March 14th, 2013


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.