I spent the weekend in Alexandria, VA, and came away wondering what the heck Peruvian chicken is and isn’t a restaurant named Pollo Chicken just Chicken Chicken? Funny but I’m getting the BBQ fired up this weekend to make some. Sounds delish.
We shared our motel with the Golden Crown Literary Society annual conference which looked like lots of fun. The society promotes lesbian lit of all forms. There was lots of laughing, lots of short haircuts, and lots of good looking vittles. I had a good laugh with one of the women. She was manning (a pun!) the pastry/coffee bar which was open only to conference attendees. I told her that I would gladly become a lesbian for a plate of pastry – like giving up my birthright for a bowl of stew. She was completely droll and nonplussed and shot back that I looked like any average white heterosexual old man…Not that there’s anything wrong with that! We both had a good laugh over that. And no coffee! As an outsider, it seemed good to me that these women could be themselves here. I’m sure that many come from places where it’s difficult to admit to being a lesbian, or gay, or what-have-you. I did laugh, though, when one of our girls wondered aloud about why so many women were wearing suits?
It’s this being an outsider that has me thinking. A couple of weeks ago Jerry Coyne at Why Evolution is True published a question asking Should Men Shut Up About Abortion? The post was prompted by this letter to the editor. It’s a perennial question that comes up almost anytime anyone has something to say. Should I be allowed to opinionate about lesbians? About Black Lives Matter? About abortion?
Yes and here’s why:
All of these questions have something of shared human experience embedded in them. I cannot speak to what it is to be a Christian in Iran but I can talk about what it is like to wonder about meaning. I can’t speak to what it’s like to be a lesbian in South Carolina but I know something (not much) about love and relationships. I’ve never had an abortion and don’t have a uterus but I have opinions about individual autonomy and women’s rights. I don’t want to tell anyone how they should feel but I have every right to join in to a conversation about how society deals with any issue.
Secondly is that as a member of this tribe – city, state, nation, human – I can speak to the structural components of the question. Have we institutionalized prejudice into our churches and businesses? How does the abortion industry affect the country? Does free health care and college put a greater onus on working people to pay for programs? When we dial down our differences, we finally come to a point where no one can talk about anything. How many white, evolutionist, Washingtonians born to a Slovak mother, who was known to show up at high school looking like Alice Cooper do you know? Is is fair for me to say that unless those labels fit you then you have nothing to say to me? No. In fact to silly and serves only to separate.
I also have a certain expertise which no longer means what it once did. We used to ask scientists about food issues. Now we go to Food Babe. Autism was largely a medical mystery until a party-gal actress straightened everyone out. There are certain academic areas where I am very comfortable saying that this is true. It’s not true because I say it but because the weight of evidence tilts in that direction. In areas where I am not an expert, I defer to experts. First. And check out the evidence. When I am excluded from a conversation it is usually because other opinions or other evidence isn’t welcome. This is epitomized by the Christian catchphrase of ‘God said it, I believe it, and that settles it!’ Do you think this person wants a conversation?
In the same vein, we can see that open conversation helps to stem the tide of, well, stupidity. Go here to see a proposed paper on the feminist view of glaciers (paywall). Jerry Coyne reports of a new paper published in the Dance Research Journal titled The Pilates Pelvis: Racial Implications of the Immobile Pelvis wherein the author attempts to prove that pilates – at least the ‘Single Leg Stretch’ and ‘Leg Circles’ – reveal a white, privileged, and racist bias. Should I be able to have an opinion about this? The author lectures at the University of New Mexico with the future goal of ‘deepening her work in the embodied cultural and racial issues in Pilates’. I pay for at least part of this, and happen to like pilates and yoga, so I get to have an opinion. Thanks very much for asking.
There is a caveat to all of this – I can’t speak to the feelings of these experiences. (Which is one reason I like to read fiction.) I don’t know how it feels to experience what you do – only you can know that. And you can’t know what it’s like to feel exactly like I do. The only way we can bridge this gap is if you let me in on the conversation.
So stand on your street corner or on your soapbox or in your pulpit or at your computer and speak your mind. Join in on a conversation but remember that conversations run in at least two directions. Invite other voices and opinions. Parse other views. Knowing what they are doesn’t mean accepting them. It means that you are wise to try to understand why others feel as they do. And if we no longer believe is expertise then maybe we should at least seek a little wisdom. We will all be better for it.