I'd like to propose a different kind of intellectual exercise: literally, how to train our minds for action. I've been thinking about the people at Standing Rock, and what it means to feel like you have no choice but to risk arrest, or physical harm. What does it mean to live what you believe? In what way is the sense of having "no choice" related to a sense of purpose?
What disconcerts me in Trump is the way that laws and rules preside over any moral sense. Not that he has to follow laws, but so long as he doesn't break any he can leverage any interpretation that suits him most. A numbers ethic that measures everything against a bottom line, that doesn't bother itself with ambiguity, and seems comforted in the idea that nothing of real value could go un-priced.
Reading George Yancy's Nov. 30 NYT op-ed on being added to a "dangerous professor watchlist" I was struck by the tone of disdainful practicality that showed up in a lot of the comments. A get-real attitude that responds to any alarm/dissent/protest with a righteous conviction in some uninterruptible routine. As in, "once your'e done ringing the alarm, you're still going to eat dinner/go to work/raise your kids, same as we are." A sense that the person protesting is not so radically different than the people with whom he disagrees--that we all benefit by the same systems/participate in the same violence. A belief that the routine is capable of quashing any activity beyond its limits. That ideas don't really shape lives. Or at least, that being intellectual doesn't really shape life.
I see the numbers ethic and the fealty to routine as interrelated.
So the question I'm asking is: what does an idea look like that is capable of inspiring action? Or maybe better: What ideas will sustain action?
Can you see your ideas out in the world, in motion? Can you see what parts of them might become useful in an emergency? Are they strong enough to call on when everything becomes uncertain? If there is a different kind of intelligence that seems to emerge in these scenarios, what is it? and how does it connect to your intellect? How do you experience your mind's activity when it has the potential to interfere with the "routine," to bring you in contact with violence, or sanction, or upheaval?
I don't think it's a question of subject, but of strategy.
A question of trust, movement--a challenge.
I think there is enormous creative potential in this moment--an opportunity to transform our intellectual practice through engagement with the world; to strengthen our ideas by testing them in action--allowing forces beyond our intellects to challenge our conceptions. I see this as the highest form of rigor--an invitation to complexity, a commitment to an ongoing process, a relationship to uncertainty, to the possibility that the best platforms for our work might not be inside institutions at all, but might take us away from routine, on journeys, into community.