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Bullies, Lisping Babies and Timid Chickens: Peter Brady and the Limits of Reason

OR How Peter Brady Single-handedly Defeated Jurgen Habermas and his theory of communicative rationality

Making trouble and being in trouble are usually thought of as bad things—as things that we want to get out of as soon as possible. Smoothing over trouble and getting out of trouble becomes the goal. But, how do (and should) we resolve trouble? How do we get rid of it? And, how do we make sure that we deal with trouble in ways that don’t do harm to ourselves or others? What happens when trouble comes in the form of a violent bully? How do we resolve that situation? And, is resolution the best response?

So, for over 10 years now I have wanted to write about an episode of the Brady Bunch called “A Fistful of Reasons”.  If you haven’t seen it, you should. It is from the second season, which may be the best season of the series—“Will the real Jan Brady please stand up?” “The Liberation of Marcia Brady.” Need I say more?

It all started when I was in graduate school taking a class on Hermeneutics at School of Theology at Claremont. We were discussing Jurgen Habermas and his idea of communicative rationality. Simply (maybe too simply?) put, Habermas believes that we can resolve our conflicts and come to agreement by engaging in rational dialogue with each other. This dialogue involves the practicing of a certain set of rational and reasonable rules that we use as we talk with each other. In other words, our differences of opinion and conflicts with each other are smoothed over when we use “calm, cool reason.”

Habermas’ idea sounds great: using reason and being reasonable allows us to engage with others without resorting to violence, right? But, what happens when all of our appeals to reason and our attempts at rational conversations with others don’t seem to work? What happens when those with whom we come into conflict don’t want to talk or resolve differences but want to impose their own ideas onto us in violent ways? How do we get those people to listen to us? How do we reason with them? Enter Peter Brady and the Brady Bunch episode, “A Fistful of Reasons.”

Continue reading Bullies, Lisping Babies and Timid Chickens: Peter Brady and the Limits of Reason

What is Troublemaking?

Troublemaking is an approach to looking at and acting in the world.
Troublemaking is a broad term that encompasses a wide range of practices.
Troublemaking is thinking critically all the time.
Troublemaking is the willingness to challenge the status quo.
Troublemaking is a skill that must be cultivated and practiced.
Troublemaking is not only destructive but productive.
Troublemaking is asking questions and being curious.
Troublemaking is about pushing at the limits of our most sure ways of knowing.

Troublemaking is dangerous.
Troublemaking is creative.
Troublemaking is virtuous.
Troublemaking is needed.

Over the past few years I have spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on the value of troublemaking for individuals and communities who are engaged in ethical, political, personal, theoretical projects of social transformation. I have studied it, written about it and taught it in undergraduate and graduate courses at the University of Minnesota.

Troublemaking (as a wide range of practices, an attitude, a virtue) is a compelling way to organize my feminist and queer thinking about the world. When I reflect on what moves me (as a writer, as a scholar, as a thinker, as a critic, as a person), I am perpetually drawn to the idea of troublemaking.

Before saying anything more, I must admit that my thinking about troublemaking is inspired by Judith Butler (Yes, I am a big fan who has read almost everything she has ever written). I first read Gender Trouble as a graduate student in Claremont, California in 1996. And, like many others, I was deeply moved and changed forever. But, what moved me about her work were not simply her ideas about troubling gender or about performativity. What moved me about her work was the attention and value she gave to troublemaking as an important way of living.

In the preface to Gender Trouble, she writes, “…trouble is inevitable and the task, how best to make it, what best way to be in it” (vii).

  • But, what would it mean to embrace trouble? To develop strategies for making it and being in it in ways that could produce compelling and potentially transformative ideas and actions?
  • What would it mean to take troublemaking seriously—as an important way of living life? As an object/subject of analysis? As a virtue that guides our moral and ethical practices?
  • What would it mean to encourage the troublemaker and troublemaking within us—to listen to the voice that tells us that something isn’t right and that demands that we challenge the ideas that are being forced upon us? To refuse to merely accept what we are told without question or careful consideration? To perpetually ask why things are the way that are and who benefits from them being so? And, most importantly, always to think and reflect on our lives and our actions and relationships to others?