Our Indian government need not proselytize to offend the religious feelings of the people, for when confined to its most strictly civil functions it will do so equally. And so it has been found already in the few feeble efforts that have made to establish civil justice. Our mistake has lain, not in making these efforts, but in fearing to make them with a high hand. We have indeed been playing a double game. In our treatment of the Sepoys – first in raising them from the highest case, and allowing them (as well as the Zemindars) to ill-treat and oppress the people of lower caste, second in cherishing their idolatry – we have governed like heathens, while in abolishing the burning of widows, and allowing converts to inherit property, we have governed like Europeans, and have even sometimes let in a little Christianity by the back door. It is this appearance of two-facedness especially which conveys the notion of weakness to the native mind, while at the same time it evokes that murderous feeling of suspicion, which in conquered nations and Orientals is the parent of internecine war.—T.H. Green "British Rule and Policy in India" (undergraduate essay, ca 1857), in Miscellaneous Writings, Speeches and Letters" (edited by Peter Nicholson), p. 24.
Outside (though not completely so) the circuit of the international division of labor, there are people whose consciousness we cannot grasp if we close off our benevolence by constructing a homogeneous Other referring only to our own place in the same of the Same or the Self…It would also question the implicit demand, made by intellectuals who choose a 'naturally articulate' subject of oppression…This benevolent first-world appropriation and reinscription of the Third World as an Other is the founding characteristic of much third-worldism in the US human sciences today." Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak,(1988) "Can the Subaltern Speak?" 84 (see also: the "ferocious standardizing benevolence of most US and Western European human-scientific radicalism (recognition by assimilation.)" (90))+
Derrida is hard to read; his real object of investigation is classical philosophy. Yet he is less dangerous when understood than the first-world intellectual masquerading as the absent nonrepresenter who lets the oppressed speak for themselves."--Spivak (87)
A very youthful Green (recall yesterday's post) is writing in the context of the 1857 Indian Revolt.* While he is very critical of the manner of British Imperialism (the "double game" and "two-facedness"), which facilitates enhanced oppression of non-favored castes, in this youthful piece he does not question the fact of of British rule. On the contrary, there is an undeniable hierarchical ethnocentrism (European vs backward 'native' minds)—the "Orientals" seem to have essentially "murderous feeling of suspicion." If anything, the piece proposes better government for India by reforming it toward a "European" style of government with impartial rule of law and more room for Christian proselytizing (and, more offending of "the religious feelings of the people" and less "cherishing" of "idolatry"). If we only focus on Green's embrace of imperialism and ethnocentrism, we might miss the benevolent and humanitarian impulse; after all he takes great pride in "abolishing the burning of widows;" that is to say, we might easily imagine, if we could resurrect Green, him responding (anachronistically) that, perhaps, as things turned out British rule was all things considered bad, but that we should not ignore the ways in which the cause of, say, universal human rights (including freedom of religion) had been promoted by colonial attempts to spread 'civilization.' After all, Green is proudly calling attention to the ending of – and I turn to Spivak's description -- the practice in which the "Hindu widow ascends the pyre of the dead husband and immolates herself upon it…the abolition of this rite by the British has been generally understood as a case of 'White men saving brown women from brown men.'" (Spivak, (93)) Green's remarks are notable today, in part, because 'Western' intellectuals and governments have not lost their appetite to impose their 'benevolent' views on others, and, in part, that our governments, international organizations, and even many NGOs continue to support policies that, promote sometimes with the most noble intentions, the "double game" throughout the world (see this commentary by Saba Fatima on the Nobel award to Malala Yousafza).
Spivak's "Can the Subaltern Speak?" challenges, among many other things, the human and common philosophical impulse among the educated to take upon oneself the task of theorizing and speaking on behalf of others; to be an advocate is a noble task, of course. But it can easily slide into noxious paternalism, or 'the expert knows best,' where one's own incentives and complicity (in the division of labor) are happily obscured. This is a familiar enough to reflective people; yet, there continue to be impatient improvers who think that it is fine for others, especially, to pay some price of their humanitarianism as long as the net benefits work out nicely [by their chosen measure(s).] Since these are themes in my own analytical egalitarianism, it is no surprise to regular readers that I note Spivak as a fellow-traveler (she got there first)!
Spivak also diagnoses the danger of privileging what she calls "'a naturally articulate' subject of oppression." In what follows, I limit myself to a reflection on how (professional) philosophy is implicated in such a danger. While my self-limitation does not do full justice to Spivak's paper, this is also part of the point of her piece, which, notably, is also a defense of Derrida (and a sustained criticism of the "prophets" Deleuze and Foucault).
Luckily, there is now also some literature within professional philosophy in which the harms consequent of the intermingling of such templates and (tacit) bias is explored in professional philosophy (Saul) and how we should start thinking about some such forms of epistemic injustice (Fricker), including what Yap calls "epistemic credibility."*As a blogger, I have belatedly recognized my own complicity in victimizing those victims in our community that lack 'voice.' This is not merely a theoretical point; I have not let some of the real victims speak on my blog because of my policy of not allowing anonymity. My 'sorry' rings hollow then, doesn't it?
Spivak, who has a thing or two to say about epistemic injustice back in 1988, challenges because she shows that I do not simply get off the hook by the occasional strategy of letting "the oppressed speak for themselves." For, this, too, involves making space, primarily, for the articulate and those with a recognized professional identity, and, ultimately, leaves the structure of philosophy and its reliance on social and professional institutions that reward some practices over others unchanged, and unchallenged.
And, so, I confront the problem of Derrida, again (recall Khan's stutter; and this post). When I became a professional philosopher, I was taught (recall) to believe he was a charlatan. And, indeed, his writings resist the kind of uptake of, say, Nietzsche that we now see in the profession and of the sort that Foucault and Deleuze are undeniably capable of generating; it's just very hard to domesticate or naturalize Derrida, in part, because he is "very hard to read." We have no such intolerance for Williamson's writings (although no less difficult to those that -- due to the division of labor -- lack the advanced training in modal logic) because they promise us a new science and provide us with projects. One not-so-subtle-bias in our profession is that we are more inclined to read and listen to those that promise us science than those that are alert to the injustices promoted by 'science;' we embrace the assortoric demand, that is, if you cannot put forward or assert a claim you are not 'productive,' and undermine the search for consensus; by contrast, we do not invest (alas!) the time to acquaint ourselves with those that recognize "cautions" (Spivak (89)).
As I indicated, Green's position (recall) is not far removed from Derrida. Even so, Green's demand for self-honesty finds too little space for the 'quite-other' (tout-autre) within each of us that Spivak (89) appreciates in Derrida. Green's is ultimately the call of the (greatest) impartial spectator and the moral law rather than, for lack of a better word, recognition of that which does not fit our desires (for beauty, justice, common humanity, taxonomic order, law, power, the articulate, etc.). Even though Green was effaced in the history of analytical philosophy, we did not move beyond his limitations and we refuse to see so because, in part, we construct Derrida as beyond strange.
+I am grateful to a student in EIPE, Rotterdam, for calling me back to Spivak's paper during Q&A at a paper presentation.
*I have benefited greatly from reading an unpublished piece by Audrey Yap, "Ad Hominem Fallacies and Epistemic Credibility," on the role of fallacies in "credibility judgments" (in a legal context).