Tuesday, March 15, 2005


I've been having a conversation with someone named Erik in the comments to this post on nomadic ethics, and he says something I'd like to engage more fully:

"I think that academics need to contribute actively again to a moral and ethical vocabulary that allows us to speak of actions in ethical terms and create arguments for a different way of living in the world and relationship to those around us and outside our immediate community that is beneficial to everyone ... And I don't think the vocabulary D&G, as well as other post-structuralists, have built up is capable of carrying that. Their insistence on movement doesn't allow this sort of evaluative judgement."

First of all, I do think that the obligation of all critical academic work is to embody and promote responsible thinking that facilitates good judgment. But I abhor universal morality, and I honestly don't believe that any particular individual, group or class of people should get to decide for everyone what constitutes "responsible thinking" or "good judgment". This means that my politics are inherent in my work, and that they are just that: my interests. I hope to be able to convince some of their value, but I don't believe I aspire to have them applied in all scenarios for all people. I don't want to be totalitarian or even a benevolent dictator.

Currently working through the politics sections of my dissertation, I have found it helpful to return to Mary Zournazi's Hope: New Philosophies for Change. I agree with Erik that post-structural thinking can come too close to absolute relativism for comfort. I mean, given the too often dismal state of world affairs and real lives, I hardly want to suggest that anything goes! I think we really do need to have hope returned to us. Or at least be reminded of how it has always been part of living.

I guess what I'm saying is that I think that rather than being told what is right or wrong, we are more in need of being convinced that we can actually change the world. In my students, for example, I sometimes see a profound indifference that shares more in common with defeat than apathy. I don't want to compel them to act out of righteousness, I want them to act because there is still hope!

In this sense I really do need the nomadic (or mobile, or contingent, or contextual) types of ethics that appear in D&G and others. I want to focus on possibilities and potentials. I want to work with the idea that we are always becoming (more, less, other). That we are not done yet. That the battle has not been lost. Of course this is risky - our very lives depend on it - and the bad guys will no doubt win a few more clashes yet.

So yes, I believe that we should - and can - make a better world. And in deciding what better worlds can be, I believe we need the freedom to explore new desires and to change our minds. I believe we need to know we can change. I believe we need the ability to be many as well as one. I believe that we need to understand we have to get back up after being forced down. I believe we need hope.


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