Tuesday, 15 August 2017

No, Seriously: Racism is Evil

Okay, four posts in a row relating to the events that recently took place in Charlottesville, thus very much breaking my own policy regarding the focus of this blog. But it seems to me, the more that I reflect upon it, that these are the times that try intellectual traditions. Whether the tradition takes its cues from Lonergan or Marx or Freud or..., it is at times like these that the tradition in question reveals the extent to which it is up to the task not only of making sense of our world but also of providing intellectual grounds by which to engage with and change the world. For although we cannot think our way out of the situation in which we find ourselves, neither can we expect that a failure to think will do us much good.

Towards the above end, I will in this post think about a distinction drawn in Robert Doran's remarkable development of Lonergan's thought, Theology and the Dialectics of History. He distinguishes between two dialectics: that of contraries on the one hand, and contradictories on the other. "Contraries," he writes, "are reconcilable in a higher synthesis, while contradictories are not." In short, contraries are both/and, while contradictories are either/or. With dialectics of contraries, human flourishing is advanced through a creative tension between a limiting (or integrating) pole and a transcendent (or operating) one. The integrator holds together the dialectic as an integral unity, while the operator moves the dialectic towards new possibilities. So, for instance, one might conceive society as integrating by spontaneous intersubjectivity, i.e. the way that we naturally and unreflectively interact with one another, while it is moved forward by practical intelligence seeking to alter those interactions towards desirable ends. Fail to recognize the reality of spontaneous intersubjectivity and our efforts to transform society collapse as we do not adequately attend to the range of viable social possibilities. Fail to recognize the necessity of practical intelligence and harmful intersubjectivities are allowed to become or remain the norm. Put more abstractly, one cannot hope to achieve social revolution overnight, but neither can one expect that the world can or should remain unchanged.

But the more urgent matter for us to consider at this point in our history, I think, is the dialectic of contradictories, the exemplar of which Doran identifies as the dialectic between good and evil. When faced with such a dialectic, one must opt for one pole or the other, because between them there is not creative tension but rather destructive antithesis. In our situation, one either affirms the full humanity of all persons, regardless of skin colour, or one does not. One cannot compromise on this. One cannot say "Well, I see that you affirm the full humanity of persons of colour while that guy over there denies that they have any humanity, so we'll split the difference at half-an-humanity." Well, one can say it, but in so doing one has chosen to stand with the racists. One, quite simply, has sided with evil.

Of course, the above is heuristic. It sketches out how things should be in order to begin thinking about why reality so often falls short. In reality, choosing to affirm the full humanity of all persons does not mean that there won't necessarily be situations in which one finds that one's existing beliefs or practices functionally deny that full humanity. It does mean that one becomes increasingly alert to that possibility, and when faced with it as a reality one alters one's beliefs and practices so as to affirm the full humanity of all persons. Making the right choice does not make one perfect, but it does put one on the road to righteousness.

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