Thursday, December 3, 2015

the hurt gets worse and the heart gets harder

Erin wrote a love letter to tattooed spunky hipster librarians, in response to some of the comments about whether librarianship is a dying profession in a recent Hiring Librarians post. In the next breath, the respondent goes on to state
We are all replaceable because we have no identity and once the ALA accepts the ridiculous Threshold Concepts- we won’t even be able to hold a conversation in academia without looking like the morons we allowed ourselves to become.
So in both the quote that Erin used about "tattooed spunky hipster librarians" and in this quote, there are ad hominem arguments being presented to support the claim that librarianship is a dying profession. I don't want to fall into a tu quoque by making additional ad hominem statements, indeed, the author of the Hiring Librarians post makes a number of very important points that merit discussion. I want to talk about why almost everyone I know reacted to the tone instead of the content.

The ad hominem arguments in this case serve three purposes, all of them dangerous.  A caveat to add that what I am discussing here is not only true of many folks who agree with the statement above, but many who disagree. As Nanci Griffith puts it, "I am guilty, I am war, I am the root of all evil." We all do it. We should all be watching ourselves if we care for what we do, who we serve, and the future (not of our profession, the future in general, of humanity).

First, these arguments derail conversations about important issues (for instance, about threshold concepts) by bringing moral character judgements into realms where they do not belong. Assessments of the character of others (or, here, ourselves as well?) beg answers from others because they threaten identity. Erin's post gets at how digs at identity weigh on us, make it difficult to engage in discussions, and gnaw at our self-worth. They do not offer grounds to continue discussion of the topic at hand. No arguments or premises offered. We should be talking about the merits of the proposition.

Second, ad hominems and other informal fallacies distract from the issues. Suddenly we find ourselves discussing the straw man of generational divide, not knowing how we got here. We end up treading and retreading discussions that were tired when they started. What do we look like, do people like us, why don't they care about us, all in circles and circles. Without substance because there are not grounds to continue discussion of the original topic. No arguments or premises offered. We should be talking about the merits of the proposition.

Third, ad hominems and other informal fallacies abdicate responsibility and blame. If we allow each other to engage in fallacious arguments, we let it all fall apart. It becomes acceptable to discuss tangential concerns as if they are primary. It becomes acceptable to overgeneralize our peers based on surface differences. It becomes acceptable to not offer grounds to continue discussion of the topic of concern. We need not offer arguments or premises. I start to wonder if we even care about the merits of the proposition. If we even care what we are doing at all.

There is significant damage from these arguments, but even more damage caused by the discussions that we're not having. It is essential that we address content in these discussions. Habits of rhetoric are the danger, but they are habits and we can all work on focusing on the issues. As a profession, we need to engage each other about what we are doing and why. We need to be disagreeing and challenging and working through issues and reaching a balance to move forward. Maybe we're scared and used to discussions moving in this same direction, and we let it slide. Maybe it is hard to be honest with ourselves and our colleagues about how we feel and what we think about some issues. I get it. I'm there.

Discussion that is real, honest, and deep is not easy, but it brings us forward. If we open ourselves, lay out arguments, share honest feelings and concerns, if we then listen, question, listen, disagree, listen, and hear, if we then find a path that works for us all, if we could do just that. We may not all be on board with every single move, but we will understand and know each other.  And we'll be moving.  Creating the future of librarianship, even.

Keep Rockin'

No comments: