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Paul Grobstein's picture

learning from where we've been about where we want to go

Some interesting ideas of where we want to be emerged over cheesesteaks with Mike this week:

  • beyond conflict to complement
  • between positivism and relativism
  • taking as an explicit starting point the context-dependent character of knowledge rather than perpetually rediscovering it (typically more in other people than in ourselves)
  • resisting the temptation to knock pedestals out from under people

Along these lines, I feel a need to call my self out, and apologize to Cashmore (and perhaps others) for coming painfully close to a sin of commision in the last part of my comment above on Cashmore's article.   I have a vivid memory from years ago of getting very frustrated by a seminar audience that kept challenging the validity of the starting points of a story intended to show the audience an interesting problem that hadn't occured to them but which, because of the repeated challenges, I was never able to get to.  I don't think I quite did the same thing myself with Cashmore, but I came close enough to make me a bit ashamed for having noted the possibility that Cashmore might be "primarily concerned about his funding."
My point is that we all know, or should know, that all arguments/constructions/stories are based on some set of initial principles and that there are no first principles that are not in some way challengeable.  So demonstrating the existence of a challengeable first principle should never be used to interrupt the development of an argument/construction/story.  What's important is not the certainty of the principles on which a story is built but rather the usefulness of the story itself.  If we actually want to learn from one another, to recognize "differences not as a barrier but as a generator," we  need all of us (very much me included) to actively resist the temptation to knock pedestals out from under people, and to replace it with "suspension", a commitment and ability to hear their stories completely before deciding what relevance they might or might not have to our own. 

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