How Are We Having This Conversation?

Lo and behold, the New York Times has finally branched out into satire. The following interview appeared on July 2 at their Opinionator blog site:

George Yancy: I’d like to begin with an observation — maybe an obvious one — that the task of engaging race or whiteness in philosophy has been taken up almost exclusively by nonwhite philosophers. My sense is that this is partly because whiteness is a site of privilege that makes it invisible to many white philosophers. I also think that some white philosophers would rather avoid thinking about how their own whiteness raises deeper philosophical questions about identity, power and hegemony, as this raises the question of personal responsibility. I have found that it is often very difficult to convince white philosophers that they should also take up this project in their work — they tend to avoid it, or don’t consider it philosophically relevant. Do you agree?

John D. Caputo: “White” is of the utmost relevance to philosophy, and postmodern theory helps us to see why. I was once criticized for using the expression “true north.” It reflected my Nordo-centrism, my critic said, and my insensitivity to people who live in the Southern Hemisphere. Of course, no such thing had ever crossed my mind, but that points to the problem. We tend to say “we” and to assume who “we” are, which once simply meant “we white male Euro-Christians.”

Wait—stop the tape! You mean this isn’t satire? This is for real?  Yup, it is. Caputo is the Thomas J. Watson professor of religion emeritus at Syracuse University and David R. Cook professor of philosophy emeritus at Villanova University.

But it gets better. Caputo goes on to say:

I think that what modern philosophers call “pure” reason — the Cartesian ego cogito and Kant’s transcendental consciousness — is a white male Euro-Christian construction.

Like most post-modernist professors of jargon, Caputo isn’t ever clear about anything, but he appears here to be saying that reason itself is “socially constructed,” and therefore subjective or arbitrary, or something. The close corollary is that language is also “socially constructed” and just a tool for power.  Whenever I meet such people I have two questions: Why are we having this conversation—if in fact we really can’t talk to each other?  Moreover, if language is an arbitrary social construction, then how are we having this conversation? May I answer by interpretive dance instead of sounds from my mouth? Why not?

But a third question comes to mind: if reason and language are just a mask for power, and power is the real foundation for social existence, how come post-modernists don’t join the NRA?

P.S. You can skip the whole thing unless you are a connoisseur of the academic abyss, but it’s worth clicking the link to check the comments. Even New York Times readers find this tedious.

(Hat tip: Blake Neff at the Daily Caller.)

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