This is our 100th episode. Carl and I want to thank you for joining us on this little journey of ours. We have had a great time and appreciate that you have chosen to give us a little bit of your attention during your busy week.
For this special episode we thought we would return to the very beginning – who we are. We chose the name Kairoticast because it is a blend of the Greek work “kairos” and “podcast.” Clearly, you know what a podcast is. But let’s talk for a minute about kairos.
Kairos is an ancient Greek word meaning “the right, critical, or opportune moment.” In rhetoric, kairos is “a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved.” So kairos means that you must find the best situation, taking timing into consideration, to speak or act. We here at Kairoticast take that idea pretty seriously. It’s why we try to keep as current as possible. We want to address the issues of the day, in the moment, to act at the right time, and to give you time to respond. It’s why we try to come to you as close to once a week as we can. We want to be speaking at the right time for the right reaction. Kairos was central to the Sophists, who stressed the rhetor’s ability to adapt to and take advantage of changing, contingent, circumstances. We like the Sophists way of thinking about it. The context is constantly changing – and so we must be constantly re-thinking about how we address the world. Kairoticast attempts to see the world in its particular context and present it to you as best as we can. But the context is always changing. And therefore, so are we.
Kairos is, for Aristotle, the time and space context in which the proof will be delivered. In his Rhetoric, one of the ways that Aristotle uses the idea of kairos is in reference to the specificity of each rhetorical situation. Aristotle believed that each rhetorical situation was different, and therefore different rhetorical devices needed to be applied at that point in time. We at Kairoticast may not apply logos, pathos, and ethos to each situation, but we try to bring the appropriate theory to bear on real life situations for you as is necessary. Rhetorical theory is broad and wide-ranging – there is a great deal we can learn from it and different theories and devices may be appropriate in different circumstances and examples.
Aaron Hess provides a definition of kairos for the present day that bridges the two classical applications: Hess addresses John Poulakos’ view that, “In short, kairos dictates that what is said, must be said at the right time.” He also suggests that in addition to timeliness, kairos considers appropriateness. According to Hess, kairos can either be understood as, “the decorum or propriety of any given moment and speech act, implying a reliance on the given or known”, or as “the opportune, spontaneous, or timely.” Appropriateness is a difficult concept. What one person considers appropriate, another may not. This can veer dangerously into conversations on “civility” which is a contentious topic these days. For years, people have lauded the notion of civil discourse. But recent rhetors have come to question whether the “civil” part of civil discourse is really all that helpful, or whether it is just a way to police the already marginalized. I mean, if your rights are being stripped away from you, and you are being oppressed by somebody, why shouldn’t you be mad? Why should you have to defer to your oppressor in a conversation? Doesn’t that just give them more power? It’s an ongoing conversation, to be sure. So appropriateness is a delicate idea.
Additionally, in modern notions of kairos, factors such as cultural background, previous social experiences, and current mood, can influence the capacity to see and understand the correct and opportune moment of action. The idea that the right moment can be a matter of cultural background and previous contexts and experiences is of particular interests to us at Kairoticast. It makes kairos a more responsive and less hegemonic idea.
The important thing about kairos is getting the timing right – identifying the right moment to say exactly what you mean. So in some ways kairos is a little bit about truth-building and a lot about persuasion. The Sophists like Gorgias would have seen it as the opportunity to build truth by finding the exact right thing at the exact right moment. And that exact right thing would be true then. Aristotle would have seen it as finding the most persuasive thing to say in that context. In the modern sense we think of it as being the right thing to say at the right time.
Which leads to an important question? What is the right thing to say now? What is this time? What is our context now? Kairos is a matter of what to say in a specific moment. What do you say at that point to create the truth or to be persuasive? What context has led you to that specific statement? But for a moment, allow us to consider this from a broader perspective. We are in a pretty notable historic moment. What is the right thing to say at this time in history? What is our moment? How are we situating ourselves in this context?
In 2015 I made an important pedagogical decision for myself. I was watching the campaigns for the 2016 election, and I made a pretty big pivot in the way I taught my classes. I think I’ve probably paid for it in some ways, but it was important to me, personally.
I had always made it a goal to be relatively neutral in the classroom. I didn’t shy away from controversial issues, ever, but I made a point to not make my politics known. I was a big believer that an instructor should not wade into the fray and that if students were presented with all the relevant information, then they should make their own decisions from there. On the surface, that sounds all fine and good. But 2015 and the 2016 election and the ensuing years presented me with a real moral quandary. I was teaching political rhetoric and protest classes and it was the age of Trump. I was watching fascism and institutionalized white supremacy in action, and it couldn’t be swept under the rug anymore. It was big, bold, and undeniable. And I have a kid. And I asked myself, if my kid ever asks me, what did I do when America was falling apart, what will I say? When the fascists and the Nazis and The Great Replacement proponents were taking hold, where was I? And I didn’t want to tell them, I was voting and donating here and there, but publicly, I was neutral. Because these are not things you should be neutral about. I thought about Desmond Tutu, and MLK, and Eli Wiesel who said when you choose the side of objectivity you have chosen the side of the oppressor. And I didn’t want to be that person. I didn’t want my students to see that example in front of them for 3 hours a week. It was the right thing to say at the right time. And here’s where that kairos thing becomes complicated. There are plenty who would say it wasn’t the most appropriate move. That it is inappropriate for teachers to pick a side. But it was the right move. So I started speaking out against authoritarianism, and the people who wanted to instill it. I spoke out against white supremacy. I spoke out against misogyny. I spoke out against the erosion of our institutions. I was polemic and opinionated. And I haven’t stopped. The age of Trump radically changed my pedagogy. Trump is gone but the machinery he put into motion is not. And I won’t sit idly by and let my students think that neutrality is the right response in the face of that. The moment called for me to speak out. It was the right thing to do at that time.
Trump isn’t the looming figure he was in 2016 or 2020. But he’s still a dark force on the horizon. And we are still faced with a number of issues that demand us to ask of ourselves – what do we say and do now? What is the right thing to say at this particular moment? What does this hour ask of us?
I was at home watching tv on January 6th, 2021, and I watched the siege of the Capitol take place in real time. Carl and I watched in horror as people spilled into the Capitol and overtook the building. The thing about the live footage was that you couldn’t tell just how bad and how violent it was then. You didn’t see the destruction and the physical assaults on people at that point. But even then, just watching the people come into the buildings, we knew we were watching something horrible. We knew we were watching insurrection. There was no question in our minds that this was an all-out revolt against the United States government.
And the response to Jan 6th acknowledged that. Republicans and Democrats alike condemned int in equal measure and blamed Trump and it seemed for a few minutes like we all agreed on something. But then the partisanship took over. The GOP backtracked. Over the coming months Republicans started softening on their outlook to Jan 6th, calling it legitimate political discourse and removing Donald Trump from the conversation. And now we are at a point where it seems like a good chunk of America would just like to forget it ever happened because it wasn’t that big of a deal and move on.
We can’t let that happen. The insurrection on Jan 6th wasn’t just a demonstration. It wasn’t even just a riot. It was a revolt against the government. And if we want to make sure it wasn’t the opening salvo in a concerted attack on our nation, it HAS to be addressed. That’s what the January 6th Committee is. So NOW is the time. Talk about what you are seeing and hearing. If you are a teacher, when your students are back in the classroom, discuss the hearings with them. Don’t let the Committee’s work be futile. Bring it into the light. THIS is the moment. The work is being done for us. We just have to keep the conversation going.
Now is also the time to speak up for women. American women have just received a major blow from their government. For the first time in history the Supreme Court has taken away a right. And it was from women. Women in red states are in serious danger when it comes to their reproductive health. And that means women’s rights in general are at stake. Now is the time to speak up for women. For those of you in my international audience, it may seem that America is just moving farther and farther backward right now. To be honest, sometimes we feel that way, too. But that is why now is the time to say something. To stop the slide backwards. Reach out to your representatives. Talk to the people who you will be voting for. Make sure they know that you think women are real people who deserve real rights. Find an audience. Talk to people who matter. This battle has been going on for 50 years. This is not new. It’s not like this is the first time women have needed your voice. But now lives depend on it. This is a crucial moment. The context is different now because the laws themselves are changing. Use your voice or your wallet or your computer or whatever you can to let people know that women matter. Otherwise, they won’t.
Another group of people who are under attack right now are the LGBTQ community. If Clarence Thomas his way all the of the strides the Queer community had made in the last few decades would be erased entirely. And he’s very public about that. The Trump administration led a sustained attack on the Queer community throughout his administration. And the continued flood of anti-trans laws that are coming from the states is staggering. States such as Texas (and others that have followed suit) have made it illegal to give gender-affirming care to trans kids and have threatened to separate trans kids from their parents. They have turned teachers and medical staff into police in these efforts, weaponizing the relationships that kids rely on most for support. These are terrorizing laws with heart-breaking outcomes. People are in danger because of these laws. And they are based on nothing but hate.
The visitor center at the Stonewall National Monument will open in 2024. They had their groundbreaking ceremony in June. Think about that for a minute. What started as an anti-cop riot has become a national monument to Queer power and love. Stonewall started the Pride movement. It is what happens when people seize the right moment to do and say the right thing. The world changes.
Support the LGBTQ community. Speak out against the oppression. Don’t let people get away with hateful comments. Support queer businesses and don’t spend money in places that are terrorizing gay and trans people. These are scary times for the Queer community. Be an instrument of love.
There is a concerted attack on teachers and our education system going on right now that demands our voices. Forces from the right are intent on dismantling the public education system through privatization, systems of vouchers, attacking teachers’ credentials, in some cases eliminating teachers’ credentials, delegitimizing educators, and using the pandemic as an excuse to pan education in general. Make no mistake, an attack on education is an attack on democracy. Public schools are the backbone of our democratic society. And I don’t mean in the neo-liberal sense that they occupy our kids during the day so the grown-ups can get to work. I mean they provide us with an educated population and democracies need educated populations to thrive. Which makes you wonder – who are the people who are attacking schools? Why do they want to chip away at education? What do they get out of tearing down schools? A cynical person might think that they benefit from an ignorant population. But we have certainly never been cynical here on Kairoticast.
And this attack on schools has come in a variety of forms. We have talked before about the attempt to ban books. The books under review and being pulled from school curricula deal with race and LGBTQ+ issues. These are populations that deal with marginalization in a number of ways. Some of these kids need access to these books at school because it’s where they have access to books. They may not be part of larger communities where there is a supportive environment of literacy. They may not be in a situation where they can easily get to the library. Their parents may not support their reading habits, either because of environmental reasons or BECAUSE they are marginalized.
These kids NEED representation in school. And, quite frankly, those kids who aren’t marginalized NEED to see those kids represented just as much. We can’t relegate the stories of marginalized people to places where only certain people go.
When we tell these kids it’s okay if your story isn’t told at school because you can find it at the library, it’s tantamount to marginalizing them all over again. Because what they may hear when we say that is that it’s okay if your story isn’t told. Once again, if we were cynical, we would say this is part of that attempt to keep kids ignorant. If kids don’t know there are different kinds of people out there, they won’t learn to accept different kinds of people. We all know ignorance breeds hate.
This brings us to the trumped-up argument over CRT. As we have noted before, Critical Race Theory, or CRT, is an academic discipline composed of scholars in the United States who have examined how supposedly colorblind laws may enforce systemic racism, and how transforming the relationship between law and racial power can achieve social justice. Critical Race Theory examines how the law and institutions intersect with issues of race, and challenges mainstream liberal approaches to racial justice. Critical Race Theory argues that racism is systemic and institutional, rather than just a collection of individual actions or ideas. It also views race as a socially constructed identity. Critics object because they say CRT teaches that America, and all white people, are racist.
Systems are racist. Institutions are racist. Racism is not a product of individual ideas or actions; it is the systemic processes. So a person is racist because they are a part and a product of a system. Even if that person isn’t particularly prejudicial themselves, they are part of a racist system. A white person is part of a racist system or institution, and they benefit from it. They are part of a racist ideology. They are part of a racist machine. And because racism isn’t due to a white person’s individual thoughts or actions, they are part of this racist system even if they, themselves, are not particularly biased. Because the SYSTEM is biased. So one of the things that a CRT perspective invites us to do is decouple the ideas of racism and personal moral failing. Certainly, there are some people who are prejudiced, white supremacists, and that is bad. But racism isn’t a personal issue. It is the system in which you live. You aren’t bad if you are a racist – because every white person is a racist because every white person is a part of a racist system. Now, how you choose to operate within that system speaks to your character – do you seek to uphold the system, or do you try to empower Black people and People of Color? But there is a connection between whiteness and racism not because white people are bad, but because whiteness is institutional, and institutions are racist. This nuance is lost on CRT critics who hear accusations of racism and just think “they think we’re bad people!” So is America a racist country? Well, it is based on systems of slavery, colorblind law (which inherently privileges whiteness), and policing Black and Brown bodies. That’s racist! It’s not because each American is bad. It’s because the systems we set up in the beginning were racist and those systems are still running. It’s not about individuals doing bad things (and being judged for them), it’s about the machines that run the nation and their very programming being racist.
So the opposition is all keyed up because they claim CRT says that America is a racist country. And when they make that claim the usual pattern is for progressives to say, “No, that’s not accurate.” But this time, it kind of is. CRT does argue that America is a racist country. But that means something different than what the opposition would have you believe. When critics hear “America is a racist country” they hear “All Americans are evil.” But the actual argument is “the systems of power at the root of America are biased against Black people and People of Color.” Those are two completely different things.
But to be perfectly frank, when people fret about CRT being taught in schools this isn’t what they are upset about. Very few junior high and high school curriculums get into this kind of nuance when discussing race. The classes in public schools aren’t being taught about systems of power and race and institutions. I know because it is always such a shock and source of confusion to my college students. No, what people object to students being taught is Black history. Teaching Black history is a direct affront to that whiteness. And I want to be really clear, here – this isn’t even teaching “diversity” or “inclusion” or whatever buzzword you want to throw in there. I’m just talking about teaching the history of Black folks. Just straight up history. Teaching the history of Black people, or Native people, or Latino people is such a challenge to white supremacy that people in power are trying to outlaw it. Forget the theorizing or the critical approach to history that CRT asks- we are talking about just teaching straight up history. But because it is Black history or Native history it gets labeled CRT and banished. Because anything other than a white story is an affront. So people are telling teachers they can’t teach the histories of non-white people.
So now is the time to speak up for schools, books, and educators. Now is the time to say Black Lives Matter, because it’s all bound up into one big issue. Now is a crucial moment for students of all backgrounds who are just trying to understand the world and who are being stripped of that chance by dark forces who want to make ignorance the standard.
There are so many things that the moment calls for us to speak about. Now is the time to be bold and make yourself heard. It’s the right word at the right time. Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t appropriate.
Kairos means something important to us. We try very hard to stay current for you, but more importantly, we try to bring you ideas that are important. That the moment calls for. I don’t know if we ever achieve that Sophistic ideal of being truth-builders, but we try very hard to think about the context in which we find ourselves and ask what is the right thing to say right now?
We hope you thought about the same things in the last 100 episodes. If at any point you have considered your historical moment and what needs to be said about it, then we have done our job. If not, keep coming back. We’ll keep trying. We’ll find the right thing to say one of these times.
Music in this episode is “Fearless First” by Kevin MacLeod at https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/3742-fearless-first.