Thursday, February 9, 2012

"It works in theory, but…"

…But nothing. In bell hooks’ essay Theory as Liberatory Practice, she decries the seemingly-rampant anti-intellectualism that pervades much of American society that claims, as members of one of the groups hooks herself has been a part of, that is is “tired” of theory, or “all the talk.” hooks points out that theory isn’t “just” talk, but is itself an action that can be both personally liberatory and effective in creating real-life change. Conversations in which people theorize about solutions to social problems such as those facing women are certainly not commonplace, and when they happen they can produce much more than some pretty ideas.

That hooks herself is a black woman who is involved in promoting equality for both blacks and women, but finds this kind of resistance wherever she turns, speaks to the danger of what seems to be the common perception of theory in the United States: namely that theory is useless talk that never seems to work out in practice. To hooks, theory is a useful and productive practice.

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” -Isaac Asimov

While hooks concedes the difficulty of overcoming the challenges related to moving toward a society more willing to both theorize and to consider others’ theory, she remains hopeful, remembering the moment she “came to theory” and anticipating that moment for future theorists. Pain lead hooks to theory, and theory rescued her from that pain. Maybe her experience could be much more common, if we attempt to resist that “common thread” that has so thoroughly encircled our society.