Deal Making/Deal Breaking: Of Hitler and Incommensurability

Today, during a Master's thesis prospectus meeting, Hitler made his rounds. In discussing how an M.A. candidate might frame the rhetoric of militant Hindi fundamentalism, the committee discussed Hitler's use of rhetorical violence during the Third Reich (Burke, the rhetorician of choice, studied Hitler's rhetoric, so it was a fair invocation). Still, I notice the usefulness of inserting Hitler in academic and cultural discussions to clarify otherwise unclarifiable discussions. Hitler helps clear the air for people with strong agendas. We can all agree that Hitler was bad, so we can't be that far apart (or something like that). Although it doesn't always take this kind of Armageddon-like common ground to get academics to agree on things, it often helps.

One-on-one, I almost never need to rush to some sort of cultural extreme (like celebrity bad behavior) or historical extreme (like Hitler) to gain common ground with people. I usually can see and acknowledge a wide range of perspectives as part of my nature. I perceive things in their context, and I usually find common ground unless I see imminent danger. I accept. As a pre-teen, I was nicknamed "peacemaker" by my parents because of my role in mediating between between brothers and between the sibling/parent divide. My perspective helped me translate what was often mutually excluding frames of seeing the universe. For quite a long time, this role was a way to gaining prestige and getting the love and respect I craved from my family and friends. I could identify with others and give them both a nonjudgemental, and sometimes idealized, version of themselves. In Enneagram terms, I'm a nine (with a one wing, for those who are Enneagram geeks). Although some people were/are suspicious of this (I've been called smarmy more than once), it is a totally sincere perspective. To quote one of my favorite poems: "I know many lives worth living."

Although being a mediator may seem like a pretty comfortable place to live, it often presents with unsolvable puzzles. When I am positioned between two incommensurable people or positions, my translations can become conduits to rage and inflexibility. I discovered this as a teenager when my older brother slowly inducted me into his fundamentalist Christian Bible study. I gave my best effort to syncretically integrate my old habits/hobbies/perspectives (reading, love of a wide range of music, fantasy gaming) with the perspective of a new creation (or at least the late-20th Century American version of it). Eventually, I was forced to choose between the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Top-40 music, between loving Jesus and playing Dungeons and Dragons. Eventually, I decided to chuck my past into the garbage can (quite literally, in the case of my fantasy gaming books--Dungeon Master no more). Underneath my embrace of Christian fundamentalism, I still held a rich imaginative and intellectual life, but I did so in secretive and what felt like duplicitous ways. It took me four years, and an immersion in Southern California's much more eclectic music sub-culture to face up to my mistake. It took a lot of hurt feelings and sadness (even yelling) to remove myself from what I felt was an overly-rigid perspective,. I don't believe in Christian fundamentalism, despite my ability to understand those who embrace it. Nevertheless, I try to steer clear of strong expressions of it because I know that my understanding, and even fondness for some of its adherents, will be mistaken for a willingness to embrace it.

The problem for me was one of finding myself in-between two totally different perspectives and lacking the ability to persuade one of reconciling the other. I can hold two truths in my head, but I can't live in two worlds. My peacemaking blessing can be a curse when I get between two inflexible and incommensurable people or institutions.

Why does this matter? Well, in my new role as director of Upper-Division Writing, my job is to act as a gatekeeper between students who want nothing more than to get through their education and an institution designed to throw up challenges. My job is to become an apologist for one side (the student's) while serving the will of the other (the University). How does one deal with this? I have to look outside myself, step away from my peacemaking role and lean into my life choice. I chose to be a director, and that means some people are just going to be pissed off. There are no comfortable cultural examples to point to when I stand between a two forces and their colliding goals. There is no Hitlerian high ground, so sometimes I just have to, in the words of LBJ, take it like "a jackass in a hailstorm."


Sport said...

Hey, Dick Hitler! Where did my original comment go?

Doc Mara said...

I assidentally deleted it. How do you like it now?