LINGUIST List 7.813

Sun Jun 2 1996

Disc: LSA & Political Correctness

Editor for this issue: Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <aristartam2000.tamu.edu>


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  1. John Turing, LSA Policies

Message 1: LSA Policies

Date: Sun, 02 Jun 1996 13:32:39 CDT
From: John Turing <jttcasi.brin.org>
Subject: LSA Policies
I must admit that IUm a little disappointed in how the discussion 
on LSA's meeting policy has been going. What I don't get is a 
perception that people are really trying to listen to the other 
person's point of view. This seems to be particularly true of 
those on the 'left' of this discussion (and I use this term with 
some regret, since I'm both 'left' myself, and gay to boot). Posters 
on this issue seem to be divided into at least five groups. 

1. People who assert that LSA's meeting policy is political, e.g. Michael
 Covington 

URL: http://www.emich.edu/~linguist/issues/html/7-734.html#1

2. People who deny that LSA's meeting policy is political, e.g. Lynne 
Murphy

URL: http://www.emich.edu/~linguist/issues/html/7-749.html#5

3. People who argue that LSA's meeting policy discriminates against 
certain regions of the USA, e.g. Dick Hudson

URL: http://www.emich.edu/~linguist/issues/html/7-786.html#3

4. People who argue that there's no reason to expect that LSA should 
meet in all regions: LSA alternates between the east coast, west coast 
and midwest anyway, e.g. Ellen Prince

URL: http://www.emich.edu/~linguist/issues/html/7-805.html#1

5. People who say that there's no other position a rational person 
could take, e.g. Karl Teeter

URL: http://www.emich.edu/~linguist/issues/html/7-811.html#5

I think we can disentangle all this obfuscation by looking at it 
from the standpoint of what we all agree on. I'd suggest that 
everyone, on all sides of the issue, would agree with the following 
statement:

	Discipline-oriented organizations like LSA have a primary 
	obligation first to their field, and second to their members. 

Following from this, I'm fairly sure that everyone would agree 
that (1) LSA's focus should be on linguistics, and (2) LSA 
shouldn't have meetings in places where our colleagues 
are going to get arrested or harassed.

I think, then, we can say that that part of LSA's policy which 
is designed to protect linguists from actual harassment is 
legitimate. Where, for example, there are actively enforced 
sodomy rules, LSA meetings should not be held. This part 
of LSA's policy is not 'political.' 

What about LSA's policy on ageism and sexual equality? For 
that matter, what about states where sodomy laws remain on 
the books because of ancient history but are never, ever enforced 
any more? We can't say that our colleagues are likely to suffer
damage from visiting such states. LSA here is making a 
statement which has nothing to do with linguistics or 
protecting our members. This part of LSA's policy is 
clearly 'political.' 

Now do these policies conflict with LSA's obligations 
towards its members? Clearly, I think, the answer is yes. 
Because of these policies, LSA meets (almost) exclusively 
in (1) the Northeast (2) Chicago (3) California. Many, many 
linguists don't live in these places, and thus have to pay 
expensive airfares to get there. If, on the other hand, you 
happen to live in one of these three areas, you can count 
on getting to at least one LSA meeting in three pretty cheaply. 
The argument that LSA alternates between the three major 
regions of the US is specious. What good does it do you if 
you live in Georgia and LSA is held in 'your' region in 
Boston? The argument that LSA can only meet in large 
cities and is thus limited to a few cities is also specious. 
Can anyone seriously suggest that Atlanta or Dallas, or 
Houston or Denver or Miami don't have the hotel capacity 
to hold LSA?

So, I think we can conclude that LSA's meeting policy 
does indeed discriminate against a considerable number 
of its members. 

I think that in this context we on the left have an obligation 
of honesty. I think we should first of all acknowledge that 
the other side has some real, very strong arguments against 
what LSA has done. We *are* perverting LSA's mission. 
We *are* doing something with these policies which drags 
LSA into an arena where it might properly not belong. What 
is more, the people who are opposed to these policies are not 
unperceptive conservatives with an absent social conscience: 
their opinions are defensible even in our own terms. If we 
imply that they're not, all we're doing is demonstrating
that we on the left don't have the ability to understand points 
of view different from our own. We can only genuinely justify 
what we're doing if we accept this fact, and say, with 
some hesitation, that we hope the effects will be socially beneficial, 
for that's the aim of such policies. And we should try, if 
we can, to minimize the effects of the policies on those members who 
live in the 'wrong' part of the country.
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