SPRING 2020: QUESTIONING POWER
Conventional wisdom holds we must “speak truth to power.” But what if the powerful aren’t listening? What if the accepted wisdom is the wrong guide for exceptional times? Before truth comes a questioning.
In uncertain times like these, most people would rather have truth, no matter how inconvenient. If we can’t have the truth, we’ll settle for answers. But in uncertain times (which is all times), a question is a better compass. We question the powerful (ideas, people) because questions have a special power. Asking questions clears a way forward.
No discipline or subfield is king of questions, and so this issue assembles questions from different perspectives. Hans Sluga reconsiders the imbalance of “power relations,” while Avital Ronell grapples with the tyranny of desire, and the desire for tyranny. Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò’s question challenges racial power: does the U.S. need a Truth and Reconciliation Committee? Travis Holloway asks how we can transform the era and the crisis called the Anthropocene.
But if it’s true that questions have transformative power, what question should we be asking? This was the challenge I forwarded to a plurality of thinkers and activists, from post-colonial theorist Ragini Srinivasan to leading Classicist Brooke Holmes to founder of object-oriented philosophy Graham Harman; from Occupy co-founder Micah White and Blackfoot Native American activist Souta Calling Last to the provocative public intellectual Thomas Chatterton Williams and political scientist Roger Berkowitz. Their responses, composed before the current crisis, speak uncannily to the present.
The keen questions raised in these pages – political, metaphysical, psychoanalytic, historical – are not aimed at influential people or institutions. They are questions for us, the ordinary ones, to ask ourselves. Yet they are extraordinarily powerful. They break open new spaces within us, between us, and beyond us. They invite us to reconfigure everything we thought we knew. That is the power of a true question.
Other highlights in this issue include: Elizabeth Anderson offers a different story about the religious origins of the work ethic, Jethro Masís reminds us why human existence will never be amenable to computer programming, and Brian D. Earp’s asks what gender is for in the first instalment of his “Philosophy in the Real World” column