Updated: Jun 13, 2020
The liberal west, in a distinctively protestant spirit, internalized, privatized and then operationalized the theological principle of a ‘humility’ based on a, fundamentally egalitarian, ‘guilt;’ it’s in their core assumptions about the rights of the human, spread across the world in institutions like the UN or the IMF. The humble believe that “all life matters.” They do not understand the claims of the particular as anything other than unfortunate and/or backward. The power they wield is always indirect, institutionalized, treating ‘all’ as equals. Their God of universal love would surely privilege an ‘all life matters’ to a ‘black lives matter’. When faced with the latter, the humble can only offer support by humiliating the particular’s claim so as to consider the question of justice from what they consider is the fairest common ground. This humiliation is, once again, indirect: it needs to prove itself in evidence, in courts, in statistics. In terms that translate to every ‘human.’ You have to understand that the humble cannot see their own racism because it only makes them double down on their guilt for not having effaced the difference they do perceive.
That is also why more “knowledge about racism” – a quick look at the Social Sciences will reveal disciplines rife with statistical and algorithmic humility – is not how any kind of communication with these creatures would work. The “race” and the “ism” make it sound like the Greek term ‘barrbarian’ to those who didn’t speak Greek – which the Greek considered the most noble language and culture on Earth (yes they had pride) – because the universalization of this “race” as a category (to qualify the ‘human’ as a category) came from these same champions of humility. It is all there in Kant’s “Copernican revolution”: where God was, now stands ‘Man’. And wouldn’t you know it, it happens to be a pious Protestant man (though it takes Hegel to really out Kant on this one).
The humble face every issue that deals in asymmetrical relations – in this case, relations of power – as a raw material for a generalized system that could provide a procedure through which to justly adjudicate the claim. This is what the head liberal theorist calls “justice as fairness.” And this kind of justice, he continues, requires the assumption of an original contract signed by equals under conditions of “ignorance”. Ignorance of what, you ask? Guess. Or look it up, it (sic) is called John Rawls.
So these justice as fairness people get indignant or perplexed – to the point where some get angry and lash out (like the alt-right, etc.) – when having to answer for something everyone was supposed to be equally ignorant about. If one of them discovers an aversion to a “different,” they feel a particular kind of guilt which offers them a particular kind of solution: you feel animosity towards some particular person or group, as if you are the special one that discovered that this particular is bad and deserves animosity, as if this target of animosity is not a huge embarrassment to the guilt that turns all negative feelings back upon the ‘self.’ Besides ignoring it, the only solution left is to justify this aversion to themselves in humble terms (egalitarian categories like “morals,” “character” and “personal history”).
Our problem now consists in that there is an entire ‘humility’ mindset – propagated through schools, state institutions, and media (yes, even privatized) – that we have largely internalized as normal or natural. And it is going to be hard work to be able to rise to the responsibility towards this plausibly-deniable violence of the humble.
The first step is understanding how and why ‘humble’ can be used as a weapon; how passive-aggressive can become systematized; how much violence there is encapsulated in the phrase “do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”. The humble, you see, ought to love their enemy: why else would they conceive of the origin of all ‘human’ association as a ‘Social Contract’? Do you think Native Americans or Ancient Sumerians conceived of the glue of ‘human society’ in those terms? No, the contract is in fact how Protestant-Enlightened humility had solved the problem left by the demand to love the enemy: force is still there in the possibility of enforcing a broken contract – internalizing the violent potential instead of making me and my enemy act it out more “immodestly” – but it does make an ‘us’ where an ‘I against You’ used to be… We need to find a way to communicate with this ideological - or more precisely theological, core.
And it won't be pretty. It will look a lot more like Malcolm X than MLK; that is, not so Christian.
TO BE CONTINUED…
(In the meantime, here is James Baldwin, whose intuitive genius ticked so many boxes in this very dark exploration - of Protestant Christianity's behavior towards what it considered a 'new world' or a 'terra incognita/nullius' - that they are only now beginning to resonate:)