Wednesday, February 13, 2013

roll up your sleeves, there's work to be done

The meanings of "liberality" include generosity, open-mindedness, and freedom from prejudice.  It evokes the strand of liberalism that takes a generous, curious, imaginative interest in other cultures, philosophies, and ways of life...[It] goes beyond the mere affirmation that liberal societies do not require all their citizens to be liberals.  It takes seriously the proposition that we can understand, appreciate, and learn from others even while profoundly disagreeing with them...[It involves the use of a] "curious and sympathetic imagination" that is adept at "recognizing humanity in strange costumes"...To say "a curious...imagination" implies that you go on to find out a bit more about the others next to whom you are now living..."[If] you know nothing about a people, you can believe anything"...With a little imagination, and with human contact, we soon discover the shared humanity beneath unfamiliar garb and tongue...the everyday experiences of schoolmates and neighbors engaged in joint activities that have nothing to do with getting to know each other's cultures:  smoking your first cigarette behind the school gym...or campaigning for a new local bus route.
--from "Freedom and Diversity:  A Liberal Pentagram for Living Together" by Timothy Garton Ash in the November 22, 2012, issue of The New York Review of Books

Garton Ash goes on to note that Jurgen Habermas addresses the secular majority of Europe to be willing to see the truth of religious peoples and that in the US this formula needs to be reversed; but as both Habermas and Garton Ash point out, "it is not just a call to the given majority."  There is also reason for minorities to recognize the generosity of spirit that members of the majority can have.  For instance, gay activists have long acknowledged the role played by straight (but not narrow) allies, and Muslims and Jews know that if they want any interfaith effort to be successful they need to make contact with mainstream Xians.

But I don't think any of this is intended to push for a colorblind society.  The emphasis instead is on recognizing the differences between people, groups and individuals, and accepting rather than tolerating (as if they're going to change) those differences.  A colorblind society that tolerates religiously-dictated honor killing or genital mutilation, in the name of getting along, is always going to have a hostile fringe element made up of those groups who maintain their customs.  One that accepts the group's rationale for those activities but points out that they are both unnecessary and unacceptable will probably still have a hostile fringe group at the edges; but it will be thinner and more apt to die out in the next generation.  Similarly, an emerging minority that accepts the historical reasons for grouping people according to skin shades and primary language, but recognizes that skin shades and language use are changing, is likelier to convince the majority that such groupings are best left in history.

It won't be easy.  It isn't meant to be.  The things most worth doing almost never are.

No comments:

Post a Comment