A plea for nuance
About half way through my first year of a law degree, I realised something disturbing. It felt like my brain was, quite literally, being rewired. I no longer approached problems in the same way as I had before I had begun to study law. Whereas previously I had thought some decisions were simple, I began to see hitherto unperceived complexities.
There is an ongoing debate about whether there is anything distinctive about legal analysis. I do think there’s something distinctive about legal thinking. It involves breaking problems into stages, stepping away from them, and looking at them from all angles, with a degree of detachment. What can I argue here? How can someone else counter me, if I do argue that?
It’s one of the reasons why people don’t like lawyers: bloodless, hired guns willing to argue any point for a fee. The detachment can be disturbing, to those who were not trained in it. But to me, it is important to depersonalise arguments and remember that most of the world is drawn in shades of grey.
I never thought, however, that I would be interviewed simply for being “brave” enough to argue that academia should not close down debate on contentious issues, and should allow discussion. Perhaps I am naïve. I always thought it was axiomatic that the academy involved the discussion and exchange of views on contentious issues, and moreover, that we have academic freedom precisely so that this can take place.1 If I can’t discuss unorthodox views at a university, and test out my views with people who disagree with me, what is the point?
To that end, I recorded an episode on Josh Szeps’s podcast,in which I discussed the pitfalls of activist scholarship and polarised approaches to knowledge.
Further note for the kibitzers who might be tempted to accuse me of engaging in culture wars: activism can be seen on both the right and the left. Culture wars are, frankly, utterly boring, and I’m not interested in contributing to them. These kinds of divisions are the very last thing that I want, although some people seem to thrive on them, particularly if they can point and laugh at the opposition.
While identitarian left activist scholars seem to be dominant in the Anglosphere at the moment, I have no doubt that this could flip quickly enough, in the right circumstances. A plague on all their houses, say I. I want to have sensible nuanced disagreements.
What Katy Did is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
I’m sure I’ll get some kibitzer in the comments saying, “What about someone who believes the MMS vaccine causes autism? What about a sovereign citizen who thinks that they are not subject to the law?” To that annoying kibitzer: there is a scale. I’m talking about issues upon which reasonable minds may differ.