“Doubt is the big machine. It grinds up the delusions of women and men.” –Victor LaValle, Big Machine.
Reflecting on where I was in February, I see that I started this semester with a lot of doubt. In my first blog post, I wrote about my lack of confidence and my goal to improve my skills as an English major through repetition and practice. In class, Dr. McCoy encouraged us to ask questions and admit when we didn’t know something. Through this, I learned that while self-doubt can be inhibiting, it can also provoke amazing conversations which will ultimately challenge you to produce stronger arguments. I was always a perfectionist and I refused to admit that I did not have all of the correct answers, which caused great hesitation when I wasn’t sure of my argument. In my last blog post, “What’s in a name?” I was significantly more confident in my claims and admitted my lack of knowledge on the Bible. I confessed to my readers that I did not know the significance of Solomon’s name. Then I received a very helpful comment by Sarah Holsberg filling in the gaps in my argument. This experience (and this class) has taught me that by simultaneously trusting and doubting myself, others, and institutions, I will gain the most out of my experiences.
A delusion, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary is “something that is falsely believed or propagated.” This definition reminded me of “The danger of a single story.” In this TED Talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discusses how a single (possibly incorrect or essentialist) view can be perpetuated through mainstream culture through repetition of the ideas without revision. Our class discussion on the day we watched this TED Talk led to the concept of power and how it is derived from telling someone else’s story and making it the defining one. When we come into contact with one of these single stories our doubt gives us power and in this way it “grinds up the delusions of women and men.” This sparked my interest in the role of power in trust and doubt and made me reflect on a conversation we had in class earlier in the year about institutionalized power imbalances and consent. In discussion, we wondered how much of our education is consensual. Yes, I choose to be at Geneseo and I chose to take this class, but it is also major required and I did not choose the syllabus or hire the professors. The power is given to the professors to choose what they show us, essentially manipulating our thoughts. This conversation was relevant to me at the time since upon seeing the lengthy syllabus and “giant anthology” I wanted to drop this class but could not. At that time in the semester, I was feeling very indignant, thinking Geneseo had done me wrong because I was in this class under the illusion of free will. After reading “Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler I have rethought these views which has caused me to view my education (and this class) in a different light.
In “Bloodchild”, there are two groups, the Tlic and the Terran. The Terran are human-like “aliens” who fled their own land to inhabit the Tlic’s land. The two groups established an agreement where the Terran can stay on the land and be incorporated into the Tlic families as long as they give up their children to host Tlic offspring. The Terran, who are physically less powerful than the Tlic are not allowed to have guns or cars. This places them in a position of weakness and they cannot save themselves if a “birth” goes awry. T’Gatoi is a Tlic government official who has more power than Gan, a Terran. The Tlic need the Terran to sustain their population and T’Gatoi chooses Gan to host her offspring. It is difficult to know if Gan truly consented to host them, though, since his mother promised one of her children and Gan was caged by T’Gatoi’s long legs within minutes after his birth. During Gan’s life, he has been shown diagrams of hosting Tlic offspring and told it is a “good and necessary process.” He was raised to trust these ideas without ever doubting them. In other words, he had a single story of how his life would go. At this point, injecting Gan with her eggs would be a nonconsensual process coerced through a power imbalance. Gan trusted T’Gatoi out of necessity because that is how his society is structured. After witnessing the removal of larvae from another Terran, Gan is well aware of what is going to happen to him and he begins doubting everything he has been taught noting that “this was something else, something worse.” Then he challenges T’Gatoi asking why she didn’t ask him what he wanted. She says that he can choose and he decides that if he can keep the gun to save his life if things go wrong, then he will host her offspring. He tells her “if these are adult things, accept the risk. There is risk, Gatoi, in dealing with a partner.” By doubting her and creating an equal situation, Gan (now informed) consents to be injected. He suggests that the Terran should be shown what is to be expected at a young age instead of being “protected” from the knowledge that would inform their consent. While some would consider the charts and diagrams adequate to be considered informed, Gan’s comments that they did not prepare him for witnessing the real thing hint that it is not a sufficient education.
So how does this inform my writing process and my development over this semester? As I said before, I entered this class with a lot of doubt. I doubted my ability to be successful. I doubted the syllabus and Geneseo as an institution. I thought that these doubts were bad, but now I realize that it is a good thing to be critical, especially in the face of a power imbalance. Like in “Bloodchild”, I have no choice but to go along with it and accept the risk of dealing with a partner. I had to put my trust in Geneseo and in my professors to provide me with good information. In regards to this class, my doubts surrounding the literature fueled my education in that I was constantly looking for connections between the pieces. These connections formed the course concepts and helped inform future readings. Reflecting now on whether this class was consensual has me feeling much better than the beginning of the semester. While there is a power imbalance between professors and students, professors also rely on us for their jobs. There is a risk for both groups. And while I was forced to take this class, I was not forced to learn anything. I could doubt the information given to me or I could accept it. In finding the balance between trust and doubt, I think I got the most out of this semester.