Thursday, November 27, 2008

Argumentum ad Hominem & Cultural relativism

As I review the feminist concepts from this past week, it seems that there is one determinant principle to this research model that dwarfs all others: the ad hominem argument. I would like to consider what exactly is an argumentum ad hominem, query if such an argument is valid when presenting a position, and finally illustrate this type of argument from the class discussion.

Argumentum ad hominem is a Latin phrase used in debate or rhetoric which literally translates "argument against the man." I did not make this up, nor did I intend the pun (as we shall see later). An ad hominem argument "consists of replying to an argument or factual claim by attacking or appealing to a characteristic or belief of the person making the argument or claim, rather than by addressing the substance of the argument or producing evidence against the claim" (Wikipedia). Therefore when feminists state that a certain claim is made "because x is a male (white male, black male, et al)," they are using argumentum ad hominem in more ways than one. In the first place, it is a de facto statement categorizing a claim made by a male by nature as invalid because the author is a male. At the very least, this is circular reasoning. In the second place such an argument has never been considered valid, seeing that it is based on neither qualitative nor quantitative evidence or data. Because ad hominem arguments do not directly address the claim or proposition (only the author of the proposition), such arguments are falacies. As it relates to feminism, it is an a priori premise to validate the feminist paradigm and nothing more. Therefore, if this form of argument is invalid then any parts of feminism based upon it remain indeterminate and without either authority or authenticity.

Some may say that many positions hold to a priori premises and feminism is thus no worse or better than any other. That may be so, but if feminism's a priori premises (which ultimately disenfranchise one group and take away their voice) go unchallenged then several movements of the past that have proved less that egalitarian or humanitarian based upon similar a priori reasonings (19th treatment of Native Americans, social-darwinism, holocaust, slave trade, Darfur genocide) are given a pass. This makes for strange bed-fellows.

Let's consider a case in point from class. There was a brief discussion on the Muslim Hijab which somehow morphed into long hair on women in American holiness churches. When it was suggested that possibly the women under consideration (either Muslim or Holiness) chose to wear the associated head dress, it was stated that this was clearly oppression and that only a [white] male would make such a statement. Now that, my friends, is a classic example of an ad homimen argument, meaning this: since x male made the claim and y female said it was oppressive, then ipso facto the male was in error because he was a male. The behavior as relates to women's head dress had already been deemed oppressive (whatever that means), so any argument to the contrary, especially when made by a male, is therefore invalid. But where is the evidence? Is it possible that western culture is being read into either situation to deem it "oppressive," or is it possible that only certain women consider it such. I'm really having a hard time with the connotations of oppressive. Am I being told that a scarf is oppressive to the same extent as honor killing is? Everything with which one disagrees can not be considered "oppressive" just to bolster the quantative data on female oppression. Doesn't this sort of data manipulation parallel to the girl who cried "wolf?" Now for the rest of the story.

As regards the hijab in the Mulsim world. This head dress did not derive from 7th century Muslim males (which were, by the way, not white males), but rather from the wives of Muhammad. It seems that these gals were on the par with superstars and could not leave their houses to go shopping or to the bathroom without being thronged. Therefore these women (not men) decided to go incognito, and the hijab was created. Later on some folks though that if it was good enough for the wives of the prophet, it was good enough for the common folks. Thus it was an imitation of women's customs, not male dictates. How it may have evolved in the present is another narrative. The moral of the story is to be careful with the facts and not read western culture into every situation.

In the second example, it was stated that women who wore long hair in US holiness churches were oppressed. Now that is really peculiar considering the historical context from which it derives. Neither does a hair style seem so oppressive a the self-imposed female assessories of the past such as girdle, corset, eye-liner, high-heels, chokers, etc. (but I do admit that is my own perspective and would not want to participate in gladitorial games that requires such equipment). Cultures have their symbols: iPods, blue jeans, hats, and hair. Faith communities also have symbols: crosses, menorah's, and head coverings. Jewish men wear a tallit when praying. For many years, only males did this but now it is common to see women in synagogue wearing a prayer shawl. In Christian faith communities, it has been women who wore the head coverings. Could common men wear them: not usually! From whence does this custom derive? From white male oppression or from female customs of the east? Take your best guess, and then you can proceed. In the first century Roman empire, it was common for women to have long hair, to wear veils, and to have head dresses. In the church of Corinth, St. Paul addressed this matter. Not that the women failed to veil themselves (as female custom dictated), but that some of the men were apparently copying older Greek traditions of wearing long hair like the Greek warriors in the Trojan war (Iliad). It was apparently no longer customary to do such. St. Paul asks the folks, "what are your customs." He appealed to the common life of Roman citizens in formerly Greek regions. Life was hard enough without asking for a fight. Holiness churches drew their idea of long hair on women from the same passage of scripture (1 Corinthians 11), such was common in the early 20th century, it released those women from hats and veils, and it actually states that a woman's long hair empowered her (at least in that day). Again, we have considered oppression what another culture considers empowerment, because of a failure to recognize what anthropologist call cultural relativism. Western values are not the touchstones for all peoples.


Monday, November 24, 2008

To be or not to be a feminist, et al; do such choices really exist?

I come to feminism with some of the thoughts already posited by Joel. Is feminism the new segregation? Why does this somehow seem sexist to me? I really wanted to discover that humanity had laid it's differences aside for the more significant "sameness" that we all share, but alas I was disappointed. One of the drawing cards that structuralism offered was sameness. It is not that differences do not exist, but that what we share is more significant that the diversity that we so often imagine.

Feminism wants me to see more difference, more politics, more power, more oppression, and more avenues to voice and empowerment. But I must ask, empowerment at whose expense? I can not speak for feminist, or so I am told that this is not possible since I am a male, but I am sure that females or feminist are not the only persons who have been oppressed and silenced. Neither do I believe that all silencing and oppression comes via white males, black males, rich males, poor males, smart males, dumb males, or males of any shape or color. We have somehow approved racism, sexism, and religious intolerance as long as it refers to a general, biologically non-existent, category of white males or white European males, or white European Christian males. Why do we continue to perpetrate racism and sexism, just as long as it is the phantom white male whom we imagine has all the benefits and none of the disadvantages of humanity. Even if this phantom male is guilty and without defense, is it O. K. to be racist and sexist just as long as it's "the other." Hitler could have done no better.

I asked my wife if she was being or had been oppressed in her life and if so by whom. She said she had suffered oppression, almost exclusively from other women. She claimed there were few males that a woman can not handle, seeing most of them can easily be controlled with food and sex. It was the other women that had oppressed, silenced, and disenfranchised her in nearly every walk of life, including education. She added that she had most often gotten sincere help from males of all classes and colors. Women, she said, were the problem and the chief oppressors of the species of both genders. In Chaucer's Wife of Bath tale, the wise woman says what females most want is to rule over men, not to be their equals. Do they also want to rule over other women?

I speak for myself, as an observer of critical theory. I speak as a mere human who had no choice over either race or gender as I entered the world. I personally and presently don't have any power, either over women or other males. I live with three daughters and one wife. When I got married, my wife and I split my authority 50/50; she retained all of her own. I was told by her: What's mine is mine, and what's yours is mine tool. It sounded like a fair trade to me, her company has always been worth more than my stuff. When my son was born, I did not impart any of my authority to him; he will have to fend for himself. When my first daughter was born, I divided my remaining authority with her 50/50 while my wife continued to retain all of hers. I think that left me with 25% of my original allotment. When my second daughter was born, I again shared my authority 50/50 with her, leaving me somewhere around 12% considering inflating and devaluation. By the time my third daughter was born, it left me with about a nickel's worth of say-so in my own home. I have to be really careful so as not to lose what is left.

I often read ancient texts, philosophical treatises, and sacred writings. It's my job and what I teach online. Nothing I have seen in critical theory surpasses the words of a first century Roman Citizen of the Jewish persuasion: "And [you] have put on the new humanity, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free-man, male nor female: but Meshiach is all, and in all (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:10-11). Friends, we are still far, far away from this type of "new humanity."


Monday, November 17, 2008

Multiple Annies or multiple models?

1. Do you consider this a phenomenological study (388) or using these methods constitute phenomenology? Crotty would say that it is a purely American construction to believe that anyone could have done a phenomenological study in this instance except Annie (Crotty, 84).

2. The study states that "I take up the feminist researcher's concern of honoring the voices of women, using a multiplicity of data, and starting with women's personal experiences" (388). I did not hear the voices of all four women (Annie, Candace, Sheila, & Alecia), I mainly hear Alecia's voice and Annie as a construction of Alecia's conceptual framework. I do not see how we can hear all voices unless all women are allowed to speak for themselves?

3. The article states that "Sheila did not acknowledge difference and assumed that Annie would assimilate to teach exactly like her, even though Annie's method of teaching is nearly opposite Sheila's" (393). I find this a non sequitur. Nothing in the article persuades the reader that Sheila either ignored difference or assumed that Annie would assimilate to teach exactly like her." On the contrary, what appears in the article is that Annie did not acknowledge difference and assumed that Sheila would act exactly as Candace." Neither does it follow that worksheets, tests, or lectures are poor forms of teaching, nor that they constitute teacher-centered models. There is no direct connection between constructivist ideology and modes or models of teaching (discussion, portfolio, presentations). Open discussions, whatever they are, do not in and of themselves constitute student learning, neither do other methods in and of themselves exclude student learning. The content often dictates the method, and a good teacher must master more than one teaching style. Why does the language of the article force me to see Sheila as a poor example, to see her teaching style as somehow "wrong" or that Annie must be correct in her assessments.

4. I find Annie a classic example of an Echo Boomer. Is this a correct assessment, and if not how does she differ from this sociological model.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Critical Theory: First Thoughts

Coming to post-colonialism theory the class safari fully enters into the realm of critical dialog. I come to this region with some fear and trepidation realizing the basis in conflict/warfare thesis and some of the consequences of this model from the past. It is rather easy for me to buy into liberation for the oppressed, social justice, and political empowerment, but then I realize an unforeseen caveat, a sort of Pandora's jar or pot (it was really not a box folks). What is hidden under the lid of this pot is not hope, but rather vested/conflict of interest.

On the one hand, critical theory does seem to focus on the oppression of the masses. On the other hand, the masses seem to be faceless and individuals are rather expendable. So critical theory is willing to empower the masses while at the same time disenfranchising the individual. I believe that it is important to consider that the revolution often proposed by critical theory, either social, economic, or military, does not propose to liberate all people, but only the oppressed of a certain sort, usually economically oppressed or those on the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Should we be satisfied to offer humanity bread and circuses, considering the task accomplished? What of those who are spiritually or ideologically oppressed, those who lack transcendent purpose, and those who oppress others because of ignorance? I would consider all of the foregoing candidates for liberation, though usually not the liberation of which the revolutions of the past have focused. Maybe humanity does not live by bread alone and possibly those who are well fed, clothed, and housed also suffer a type of oppression that is beyond the ken of current critical theory with its monolithic and myopic origins. What if by liberating a few spiritually they in turn would use their means to liberate the masses economically, forgoing the cruel and bloody revolutions that dogged the so called liberators of the past.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Action Research

I must admit that I had a change of heart concerning action research after the in class exercises and discussion. Here was my initial problem: I had so many red flags (no pun intended, well maybe a small pun) go up when reading the Cammarota article that I saw this methodology in far right of Methodologies. I knew the remaining authors did not fall into the Cammarota camp, but I was still a little gun shy thinking that these guys were going to start another revolution and get us all shot. At such crossroads in philosophy, I usually quote "Won't get fooled again" by the Who: Meet the new boss, same as the old Boss! It was a great relief when I discovered that Action Research seemed to fall across models, tending to be more on the method side of matters. Vachel's presentation clinched the format for me.

After that epiphany, I have found Action Research to be a liberating and time saving ideology. It also tends to function much along the lines of phenomenology, allowing the participants to tell the story. It made me begin to imagine ways to incorporate Action Research into some of my more time consuming methods of inquiry.

If there are many ways of knowing, many truths, and no Truth, it makes no difference whether one takes the red or blue pill; one fellow's poison is another's potpourri. It only makes a difference in a universe of hierarchical values where it is possible to make good and bad choices.

Action Research project in my community:

My wife is the music director for a UMC in Hickory, NC. She is always wondering what songs folks want to hear & sing. They have used a questionnaire in the past, but then someone has to tabulate the data. After we did the fish/rock activity, I got this idea of a simple way to get the same data without the intervening days/weeks of compilation. Do the fish chart, but write favorite songs in the fish and bad songs (ones folks don't like) on the rocks. If folks like the same song, they could trace around the fish and make it bigger. The same would go for the rocks. Folks could do this as they walked in the auditorium and the results could be used in just a few minutes. I guess folks could also use Jacob's ladder and stumbling blocks if they wanted biblical allusions to the exercise. I wonder if I could market the idea to the folks who sell the rights to the songs/music?