Monday 13 October 2014

People, Things, Ideas

One of the libels against women is that we don't talk about things and ideas but solely about people. In academia, of course, this is simply nonsense because everyone talks about ideas almost all of the time. Indeed, talking about people is sometimes necessary to root the ideas to earth. For example, one of the most memorable essays of a colleague I read when I was an M.Div. candidate was a Rwandan priest's description of his parish's own experience of the Rwandan massacres. If you think the Sign of Peace is silly, imagine a Mass hours before half the congregation slaughters the other half.

I have been out of academia for some time now, and I very much miss all the talk about things and ideas. Of course, there are always blogs, and one can always discuss the ideas presented on blogs like Rorate Caeli, especially if your friends also read Rorate Caeli, and there are political debates, as we had around the Scottish Separatist Referendum.

Unfortunately, though, political debates turn quickly into popularity contests, with (for example) Alec Salmond of the "Yes" side verbally attacking the reputation of Alistair Darling of the "No" side when, in fact, the issue was not Alistair Darling. Alistair Darling was not running for office. Those loyal to the Union couldn't care less about Alistair Darling and, try as he might, and diet all he could, we were not ready to for bedazzlement by Alec Salmond's personal charisma. (We are even more unlikely to be seduced by Nicola Sturgeon.) What most of the "No" side cared about was financial stability, and what I cared about most was continuing to live in a British parliamentary democracy firmly tied to its history in the person of the Queen the Scots Nats are itching to jettison.

Anyway, Salmond sneering "AL-istarrr DAR-ling" was just one example of a man taking a serious matter and reducing it to the level of the personal, which many men I have known say women do all the time. But as a matter of fact, I know men who talk endlessly about people, and I even know men who get upset when women talk about things and ideas.  And no doubt there are women like this, too. And I suppose it does get dull when an enthusiast for some thing or idea harps on about it at great length. (I  irritate B.A. very much by sharing Polish grammar tips; such revelations are best shared with colleagues in Polish class.)

Naturally, it is not conducive to marital happiness to complain about a masculine tendency to talk about people all the time. For example, I feel badly about this recent exchange:

Me: So did you all talk about metaphysics?
B.A.: No, mostly we talked about people we all knew at university.
Me: Argh! Why do men ALWAYS talk about PEOPLE, not THINGS and IDEAS?

That was very rude, so I sought B.A. out afterwards and we talked about all the guns he had fired during the stag weekend, and I told him why I thought Ida, the Polish film I saw yesterday afternoon, showed great honesty and courage about controversial matters.


  1. Wait, tell me more about why you liked Ida. I liked it until close to the end (you probably know when, in the aunts apartment), but I don't know much about Poland.

    Also, it is a fault of many academics that they only talk about ideas. Then they are not grounded in reality. Yes, talking about people can slide into gossip, but as someone more prone to the other, it has its dangers too.

  2. Yes, I know what part you mean. It was pretty unbelievable, too, when you think about Ida's whole life. I liked it because it was uncompromising about the fact that a lot of peasants were anti-Semitic and that there were Jews in the Communist party. Anything having to do with Poland that does not paint both Jews and Poles as deeply heroic victims is pretty controversial.

  3. Makes sense, thanks! Yes it seemed very out of character given her life.


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