A tempting invitation just came through my mail slot. Hoping “to build a more inclusive campus,” a professor of communications is offering to put volunteers through the purgatory of “a series of Difficult Dialogues on Campus Race Relations.”
“Difficult Dialogues” is the name professors of communications have given to what normal people call “Sleeping Dogs.” Whereas normal people are of the opinion that sleeping dogs are best left to their slumbers, professors of communication take the view that it is best to stomp on their tails and see what happens. I can only suppose that they extracted this notion from the Freudian fallacy of talking therapy, with which Difficult Dialogues share the undeniable merit of providing permanent employment for “facilitators” who are trained in “communication.”
The barking and biting is scheduled to begin next Monday evening, at what is described as an “interactive workshop.” You may recall Kingsley Amis saying, “If there’s one word that sums up everything that’s gone wrong since the war, it’s Workshop.” His objection was that the post-war “workshop” is a place were idleness makes a pretense of activity and stupidity wears a serious face.
In any case, this particular interactive workshop will follow the “conversation café format.” I find that the “conversation café format” is an invention of two women who describe it as “a gift to the world.” It is, they tell us, a “dynamic, honest, humble process of staying present to your own reality while drinking in the reality of everyone else at the table.” Before it was invented by these two women, these skirmishes were called Encounter Sessions.
It appears that small groups will be seated at tables, supplied with “race-related case studies,” and then asked to “collectively brainstorm ideas to make the campus more welcoming for all.” It troubles me that a professor of communication does not see the difference between brainstorming and a difficult dialogue, but to keep people happy, “sandwiches will be served.”
In addition to those mollifying sandwiches, participants will be put at ease by the audio-recording device on the table, since “the dialogue sessions will be audio-recorded for research purposes.” If you are thinking that this research will be invalidated by gross selection bias, I ask you to consider the sandwiches. Doesn’t everyone love a sandwich?
Well, yes, but not so much that they will submit to hours of barking and biting to get one. And this is why there will be no Difficult Dialogues at this Conversation Café, but only cozy chats and the mutual reinforcement that I thought communication theory called group think.