingly" in order to keep our narrative, and more foundationally, our own lives from becoming unanchored. Unknowingness means the world might not be understandable. Unknowingness means that we might not be understandable. And, like the orectic, the terror of allowing our fantasy to not be "true" drives us to force reality into our mold.
Phillips becomes a helpful lens again at this point. He asserts that "wherever the nature of an exchange has been decided in advance [knowingness] there is something called oppression at work" (Phillips 2002, 87). Pointing to the fact that subconsciously we never "quite know what we're on about," and that as we normalize "our experience--living as though we are more or less familiar to ourselves, in a more of less familiar world," Phillips asserts that our lives, in fact become more troubling as need becomes more hidden. Needs unmet, Phillips argues, disfigure the humanity of the one in need. In elucidating the writings of Emmanuel Ghent, Phillips suggests the benefit of "unknowingness." Ghent offers us a conception of need as something we didn't know we had "until someone happened to gratify it, or validate it" (Phillips 2002, 123). Ghent tells of a patient of his who was in his office recounting an event. The office was drafty, so rather abruptly Ghent arose, and covered his patient's legs with a blanket. He continues:
As I sat down I noticed, to my surprise, that she [his patient] was sobbing silently. It was the first time in our work, by then over two years in duration, that there was any indication of distress, pain, or even sadness. After some time, her first words were, 'I didn't even know I was feeling cold', and then she wept profusely. The event was a turning point. (Phillips 2002, 124)
It was only after Ghent met her need that his patient discovered her need. In this sense, to begin to see our needs involves an understanding that we may not "know" what they are. In our attempt to narrate the world in ways that make us feel secure, in our propensity to include the familiar and cast off or pass over the "other" might it be that our own story becomes frozen? When we cut people down to size and make them fit, including ourselves, might we forfeit dialogue, might we instill inhibition, and might we in our "knowingness" miss the opportunity to meet needs thus deforming both ourselves and others?
Our fundamental need, Ghent says, is to be able to live in a way that enables our needs to come to light. It is notable that when Ghent gives, as he quite often does, his own list of basic needs--to be known, penetrated, affirmed, recognized, nurtured, etc.--they all describe facilitation not prescription or foreknowledge; these are not instrumental actions to known ends. (Phillips 2002, 140-141)
This, then, brings us full circle in our opening scenario with Jim and Daniel. Jim initially assumed that Daniel's need was to learn to be on time. That was the narrative that Jim lived within. Helping Daniel conform would allow Daniel to be brought inside, but would also allow Jim's world to stay in tact. The surety of knowingness (being on time is a measure of success or brightness or whatever) kept the terror of unknowingness (i.e., if timeliness is not the measure of success, what is? And what does that say about me?) at bay. But, as Jim began to allow unknowingness ("I wonder if Daniel picks up on my frustration?" "I wonder how Daniel felt as we were rushing him out the door?") an allowance was made for the surfacing of need. While Jim might yet argue a need for timeliness in Daniel, the need for inclusion of Daniel also was surfaced. In fact, as the patient in Ghent's office, Daniel may not have been aware of that need until it was surfaced in dialogue with his father. In becoming unanchored, through conflict, a new narrative was written by both Daniel and Jim.
Education, Humiliation, and Learning to be Together
Often education focuses on the more public and obvious components of learning. Teaching method, curriculum, classroom control, teacher training, so forth, loom as key aspects to good education. The importance of these more obvious structures of pedagogy cannot be underestimated. The argument of this paper, not discounting these aspects, finds reference in the more hidden eddies of educational interaction. I argue that the ways we are together allows for an education (both positive and negative) that is often overlooked and allows current pedagogical practices a propensity to humiliate. By examining the scenario involving Jim and Daniel I have intended to surface the subtleties of relation, its propensity for humiliation, and a way of being together that might foster positive formation. Character, the soul, identity, lives are shaped in the crucible of interaction and, as educators, we must not pass over the subtleties of those processes.
In the interaction between Jim and Daniel I have hoped, first, to assert the cost of silencing another. As we treat others as if they are subhumans, as if they are simply a "blank space" for us to fill up, we eclipse the possibility of dialogue. In this monologic of the subhuman the subject is diminished, her voice is silenced, her existence threatened, and the possibility of being seen is lost. When silenced, agency is stolen, and humiliation results. As Jim returned to Daniel, seeking his voice, Daniel became more fully human, complete with voice and some degree of agency. In this interaction existence is validated and self-respect becomes attainable.
In the interaction between Jim and Daniel I have hoped, second, to elucidate what is given in being seen. Inhibitions are means of putting forward our acceptable selves. This acceptableness is targeted in not being deemed "mad." Being cast as mad designates us as an outcast from the commonwealth of humanity. Conflict, when someone is acting mad, is often solved by a move to conformity, not a desire to "see." When we are not seen, or seen only through our inhibitions (fitting in, but knowing it's a sham), we are cast outside, though carrying a legitimate right to belong, and humiliation is the result. As Jim returned to Daniel he asked, "how does it make you feel when we are hurrying out the door?" Inherent in Jim's question is the understanding that Daniel is mad, he is outside, he is not "us." But through dialogue Jim begins to see Daniel not as simply "lateness," but begins to see reasons for that lateness that might be considered valuable. Rather than pressing for simple conformity, Daniel is seen and in this sight, is welcomed back into the commonwealth of humanity. In this interaction inclusion is offered and a new story becomes a possibility.
In the interaction between Jim and Daniel I have hoped, third, to touch on the terror of unknowingness. We are storied at multiple levels. We both make stories of ourselves and are storied by the norming voices around us. In fact those stories give a sense of stability. Prejudices become a tool to force the world to conform to our visions, the images of our desires. Inhibitions, as Phillips asserts, become a cure for conflict and prejudices become a mechanism of stability. But this knowingness fosters oppression as it freezes both ourselves and others, passing over deeper needs of identity, removing the possibility for change. Humiliation is the result. As Jim thought about Daniel, he began to ask different questions of him. "I wonder how Daniel felt this morning when I was rushing him out the door?" "I wonder if the tensions of rushing out the door occupied his thoughts today, as they have mine?" As they talked, Jim, rather than demanding conformance to his ideal of lateness, allowed for a different story to emerge. Perhaps this unknowingness was unanchoring for Jim (i.e. how do I judge if lateness isn't the measure) and for Daniel (i.e. being on time matters), but I argue that it is the avenue that allows for a life to be re-narrated, to change. In this interaction a new story emerges for both Jim and Daniel and transformation becomes a possibility.
Simply put, seeing offers dialogue. Dialogue demands unknowingness. The surprise of unknowingness allows room for transformation. Hearing, seeing, speaking, and the "evil" of the unknown find themselves at the heart of educational interaction. Perhaps as educators it is in the paying attention to the eddies of the ways we are with each other that allow our students to become fully human, to be drawn in, and to change. What is the cost of being silenced? What do we take when being seen? Why are we afraid of unknowingness? These questions become significant in our quest toward non-humiliating educational practice. They reveal the ways we are together and the significance of those relations. What is given and what is taken in the interactions of a parent and a child, of a teacher and a student? Perhaps more than we often see.
(1) This is not to say that Daniel does not have agency to think differently, but only to illuminate the inherent power dynamics between father and son. I contend that all relations include elements of power and inequality and often in those interactions silencing is evident.
(2) Mikhail Bakhtin argues that "two voices is the minimum for life, the minimum for existence," (Bakhtin 1984, 252). Allowing for the "voice" of the other, according to Bakhtin, makes room for the subjectivity, thus the existence, of another.
(3) While certainly this "silencing" does include an actual voice one might also imagine it including any kind of communication from Daniel to Jim that is both heard and acknowledged. In other words, a communication from Daniel that brings with it some sense of agency. This subjectivity allows one to move from being a subhuman to a more substantial form of existence.
Bakhtin, Mikhail (1984). Problems of Dostoevsky's poetics. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Buber, Martin (1965). Between man and man. New York: Collier Books.
Butler, Judith (1997). Excitable speech: A politics of the performative. New York: Routledge.
Cohen, David William (1994). The combing of history. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Cottom, Daniel (2003). Why education is useless. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Lear, Jonathan (1998). Open minded: Working out the logic of the soul. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Margalit, Avishai (1996). The decent society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Orme, Nicholas (2001). Medieval children. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Phillips, Adam (2002). Equals. New York: Basic Books.
Smith, Christian (2003). Moral, believing animals: Human personhood and culture. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth (1996). The anatomy of prejudices. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Ronald B. Jacobson
University of Washington
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|Author:||Jacobson, Ronald B.|
|Publication:||Journal of Thought|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2005|
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