On The Ubiquity Of Gatekeeping

Unlike many people, I do not find gatekeeping to be a bad thing [1].  Obviously many people disagree, although most people it seems engage in some sort of gatekeeping.  Whether someone is concerned about whether someone has the standing to talk about a given issue or whether someone is guilty of cultural appropriation or whether something is authentic or not, gatekeeping concerns are very common in our world.  Today I would like to explore why this is the case and why we can expect gatekeeping to continue to be a problem in our society as long as certain conditions exist that make it impossible for it to be otherwise.  It is those conditions that make gatekeeping so ubiquitous in our contemporary world that are of interest to me here, especially because those conditions are so seldom discussed as part of a larger whole.  Sometimes to understand a problem we need to recognize its immensity.

One of the unfortunate but pointed aspects of our existence is the widespread concern that people have with the standing that people have to discuss various matters.  A great many people are unwilling to discuss matters with those they do not trust or consider proper authorities.  Who has the right to talk about certain issues or question those who are considered authorities in different fields?  How accountable are technocratic or cultural elites to ordinary humanity?  How do we define the standards of a field and what does or does not count as science, or history, or art, or music?  Different people have very different definitions on these things, and sometimes attempt to smuggle in answers to disputed questions as part of the definition.  This is certainly so when it comes to science, where sometimes people believe that a belief in physicalism is required for something to be scientific, but it can even extend to fields like analytic philosophy where people gatekeep on what sorts of philosophical views on the theory of logic or language can be properly considered analytical.  When life has gotten to this point gatekeeping is unavoidable.

Beyond questions of definitions of fields and of expertise, there is also a lot of gatekeeping because questions of personal standing are of immense importance in a world where identity concerns are so vitally important.  Can men talk about women’s problems or vice versa?  How black does someone have to be, or how long do their roots have to go in this country, before they can speak authoritatively about the black experience in America?  To what extent do the standards we hold others to about issues we care about apply to us when we are dealing with issues that others care passionately about?  When we seek to define people based on their identity, are we as willing to be defined in the same areas?  If we seek to use desires or longings to legitimize our behavior, are we so willing to grant that same privilege to others?  Given that our society is so quick to deny other people the right to talk about certain things because we do not view them as having standing on identity grounds, it is of course natural and obvious that such issues of standing, or attempts to delegitimize identity politics altogether, would be matters of immense controversy.  To the extent that we wish to deny others the right to critique us or contradict us, this is only to be expected, but such things only change the grounds of debate.

It is not only our times that present the problem of gatekeeping, though.  Any attempt to distinguish and classify something is an effort at gatekeeping.  Any moral or ethical judgment of behavior or of people who commit certain kinds of behavior is gatekeeping.  Any decision as to the sort of people we wish to associate with as friends, as co-workers, as brethren, or who we would wish to have more intimate relations with, is a matter of gatekeeping as well.  Indeed, even the choice of what stores to go to and what items to buy are gatekeeping matters.  And other people are always involved in gatekeeping when it comes to what they will allow us access to insofar as it depends on them.  Indeed, the existence of cells requires gatekeeping in terms of allowing some things to enter the cell and some things to be kept firmly outside.  The minimal requirements of life require there to be a separation between inner and outer space, and any sort of separation or distinguishing at all requires gatekeeping.  It is simply that before we looked into the cell or connected moral matters and identity politics or examined ourselves and sought to set boundaries that other people and those who disagree with us were not allowed to cross that we did not necessarily realize the ubiquitousness of gatekeeping at all.

[1] See, for example:




About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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