I find that opposition to overly academic language in the name of accessibility can easily cross the line into rote anti-intellectualism. which is…maybe not in itself the worst thing ever. like, many big ol’ nerds really need to get over the high school persecution complex thing. having been an outsider in the past doesn’t divest you of institutional privilege now.
having said that, bullying on the basis of nerdiness is a pretty common experience that can be quite traumatic, and can also be tied to broader social oppression. I was pretty mercilessly bullied in primary school for being extremely bookish. the equivalently nerdy boy wasn’t bullied, he was even kind of cool for knowing so much about dinosaurs. (the bullying was also highly sexualised, but nobody ever talks about sexual harassment between young children. probs because even radical people still have this idea that sexual harassment is about horny blokes not knowing the line, rather than a learned strategy of intimidation independent of the sexual inclination or maturity of the harasser.) I met the ringleader again as an older teenager and I expected him to not remember, or to apologise, or to downplay it. instead he said “oh, sorry, but I mean, you always had your nose in a book, what did you expect?” I was floored.
I’m not surprised by this kind of thing anymore. there have been any number of boys/men since him who have tried to shut me down by mocking my style of expression, some of whom have since admitted that they felt threatened by me. so I’ll admit this whole thing is a sore spot for me. especially when it’s men who take serious issue with my speaking/writing style, which it almost always is for some reason. but at the same time I have to be three times as confident and linguistically competent as the dudes in my classes to get taken half as seriously, so I’m in a bit of a double bind here. triple bind if I actually care about people other than myself, because sometimes I end up intimidating or silencing people who are actually marginalised re: speech, language. which is everybody, I guess, sooner or later. these things are complicated, who knew!
Gauche Sinister (“on nationality, class and linguistic privilege”) also makes some good points about English language and migrant experiences. to summarise: it takes skill and effort to learn a second language, and if you’re not white and Anglo there are severe penalties for less than perfect English, so it’s not fair to dismiss high skill with English as grounded in privilege — it’s often grounded in necessity. this was obviously not my experience but it is a lot of people’s experience. I also think Gauche is spot-on with eir observation that slang is rarely if ever subjected to the same amount of scrutiny as academic language re: accessibility.
moving on. I’ve known people to insist that everything written in the humanities needs to be immediately accessible to anyone fluent in the language it’s written in, or it’s worthless, bad politics. there are a lot of spheres of knowledge that I think need to be [more actively] democratised. medicine; botany; computer programming; veterinary science; economics; everything, really, these are just some of the most crucial, the ones that spring immediately to mind. but most of the time people aren’t actively decrying, say, the existence of complicated or jargonistic computer science terms. they exist for a reason, for precision’s sake, for brevity’s sake. people aren’t saying “don’t say megabyte, that’s jargon”. it would take way more time to break the term “megabyte” down into non-technical jargon. “you know, a million bytes, a byte is eight bits, a bit is one binary digit, I guess, basically. binary? oh geez.” I think there’s a lot of hating on the humanities going on in these critiques of “pretentious” language. it’s pretty right-wing, actually: grounded in the idea that social reality is just commonsense, that it doesn’t need to examined or unpacked. I also wanna note that the fields that tend to come in for the most criticism (sociology, literary criticism) are heavily dominated by women. in my experience philosophy — which is very male-dominated — gets a lot more respect. Especially if it’s not socially-engaged philosophy — pure metaphysics, formal logic and the like.
words are tools, among other things. you can use simple tools to make more complicated tools. then you can use the more complicated tools to make other things, things you couldn’t make with the simple tools alone. complicated tools, words, concepts are not immoral and not necessarily inaccessible. but they take work. I would argue for a politics of accessibility that’s based on opening up this kind of discourse to people, not just on simplifying it.
I get the opposition to theory for the sake of theory. I really, really do. I have very little patience for people who don’t care at all about the accessibility of their work. but I have also gained a lot from conversations and reading that asked me to do some work beforehand. I think other people have probably benefited from my more sophisticated understanding, too. it’s not the only worthwhile thing but it’s one worthwhile thing.
Philosophy is supposed to be difficult @ the guardian
this judith butler article, “A ‘Bad Writer’ Bites Back”
Reblogged for greatness.
I think it’s fair to say that “your language is too intellectual” is almost always gendered. (Also racialized, though obviously I’ve never experienced that first-hand). It might fall under “my! you’re tryin’ real hard to sound smart for a lady/person of color!” But also, it’s hard for someone to say “jee! you sure know a lot of ~theory~ about THE CIRCULATORY SYSTEM and/or ELECTRICITY! That’s just ~theory~ though” etc. whereas [dudes] people love to say the same thing when you talk about, like, How Sexism/Racism works. As if you’re pulling shit out of your ass and it’s ridiculous for there to be any intellectual discussions to be had about sexism or racism or poor people. Basically: telling you you’re being too intellectual can be a way to tell you that what you’re talking about doesn’t warrant intellectual discussion.