Update: still thinking as more and more people affiliated with the issue contact me . . .
Early this morning I had a conversation with a close friend about the importance of community responsibility or common good. What prompted the discussion was a telecast of Hardball, where Chris Matthews poked holes in Guiliana’s national disaster insurance plan by claiming that people who did not live in disaster prone areas of the nation would never agree to subsidize those who do. His example was the people living in Ohio who have to contend with large amounts of snow vs. the people who live in Florida and deal with hurricanes. He argued that people in Ohio might want Florida to underwrite snow plows or worse, feel that Floridians should move to higher ground. The Republican respondent seemed horrified by his mock callousness and reminded that we are one nation and we should all be invested in caring for its common good.
As we discussed the importance of common good, we cited examples of how we in N. America have lost any sense of connectedness primarily from the realm of teaching k-grad. We couldn’t quite pinpoint how many different venues teach and then rely on an individuality that in its essence is like the twix commercial, “two for me and none for you.” What we could see however was that the lack of community responsibility extends across race, gender, sexuality, etc. in N. American culture. At the same time it is neither universal nor new; meaning that there have always been self-interested people in the world but that the number was now high enough to drown out the others, the others still being there to drown out.
This conversation took many turns:
- the vote for me even if I have to wreck the party to win
- the parents who do not teach natural consequences to their small children
- the people of color who engage in minstrelsy on television and film
- the people who complain about the homeless, the working class, etc.
It came back to me just now, precisely because I just put the common good ahead of my own. I am invested in the success of Ethnic and Women’s Studies Programs particularly at schools where female, queer, and of color students have low retention rates. I see them as a place to remind those students that they do belong in the intellectual world and that people like them have contributed to that world in the past and are currently doing so. I also think that these departments/programs ensure a more diverse and competent standard of learning for the entire university by ensuring that theories, literature, histories, methods, etc. are approached from multiple vantage points and contributions. Finally, despite the argument that studies programs are less intellectually rigorous than other programs, I would argue that they are the pioneers of interdisciplinarity, intersectionality, and most of the critical theories that have changed the face of traditional and non-traditional disciplines alike.
As someone who takes a critical eye to my interdiscipline, and the inter/disciplines it intersects, I also recognize that their can be issues within any given department or program that often reflect our particular operating milieu as well as that of the universities in which we are housed. I am disconcerted when I find students are unaware or encouraged not to be invested in studies programs for instance. I worry about the number of lines, who is advocating them, what kind of support is going into them, etc. I also have serious concerns about insularity, which is a common tactic under oppression, when exogamy might lead to a wider scope of ideas. I worry when these issues lead to people getting hurt, abused, or discarded . . . I worry when it leads bright young minds to walk away. I’ve worked very hard to make sure that collateral damage is always minimized and that spaces of discussion and respect are always open.
But what happens when these two things are in opposition? What happens when someone hands you the smoking gun just after you have been shot? Do you choose the common good or your own?
I am neither stupid nor naive, though I play both quite well. Though the common good has fallen out of fashion, and though it costs quite a bit these days, I still choose it. But I am curious, dear readers, what you would do?