One of the benefits of of studying Philosophy (aka ‘the history of ideas’) is developing the ability to consider things in the abstract. That is to say pointing to something as symptomatic of a larger/bigger truth. You might point to a potholed road, for example, and use it as an example of local councils being underfunded. Or you might point to the lack of diversity within a company and use it as an example of a structural problem with the tech sector. In neither case are you attacking the worker who has come to fix the pothole, or the company that is trying to do better in its hiring practices.
What I’ve noticed often happens in these situations is that there is an undue focus on the specifics of the situation. This leads to the wider issue either being dismissed or ignored. I’m not sure if this is a deliberate tactic or not. For example, someone might reply that the reason this particular road is potholed is because there are people driving inappropriately on it, and anyway there are more important things for councils to be spending their money on at the moment. Or someone might reply that this particular company might not look ‘diverse’ but, hey, there is more to diversity than skin colour, and anyway everyone knows there’s a problem with the tech jobs ‘pipeline’, right?
As a result, nothing happens. No change is made. Everything continues as normal except with an added soundtrack of sound and fury.
To be perfectly honest, I’m dancing around the issue a bit here by using ‘someone’ when I want to say ‘white middle-aged men’. I fit squarely into this category, yet I’m a bit apprehensive about publishing this post because of the anger — and it is usually anger — that is generated when people like me are challenged. Here’s an example.
I’m genuinely curious as to what’s going on here. Prior to therapy, I was definitely the kind of person who wanted to give my opinions on everything. It didn’t particularly matter whether I had expertise or not because who wouldn’t want to hear what I think? I still have to stop myself from doing this, and earlier in the week deleted a long response to someone’s forum question after reading it back and realising I wasn’t adding anything. (Maybe this blog post isn’t either.)
Perhaps the problem is the way we bring up boys and men in our society? I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that white middle aged men (me included!) often feel ‘attacked’ when others ask quite reasonable questions about representation and diversity. I did a lot of thinking about this after the Moodle ‘manel’ tweetstorm towards the end of 2019. There was no intention for that to be an all-white middle-aged male panel at a global event, but that’s how it turned out. We should be more cognisant of these kinds of things so they don’t come as a surprise to us. One way of saying this, I suppose, is that we should “check our privilege”.
I suppose, in practice, all I’m asking of people is for people like me to think twice before wading into a discussion with our cool ideas. If there’s already 100+ responses from those who look like us, perhaps think of other ways of contributing? Or perhaps encourage others to contribute? I don’t have any answers, but I’m pretty keen to help find ways that add some diversity to our methods of problem-solving. Goodness knows that the same ways of thinking that led to the many-headed hydra of problems facing our world aren’t going to get us out of it.
Image: CC0 Rijksmuseum