Critique as Care
Mandy Harris Williams
Critique is an essential form of care, and it is an especially relevant one in the context of the information age––one of the era’s primary features being vertical feed, and fingertip access to a multiplicity of knowledge and fields of knowledge. The ease with which the brain is attenuated to micro-informational absorption, accompanied by very little effort or motility is by far one of the biggest changes to cognition in at least several vectors of novelty, of our time. Touch linguistics examine how these microactions pervade popular discourse about [supposedly] instinctual behaviors, “scroll hole,” “swipe right/left,” “feed,” to name a few. These are updates on classic states of mind, new ways of being in the most basic of facets of interfacing with the world around us. “Information Age,” then, describes the ease of access, more so than quality of information. (In fact, some also call this particular moment, “The Post Truth Era,” which rings accurate to me as well.)
Inasmuch as there has never been such unprecedented access to media, content, video, sound, text–– much of which is created by users as social media––all discrete pieces of information themselves (including some that represent previous repositories of information), there arise pressing logistical, moral, existential and philosophical concerns:
- What do we do with all of this information?
- Which information is reliable?
- Which information is worthy of attention and how is worth determined?
- Which voices are reliable? What constitutes expertise? What is the nature and role of expertise? What is its worth? Which sorts of expertise are valuable?
- Which information/voices have which kind of interests? (ex. Commercial, educational, governmental)
- What is the role in which search engines, social media platforms, and other informational ranking systems? What is the role of algorithm? Categorization? Discrimination? How do I/we acknowledge, co-opt, disrupt, share space with, interact within and/or beyond with these ranking systems? By which values is information ranked?
- What are the stated aims of this content/media/information and how are resources apportioned to meet those aims? From whence are those resources derived?
Criticism is similar to many recognized forms of care:
Criticism is like nutritional health work, because it considers the health of the body: intake, digestion, waste. It responds to specific circumstances.
Criticism is like bodywork and massage because it moves energy, applies pressure to inflammation and blockages. It maintains circulation and flow.
Criticism is like cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s the desire for an exploration of all the feelings, sensations and triggers. It examines learned automatized scripts that apportion love, care, rest, and other aspects based on phenotype, beauty privilege, and a host of other manifest physical privileges. It teaches us to have different reactions. It reviews how we’ve all acted in ecology.
Criticism is like surgery because it seeks to augment livelihood, identify and extract harmful growths, and reconnect tissues for more .
Criticism is like coaching because it proposes best practices for processing under competitive circumstances, evaluates strategies, compromises and proposes team and individual solutions.
Criticism is educative, and best when based on education––not institutionally speaking, but more so where ongoing emphasis is applied in service of greater understanding.
Criticism is dissimilar from pampering. Criticism is deep tissue massage, while pampering is akin to the extra leg massage during the pedicure. Depth is of the essence.
Criticism is dissimilar from adornment–– a form of care that might be more frequently found in editorial and advertorial media, feature writing and online fan content. These forms of interaction with the zeitgeist, especially in their current market forms, aim to elevate the objects: necessarily. (Commercial interests.)
Earnest social and cultural critique is, and always will be, the desire to get to the bottom of the thing for the liberation of truth and therefore, all people involved. It must remain a tool of the people in times of increasing fascism. We must augment both criticism and (especially, local) investigative journalism, as the people’s reconnaissance. This criticism forms necessary data for the efforts at redesigning society towards more caring and liberated ends.
We should be wary of works, and/or institutional and social structures that portend to work as the avant garde of culture and innovation that do not actively encourage criticism, and take on a critical stance and praxis, themselves. These must be fields that always invite the mirror. They hold one another to a highest standard. They must look at what is made, but also how it is made and by whom and (cumulatively, then) towards what ends: value directionality in matrix form––outcomes over intents.
Critique should always be subject to critique but not for its own sake, not because a criticism was dare made.
Critique is not cancellation. It is anything but. What critique ultimately belies is belief: there’s something there, there. But to whom and who should keep track? Everybody. Everybody should know how to keep track and have a vested interest in keeping track. We must encourage the habit of critical thinking about everyone.
There have also been bad faith attempts at critique in the tradition’s history, and today, it is just as often seen as good, earnest critique, in part because there is so little esteem and cultural emphasis on genuine, high-level critique. This endangers the status of this practice, but it’s meant to. With social and political criticism out of the way, fascism is left to flourish.
State and Media corporate praxes work as panopticon. One reinforces the other’s ability to see and gather data–––– for which there is no returned gaze. We must return and redistribute the gaze. We must practice investigation and critique as ways of seeing deeply such that the white male hetero normative gaze that socially controls us can be identified, dismantled and redirected. Absent their own modalities of critique, any and everyone falls victim to that of State and Media Industrial Complexes. The contrapositive social set up against state intelligence fascism, is robust critical sociability. The people must imagine, set up, and live by their own standards. Otherwise, the standards of the status quo go unchecked: that which will grow the wealth of the 1% vs that which will not. A flourishing critical society impacts the people’s perception of all market forces and actors, including leadership and consumption. As we perfect democracy, there can be no complacency in measurements of form, nor in those of performance.
As with any measure of care, critique can be overdosed. Spread critique over time.
An expansion or reclamation of critique might look like:
- … an ecology of acknowledgement and awareness, shared goals, and history.
- … intentional re-establishment and vocalization of shared goals.
- … an examination of the constitution or other vital documents that state previously shared goals and analysis of the ability of government and the people to live up to those ideals.
- … the utilization of less prepackaged aesthetic value: more independent cultural production, more modalities for popular reception regardless of institutional recognition.
- … dropping celebrity and institutional demagoguery.
- … wide shared responsibility for cultural analysis.
- …. critique as popular discursive methodology.
- … gossip.
Critique holds fascism as it’s enemy. It evades moral relativism, that slippery slope––or at the very least, it takes it on. It doesn’t flinch when it’s time to buckle down for hours brushing through the nature of an issue to find the one small glitch such that it can be corrected for the harmony of the system–– this is a means of intellectual rigor. And although there are frequent (bad faith) critiques of critique equating to perfectionism, it bears acknowledgement of the system that aims to be perfected––if these systems aim to perfect the experience of the status quo or liberate the subaltern, othered, or systematically under supported. While political critique must be attended to at the national level, we must also see how we act in support or defiance of these exercises of governance, how we replicate systems of belief through social groups and individual actions.
As individual actors (within a society), we interface with the complexes built from our bodies, and although they are not necessarily our truest selves, we must be willing to do the very least of all social interactions: admit the body is here and we negotiate it––having it writ large, being in it, using it to express, to communicate, and to extend care to others to the best of its ability. The body is our means for enacting our purpose, and yet, it has a categorical weight, worth, and narrative beyond our control. Ironically, use of our bodies plays a significant role in working around the body(‘s) industrial complexes. There is only one known means of escaping it, from which there can be no reporting as to its efficacy in ensuring transcendence. Our intent is separate from our impact, and we must look at each other with at minimum this worldliness. We must hold critique as a fond tool for bettering ourselves and our immediate communities. We must take responsibility for a more perfect representative democracy. We must evaluate individual abilities to impact liberation positively and expansively, coordinate these abilities in strategic ecologies, and root out oppressive micro through macro aggressive tendencies that produce status quo outcomes. Critique is a necessary practice to ensure this level of care, and at best, critique is understood as a modality of that care, itself.