Now the title may seem a little self-explanatory. But let me explain. I received a little email in my inbox from Prospect Magazine, saying: who do you think should be the world thinker of 2014?
I click and scroll—through a list that seems to have a lot of white guys. Granted, I saw Arundhati Roy there, Naomi Klein, Martha Nussbaum, and even Judith Butler--if I remember the list correctly. Sasia Sassken, who I’d seen live at some conference, was also on the list. But wait a minute, I’d seen Arundhati speak in person (twice), once wearing a rather gorgeous white sari and in animated flow in the Riverside Church in New York, Naomi Klein holding forth, somewhere in New York and even Judith Butler explaining herself (where, I can’t remember). Martha Nussbaum used to teach at Brown when I was an undergraduate—I never took a class with her, but I have seen her lecture. Then I also saw, on the list, Habermas, Zizek, and the Pope. Then, of course, like the rest of the world I voted for the White Guys.
Now why is that?
Perhaps there’s a tendency to think that awards and lists of this nature are only meant for guys?
I did attend the New School for Social Research in New York. It would have been a shame not to vote for Habermas. Just to refresh my memory, I went to the Wikipedia page on him. And the interesting thing was not his communicative theory--which I’ve long since forgotten, although I think we read about it in almost every single graduate class at the New School. No, it was the long list of awards that he had already received from everywhere, from the Kyoto Prize to the Holberg Prize. I didn’t even know there were all these prizes in existence—apparently all of them are equal to the Nobel Prize. Besides these, he also received a host of other prestigious and financially rewarding prizes.
Now go and click on all these prestigious awards—and the lists that pop up show that mostly they went to Europeans, and mostly men. Yawn, you say. What’s new, you say. Eurocentricism abounds, this is nothing new. But what interested me is that even the Japanese decided to give the Kyoto Prize to mostly Europeans. Perhaps the Europeans are more highly advanced on the scale of intellectual production than other people? That’s entirely possible of course. But why shouldn’t we think the intellectual production of Arundhati Roy (prodigious) could just as well compare to Habermas?
Or not? Lets be brutal here. What constitutes a great thinker? For me, Arundhati lost me when she glorified the Maoists. Perhaps skepticism, and questioning, of all establishments and party lines is one requirement of a great thinker. Once you put in your lot with one party, then you become just a party hack.
Now Judith Butler is a fun thinker—who doesn’t like performativity and gender? Especially if you’ve lived the metrosexual life in New York. But world shaking? Possibly.
Martha’s done some interesting work on ethics. Then she’s written about the women’s movement in India, which is a refreshing departure. But how come she’s not considered a world famous philosopher? I don’t really have an answer. Perhaps her work is too rooted in the Ivies and not in the world? But surely the women’s movement work was just such an answer to such a criticism?
Sassia Sasken appeared to me to be an interesting thinker, definitely. Although she wasn’t saying anything new I hadn’t heard before.
Naomi Klein—critiques of ads and media. All very well and good. I think Marshall McLuhan did that a while back. Besides, she’s already rich from her bestselling book (filthy lucre and “great thinker” don’t go together).
So why do we go back to Habermas,Zizek, and the Pope? Because they are men? Because they are eligible for a lot of awards—so why not give it to them, anyways?
I don’t really know. Perhaps the “Greatest thinker of 2014” from Prospect Magazine comes stamped with this little asterixed footnote (invisible, a la Harry Potter): Please note, this list is only for white men. We list the women as a courtesy.
I think I chose the Pope because right now he’s in a position to get the attention of a lot of people, and he’s been critiquing capitalism. Fair and simple.
Then Zizek. Not entirely sure why I chose him. Perhaps its the iteration of an idea, of what a philosopher should be like. A white dude from Eastern Europe. Slovenia, no less. For a moment, I thought he had run for head of state and headed a nation state in Eastern Europe, then I realized that was someone else. Nice.