Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Shriver incident

Lefty identity politics and emphasis on victimhood can obviously be a silly pain, especially at Universities, and it seems there is finally some mainstream push back against "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" in the US. (And perhaps here, given the complete lack of the media defence of the s.18C aboriginal claimant in the QUT case.)  I tend not to dwell on this a very serious matter - I suspect that most students can get by happily enough by ignoring the activists on campus, just as I used to ignore whatever the socialist students called themselves back in the late 70's and early 80's when I did my degree for free.  (I lucked out during that window of opportunity.)  

But I'm a bit surprised to not see more publicity given to the recent  kerfuffle at the Brisbane Writers Festival, when Lionel Shriver got stuck into the silliness of recent complaints about cultural appropriation. 

It apparently did not go over well with many in the audience, and an account of the talk and its aftermath made it into the New York Times. 

Now, I've dissed Shriver a bit before:  she is on the eccentric side (although I think she freely admits that), and I thought her complaint that people treat libertarians (as she claims to be) as kooks was wrongheaded, given that many of her stated positions in the same article were not actually typically libertarian.  But The Guardian printed her entire Festival speech, and really, it is extremely hard to see what's objectionable in it.  (I suspect that she might pay to be a bit more skeptical of the details of some of the reports of "cultural appropriation" incidents on US universities; but that's just my hunch that the media sometimes exaggerates the degree of seriousness of individual incidents.  But this is a minor quibble to what is basically a well argued case.)

And, let me say, that the readers of The Guardian do themselves much credit by also (as far as I can see) agreeing with her by a substantial majority. 

What I think is lacking is enough admission by writers and literary figures who are Left inclined (and gee, probably 90% of them are) that some of their fellow authors and commentators have just gone too far, and need to come back to something approaching common sense.  But can't say I'm noticing much of that...


TimT said...

Yes, unfortunately leftist reaction to this seems to have been based less on Shriver's speech than two irate blogposts which didn't really characterise the speech well, and a general feeling that somehow appropriation is wrong. In doing so they went against something they'd generally defend - the independence and integrity of authorial imagination. And their attempts at compromising these two positions were rather unfortunate; they claimed that authors needed to 'do their research' or 'be aware of the nuanced debate' - all nonsense! As Shriver made perfectly clear, her job is *fiction* - making *everything* up.

Steve said...

Here's another comment from Mayan hat Blogger blocked, for no clear reason. I've got it from my email version:

I left a comment at Crikey (my reading tastes are all over the place):

While it is true that people know their own experiences and thoughts better than anyone else, what happened to empathy?

The problems with people blithely dismissing accounts from minorities are obvious. However, the dangers of dismissing empathy as a tool for understanding, and placing those accounts on a pedestal, where there is no opportunity for interaction with them, is also dangerous. Taken as competing forces, they displace the chance of understanding with the spectacle of opposites screaming at each other, with their fingers in their ears. That lessens us all.