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.
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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.
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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.