When Radical Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

02-10-13

In a recent blog entry by the self-titled Tenured Radical, issues as complicated as the academic and cultural campaign for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel, the “abandonment of poor people in the United States,” the “collapse of funding for public and private education,” and “half a dozen others connected to the triumph of a corporate vision for the world” are not only collapsed into all kinds of political equivalences, they are made into a kind of fashionable potpourri of causes for academics who will, ultimately and maybe even tomorrow, leave them all behind for another go at the proverbial buffet table: “Today the special is poverty. Tomorrow it will be the Sudan.”

“Perhaps it is because I don’t fully understand why I would privilege one horrendous humanitarian crisis over another,” the Tenured Radical laments, and then excuses herself from any kind of accountability to any one of the ongoing instances of imperial violence and colonial practice she names as occurring throughout the world (“the continued colonization and immiseration of the Haitian people; genocide in the Sudan; or ongoing French interventions in West Africa”). This dismissal, she explains, is on the grounds of her high moral principles: she will not be forced to pick just one of these causes as though they are the most important by joining up with their campaign–like the BDS. An act of alliance that she will obviously, ultimately and probably even tomorrow, leave for another. Nor will she be forced to take sides on any one of the “hundreds of thousands of small tragedies that few of us who live in the United States ever have to encounter.”

Indeed? “Small tragedies” in the US? I suppose not having to join international campaigns excuses one from knowing one’s own history or political moment. Like the systemic structure of imperialism indigenous peoples in the US confront everyday, one that systematically denies them their rights to self-determination in ongoing acts of genocide and dispossession.

One can, instead, write political dribble for the nation’s top rated journal on the academy and call it being radically engaged. And I suppose the lack of accountability in that dribble extends to how this kind of blog is going to be used by pro-Israelis (Zionists), in the US and internationally, who proclaim victory over Palestinian human rights every time someone minimizes the relevance of the BDS.

Idle? Know More

The biggest problem confronting tenured radicals everywhere is the presumption about and by them that they are already educated. And, apparently, being educated is the e-ticket ride out of political responsibility to anything one knows.

One of the things that has differentiated Idle No More (INM) from Occupy Wall Street (OWS) — a movement it has been incorrectly compared to from the beginning — has been its insistence on the pedagogical importance of and within the movement towards bringing about the changes it envisions. Even the four women who founded the movement did so through an all-day teach-in at Station 20 in Saskatoon that they called “Idle No More” — education towards the action needed to reform Parliament’s anti-First Nation rights measures.

The continued centrality within INM’s efforts of developing its own pedagogy is not merely about “being informed” for the sake of being able to argue with someone at a bar about First Nation treaty rights or Inuit land claims or how they are related to American Indian and Alaska Native legal rights (for instance). INM’s — pedagogy has been about an education that builds interpersonal and social relationships of responsibility — you cannot know without being responsible, within the unique but related contexts of your relationships to one another, to nonhumans, and to the lands and waters and ecosystems in which you were born and live and on which you depend for life. A pedagogy interconnected with INM’s dancing and singing–reflecting, honoring, and reinforcing relations of responsibility with one another and the earth with a view to changing those laws and social conditions that undermine them.

This is so far removed from the kind of position the “tenured radical” assumes as to be that “far far away” galaxy in Star Wars. Apparently in that solar system you can know and not be responsible.


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See David Shorter’s reply.

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