Daphne Patai on ‘Dispositions’
December 20, 2005
In this age of challenging binaries, polarities, and other fixed categories, it would be hard for most academics (adhering as they do to postmodernist intellectual games) to defend equating “social justice” or a “progressive” disposition with their particular politics (in opposition to some other purported politics) without falling into major intellectual contradictions. Classical liberals have no trouble making such distinctions, but few adherents to a “social justice” or “dispositions” agenda these days would label themselves as classical liberals.Given this reality, one obvious way of undermining current campus orthodoxies is for students to use their wit and ingenuity to act on their own visions of what “social justice” or a “progressive” agenda might be. I.e., since when is fighting censorship not progressive? Or defending high intellectual standards and refusing to reduce them all to politics? Or working for some political party that may not be the one supported by one’s professors? Is there anyone in the country who does not believe their own politics promote “social justice?” It’s not the label, but its definition—which have been narrowed in a way incompatible with genuine education (vs. indoctrination)—that is the problem. Why should students (or anyone) allow an institution to determine which of their activities, dispositions, and endeavors are appropriate to someone else’s understanding of “social justice?” To capitulate to this seems to be giving up before the fight has even begun.So, next time students are told they must participate in a “progressive” internship, promote “social justice,” or have their “professional disposition” evaluated—I propose that they not waste time challenging the labels but focus quickly on their own definitions of such activities and proceed to creatively comply with the assignment. I’d like to see a school actually punish someone who complies with the schools’ apparent demands but infuses them with their own politics and ethics. This would certainly be a clarifying exercise.