So what’s objectivity? I guess I don’t know anymore. But that’s sort of what I tried to be way back in college or, let’s say, I saw that as a task intimately allied with the pursuit of Truth. I think Freud equated objectivity with the attitude of the surgeon relative to the person being cut open. Given my limited experience with surgeons, I think that a bad analogy. Or perhaps he equated objectivity with the determination to look at the truth however gross, ugly, and morally repellant it might be.
I think I once thought of it that way—objectivity as the means to pursue the ends of truth, requiring a kind of emotional willingness to look at ugliness and moral decay however repellant and with the determination too to try as hard as possible to make myself aware of the beliefs and assumptions and perspectives that might shape my perception of the truth however ugly it might be. Or perhaps it was only some unseen or unquestioned believe or attitude that made it seem repellent.
I felt in any case that I had a duty to look at myself as I looked at the object to see, if I could, how my self shaped what I saw. But I guess I had a pretty high faulting notion of the truth or something like it. I sat through lectures by professors that were very biased and apparently the professor felt no need to point to the bias or identify it as such. And I am not speaking of something here as super-subtle as that business of constructing disciplinary distinctions.
I sat through a political science class that was devoted to international relations and the study of revolutions. This was a GE course and intended I guess as a survey of a couple of big topics. The international relations part was informed entirely by the realist perspective I have previously mentioned (though not announced as such).
The revolution part was quite amazing because the professor, no matter what the revolution—Russian, Chinese or Vietnamese—made it out, one way or another, that Communism had not won. No, the pre-existing order or the mélange of parties that arouse during the revolutionary turmoil and opposed to the communists had failed to rise to the occasion. If Communism won that as not because they had a positive agenda or appealed to the hearts and minds of the masses but because the opposition had proven inept and admittedly at times quite corrupt.
Over and over the pattern repeated itself in the analysis of this particular Professor who was Chinese and born in Taiwan. Perhaps this Professor lacked any introspective powers or actually believed what he said. I don’t know. But the context of this theory—that is, himself—in his origins and attitudes was never addressed as a possible contributing factor to the Professor’s particular take on Communism and on theories of revolution more generally.
I was appalled but didn’t mention the Professor’s possible bias to my students because I was busy trying to keep them for ridiculing and complaining about the Professor because his spoken English was, how to say, rather foggy. The students just didn’t like the Professor it seemed, and I remember one student perturbed because the Professor had given her an A- on her first paper because he said it was “over-organized.” What the heck, the student wondered, did that mean; and frankly I had to say that I had never heard that particular criticism of a student’s paper before.
I suggested that she visit the Professor in his office hours and ask him what it meant. She did and her grade was changed to a straight A.