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Topic: Of Kuwaiti bazaars and English gentlemen's clubs: shunning and
free speech

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Michael Paul Goldenberg

Posts: 7,041
From: Ann Arbor, MI
Registered: 12/3/04
Of Kuwaiti bazaars and English gentlemen's clubs: shunning and
free speech

Posted: Aug 26, 2000 5:26 PM
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The more one ignores a bully, the more belligerent s/he will try to appear.
It is no doubt frustrating to realize that no one wants to play his/her
silly games, that no one is listening, and that no one is afraid. So s/he'll
huff, and s/he'll puff, and not a thing will happen.

I continue to find new venues, moderated and otherwise, for the discussion
of mathematics education and education in general. I'm sure we all have
access to those same resources or will be aware of them sooner or later.

However, for those who are losing sleep over constitutional rights, it might
be wise to read Richard Rorty's provocative essay, "On ethnocentrism: A
reply to Clifford Geertz," which appears on pages 203-210 of his
OBJECTIVITY, RELATIVISM, AND TRUTH: Philosophical Papers, Vol.1.
Therein, Rorty refers to Geertz' statement that "the world is coming at each
of its local points to look more like a Kuwaiti bazaar than like an English
gentlemen's club." Rorty states in reply:

Like Geertz, I have never been in a Kuwaiti bazaar (nor in an English
gentlemen's club). So I can give free rein to my fantasies. I picture many
of the people in such a bazaar as preferring to die rather than share the
beliefs of many of those with whom they are haggling, yet as haggling
profitably away nevertheless. Such a bazaar is, obviously, not a community,
in the strong approbative sense of "community" used by critics of liberalism
like Alasdair MacIntyre and Robert Bellah. You cannot have an old-timey
Gemeinschaft unless everybody pretty well agrees on who counts as a decent
human being and who does not. But you can have a civil society of the
bourgeois democratic sort. All you need is the ability to control your
feelings when people who strike you as irredeemably different show up at
City Hall, or the greengrocers, or the bazaar. When this happens, you smile
a lot, make the best deals you can, and, after a hard day's haggling,
retreat to your club. There you will be comforted by the companionship of
your moral equals.

Wet liberals will be repelled by this suggestion that the exclusivity of the
private club might be a crucial feature of an ideal world order. It will
seem a betrayal of the Enlightenment to imagine us as winding up with a
world of moral narcissists, congratulating themselves on neither knowing nor
caring what the people in the club over on the other side of the bazaar are
like. But if we forget about the Enlightenment ideal of the self-realization
of humanity as such, we can disassociate liberty and equality from
fraternity. If we attend rather to the reports of our agents of love, our
connoisseurs of diversity, we may agree with Levi-Strauss that such
exclusivity is a necessary and proper condition of selfhood. By attending to
the reports of our agents of justice, we can see how such strong,
ethnocentric, exclusivist selves might cooperate in keeping the bazaar open,
in keeping the institutions of procedural justice functioning. Putting the
two sets of reports together, we realize that the Enlightenment should not
have yearned for a world polity whose citizens share common aspirations and
a common culture. Then we will not try for a society which makes assent to
beliefs about the meaning of human life or certain moral ideals a
requirement for citizenship. We will aim at nothing stronger than a
commitment to Rawlsian procedural justice - a moral commitment when made by
members of some clubs (e.g., ours) but a matter of expediency when made by
members of others. The ultimate political synthesis of love and justice may
thus turn out to be an intricately-textured collage of private and public
pragmatism. [pp.209-210]

Of course, reading the rest of the essay that leads to the two concluding
paragraphs quoted above would be helpful to clarify some of Rorty's
terminology, but the point that I find meaningful for our situation is
simple: AMTE needs to be a private club and has every right to be so. So,
for that matter, is Mathematically Correct (or would we ALL be welcome to
join and post articles, opinion pieces, and links to the 2 + 2 = 4 web
site?). There are MANY public places, Kuwaiti bazaars, if you will, where
members of these various clubs choose to transact business (including the
unfortunate businesses of character assassination and the promulgation of
dis-information). We are all free to visit them. We are NOT all free to join
any private club or behave, if admitted to membership, in any way we see
fit. Most adult Americans understand this and behave accordingly. Children
and some teenagers have a harder time grasping rules, restrictions, and
consequences for violating them. Luckily, they grow up.

The months to come should provide ample opportunity for people to join and
create new clubs. As a generally eclectic soul, I expect to widen my range
of memberships. But it will be a very welcome relief to find this one
operating according to a particular set of rules that will eliminate one
particular kind of incivility, time-wasting, and obstructionism. Those who
can't operate according to those rules are free to complain (though not here
for too much longer, I should think), but they are not in sufficient numbers
to change the rules of the club. Perhaps, out in other clubs and bazaars,
they will grow in such ways that they will be happy to operate within the
rules of this one, at which point they will likely be able to participate in
its work. If not, they will no doubt be happy and free in their own clubs.
How we all fare in the bazaar is an intriguing and on-going question.

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