The World As I See It In Pieces: Part 3
I'm sympathetic. I'm also empathetic. I have both of these feelings for the purveyors of standpoint theory and the project they claim to be working on. I'm less empathetic to the project they appear to be working on, but more sympathetic than they might actually be willing to admit. But I have no patience for standpoint theory, and there are two reasons for that that have nothing to do with their various philosophical problems. The first is strategic. The second is textual.
The strategic objection is as follows: 1.) Standpoint theory holds that knowledge from a specific standpoint in a socially situated universe of all knowledge is necessarily delineated by the social privileges that a person enjoys by their relative position "in" or "out" of the dominant power positions in that society. 2.) As such, it contains with it a claim that empathy and sympathy are impossible generally, and in particular are not possessed in sufficient quantities by members of dominant social groups BECAUSE OF THE FACT of their membership in dominant social groups. 3.) This amounts to a claim that all members of dominant social groups are deficient in the nature of their being in a very important way. 4.) When members of marginalized groups advance this theory it feels to members of the dominant group like an insult and an attack, because it is one. 5.) Tactially speaking, it's unlikely to win many converts when every conversation begins with a cutting insult directed directly at the potential converts very soul.
The textual objection is more myriad and less analytical. Beginning with the strategic problem, it's simply not good rhetoric to be rude and dismissive of the core features of a person a writer hopes to persuade to see the world differently. But more, in fact the issuance of standpoint theory, coming as it did out of second wave feminism and then adopted unquestioningly as methodologically valid by third wave feminists, was always part and parcel of feminist epistemology. Epistemology is hard stuff. It's the kind of thing that only philosophers spend time talking about because only philosophers have the time to tease out all the little pieces of an argument that make for nuanced and realistic presentation of an argument. This is the state of analytic philosophy, a textual medium that requires specialized readers engaged in a specialized academic and decidedly apolitical discourse. However, most people will encounter standpoint theory not out of the mouths of Sandra Harding or bell hooks, but out of the mouths of stoned bobos who latched onto the jargon of standpoint theory as dilettante undergrads without understanding the meaning of that jargon. This peppers the radical left textual isotopy with various calls for straights, whites, men, and the middle and upper classes to "interrogate their privileges" or address their own complicity in patriarchy, oppression, capitalism, sexism, racism, colonialism or whatever ism is currently being attacked. But because these calls emit from a theory that has been stepped on heavily and repeatedly. The resulting vulgar standpoint theory leaves political texts infected with all the worst rhetorical qualities of the more sophisticated theory, with none of the insight and nuance of those theories as advanced by their proponents.
Moreover, more often than not these textual markers will come in conjunction with someone prone to histrionic tantrums about how wounded they have been. Such histrionics have often learned to turn their own membership in marginalized social groups into a shield against all criticism. Criticism will be seen as patriarchal, as racist, as classist, as insensitive to whichever marginalized group the histrionic is currently identifying with. This prevents the histrionic from having to engage in social discourse and effectively short circuits the conversation with a full deontological stop. Because it shuts down discourse and does so by insulting the other in the conversation, this returns to the tactical problem with the theory. Because there are marginalized social groups. And it is important to listen to them and try to understand what their experience is. Because empathy matters, is important, and we all need to use it more. But when the movement to do so is associated violently and angrily with someone who as a particularly loud and unavoidable voice, leaves such a bad taste in your mouth about it, it can be easy to and forgivably so to leap to the conclusion that ALL members of this movement, as opposed to the social group that it supports, are out of their goddamn minds and just aren't very pleasant people to begin with.
And that my friends is no way to win hearts and minds. Go back to Sun Tzu. To Che Guevarra. To the classics of asymmetrical warfare. Nowhere in their advice will you find anyone saying that your main force should charge the heavily fortified gates of the city in broad daylight and armed with little more than tinfoil armor and lead flatware. But that's what Standpoint Theory does.