Sunday, June 8, 2014

Belmont Stakes and the Art of Dismissing Dissidence

I have recently been re-reading those works that have particularly influenced my approach to the topic of religious ethics, getting a bit of reading done before my daughter wakes up has become quite routine (especially on days like today when she sleeps past 7:00!).  This morning, I am reading Bruce Lincoln’s Discourse and the Construction of Society as commentary from ESPN’s Sportscenter provides background ambience.  During this particular episode, I hear a bit of what Lincoln refers to as myth-making, imbuing history with a particular amount of authority in order to classify present actors through recourse to past actions.  In a discussion of yesterday’s Belmont Stakes, this historicizing took on a moralizing and nationalistic tinge.
After discussing the failure of California Chrome to successfully capture a “triple crown” (by winning The Belmont Stakes after also winning The Kentucky Derby and The Preakness), the anchors introduced a clip of California Chrome’s co-owner Steve Coburn lambasting his competition, saying that

" 'That's the coward's way out,' he said. 'It's not fair to these horses that have been in the game since day one. If you don't make enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby, you can't run in the other two races. It's all or nothing.' " ( link )  

Essentially, Coburn was complaining about the fact that his horse had run in two very competitive (and exhausting) races while many in The Preakness had not and were therefore less exhausted, or fresher.  According to Yahoo! Sports, he continued, saying of the other teams of trainers, owners, and riders (and horses?):

"'They're a bunch of goddamn cheaters,' Coburn told Yahoo Sports. 'If your horse doesn't even have the points to run in the Kentucky Derby, he shouldn't be able to run in the Triple Crown. They're goddamn cheaters.' " ( link )

Here we can see a bit of moralizing as well as some sloganeering – on the one hand, Coburn is accusing his competitors of not putting up a fair fight, of crossing the line between ethical, fair, and just competition and cheating.  On the other, as the other owners did not break any official rule, Coburn first designates the action as unjust and then proposes a change in the official rulebook (forward looking sloganeering). Here there is an appeal to both moral authority (fair competition) and officially recognized authority (a proposed change in the rulebook for what constitutes eligibility to compete in the Triple Crown races).  On SportsCenter, Coburn’s accusation was met with an appeal to a different set of moral codes, namely manners (the latter appeal was echoed in the aforementioned Yahoo Sports article which declared Coburn “Part Ass in Defeat”).  His words were likewise met with an appeal to history, particularly one which has produced elites and, therefore, justifies the present state of the rulebook.

            I did not catch the names of the anchors as I was reading while they were talking, but they introduced the video mentioned above as an example of Coburn being a “sore loser” by not offering congratulations to the winning team (the team represented by the horse “Tonalist”) but rather calling them cowards.  This paints Coburn as the unethical one who is refusing to play by the gentlemanly code of conduct expected in such post-race interviews.  The anchors looked disappointed and annoyed with Coburn and proceeded to quote the Yahoo Sports sound bit before declaring something along the lines of “winning the Triple Crown is supposed to be difficult, you are supposed to go up against fresh sets of legs each race, that’s why there have only been 11 Triple Crown winners in history.”  In addition to painting Coburn as ungentlemanly and refusing to obey a certain conception of civility and manners, the fact that “this is the way it has always been” sidesteps Coburn’s moral claim on the rules in order to reinforce the status quo.  One doesn’t have to read much theory to recognize this as a fairly typical response to challenges to institutionalized conceptions of justice and fairness.  What adds to the historical dimension of this dismissal, though, is the act of further distinguishing Coburn from the elites of the sport produced by the rulebook that he is challenging.  As he is not a Triple Crown winner, he is not in the same class as those who have won and his reasoning, therefore, carries less weight.   Appealing to an elite class as irrefutable evidence that the system works renders ungentlemanly challenges to the status quo as illegitimate and more easily dismissed.  All of this is starting to sound like a very familiar trope.

As always, thanks for reading.

Friday, March 14, 2014

I don't blog good because reasons.

I have started several blog posts in the last couple of weeks but never finished them.  It isn't that I don't have time (I spend nearly all vivie's sleep time reading/writing (or doing dishes, putting away clothes, etc.), so that's not the issue).  This issue is that I'm growing increasingly less willing to work for free.

For myself and many other academics, writing (the kind that is deemed "official" in one way or another) is the evidence we cite to professors, comprehensive exam committees, dissertation supervisors, hiring institutions, tenure committees, colleagues, et al that we are, indeed, active and productive members of our various academic guilds.  For this reason, adding my perspective to debates about public intellectuals, the field of religion, the latest "religious" folks who are yelling/fighting/kicking/screaming at, with, or among each other, or the crumbling state of the humanities needs to occur within the proper venues for me to gain a return on my investment of time.  This blog is not that place...if I can't put a line on my CV about a piece or it doesn't directly contribute to works in progress that will ideally be published/presented through sanctioned methods of communication, I likely will not pursue it to completion.

I originally started this blog as a bit of self-mockery as I negotiated life in Paris - a land populated by folks who had absolutely no reason to search for a moderately trafficked (I'm being generous here) blog written by a mid-twenties ex-pat making fun of their metro habits.  Upon returning to the States, I rejoined a growing class of folks whose employers are still making sense of what to do with a candidate/employee's online presence - could a Facebook  picture of me enjoying a beer on growler Wednesday end up costing me employment? Probably not.  Could a blog that shows up on the first page of a Google search for my name be skimmed for content that implies a bad attitude towards students, colleagues, superiors, or my field?  What about a controversial stance on a social, political, or economic issue that is coming from a yet-to-be-consecrated grad student? Maybe...

These are, therefore, the main sticking points for me when it comes to being a regular contributor to the blogosphere: first, a lack of anticipated return on investment and, second, the higher possibility of a negative return than a positive return when written work is disseminated through unofficial mediums of communication.  So, in the meantime, I'll continue to blog periodically whenever I get around to it, but, for now, I need to focus on manufacturing and maintaining a presence in ongoing, sanctioned discourses...because reasons.  As always, I welcome feedback, perhaps I've offered some food for thought...I've certainly put off comp reading for 20 minutes or so...

Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Language of the Market is the Language of the Classroom

“That’s the language of the market, not the classroom.”

The above quote was from an audience member of a panel discussion on teaching comparative religious ethics at last November's Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion.  This particular rejoinder was directed at a panelist who wondered aloud how exactly one was supposed to quantify student progress in the area of “becoming a more constructive citizen.”  In my notes I wrote “write something about this between comps.”  So here goes:

The language of the market is the language of the classroom. Can we not look at the goals and objectives stated in our syllabi as anticipated profit?  Can we not cast rules, regulations, positive and negative reinforcement as market interactions and governing interventions?  What is the drastic difference between writing assignments and labor/production?  What is the difference between reading assignments and consumption?  Is there really a disconnect between earning a certain grade in a course and acquiring some form of capital in the social, cultural, economic, academic sphere?  Why the resistance to evaluating the product of our own labor in measurable terms?

Perhaps if we avoid talking about our own labor in measurable terms, we can convince others that the work in which we are engaged is, indeed, immeasurable, unquantifiable…perhaps…sacred(completely set apart due to a perceived intrinsic goodness)?  

Perhaps by positing that our own work is something wholly different from and – indeed – opposed to the measurable, quantifiable, and profane we are engaged in the process of cordoning off our own sections of the social sphere and making our workplace safe from critique…and certainly free from exploitation, desire for profit, and all the other mean things associated with labor and the market.  This is, after all, the classroom!

Just some thoughts.

Thanks for reading.