Monday, August 21, 2017

Beyond anger.

A feature of our current political polarization is the pent up anger felt by both far-left and far-right political partisans against each other, sometimes including dehumanization and demonization of the opposite side. Aeon offers a brief essay by Martha Nussbaum that is worth reading. A few clips and a comment:
A good place to begin is Aristotle’s definition: not perfect, but useful, and a starting point for a long Western tradition of reflection. Aristotle says that anger is a response to a significant damage to something or someone one cares about, and a damage that the angry person believes to have been wrongfully inflicted. He adds that although anger is painful, it also contains within itself a hope for payback.
Nussbaum takes payback, or revenge, as a flawed way of making sense of the world. Except..
There is one, and I think only one, situation in which the payback idea does make sense. That is when I see the wrong as entirely and only what Aristotle calls a ‘down-ranking’: a personal humiliation, seen as entirely about relative status. If the problem is not the injustice itself, but the way it has affected my ranking in the social hierarchy, then I really can achieve something by humiliating the wrongdoer: by putting him relatively lower, I put myself relatively higher, and if status is all I care about, I don’t need to worry that the real wellbeing problems created by the wrongful act have not been solved.
I don't think Nussbaum gives sufficient emphasis to payback, or punishment, as a means to upholding and enforcing social norms. The main part of her essay describes Nelson Mandela's extraordinary actions in overcoming anger to bring together two parts of a deeply divided nation.
Whether the anger in question is personal, or work-related, or political, it requires exacting effort against one’s own habits and prevalent cultural forces. Many great leaders have understood this struggle, but none more deeply than Nelson Mandela...he knew that there could be no successful nation when two groups were held apart by suspicion, resentment, and the desire to make the other side pay for the wrongs they had done. Even though those wrongs were terrible, cooperation was necessary for nationhood.
Nussbaum gives examples of Mandela bringing people together:
When the ANC (African National Congress) voted to replace the old Afrikaner national anthem with the anthem of the freedom movement, he persuaded them to adopt, instead, the anthem that is now official, which includes the freedom anthem (using three African languages), a verse of the Afrikaner hymn, and a concluding section in English. When the ANC wanted to decertify the rugby team as a national team, correctly understanding the sport’s long connection to racism, Mandela, famously, went in the other direction, backing the rugby team to a World Cup victory and, through friendship, getting the white players to teach the sport to young black children.
We need our own Nelson Mandela to begin to heal the current alt-right/alt-left standoff!

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