Sunday, July 10, 2016
I viewed last week's horrific violence through the lens of John Inazu's important new book, Confident Pluralism, in which he affirms the importance of certain constitutional commitments (focusing on the right of association and the public forum and funding requirements) and encourages the "civic aspirations" of tolerance, humility and patience. He explains:
Tolerance is the recognition that people are for the most part free to pursue their beliefs and practices, even those beliefs and practices we find morally objectionable. Humility takes the further step of recognizing that others will sometimes find our beliefs and practices morally objectionable, and that we can't always "prove" that we are right and they are wrong. Patience points toward restraint, persistence, and endurance in our interactions across difference.
Judging from my social media feeds and a few face-to-face conversations, the divergence in our perspectives on last week's events is nearly overwhelming. Even among those who are on the front lines protesting police actions, for example, there can be a substantial disconnect. In the Twin Cities, our local #BlackLivesMatter leaders -- already viewed as radical and counterproductive by many whites -- are under pressure for not being radical enough, accused of having embraced "white neoliberal" principles of activism (namely pacifism). That pressure was on display last night, as protests here turned violent. I imagine that many participants on both sides of the debate about police conduct toward blacks would not only place less importance on tolerance, humility and patience than John does, but they might deem those aspirations as unrecognizable given the stakes and nature of the debate.
John has been closer to the post-Ferguson conversations than I have, so I know that his analysis incorporates the current reality of race in our country. From my limited engagement with his framework, three questions present themselves:
1) Under what circumstances does the harm principle serve as a boundary on the aspiration to tolerance? E.g., #BLM protestors may recognize that many of their fellow citizens do not share their belief that blacks are often treated unfairly and with unjustified violence by police, but that recognition is hardly a first step toward tolerance of that disbelief. (A similar point could be made regarding disagreement re abortion.)
2) To what extent is a mutual willingness to learn relevant facts a precondition to humility as a worthy aspiration? When certain beliefs are subject to empirical verification, does that create any sort of burden of inquiry before humility is relevant? Do I need to exercise humility toward my fellow citizen who contends that the Earth is flat?
3) Are there historical conditions under which "patience" is better viewed as a civic vice than as a civic virtue?