Monday, 5 April 2010

An open letter to Steve Best

Dear Steve (if we may),

For years now we have followed the "significant arc of [your] intellectual trajectory" with its "epiphanies" and exuviations, its "pluralism and contextualism," its anti-essentialism and situationism, its boundary-transgressingness and bridge-buildingness, to use some of your key expressions. We would, in this open letter, thus like to publicly express our humble gratitude and proud devotion to you, Steve, the lofty inspiration for Clowns' Corner.

While our gratitude for you is multidimensional, as is your thinking, it simply would not be possible for us to mention all of these dimensions in this letter. As such we will concentrate on just one of them, in our opinion the most important and at the same time the easiest to exemplify, namely this: you always live up to your own high standards, moral and intellectual. In the following, we will present a few examples, a small selection, of the seamless continuity of what you say and do, of your never saying one thing and doing another, a small but heartfelt memorial to your trailblazing achievement in this area.

In your Intellectual Biography Statement - referred to by us as your Profession of Purity and Perfection - you present what may well be the best example of your never saying one thing and doing another, when you say that you have "never indulged in postmodern theory in a fashionable, esoteric, elitist, or opportunistic way" and are opposed to "chronic and excessive onanistic bouts with esoteric and meaningless theory-babble." It is not, after all, common knowledge that you never engage in "chronic and excessive onanistic bouts" with your thesaurus and that your essays are entirely destitute of fashionable postmodern speak - jargon, alliteration, polysyllable words, and so on - which only the anointed academic Illuminati can understand? A laudable example of this admirable absence of self-conscious affectation, one of many indeed, is your critique of Gary Francione's abolitionist theory, that is, as homogenising the "contextualist and pluralist" multi-dimensionality of the "dialectical logic of both/and" into the "iron cage" of the "a priori" "Procrustean bed of either/or." From the above profusion of jargon, could anyone conclude that you were trying "to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind," to borrow the words of George Orwell?

Just as you are passionate in your rejection of "chronic and excessive onanistic bouts" with your thesaurus, so you are equally passionate about engaging in "serious analysis." Again your critique of Francione is superbly illustrative. Instead of relying on the corrput supports of personal attacks and defamation, you engage in impeccable scholarly analysis when you state in "The Loss of a Halo: Francione and the Mask of Jainism": "Francione is...arrogant, controlling, insulting, duplicitous, conniving, aggressive, and verbally abusive...a pseudo-pacifist who ["filled by toxic hated [sic] and violent emotions"] thrives on conflict and hostility" and whose "tactics [are] designed to demonize and destroy individuals and unleash forces of repression and fear," because he is "thirst[y] for revenge." And doubtless because your "intent [is] to awaken critical thinking processes and never to dictate the 'right conclusion'," you derive from this "serious analysis" the careful, tentative, hesitant, and sceptical conclusion that Francione is a "Machiavellian wrestling in the mud." From all this, could anyone get the impression that you had invented a melodrama solely for the purposes of wallowing perversely in demented fulmination against your imagined "adversar[y]"?

Your "serious analysis," however, is also balanced with "levity and humour." Perhaps the best example of your gargantuan sense of humour is your essay mock-grandly titled "13 Ways to Promote Alliance Politics and Total Liberation." This piece savagely parodies the heroic scribblers of postmodernspeak, by drifting impotently from one bland platitude to the next, by imitating comically solemn ineptitude, and by perishing in a complete poverty of innovation. Two quotes will provide sufficient illustration. There is this: "Begin with a thorough and ambitious reading project." And there is this: "[Abolitionism is a] moribund manifestation" which is "bourgeois, elitist, single-issue, consumerist, [and] apolitical..." Absolutely hilarious. Indeed, we ask you, dear reader: from these quotes could anyone deny that the essay from which they were disinterred is a true intellectual desert harboring no merit whatsoever, except, of course, as toxic parody?

At the very same time, being a truly "multidimensional" thinker, you are "very dedicated to the mission of teaching...socially relevant topics." This dedication and seriousness radiates serenely from everything you write, not only but especially your essays on Thomas Paine's Corner, a peerless educational institution and oasis of intellectual lucidity. Again, a couple of points will make patent what we mean. It is clear that your remarks about Francione, for example - like that he is "a Machiavellian wrestling in the mud" who wants to "unleash forces of repression and fear" - in no way presuppose a feverish credulity on the part of your audience, whose need to be rightly persuaded by reason you obviously wouldn't disregard without infinite scruple. Moroever, it is not equally clear that you are committed to "illuminat[ing] key clear...terms": a noble commitment in which there is no trace of your leading people astray by the seduction of sleazy rhetoric into false beliefs about your "adversaries" and "rivals"?

In short: you are a modern day Socrates, indeed.

To conclude by restating our main points: we are glad that you never engage in the vulgarity of self-aggrandizement; that you always engage in serious scholarly analysis, never relying on intellectual affectation to create a spurious sense of analytic depth; and, what is most important, that you are not a direct provocateur of obscurantism and a peddler of personal attacks, the inseparable companions of professional imbeciles and dealers in high-flown twaddle.

Always our best (no pun intended),

-Clowns' Corner