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Kate A. Manne
- Society for the Humanities
- Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies
How to Get Sick of Winning
Social epistemology has long focused on agents who are, in various ways, too quiet. They are undermined by testimonial injustice (Miranda Fricker 2007) or subject to testimonial smothering (Kristie Dotson 2011)—very roughly, a kind of coerced self-silencing on the part of a speaker. But the opposite problem is, I believe, just as worthy of study. These are the agents who are too loud, brash, and arrogant, and tend to overrate their own authority (this being one aspect of the well-known Dunning-Kruger effect). These agents feel too entitled to have the floor, occupy space, and take up airtime. And we, the moral majority, tend to let them dominate. Such domineering agents may think they have the answers; or, still worse, fail to feel they ought to, in order to keep on talking. As a particularly interesting structural possibility, they may be bent on maintaining a sense of their own superiority or expertise, while unwilling to face the concomitant possibility of being wrong or standing corrected.
I will argue that such tendencies underlie a range of social ills and discursive vices in contemporary American public life (for starters). They beget straw manning and mansplaining. They are also linked, I believe, to a proclivity for gaslighting. As Kate Abramson (2014) has argued, a gaslighter is often someone who cannot tolerate clashing perspectives or challenges to his authority, self-perception, or reports of his own experience. So he grooms interlocutors to agree with and echo him, in view of his hostility and (more or less) explicit threats to dissenting parties.
This project would seek to explore both how the assumption and granting of authority—social, intellectual, and moral—plays out, as well as how this vital and somewhat constrained (though not zero sum) resource may be fairly and justly redistributed in both interpersonal and public settings. We need new concepts and narratives to enable supple resistance and quick subversion in this age of the re-entrenchment of history’s winners and default occupants of the high ground. We need not only for some people to break their silence, but for others to learn to listen without interjecting. And whereof someone knows much less than others, thereof they should be silent—or at least to restrict themselves to asking pertinent questions, in good faith, without sealioning.