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True Belief: Denial vs. Illocutionary Obligations

True Belief: Denial vs. Illocutionary Obligations

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: August 14, 2005
Latest Update: August 21, 2005

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Sunday, August 20, 2005: Topic of the Week for Issue No. 3, Volume 25.

Whenever we feel certain about a belief, we are confronted with how to treat the Other who disagrees. When Beau reminded me that love does not conquer what we are wont to call either evil or closed-mindedness, I floundered. Trying to find some way not to respond with either PollyAnna insensitivity to the sufferings of this world or the depression of we're all going to hell in a hand-basket, anyway individualism, having given up on the masses and "their" social issues. Albert O. Hirschman would say that either extreme is indicative only of our resort to screaming rhetoric at one another instead of engaging in meaningful governance discourse. (Hirschman, Reaction to Rhetroric.)

I think I want to structure my first answer to Beau's "Love doesn't conquer all, jeanne," on the principle of illocutionary discourse. Illocutionary discourse, you will recall, as explained in Maria Pia Lara's Moral Textures, speaks of interaction, human social interaction, as affecting all members of that interaction. This means that if I listen to you out of love (a good faith willingness to respect that you, like I, have answerability), and if you in turn are willing to listen to the voicing of my validity claims in good faith, then we have both changed through that interaction, for it is the accumulation of human interactions that makes up our experiences. We may still not agree with each other. We may still each be convinced that we are right and the Other is wrong, but in the process of good faith listening and attempt to understand the Other's context and claim, we move away just a little from the need to kill each other over our differences.

I remember the Dean asking me once if I couldn't just write off and ignore the attacks of a colleague, which the Dean and I both considered implausible, inappropriate, and non-collegial. "Just write him off as a jerk!" I tired. I couldn't. Why? I thought I had a problem with low self-esteem because he was as arrogant as they come. But as I ponder Beau's "love doesn't conquer all," I realize I couldn't on principle. Not a principle I chose, but one I seem to have to live by. To ignore the Other, to turn him off, is to deny a part of the human context in which I live. That might work if one person did it, but what if we all ignore those whom we just "know" to be wrong? Soon we have an "us" and "them" mentality that fosters the demonology that lets us war with one another.

Now, I'm reading good and evil from the Buddhist perspective, and searching all the training I've ever had in Christianity, Judaism, and Zen. But it took me the better part of a week to start on this answer. I guess I'm a philosopher-sociologist at heart. I came back ultimately to Habermas and Pia Lara. Survival and evolution as a human group depends on human social interactions. And the climate in which those interactions take place is our social group. Used to be family, once upon a time. But long ago in Europe and in America, the extended family gave way to first, the industrial world, and then the corporate world. Today we have a corporate envronment that has more money and power than our nation-states.

This final global expansion to corporate empires means that the Other is no longer simply our fellow nation-state citizens. Today the empire could most reasonably divided into classes from elite to worker to unpaid and coerced worker. That makes a difference in how we govern this world. To the extent that I box myself off and try to live with my own personal and/or religious and/or nation-state values, I deny the world around me. I cannot decide that Middle-Easterners are dangerous and not to be trusted as they may be potential terrorists. That's as simplistic and ignorant as Hitler's proclamation that Jews were the cause of Germany's distress. Some Middle-Easterners are terrorists. Some native-born WASP Americans are terrorists. Some Irish are terrorists. Some "good" people, misguided or not, are terrorists, some really evil (sociopathic and psychopathic) people are terrorists. And some terrorists are misguided ordinary people whose context and fortunes cast them as unsuccessful. They are pissed off at what appears (and actually is) an unfair playing field in their own and our collective globe, and there is very little in the way of world governance discourse to satisfy their need for answerability.

I want to come out from hiding in the spurious safety of my box and try to find ways of hearing the validity claims of all, and I want to struggle with finding solutions to the issues like AIDS, and oppression, and genocide, and poverty, and hunger, and greed that have harmed so many of us, either by violence, or by staving off our own humanity through the denial of that violence and inhumanity. But that means I believe in Justice as fairness (Rawls), and that there are libertarians who disagree with me that it is either possible or reasonable to try to eliminate AIDS, and oppression, and genocide, and poverty, and hunger, and greed. Some Others believe that illocutionary discourse is a waste of time better spent by individuals on furthering their own achivements. I believe that illocutionary discourse is an obligation. I want my own humanity to grow through the loving approach of tying to understand in good faith the validity claims of Others. And I believe that we will all come closer to a world worthy of humanity in the process of our good faith interactions with one another.

Now, back to my sources for what they have to say on this issue. More soon.

love and peace, jeanne

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