Separation of Person: Scholarly Work v. Personal Beliefs

BACKGROUND

The Wayne Morse Commons at UO School of Law is abuzz with the excitement of the Public Interest and Environmental Law Conference, better known as PIELC, starting this week. As a first year student you are either signed up to volunteer at the conference or all of your friends seem to be. PIELC is a renowned event that brings together students, attorneys, and other environmental activists from around the world. The conference highlights work being done in different arenas of environmental law, and hopes that organizations with different approaches can come together for respectful discussion of the topic.

One of the speakers this year is Lierre Keith of Deep Green Resistance (DGR).  DGR works towards building “democracies based on human rights and sustainable material cultures.” They support exploration of new methods to achieve their environmental and societal goals. The hullabaloo arises from Lierre Keith, a founder of DGR, making public comments rejecting transgender people. Her comments are extremely controversial and some groups have chosen not to attend the PIELC in protest.

DGR does not recognize statements made by its members as official unless expressly made on behalf of the organization. The organization encourages its members to have and share their diverse opinions. PIELC has the same practice of not adopting the beliefs of individual scholars and advocates chosen to present at the conference.

DISCUSSION

It’s an interesting question – can we separate out a person’s work from their words or actions regarding other matters? I have posed the question to family and friends as I try to flush out exactly how I feel about the issue myself.  At the end of each conversation, while never explicitly said, it seems that the same answer rises to the surface: Unless it affects me or someone I care about personally, I am initially appalled but pretty much forget about it after that.

We consistently see examples of this in our political and entertainment spheres.

  • The Dixie Chicks made a controversial comment about then President G. W. Bush in front of an international crowd that enraged people across America but still continue to sell albums.
  • Most people would not approve of Chris Brown’s violence towards Rihanna, nor of her continued relationship with him. Both continue to be megastar recording artists.
  • Paula Dean made racist remarks, and while still dealing with fallout, continues to fatten people across the country with her butter-filled recipes.
  • President Obama admitted to using cocaine while in college, but was still elected into office by a strong majority (twice).

Although mainstream culture does not condone these comments or actions, it turns the other cheek in regards to the talents or leadership of the offending party.

In regards to PIELC, the conference is meant as a marketplace of ideas. Members of the conference will like some of the ideas that they hear, and others they will reject for any of a variety of reasons. “The clash of ideas is not weakness. Truth reaches its place when tussling with error.” – Richard Henry Pratt

For more information about PIELC or DGR please see:

PIELC: http://pielc.org/

Deep Green Resistance: http://deepgreenresistance.org/en/

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One response to “Separation of Person: Scholarly Work v. Personal Beliefs

  1. Great post, Trisha. It’s unfortunate that when these kinds of situations arise our options seem so limited (like you point out there are basically three choices: don’t attend, actively protest, or forget about it). It’s interesting that these three choices map to the three traditional responses to conflict: avoiding, contending, or accommodating.

    Does anyone know if there are plans for Lierre Keith to take interviews or attend discussion groups or participate in other ways at the PIELC? Or if there are plans to talk about the juxtaposition of her comments about transgender people with the DGR? And if there aren’t, should there be? It seems to me that part of radical feminism may be (de)constructing responses to conflict, so that it’s not just compartmentalized into avoid, contend, accommodate. Here, the offensive remarks concern the limits of agency and differentiation, particularly with regard to the self within society, which may have interesting implications for the subject of the PIELC: our capacity for effective large-scale time-sensitive change in the environmental context.

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