January 12, 2015

Apology

One of my aims when I started this blog three months ago was to think through my experiences in academia. In writing my experiences, I faced the question: should I name the philosophers who were part of those experiences? The few times I really thought about this question, I sensed in myself a defiant "why not?" I told myself: academics are public figures, and what I am talking about are events which happened in classes, office hours, or professional, social spaces, and if I felt pain in those moments which were due to deep structural features of my education, then nothing about those events should be hidden. I felt that I had hidden so much from myself and from others for so long, and I was intent that I would never hide anything ever again. I didn't want to act out of anger, but I also didn't want to self-censor myself.

Still, once in a while the thought would come to me, "I wonder how the people I name might feel if they read my posts?" Sensing the budding guilt of that question and intent on not feeling controlled by it, I told myself that perhaps they might feel bad, but that is the price to be paid for breaking through the silence in the profession. Sure they might feel pain, but is it any more than the pain I felt back then? I convinced myself that this wasn't me speaking from anger, but just me making an objective calculation how pain caused by my writing might be a necessity for the greater goal I was hoping to achieve.

The comments section of this post brought home to me that the above line of thinking was somewhat disingenuous. I have now come to think that so easily justifying causing others pain is itself a way of being anger. Seeing this a few days ago made me think about what I was doing on this blog. My hope has been to contribute to philosophical discourse in a way which helps to diffuse pain and anger, which enables differing sides to make progress and come to mutual respect. I believe such cathartic dialogue requires each side to not overlook their own impulses towards intellectual violence. As I realize the anger I let myself be guided by in some of my posts, I see I have let myself off the hook too easily.

I would like to apologize to the people I named on this blog who I knew personally from my time in academia. I realize it must have caused pain, and for that I am sorry. I say this not because I take back what I wrote of my experiences, nor because I think anyone expects me to take it back. I say this because I am sure it can feel like one is being attacked out of the blue, since I never told them I was going to mention our shared experiences in this way. I wrote about the experiences as if they were simply my experience. Because of my alienation and pain, and because I was still seeing them to some extent as my teachers who are impermeable, I didn't see that these experiences were not just my experiences, but our experiences, that there is another side to the story. I didn't mean to deny this reality. I am sorry if it came across as if I did.
 
I would like to apologize as well to people who personally know the people I named on this blog. As with most teacher-student relations, or interactions between senior and junior colleagues, my interactions with the people I named were a small part of their lives. Not small as in meaningless or without humanity and genuine care. But small as in I am one among many students, and teaching is one among many professional activities, and being a professional is one among many other activities in their lives. With each such expanding circle, obviously there are more and more people who share experiences with that person. Many of those people's experiences naturally capture better than my experience who the people I named are as people. What I experienced was one facet of one activity of the people I named. Certainly there are many more people who are better situated to see many more facets and many more activities of the people I named. I didn't mean to deny this fact. I am sorry for any pain I caused for suggesting otherwise.

When I write from now on of particular experiences I had in academia, I won't mention the names of people that interaction was with. One drawback of this approach is that it can foster gossip in a certain way, where people start to wonder, "Who does Bharath mean here? Is it this person or that person?" There is no way to tell an experience without giving some identifying information. For example, whether the experience happened when I was an undergrad, or a grad student or a professor. Without any identifying information, the telling becomes watered down. However, the combination of some identifying information and some information withheld can lead to some readers caring more about who actually I mean than what I am saying.

But for two reasons I have come to see that not naming is the way to go. First, as mentioned above, naming causes pain which it is better to avoid. And second, this blog is meant for non-academics, as well as academics. And for non-academics it is generally irrelevant whether this or that professor is who I mean. This gets at exactly the kind of discourse I would like to contribute to, one where the issue is to talk about broad scale structures of academia, and not individual people. Non-academics, precisely because of their distance, are actually much better in a way at focusing onto the structural features. There is a kind of natural egalitarianness to their thinking. They might think that this university is more prestigious than that university, but they are oblivious, in a wonderful way, to whether one actually means this or that professor. Just as names would be somewhat immaterial to me if I was being told about office politics, or even more important issues, at a place I didn't know anything about.

In deciding to not give names anymore in describing my experiences, I wondered about my old posts and what I should do with them. I contemplated deleting them or leaving them with the names taken out. The first option seemed too extreme, and I feel the second option would change the tenor of the posts in ways which I am not sure about. So my commitment is for how I will write of my experiences from now on.

Just to be clear, what I say here does not mean I won't name people I have known when discussing their writings or activities in their roles as public intellectuals. If I talk about the ideas of one of my former teachers or colleagues, there might be an instinct to think that there I am again with an axe to grind. But I hope the way I will write in those instances will make clear, even when I am disagreeing, that I am focusing on the ideas.

Also, in the experiences I have been recounting on this blog I don't think I have been personally wronged, as in more wronged than anyone else in my education. I don't think the people I named did anything morally wrong, not in the sense that they as particular individuals are to be held accountable. However, I am not sure what a person should do in terms of naming people when the situations concern egregious, morally culpable actions such as sexual harassment. I think that requires hard decisions which can vary with the context and the situation.

1 comment:

  1. Bharath, you're an honorable man. Thanks for your post.

    ReplyDelete