“Physician, Heal Thyself” (a Dirty Dalit Grumbles)

Recalcitrance stirs when I am invited listen to a lecture on “cultural humility” by a woman who flaunts eight academic degrees to overawe me with her authority on matters pertaining to meekness.  It quickens when she promises “a framework to mitigate personal bias,” since unmitigated personal bias obviously drove her to construct this invidious framework.  I would, however, be curious (although not, perhaps, to the point of “wonderment”) to know why she believes my biases need correction, whereas the biases of everyone else must be received with “curiosity and wonderment.”

A culture is nothing but a set of biases that incline members of that culture to think and behave in one way rather than another.  Humans can, for instance, live as herbivores, omnivores, or carnivores, and they receive their gustatory bias in favor of one of these diets as members of a culture.  Humans can, likewise, pass the time by meditation, fornication, or pulling the wings off of flies.  An individual is biased in favor of one of these pastimes because of how they were taught.  You should, obviously, take pride in your good biases and seek to strengthen them.  You should just as obviously denounce false and pernicious biases, whether in yourself or others.  Humility and wonderment have nothing to do with it.

The doctrine of cultural humility declares that Americans have a uniquely wicked bias in favor of their own biases, and so turn up their noses with supercilious disgust at things foreign and unfamiliar.  This is a grotesque libel, as anyone who sets foot outside the country will quickly understand.  American culture has a strong bias in favor of cultural relativism, which is why professor Loue was able to obtain eight—count them, eight—academic degrees in the wretched subject.

Jesus quoted the proverb “physician, heal thyself” when his fellow Nazarenes murmured that he was all talk and no action.  The proverb has come to mean something akin to what Jesus meant when he said that the Pharisees condemned “motes” in the eyes of others, while overlooking “beams” in their own eyes.  Cultural chauvinism exists, but Americans are really on the “mote” end of the spectrum when it comes to supercilious disgust at things foreign and unfamiliar.  But America does have deep pockets of cultural chauvinism in its universities, where credentialed bigots are paid to be appalled by the unwashed yokels who pay their keep.

* * * * *

Cultural humility for thee, but not for me.  Likewise difficulty, discomfort, and quite possibly disciplinary action.  I am now routinely invited to engage in what the host calls “difficult dialogues,” the word “difficult” here meaning painful, awkward, embarrassing, and very likely dangerous.

The “conversation café format” is an encounter group disguised as a committee meeting, where a member of the gestapo keeps the minutes.  The conversation this invitation proposes is therapeutic, not rational, and patients who show what is called “resistance in therapy” must be prepared for serious “difficulties.”

If you have read Phillip Rieff’s Triumph of the Therapeutic (1966), you will understand what is meant by “pathologizing dissent.”  Rieff’s disciple Christopher Lash has an excellent discussion of the tactic in The True and Only Heaven (1991), and it runs through his entire critique of the “helping professions.”  The bottom line is that we live in a society where resistance to power is defined as a mental illness (e.g. “phobia.” “paranoia,” “neurosis”), and resistance in therapy is the mark of a hopeless case.  You are not invited to a “conversation café” to solve a problem.  You are invited to see if you are the problem.

* * * * *

No one asks for his or her surname, but I chafe at the thought of submitting to therapeutic testing by someone named Ramasubramanian, as this appears to mean something like especially beloved of Brahma.  The facilitator of this therapy session therefore appears to be descended from, perhaps to be an active member in, one of the most exclusive clubs on earth.  My own surname, in contrast, indicates that I am descended from, am indeed an active member in, the unloved, unexclusive, untrusted American working class.  A varlet, a rube, a yokel, a rustic, a churl.

Or, to show some cultural humility and wonderment with the Other, a dirty Dalit.

10 thoughts on ““Physician, Heal Thyself” (a Dirty Dalit Grumbles)

  1. “Unique opportunity,” “develop a practice,” “promote wonderment,” “facilitate,” “inclusive climate.” How about — set off my gag reflex?

    How many times, do you think, has the woman with eight degrees staged her “unique opportunity”?

    • Tom,

      I’m so inured to this non-speak that I didn’t even notice the “unique.” Thanks for drawing to to my attention.

      And thanks to Mr Smith for his resistance.

    • An unwillingness to use cant phrases is a sort of “resistance in therapy.” Facile use of the phrases is a sign of ready and sociable adjustment. Some progressive phrases are shibboleths designed to rat out people who will not say them; others are just the argot of modern managerialism. Have you noticed that the word cliché has largely disappeared from our discourse. Cliché was itself something of a cliché in the 1950s, but it is interesting that people no longer feel a need for the word or a synonym.

  2. The Woman With Eight Degrees ought to bill her clients in Guineas or some other more exalted currency than the humble bog dollar.

    South Indian Brahmin detected. Pass the ammunition!

    Anyone here read Anthony Burgess’s Earthly Powers? Not very Tamil-Friendly in parts.

    • I read Earthly Powers years ago. Alas, remember almost nothing of it. I think that is the AB book that taught me the word catamite in the first sentence, not that I’ve had many occasions to use the word since. I read many books by Burgess, and he wrote many, many books, but I’d have a hard time giving a précis of any of them other than Clockwork Orange, and then I would probably be remembering the movie. That may be because I never re-read a book by Burgess.

      • “AB book that taught me the word catamite in the first sentence, not that I’ve had many occasions to use the word since.”

        Come on, now, you lived in DC for a spell!

      • That’s the one. Memorable first sentence. Bulwer-Lytton Prizewinners eat your collective hearts out.

        “It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.”


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