Re: Herding Extropycats [was Shame on Australia]

From: Russell Blackford (
Date: Sat Sep 01 2001 - 17:40:12 MDT

Mike responded to my post about impatience with people's suffering largely
by talking about why he disagrees with lawsuits for reparations.

Mike, I hope the above summary does not distort your post too unfairly - or
unfairly at all.

As it happens, I agree with some of what you say, as I usually do, but I
find it difficult to sort out because there is this thread of impatience
with the issues running through it. I mean, why the almost total emphasis on
reparations? I do not support such reparations suits and have never
expressed support for them. I don't even support afirmative action in the
sense of quotas. Just before we get away from lawsuits, you'd find me an
ally for the general idea that tort law is being pushed too far until it is
becoming a hindrance to individual freedom. Some of my positions are
probably more moderate versions of yours, rather than those of people you
consider opponents. You may prefer "wishy-washy" or something where I wrote
"moderate". If so, so be it. I'm not ashamed to display enough empathy to
soften the stances that I might otherwise take if motivated solely by my
strong commitment to freedom.

In the past, I have expressed a dislike for political correctness, though I
have never nailed down what it is. For the moment, suffice to say, that I
became highly disenchanted as far back as the 1980s with the way the Left
was headed where there had to be one "correct line" on everything. For
example, the "correct line" on sex or gender issues, or whatever you want to
call them, became an extraordinary puritanism, contrary to all my small-l
libertarian instincts. The correct line on racial issues in this country
currently seems to be support for some kind of Aboriginal separatism, which
I oppose.

You would probably find me to be an ally on many issues, not just

Getting to the point, however, I do not suggest anywhere in my post that we
should feel *guilt* about slavery (or, in the Australian context, the
actions of forcible removal of Aboriginal kids from parents that led to the
modern expression "the stolen generations"). In my post, I suggested that,
in fact, no reputable thinker argues for this. Maybe someone will come up
with a counterexample, but what I and other "reputable" thinkers say is
*not* that Mike or anyone else need feel guilty about slavery. We merely say
that the treatment of African blacks, Australian Aborigines and many others
was deplorable tested against the values that we hold, however
understandable given the values of Europeans at the time. Actually, the word
"deplorable" does not do justice to the issue. If we actually think back to
what was involved, the suffering anfd dislocation that occurred on a massive
scale, the destruction of cultural ties, the treatment of people on the
basis that they were subhuman... and terrible aftermath, short-term and
longer term, it is impossible not to pity both the dead and the living who
have inherited the outcome. (If you think "pity" is the wrong word for
people who are now dead and so beyond our reach, find another word; the
feeling is real enough whatever you call it, and you feel it whenever you
read a vivid account of part of what happened, revealing some of what people
went through.)

In that context, a sense of vicarious shame (not personal shame and
certainly not guilt) is appropriate, at least for those of us who feel
vicarious pride at the history of our countries. If you're so ultra-rational
that you don't feel such pride, which seems to be where Eliezer is coming
from, then I can find no logical flaw in your position. However, most of us
who try to enter into the issues patiently and imaginatively do have this
kind of feeling of shame as *part* of what we feel about the histories of
countries. I think that Mike, for one, is overly dismissive of this and not
prepared to really consider it - at least that is the sense I get with the
tired "not guilty" response.

Of course, all this is only a starting point. When we get down to questions
of what should actually be done in response to the historical and ongoing
tragedy of race relations, you'll probably find me taking a position which
is not the correct line on the left, ie a "politically incorrect" position.
But, whatever position we take, we should at least form it *out of* feelings
of empathy and an imaginative grasp of the terrible experiences involved,
not let ourselves be dominated by irritation at solutions we don't like or
leaders on the other side whom we find venal or hypocritical or annoying.

Mike, I wish we could meet halfway on this. We probably couldn't agree on
solutions because I am happy to have a role for the state (albeit a
relatively modest one) whereas you are not. But I'd dearly like to persuade
you that it is worth starting with empathy, then seeing how far your
abstract philosophy will stretch (I'm not asking you to give up principles
that you find intellectually convincing), rather than seeming to dismiss the
problem. I read lots of your posts and know you have a good mind. You often
say useful things about, for example, truth-relativism, many of which I
actually agree with. But I just don't think you do issues like this justice
because of this impatience and irritation with them that I think you show.

I do have to add, in fairness, that I acknowedge the reasonableness of the
tone in which you address me personally. And I can see *some* of why you are
so irritated at the issues and the leaders on the other side. <Sigh>, maybe
I'll end there for the moment.

Back to you or to anyone who wants to take this further.


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