The Listener

The Professor’s kind of long-term academic interest is in the role of the listener in speech issues. I guess the common scholarly approach is to assume that the listening role is less interesting because you’re either listening or you’re not. And there might be some meat on the bone for why you’re not listening, but not that much.

The Professor’s interest has been in how listening is an activity, like speaking, where one has power and understanding the power(s) of the listener can help us better understand and then hopefully fix problems of injustice.

So, last night she sent me a paper about how there’s a growing, but loving, critique of objectification as the explanation for what’s going on when people do shitty things to each other. Like, it has been this incredibly useful concept, but now that it’s so ubiquitous, the ways it doesn’t always quite get at what’s wrong in a situation is becoming clearer.

In the paper, she talks about derivatization, which is this concept that is kind of catching on in scholarly circles, which she thinks is much more specific about what’s going on in certain situations. Basically, as you might have guessed from the word, it means viewing a person not as an autonomous being, but as a derivative of you.

So, if I’m understanding her correctly, I think it’s like, say I want to have sex with you. If I’m not derivatizing you, I might say “Hey, want to fuck?” and you might say “Nope.” and then I might be bummed, at least until you say, “But hey, I brought you this puppy to play with.” I respect and listen to your answer and, even if I’m disappointed, I’m operating under the assumption that you have your own reasons for doing things that I should respect since we are two equally valuable people in the world. Or three, I guess, depending on if you brought someone with you to help you wrangle the puppy.

But if I have a derivatizing mindset, then I am imagining you as a subordinate, derivative of me. In that case, I can only imagine your purpose is for me, not for yourself. So, you have a certain amount of freedom to do and act autonomously as long as that doesn’t challenge my view that I am the main point and you are the supporting argument that helps make the main point (whereas, when you objectify someone, you’re saying that you’re the subject, the one who can act, and the other person is the object to be acted upon. You can see how they’re similar ideas, but that derivatizing is trying to get at something a little more complicated where the person in the traditional “object” role is also acting.).

So, if I believe I should have sex with you and I derivatize you, then the cues I will recognize from you are the cues that indicate to me that you want to have sex with me–how you’re dressed, that you agreed to spend time with me, that you don’t physically stop me from having sex with you–while I don’t recognize the cues, because I don’t recognize you as someone with an agenda different than mine which needs to be considered, that say you don’t want to have sex with me, such as you saying “No.”

I spent my walk this morning thinking about how this concept would be useful to me in understanding these bombings. And it is really helpful. This is, after all, what White Nashville wanted–for Black Nashville to accept the agenda of White Nashville and the view White Nashville had of Black Nashville as its own. And when you look at the history of racist violence against black people in Nashville, it’s happening at moments when White Nashville is forced to see that Black Nashville doesn’t see itself only as a supporting argument for life revolving around White Nashville.

It also helps me think about what’s going on in abusive situations–that the violence is directly working to replace the agenda of the victim with the agenda of the abuser in the victim’s head.

So, in other words, the purpose of violence–or at least a purpose–is to break down the victim psychologically in order to replace the victim’s self-agenda with the perpetrator’s agenda.

It’s really brilliant and I may not be explaining it one hundred percent clearly here, since, unlike The Professor who read a bunch of stuff and then wrote a paper, I just read a paper and wrote a blog post. But I love how much it’s given me to think about.