Friday, April 4, 2008

Beyond Sensitivity - New paper, first draft.

For the first time in history, the whole of our planet is open to exploration. Every crevice, corner, color and creed of the world has for the most part, been touched. We are as diverse as the constellations, our DNA perhaps even more so. As technology and transportation has shrunk our world, we have been forced to greet our neighbors once protected by mountains, oceans and deserts. As civilization has expanded, both our greatest potentials and our darkest evils have come to light. In modern times, a new and particular attitude has developed, allowing us to appreciate our differences. Ideas such as equality, justice, sensitivity and oppression have arisen strongly in the last 200 years, coming to a developed sociological and humanistic point of view in the last century. Suffrage, cultural awareness and cultural relativity are only three out of many more historical precedents.

This new mode of thinking often labeled cultural pluralism, cultural awareness and sensitivity- has offered us freedom from bondage and oppression. No way is the wrong way, no way is the right way. Who is to say one lifestyle is better than another? While revealing a point that can't be ignored, there is a danger that has also arisen. My belief is that "cultural sensitivity" is a doubled edged blade that ends up cutting itself, and defeating its own purpose. 

The first issue is the most glaring for me, as I hope I will be able to show you. The second issue is a deep-rooted psychological problem that arises with the pluralist mentality. But, first thing is first.

Foucault, Sartre and many others who orbit around the more existentialist/relativistic viewpoints argued that there are no absolutes. In fact, society itself is a construct of the mind. Morality, religion, justice, law - these old age pillars of past civilizations, present and future are merely abstract creations we attempt to follow. They are diverse and relative, yet all the while artificial. They form the glue that holds cultures together, yet they are also responsible for dividing one society from another.

These ideas have been strongly woven into the founding concepts in pluralism. Yet, the philosophy has seemed to have forgotten something important along the way. In many universities it has been important to explore our cultures, to share them and expose them. It has been important to point out bias and shun it, both in gender and skin color. In some places, programs are instituted to "teach" sensitivity. I can't help but to point out that one cannot force another to be sensitive, anymore than you can help your neighbor learn to care by beating him with a brick. If culture is a social construct, where abstract differences are the only divisive problem, why do we reinforce them? In other words, skin color is a surface difference, underneath  which we are all very much brothers and sisters. Yet, it is often the role in sensitivity to embed the individual in his or her own "lifestyle," ethnic background and racial differences. They merely switch of the negative attitude and make it positive. You're differences are no longer rejected, your differences are now embraced. But, you're still focusing on the differences, is there not something beyond these? As important as they are to many of us, to claim our sole or main identity is our skin color and ethnic background is to contradict pluralism.

To summarize, we reinforce our differences, and have not yet come to the point where we can explore our common grounds. Imagine a classroom where students learn about the diversity of humanity through our unity. Unity does not mean all the same, but altogether. For instance, can we pretend for a moment that a teacher stands up before his or her class and says:

We are all human of course, no matter what color our skin is, what we believe and where we are from. There are so many people on earth, each is quite unique, and each culture has its own features. Yet, there are many things that make us the same. Throughout history, we have made mistakes, sought control and power, and feared the unknown. Therefore it is not 'white' oppression, it is not just religious wars - it is a war of ideas, it is the struggle against our own fears and our own groping for certainty, control and mere subsistence. We fight and survive through our ideas, and this lifestyle has let us up to some pretty horrible points. World wars, genocides and the rest - no matter what color we are, we are each capable of these horrors. Yet, at the same time, we are each capable of every wonder in the world. Of love, compassion and understanding, of scientific triumph and spiritual epiphany. This is our story. We are both the oppressors and the oppressed. If we see humanity this way, we can hopefully begin to see the world as a place where we may yet have true change, and true evolution. We may be able to stand beyond the primal war of ethnic backgrounds and control. If we are no longer lost in a myriad of surface features, which are both beautiful and horrid, we may at last see a truth in humanity that lies beyond its past, and is at last recognized in the present.


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