Monday, February 19, 2007

Help CC be PC

During the controversy over the (no longer official) Seattle Public Schools' definition of racism*, the Seattle Public Schools statement and one of my commenters assured me that having an individual as opposed to a collective ideology was an example of institutional racism.

I didn't 100 percent buy that, but I let it go.

Over the weekend on my retreat, we asked the youth to respond to an e.e. cummings quote about individuality that said essentially that the struggle to remain oneself in a world that wants people to be all alike is the greatest struggle we will ever face. (I'm a moderate on individuality myself. I think it is very easy, for UUism especially, to turn our love of individuality into a worship of ourselves. At the same time, I'm hardly a collectivist.)

One of the youth pointed out that e.e. cummings might well have written the quote in the 1940s or 50s, a rather conformist era in America, and said he wasn't sure that it applied to post-1960s America. I thought that was wicked impressive coming from a 16-year-old.

Then the same guy mentioned that a hyperfocus on individuality was a very Western thing and, say, Buddhists were less inclined to be hung up on that sort of thing. (Indeed, I think I recall that Buddha himself taught that there was no such thing as an individual soul.)

Later on, some people expressed concern that we shouldn't be talking about other religions we don't know much about and we shouldn't be making assumptions like that.

I'm confused.



*For those who don't recall, this was when the Seattle Public Schools put out a statement giving controversial examples of institutional racism, including having a future time orientation and defining one form of English as standard. I wrote about it extensively here.


PeaceBang said...

I'm heartened by these comments coming from young UUs. One thing: hey, I'm glad they're questioning and critiquing hyper-individualism, a thing we have tended to emphasize to the detriment of our congregational health.
Second, hey, cool that youth are worried about the boundaries around discussing religions with which they're not deeply acquainted.

Are you confused because you feel your conversational openings were shot down or that they didn't work somehow? Did the kids' concerns seem PC to you? Because they didn't seem so to me... now I'm confused!
I'll go read the post again...

LinguistFriend said...

A different point of view is
that Judeo-Christian tradition places a distinctively important value on the individual human being, albeit a being who exists within a community. This view should be distinguished from the version of individualism that Tocqueville already pointed out in America in the early 19th century, the view that it is quite legitimate for anyone, once he has provided for his family, to simply join his friends and cut off the rest of the community. This second version of individualism is of course inimical to congregational well-being.
A useful course of reading, of course, might be to try to answer the question as to how the major religions of the East relate to individualism in one or the other sense.

Chalicechick said...

No, the kids' conserns seem perfectly reasonable.

I'm just not sure how to reconcile being sensitive to other cultures' differences without it being ok to talk about said differences.


PeaceBang said...

oooh, okay. I think I get it better now. Like you guys had an interesting conversation and then someone was like, "We shouldn't be having this conversation if we're not Buddhist!"
We can't be experts on everything we dare discuss. Part of how we learn is to talk about things and to discover the holes in our knowledge.
You certainly did nothing inappropriate by suggesting some cultural differences and exploring them. Cripes, you're not giving a panel talk at the AAR. You're just making some observations. Always with the caveat that you could be wrong. Which is pretty much a caveat in any subject of a religious nature.

PG said...

I think it might also help to frame differences between well-known individuals with whom the group is reasonably familiar, rather than saying Group X does or believes Y, if you don't know much about Group X and you're setting up Y as the opposite Other.

As for the difficulty in remaining oneself in 21st century America, I think it still exists, at least in places like law school. There may not be a Society At Large that makes everyone the same, but there's a lot of sameness within subcultures.

Paul said...

For me, the real struggle is to find one's real self in a world where everybody has an ego - including oneself...

Comrade Kevin said...

I see political correctness as a knee-jerk, guilt derived term that has only backfired on all of society as a whole.

PG said...

I prefer "political etiquette" myself. Like regular etiquette, it works better when people are trying to make each other feel comfortable and welcome, not when it's set as rules for the unwary to break. The sort of person who's aware that other people may not want to listen to his review of the movie while it's in progress also can be aware that his knowledge of another person's faith may be underinformed and unfairly caricaturing.