Racial categorizations


0915 | [ Continuing my study of Scanlon’s book, What We Owe To Each Other… ]

I noticed another thing about Scanlon’s Contractualism. Per page 195, it isn’t act/action X itself that one makes a moral assessment about. It is the principle of X that is morally assessed. But what is a principle? I think that here, it translates into something like “cause” or “reason.” In other words, what is morally assessed is the reason for doing X, but not X itself. For example, it’s neither right nor wrong to kill an unborn person. But it is wrong for a mother to kill an unborn person because she thinks that human life is cheap. Perhaps it might be right for a mother to kill an unborn person, if the mother thinks that human life is too precious to start it with the cards stacked so highly against you and without even a worthwhile consolation prize (ie, a mother’s love). [A person is more than the mere sum of her cells, after all. A person can experience pains and pleasures that go beyond what is produced in a mere “bundle of cells.”]

Of course, I could be over-analyzing the word-choices. And it’s also possible that I’m reading content into it. But it makes more sense this way, I think. And it seems to be consistent with the other things that Scanlon has said so far.

Doing philosophy is sometimes so painful for me. It’s so emotionally intense — studying it, and reflecting on these moral/ethical issues. When the pain gets too strong, I cry. Usually I start to cry softly to myself over whatever book I’ve been reading.  If I allow myself to feel it deeply, my pain becomes more and more abstract until finally I feel the pain of the whole universe — both the pain that was and the pain that is, and both the pain that is in me and the pain that is in others  — as if the universe were transcendentally connected by pain. Sometimes the pain is so intense that I want to scream and cry at the same time. So I bury my head in some soft darkness, and in that darkness I make my face into the shape of a scream and I scream as hard as I can in my mind. But no real sound comes out. Only tears come out. I imagine that in those moments, I probably look like someone who has had an excrucio spell cast on them — if one were to be able to see me through the darkness.

When the pain is mixed with sadness, I listen to music and remember my memories. I don’t ignore these emotions. I let it circulate through me. I let the emotions share their message to all the cells in my body. And for some reason, after doing that, I feel braver and kinder. Go figure.

Sometimes I get extremely angry in the middle of studying philosophy, and I can barely sit still. I feel outraged. When I am too outraged, I suddenly want to say a billion things all at once but the words are rowdy and swollen and they stumble over themselves unwilling to cooperate to get themselves out of my small throat canal in an orderly fashion, and so barely anything comes out and I become an inarticulate goose choking on the inexplicable vomit of my own words. But what is even more frustrating is that I know that I am totally right. And so the words want to come out. So I have to calm down, and get them in line, and manage the situation. And I think to myself, that nobody should have to endure what I now endure. It is so difficult to be this outraged. And I think that I want to dedicate my whole lifetime to getting the words out in an orderly fashion. So that other Kendi’s don’t have to die choking and honking.

And at other times, I feel a peace, and I feel that I am in total harmony with the whole universe.

This is what philosophy does to me. Some people might think that it is boring or dry. But it is not so for me. It is so exciting to me. And it helps me. It helps me by showing me how I can organize my outraged words, so that they can come out in an orderly fashion. And my hope is that doing this — getting all the words out — will make the world better somehow. Not only for me now, but for other Kendi’s that either now exist somewhere else, or will exist in the future. And it makes the sufferings and hopes of all the past Kendi’s be part of a journey, a story. And so philosophy gives me hope, and a way to care about the world and myself.

Some people think that philosophy is merely a hobby for me. But it is not. It is my salvation, and my way.


1532 | [ Continuing my study of Scanlon’s book, What We Owe To Each Other… ]

Scanlon says so on page 199:

“Principles, as I will understand them, are general conclusions about the status of various kinds of reasons for action.”

Well, I didn’t necessarily need to spend time speculating about what he meant. He would have made it clear himself, in time. I could have just read through and it would be faster in some sense. But I still prefer my way of reading. What are some of the benefits?

(1) For one thing, I know what I think and I know that my views are genuine and authentically my own. This way also helps me to know in what way that I am the similar and different from other thinkers — and all of this is important for self-knowledge. I discover things about myself, as well as about others.

(2) Even though I’m reading a book, my sort of reading is quite “active.” I feel as though I were having something like a discussion with the author, rather just passively absorbing data. I’m also able to pay more attention to what the author is saying, since I’m actively looking for comparisons and contrasts against my own prima facie opinions.

(3) I can have the confidence in owning my own beliefs and opinions, since I know that I produced the similar conclusion or had the similar thoughts independently of the author. I can be confident that what I think are truly my own thoughts — though, it can also get a bit creepy sometimes. Great minds think alike. [Though, it’s also possible that idiotic minds think just as alike as the great ones.]

(4) When I read “easier” or “familiar” material, I often find myself “breezing” through those without losing any valuable content. And I can do this because I’ve developed a strong foundation for myself.

(5) Best of all, I understand why some arguments are made. This is more important than whether I can follow an argument or not. This is the best benefit of all. It is also pleasurable to understand the mind/heart of the author, and not just the arguments that they’re making. I feel close the author. And this feeling of intimacy is one that I find both enjoyable and satisfying. (That said, the feeling of intimacy could be a delusion. That’s why it’s nice to be able to meet them in person, and have talks with them. It makes the feeling of intimacy more real.)

Of course, it might take me 3 days to read 3 pages. But on the upside, I also probably write 2-3 pages a day by recording my own observations. And so, I get a lot of practice writing and articulating.


2126  |  I’ve been watching a documentary series by Ken Burns called The West. I noticed something interesting about race.

In the documentary, the Native Americans were not lumped into one large categorization. There were the Cheyenne, the Lakota, the Nez Perce, the Mexicans, and other tribes. And “white” people didn’t necessarily expect that a compact made with the Cheyenne would hold with the Nez Perce.

But the “white” people were lumped into one large racial categorization — the “whites” (it was likely the “whites” who lumped themselves into a large racial category, since there is safety in numbers). But “white” isn’t a unified moral tribe. “white” people are disorganized and inconsistent because of their lack of moral unification. It’s like thinking that a political treaty made with the Germans would hold with the French. Not even two Christians are unified and alike. Obviously if “whites” were morally unified, WW1 and WW2 wouldn’t have happened. The splitting of the churches are proof that this isn’t true.

In short, it was a problem of equivocation that was causing so much confusion. When settlers trespassed onto reservations, those settlers did not have strong ties to the bunch of people that the Cheyennes made promises with. Of course, from the Cheyenne point of view, it’s going to look like “white” people went against their promise. But from the settlers’ point of view, there was no promise made with them in the first place. “white” people weren’t as morally unified as they themselves think that they were. But these things inflamed both sides.

Of course, “whites”” may be trying to be more unified now. In some ways, I can see how this might be better, if it were accomplishable — but I don’t think that it is. There is still a lot of inconsistency, and there always will be.

It is now my conclusion that racial categories are not very useful or descriptive categories at all; there is absolutely nothing consistent or common about being “white.” You cannot make plans or build worlds upon such inconsistent and false categorizations. To do so is itself a folly and a self-deception. The racial categorizations seem to cause more confusion and problems, than they do produce clarity, insight, and solutions. It is as useful and truthful as a square circle.

Racial categorizations are immoral because the label is inaccurate; and this makes it bad. For someone who is a self-proclaimed seeker of the truth (like me), the fact that the label is inaccurate means that it is also wrong. It is a label that lacks integrity. It’s basically a nonsense word.

But this isn’t to say that all categorizations are completely useless. Lots of categorizations are useful — in particular, the ones that people voluntarily choose to be members of. (But not even all of these; for instance, there is no consistency in the label “Christian.” It is also one of those useless categorizations. It’s more useful to break this categorization down into more specific subgroups like Mormons, Catholics, or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Otherwise, the word “Christian” literally means nothing to me at all. You might as well tell me that you’re “white.”) But these self-proclaimed categorizations are more useful, because they are truthful descriptions of the world, and this truthfulness brings with it some measure of consistency that guarantees the “quality” of the categorizations. Furthermore, there is an internal standard to which the quality of the categorization can be measured against.

What’s interesting is that some people are self-proclaimed “white.” What does that mean? Nothing.