Posted: April 2, 2016 in Chat

So it went like this:

I had made a comment online, and the person in turn commented that my response was ethnocentric.
Fine; it may well have been.

This was all because I had used the term ‘modern mind’. It was a lazy, end-of-day term, I admit. So many things go wrong when I am tired.
So then you become aware of the response-reasoning setting in – that is, a mix of jumping up, and of sitting down calmly. Because, let’s admit it, nobody likes to be pulled up, do they! Not even if it is a presumed pull-up by someone making an end-of-day tired comment.

The context was a discussion of cultural considerations.
Then I got to thinking of the millions of people out here who don’t have access to the latest thinking, arguments, developments in techniques and discoveries, nor the new concepts, in Cultural and Historical Studies.
Are they therefore invalidated as commentators by this?
Of course not.
So, am I, therefore, just as right to state the response was Academic-centric?
There is no pejorative note to that, of course.
Until it is used as an accusation.
Was the ‘ethnocentric’ term as an accusation? Why else use it? And why use it by choosing one part to devalue the whole of what was said? This is a traditional rhetorical device, of course.
Is the person using education as a weapon? That is, using current knowledge, thinking skills, and the academe, to criticise another rather than engage with them?

We are all inescapably a product of our time and place, our culture(s) and histories. And so, a part of me suggests (the naughty part?), that maybe even this ethnocentric awareness itself is… ethnocentric? This, I think, was at the back of the ‘academic-centric’ term, above.

Engage with the original comment, by all means. But to give a value-judgement? Is that acceptable?

What was the discussion about?
It was about MacPherson’s OSSIAN. The blog is truly fascinating and very well researched. I urge you to read it here:


The FB page gave a little snippet of the discussion, and it was that snippet I responded to.
I had stated that the wide-spread support for the book, from Napoleon down, surely argued for its value at the time: it filled a gap, fitted a purpose. Maybe it even paved the way for the idea of Scotland in ‘the modern mind’.

Why did this rankle me? Because I am afraid.

I am afraid of getting left behind.

I am afraid because I do not have access to these levels of study (hopefully, just for the present time) when I feel I need them.

But I am also afraid for Scotland: was I ‘ethocentric’ because I did not fall in with the nationalistic mind-set? The responder (the writer is Technical Lead at University of North Carolina) is not even based in Scotland. Has this rankle picked up this nationalism-passenger by way of my own weak link?
There is also a quiet majority in the arts and sciences in Scotland who were afraid of the Yes vote, afraid of being shut out of research grants and access to funding.

And I am afraid that if I did live there, as I have so often longed to do, that I would indeed ‘fall in’ also.

As products of our time and place etc, we are also divided creatures, as I suggest here: we cannot rest in the knowledge that we are as we were. Integration is a state few of us can attain – an inner integrity is the best we can hope for. Even that is a minute-by-minute fight. I cannot say I last as many rounds as I would like.
But I keep on getting back up.


  1. Daedalus Lex says:

    “Ethnocentric” can be used describe a position or to pass judgment. But to say that your claim (that Ossian fits into a shift toward modern Scottish national identity) is “ethnocentric” makes no sense, unless someone is trying to take you down ad hominem.

    To the larger issue, yes, I think academic liberal arts departments have been digging their own grave of irrelevance for a couple of decades, and the shovel is cultural/demographic theory. I feel lucky to have been in college in the late 1970s, when (relative to the past) the ideas of the Civil Rights 60s had become generally accepted and encouragement to get all views on the table reached a peak, but (relative to the future) the long, slow death of demographic theorizing, where academic bravado is measured by how quickly you can pass a “gotcha” judgment on anyone who deviates from the theoretical norm (or anyone who is not up-to-date on the latest academic jargon), had not yet set in.

    So in the wake of the 1960, liberals worked hard to break down walls between demographic groups and relax all rules on what to say and think, and today’s academic liberals work just as feverishly to rebuild those walls (you can’t use my cultural stuff, you can’t know how I feel, etc.) and crush all dissent with rapid-fire, scarlet-letter judgments of the dissenter as racist or sexist. This is largely a result of over-theorizing by departments that have become devoted to demographic-specific theorizing.

    If a space alien landed today, what would they make of a culture where use of the term “people of color” marks you as cutting-edge, anti-racist progressive and use of the term “colored people” marks you as an unredeemable, knuckle-dragging racist? Where departments devoted ostensibly to bringing together the great literatures of world culture spend most of their time infighting about whether white people who wear dreadlocks are racist?

    I share your pain 🙂

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