In my previous post I state how from now on I won't name people when writing of my experiences. Of course, this issue would be moot if I didn't write about my experiences at all. One might say, "Why talk about your experiences? What is the point? Do philosophy. Talk about the ideas. Be strong, and move beyond your particular experiences." I think this is implausible both personally and philosophically.
Personally, sharing experiences is a way of building community, highlighting commonalities, engaging in practices of cathartic release, and often shining light on aspects which might otherwise remain hidden and buried. To share experiences is to articulate them, and to articulate them is to gain power over them, rather than to feel stuck in having the experience passively.
Philosophically, I think if people don't share their experiences and feel that that they are being heard, then that affects how intellectual discussion itself happen. One way to make progress is to start with sharing experiences, and then working towards broader intellectual issues in the course of trying to understand and engage with each other. If one doesn't in a vulnerable way share one's pain, that pain doesn't magically disappear. It gets articulated into whatever modes of communication are available, and if the only modes of available communication are intellectual debate (such as colloquia or seminar discussions), then the pain will get channeled into the way those debate happens.
I believe this is why often academic philosophy debates can seem harsh, pointed. It is not because there is something warrior like about rational conversation. It is because academic philosophy doesn't have many institutional structures for sharing the various kinds of pain one might have in academic contexts, and so they get channeled into the way one asks questions, responds to objections or puts down opposing views, etc. In this way, pain that hasn't had a chance to be processed or expressed in other contexts contorts the ways in which intellectual conversations themselves take place. Human interactions are human interactions. Whether they take place in conferences, offices or living rooms. If family members doesn't have a way to express and process their pains, they will take it out at the dinner table or on family trips. If colleagues don't have a way to express and process their pains, they will take it out, in subtle and not so subtle ways, in classrooms, faculty meetings and blog exchanges.
As I see it, this is one reason why institutional structures like What is it like to be a woman in philosophy? are so necessary. Expressing pain is natural and healthy. And structures which enable people to share their pain are inspiring because they show that we can survive the pain, and that our institutions can become better the more we listen to each other's pains. Physical structures in departments are needed to facilitate similar processing. I am starting to understand that perhaps much has happened on this front in the last five to ten years, much of which I might not have been mindful of given my own situation. And that's really great.
I think the lack of structures for expressing pain also explains the anonymous blogs where discourse can break down so easily and there is a lot of venting. For it is not only women who have pain in the profession. And not only minorities. Or those who are disabled. And so on. Everyone has pain. And everyone, irrespective of the identities they have, can have pain in different ways. No two women's pain might be the same, nor two minorties' pain. If the only structures for expressing pain are those defined along identity lines (spaces where a minority group can seek comfort against a majority group's insensitivity), I think even as those structures help, there will be more and more forms of repressed pain, and so more forms of aggression. A white, male at a top school can have pain in his interactions in the profession: perhaps his papers keep getting rejected, he thinks he is not good enough, he feels guilt for the privileges he does have, he worries that he is himself part of the problem, as if he personally, with his privileges, is holding others back, and so on. To say this is not to justify the status quo structures, as if everyone's pain is the same. But it is to say that as long as there aren't structures for expressing pain which are open to everyone, there will be patterns of repression and aggression.
One reason I didn't express my pain and reach out to others better when I was in academia was because I didn't see any structures where I could talk about what it was like to be an Indian-American in a mainly white profession. But it was not the only reason.
Another reason was that I didn't know if really I qualified as someone whose pain could be justified, and so worth expressing or being listened to. Yes, I was Indian-American. But I was also male, straight, at top schools, came from a middle class family, and so on. What I was not sure of was how I could express my pain, or reach out to people, given this mix of identities I had. A part of me would want to express some pain, and another part of me would tell me to get my act together and not be such a baby, and to realize how many people had it so much worse than me. I didn't know if I really belonged to a minority or to a majority. Was I the oppressed or the oppressor? Or was I both? And what would that mean? I didn't know. Like trapped animals growling at each other, the different voices in my head snapped at each other, sometimes this voice cowering in the corner, and sometimes that voice, sometimes these two voices ganging up against that weak, lonely voice, sometimes those these two voices standing up to that group of voices and so on. Over time I got used to this interminable, internal fighting, until it seemed like nothing more than the natural state of affairs, and a kind of numbness became my standard state.
Ultimately, it was as a way to get beyond the numbness that I left academia. For over time the numbness spread to parts of my life beyond my professional identity. It affected me as a husband, a son, a friend, a neighbor, and so on. The more outwardly things seemed fine, even wonderful, as if there was no reason for me to have a care in the world, the more the numbness took hold of me and started to suffocate my sense of self and my creativity. I wanted out just to feel alive again. To go into fresh air where I wouldn't have to be defined either by the normal Eurocentric philosopher identity, or a contrasting Indian-American philosopher identity, as if I had to pick just one of those two, as if as a philosopher I had to choose one of these two uniforms and pick which side of the battle I would be on. I didn't want to choose. I hated having to choose. And I hated the battle. I was tired of it, constantly fighting as I was that battle within myself.
As the numbness wore off little by little over the past few years, one of the first emotions to rise up was anger. While I was numb, the anger had become buried. But now it was suddenly freed, and I started to remember painful memory after painful memory. I had never quite forgotten the memories, but when I was in academia I had experienced them with a general sense of passiveness which was my normal mode. Now, however, the memories were the same, but I was experiencing them in a new light, as if they had gone from black and white to color. Mainly, I remembered them with a new sense of agency, as if something could be done about them, that they didn't have to be experienced passively. It was invigorating, exciting. It felt like though I had long assumed I was mute, it turned out I had the ability to talk all along.
Nonetheless I didn't want to be defined by that anger. So in writing this blog I have tried to be motivated by the anger without quite channeling it. I am now understanding that this is a process, and that I have channeled that anger in some of the ways I have written. I want to be mindful of this, and to not keep doing it. For I feel that what is ultimately cathartic is sharing the experiences, and the best way to build long term habits of sharing experiences is to do it in a peaceful way.