Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Michael Benton: Brief Biographical Interjection (A Humanities Apologia)

"Brief Biographical Interjection" (A Humanities Apologia)
Michael Benton

I believe that it is important to fully state my background in order to politically and socially situate myself in regards to my writings and teaching. My background is that of a Southern Californian, blue-collar, working-class family. While my family faced economic difficulties during the 70s, we never starved or lost our house. During the 80s and 90s my family saw their economic status jump into the middle-class and to a relatively comfortable lifestyle. My religious background has ranged from a fundamentalist Baptist faith in my youth to anti-theism in my 20s/30s. As I grew older my reactionary rationalism began to harm my soul and I have once again begun to explore many of the worlds spiritual traditions with the idea that all of us have fragmented understandings and that the best route to spirituality is to try out as many trails as possible.

I have attempted to remain independent in my political affiliations due to a growing skepticism about the goals of popular political organizations. The closest I come to a political belief is in the value of small groups of people coming together to effect change over a small period of time. I have direct experience of many of our country's institutions from private to public to reform schools, honor societies and volunteer programs, probation departments and social workers, city jails and mental institutions, community colleges and state universities, and over 30 different jobs before settling down as a writer/professor/editor. I've also long been interested in subcultural societies, exploring and associating with a wide assortment of groups from Christian fundamentalists/faith healers to Wiccans, gangs to surfers, punks to heavy metal headbangers, academics to activists, drug dealers to Alcoholic/Narcotic Anonymous groups, to wealthy thrill-seekers and homeless street-kids. Throughout all of these experiences I have come into contact with thinkers of the profoundest levels, each with their own completely rationalized worldviews and the theories to explain why they believe what they believe. This has led to a deeper comprehension of how we, as humans, construct rules that govern our group actions and how discourse communities operate. I have seen and experienced much wisdom outside the confines of the academy and this has led to a desire to continuously expand the boundaries of what is considered learning and knowledge. Lets face it, from the moment our mothers gave birth to us we were learning about the world.

Some of the experiences in my life have left me deeply scarred, hurt and cynical, yet I embrace a fierce optimism, and, perhaps, even an illusionary romantic belief in the essential possibilities of humanity. Many people view me as having a definite leftist slant and I would identify myself politically as an anarchist, yet even though I pursue a policy of live and let live, I sometimes surprise myself with some of my conservative moral stances.

As a result of my experiences my philosophical/pedagogical outlook is based on the assumption that most humans have the basic tools necessary to enter into discourse communities. As an educator I believe that it is my responsibility to develop a practical methodology designed to facilitate student-based writing assignments in which they will explore their own social and political stances, begin to explore their environments, and learn to compare/contrast their own positions with those of other individuals, groups, and cultures. I believe that an important route to critical self-awareness and civic response-ability is the questioning and defining of one's own beliefs. For me, this involves writing about them. Once one has gained a conscious understanding of their own self (and this must be the first step) then they can begin to use this base as a launching pad to written (and research) explorations of the outer-world of "other" individuals, groups, and cultures. It is essential that students, instructors, and theorists begin to resist the pigeonholing process of dogmatic (monologic, closed, fearful, unchanging) thinking and learn to range across all boundaries/borders, raiding disciplines/movements/systems for useful techniques, using what is at hand when needed, and never fearing (loss of 'face', respect, position) to change one's mind when situations and environments prove the present methods inadequate. What better environment, an educational setting (or social situation) that operates as a catalyzing enteron, producing self-aware, questioning, critical, responsible, relational and communal citizens. My stance is essentially a call for an openness to the potentials of many different possibilities of living in this world in order to develop more insights into a constantly changing and complex era.

In this I have begun to explore knowledge that is outside the realm of proven science. This exploration is not essentially a journey into “truth” as Western society perceives it, but a journey into “perceiving,” the many routes of seeing, knowing and perceiving are my goal. For me magic is in patterns and meanings--a seeker, however we want to define this role, seeks the patterns and makes them meaningful, communicating this recognition into the world and community. We make them meaningful in our recognition of the patterns and our understanding of the way they shape our conception of reality. Of course, our acceptance of them, or our closing off to their possibilities, plays a big role in the potential of our seeking/journey in life.

Lastly, I believe that 'reality,' 'truth,' and 'knowledge' are socially constructed and often support oppressive power structures. Paradoxically, at the same time, I retain a fierce humanist belief in an individual's abilities to seek out particular truths that satisfy their requirements, or to live quite happily according to the dictates of universal/absolute truths. I believe, though, ultimately, that a critical consciousness requires one to weigh their own beliefs and challenge them constantly through interaction and dialogue with other theories and belief systems. Implicit in my stance is a combination of a humanistic belief in the power of intellectual efforts and a pessimism concerning the motives of those who have the power to re-present 'truths' and 'reality.' I am a bundle of contradictions, but I am OK with that… I am but seeking… really I don’t know anything… do you? Can you help me...

My life-experiences infiltrate and color my theories. They direct me towards certain lines of thought and direct my intellectual activities. There is no way for me to completely escape my cultural background, or, its influence on my worldview. I believe fully that the best course of action is to be completely honest about my experiences and my beliefs. I have set this self-description down in this public manner in order to reflect on the conditions of how I have come to be in the year 2017.

This is not my last statement as being is a process of becoming!

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