It’s missing, said Irish Dominican Sr. Margaret MacCurtain, referring to the absence of intellectual rigor in the Vatican’s outlook on the world. But in speaking of the lack of “essential cerebral clout” she was really describing a condition just as prevalent in the media, in the walls of academe, in downtown offices and city halls and in what is referred to as political “debates” but which might be better described as televised born-again vaudeville.
If we had that “essential cerebral clout” we might perhaps see that women’s wombs are theirs to manage and need less policing than men’s penises. In what appears to be a never-ending saga of sordid cover-ups, we learn over and over again that men in high places have clearly needed to have their heads examined. It is the male anatomy that has suffered from too little oversight, with dire consequences for too many children.
In the world of media, if more journalists had that “essential cerebral clout” they might press for real answers to real questions from those who aspire to lead but mostly just lash out and flail in the swamp of ignorance and trash talk. Talk that is disconnected from history and economics and spirituality but connected to every enabling web and media platform and the pulpits of slick TV evangelists and radio jocks willing and able to peddle dross as gold and the promise of heaven for pieces of silver in the here and now. Refusing to accept a dodge or drivel in place of a straight answer to a direct question would be impressive evidence that the media has the essential cerebral clout critical to the effective functioning of the fourth estate.
In the halls of academe we need to quit pretending that reams of tortured prose mean anything when they defy the rules of grammar and syntax that we were once raised to respect. Participating in the collective fiction that anyone really understands–or cares–about the distinction between difference and différance is a failure of essential cerebral clout. The tainted legacy that is mine by virtue of being a child of colonialism dispossesses me less than the fact that aspiring Ph.D. students led by their professors, and driven by notions of what the Academy expects, feign understanding and nod wisely as they hack their way through the dense undergrowth of Derrida, for instance, without crying ENOUGH! When will academics draw on their essential cerebral clout to point out that a sentence such as this defies any standard of reasonableness or grammar? Thus one could reconsider all the pairs of opposites on which philosophy is constructed and on which our discourse lives, not in order to see opposition erase itself but to see what indicates that each of the terms must appear as the différance of the other, as the other different and deferred in the economy of the same (the intelligible as differing-deferring the sensible, as the sensible different and deferred; the concept as different and deferred, differing-deferring intuition; culture as nature different and deferred, differing deferring; all the others of physis – tekhne, nomos, thesis, society, freedom, history, mind, etc. – as physis different and deferred, or as physis differing and deferring.
And in city governments: is it the absence of essential cerebral clout that drives the elected officials of municipalities everywhere to use taxpayer dollars to inflict decisions on their constituents that they would not wish on their worst enemy? Decisions they would not make for their own families in a million years using their own money?
Is it the absence of essential cerebral clout that makes the titans of Wall Street and other places of power ask in apparent bewilderment: “What are they Occupying? What do they want?” Is it the absence of essential cerebral clout that leads these masters of the universe to draw from the well of Marie Antoinette’s wisdom?
Maybe their condition is not the consequence of the absence of essential cerebral clout after all. Maybe this is what death really looks like: the denial of what our eyes see, our ears hear and our hearts know but our mind denies, denies, denies.