Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Appropriation of a deadly kind

Around Unitarian Universalism and in the UU Blogosphere {The Blog-UU-sphere?) especially there's been a lot of talk about, and criticism of, appropriation.

The eclectic nature of Unitarian Universalism makes it especially vulnerable to appropriation as well as accusations of appropriation. This blog got started as an unintended consequence of the fact that I've been commenting a lot on the topic on other UU blogs.

In a nutshell, I believe that while concern over appropriation is valid, at times it becomes overblown, even wildly so. Sometimes it becomes like the casual accusation of "racism" or "fascism" in certain contexts -- to the extent that it actually diminishes real appropriation that is wrong and, in some instances, even harmful.

Like this one.

(For a little more context, check here.)


  1. As we discovered elsewhere in the UU blogosphere recently, I largely agree with you on this. I would, though, like to comment on one item you linked to. At the first prompt above, educatedindian, an administrator of NAFPS Forum wrote:

    [Reverend Blomberg's] quest for authentic experience lead her to the most inauthentic of experiences and probably shortened her life unnecesarily.

    To which I can only comment, there is no such thing as an inauthentic experience. If you experience it, it is authentic. What can be inauthentic, though, is your presentation. The statement of fact on the NAFPS Forum was that Bloomberg was presenting herself as someone with legitimate authority, and the counterclaim is being made that she was not a legitimate authority. In other words, her presentation of self and of knowledge was false, according to the claim, or inauthentic if that word means more to you. But anything she actually experienced in her quest and anything anyone under her tutelage experienced in her quest was 100% authentic. You can have shallow experiences. You can misunderstand what you experience. But, if you experience it, it is authentic.

  2. Not to pick nits, but I think NAFPS was trying to say not that Rev. Blomberg had the problem, but that the leader of her expedition was not the right sort of person to lead, and thus any experience she led that purported to be a vision quest wasn't one.

    Or to steal a great line from A.J. Jacobs (The Year of Living Biblically), this was a vision quest the way Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant.

    But, again, I don't think the forum thought that the late Rev. Blomberg had the primary problem; she was a victim of an unscrupulous person.

  3. I don't disagree with you, DairyStateMom. My response was mainly to the language used. Shall we say that the phrase "inauthentic experiences" tripped my trigger. :)

    I have encountered the same kind of wording far too often uttered by people who actually meant that an experience experienced by a person of the wrong identity was invalid, which is what I'm asserting is a nonsense position.

    I would argue, too, that the only way to maintain what educatedindian calls "sovereignty over our spiritual practices" is for no one ever to reveal the practices' substance and/or form to anyone other than those within the group who are internally recognized as authorized to perform the practices. The minute an unauthorized person has access, control is lost. Probably irretrievably.

    And I do not see that as a bad thing.

    But I do see it as very bad for someone to market (as in sell) a spiritual "product" by means of false advertising.

  4. Point taken all around. Thanks for the clarification.

    On the "sovereignty" issue -- of course, it seems to me, it's particularly worrisome and difficult for Native Americans because European settlers and their descendants swiped their land and animals, broke up their families, and destroyed their way of life. That vision quests are now marketed to seeking non-NAs (who, I think it's fair to say, probably have the best of intentions and the nicest possible motives) is yet another thorn in the culture's side. However, as you note above, we probably can't put the toothpaste back in the tube here, either.

    Yikes, I can see this post appearing in The New Yorker's next "Block That Metaphor!" column. Kindly substitute a more apt sentence for my unfortunate "toothpaste" item.


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