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respect and paricularity

Over at FB, Aearwen posted a great meme on her wall:

I definitely found it thought provoking. And I think it does make a good point (that too often we focus on our differences rather than our shared humanity), but I’m not sure I can agree with it.

I respect people of all religions (or no religion), respect the good work they do in our society and certainly will fight for equal rights and goods for them. The same goes for nonreligious philosophies and nationalities like the ones mentioned here. But I also know that a big part of who I am, who I *want* to be, isn’t generalizable to all people. I am a Christian, and that means that in addition to my general humanity and moral intuitions that all people share, I also take part in a tradition that non-Christians have chosen *not* to join up in. The same would be true if I was a Hindu or a Jew. And I don’t show them any respect by pretending these things aren’t a part of who they are.

This line of thought –which really does come from a good intention, I want to emphasize– strikes me as similar to the idea of being “post-racial.” The idea is that if we can stop seeing people as white Americans or Afro-Americans and really judge them as individuals, that will mean the end of racism. The problem is, Afro-Americans really do have a distinct history from white Americans. Even if you took discrimination out of the picture, it strikes me as disrespectful to take something that obviously is a part of the person and act like that doesn’t matter, either to them subjectively or objectively.

As Mr. Spock famously put it: infinite diversity in infinite combinations. I will respect you as a human being of worth, with a unique, particular history that involves things that make you awesomely and uniquely you. You and I don’t have to be exactly the same for me to say that sentence and mean it.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 14th, 2013 10:08 pm (UTC)
I agree with you. It reminds me of the line in John Lennon's "Imagine", "and no religion,too" as though that was a good thing. And there is good intention there, the thought that erasing what divides us might help us get along better. But that's not right.

Ignoring part of what makes a person unique is not a way to respect that person. "Same" is not "equal".

And I recall what C.S. Lewis once said: a devout Muslim or Hindu has more in common with a devout Christian than a devout Christian has with a lukewarm Christian.

Still, I see the temptation--historically it does appear that religion causes a lot of trouble; sectarianism can result in centuries of war. But that's not the religion's fault; it's the fault of its very human and imperfect practitioners.
Mar. 15th, 2013 01:50 am (UTC)
I am a human being. My blood is red, just like every other human's. When cut, I bleed; when hurt, I cry; and when I feel joy, I laugh - just like every other human being. When all is said and done, underneath everything else, that is who and what I am.

Yes, I hold to certain beliefs that may distinguish me from those who don't, but ultimately, I AM NOT MY BELIEFS. My beliefs are merely facets of ME. Yes, I am a citizen of a particular nation, but ultimately, I AM NOT MY COUNTRY. My national and/or racial culture and traditions are merely facets of ME. Yes, I am a woman, but ultimately, I AM NOT MY GENDER. My gender is a facet of ME. All of these things enhance the understanding of where I come from, what I believe, the expectations that society has of me, but they are not ME. Take any one or all of them away, and still I remain.

Labels are like items of clothing we put on. Today, I am yellow and black. I don't know about you, but I am not the blouse and trousers I wear. I am not always yellow and black. I have been Christian, now I am Buddhist. I have friends who at one time were Russian or Japanese, and now they are Americans. I have a child who was born male, but who is now going through the process to become a female. Yet all of these folks are human beings, just like me. Not a single one of these details enhances or detracts from their humanity.

I am a human being. All the rest is commentary (to paraphrase a Jewish rabbi.)

As for IDIC, infinite diversity in infinite combination only works when one can sense the underlying similarities that exist between one being and the next - human or otherwise. Only then do our differences make us stronger.

Clearly YMMV on this. This is one time, I think, when our philosophical a priori assumptions about ourselves and our world make our perspectives mutually exclusive.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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