Saturday, 12 August 2017

Irrational in Charlottesville

I try to keep this space free of politics, as much I can, but as I watch the images coming out of Charlottesville today I just can't. I'm also currently planning a course on Religion, Violence, and Peace for the fall, which due to current events has become increasingly about the euphemistically named "Alt-Right" (there are other words by which I might more accurately describe such trouble-makers, but neither this blog nor the classroom is a space for such language). As someone who works on Lonergan and scripture, I am naturally thinking through these matters from a Lonergan perspective, and so I'll make some suggestions from that perspective about how one might think about what we see coming out of Virginia today.

Lonergan has a four-fold imperative: Be Attentive. Be Intelligent. Be Reasonable. Be Responsible. Let us take the question: are white persons systematically disadvantaged in the US simply for being white? One attends to the relevant details, such as statistical data. One exercises one's intelligence in an effort to understand the situation via inference from the details to which one has attended. One renders judgment, answering "Yes" or "No" to the question of whether white persons qua white persons are systematically disadvantaged in the US. Then, one operates in conformity with that judgment. In this particular instance the facts of the matter render only one reasonable judgment: No, white persons are not systematically disadvantaged in the US simply for being white. Persons born into poverty and who happen to be white might be systematically disadvantaged, but that is incidental to (and in some very real senses despite) their whiteness. By contrast, if one were to pose the question "Are persons of colour systematically disadvantaged in the US simply for being persons of colour?" the answer must, again, unequivocally, be "Yes." Any other answers to these questions (such as those that invoke such nonsense ideas as "reverse racism" or "white genocide") demonstrate a failure of attentiveness, intelligence, or reason, quite possibly--one suspects probably--all three.

This is where responsibility comes in. If--contrary to fact, intelligence, and reason--I hold that white persons are systematically disadvantaged for being white, and if--contrary to fact, intelligence, and reason--I hold that persons of colour are not, then this distorts my conduct. It renders it impossible for me to intentionally conduct myself in a responsible manner in situations wherein my positions on these matters make a difference. In principle I might end up behaving responsibly, but that would be accidental, and altogether despite my failures of attentiveness, intelligence, and reason. This is all to say that the pathetic losers polluting Charlottesville with their violence are unquestionably quite irresponsible, and they are irresponsible precisely because they are irrational. In turn, they are likely irrational because they refuse to properly exercise either their intellect or their capacity to attend to details. In short, what we see in Charlottesville is not simply a collective moral failure, although we do see that, but also a collective failure of intellect and reason. The cries of the Alt-Right are the cries of the unintelligent, the irrational, and the irresponsible.

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