Wednesday, June 20, 2018

On Unlearning “Western” Philosophy

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by Joshua Harris

This post is part of the series "Human Rights and Human Wrongs," an attempt to create a space for authentic dialogue about justice and injustice.

Ibn Sina

Recently ICS hosted Matt Bernico for a great conversation about curricula and pedagogy in Christian higher education, made available here and here via ICS podcast Critical Faith. Typical ICS vibrancy and dynamism aside, I was a grateful listener on account of a headspace I’ve acquired over the course of my last year as an adjunct professor in Providence College’s “Development of Western Civilization” program. Without going into the exhausting details, suffice it to say that this program is, well, controversial.

The following intervention might seem like a “response” to Matt’s talk. It is not. For all I know, he may agree (or disagree) with everything I say. Yet it is certainly occasioned by the concerns he raises—concerns about curricula in Christian higher education, especially insofar as they are dominated by texts written by white, Western authors. Any serious decolonial project, says Matt following several contemporary decolonial theorists, must involve a systemic “unlearning” of what Ramón Grosfoguel provocatively calls this status quo of “Euro-North American ethnic studies,” which happens to masquerade as universal standards of knowledge in the interest of justifying or at least furthering existing systems of Western power and exploitation.

It is this process of unlearning that I want to explore here with respect to philosophical canons specifically, albeit (perhaps) with a slightly different orienting question: namely, “What is the “Western” philosophy that we are called to unlearn, in the first place?” It seems to me that the answer to this logically prior question matters a great deal for anyone interested in a more epistemically just university.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Christian Reflections on Locke Street Anarchism

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by Kiegan Irish

This post is part of the series "Human Rights and Human Wrongs," an attempt to create a space for authentic dialogue about justice and injustice.



Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.
--Martin Luther King Jr.

On Saturday, March 3rd, in Hamilton, Ontario, a group of anarchists marched on Locke Street and destroyed many of the storefronts that lined it, a direct action that has been widely condemned. Police linked the attack to an anarchist book fair that took place the same weekend. An outpouring of support for the Locke Street businesses followed.

Those responsible for the damaged storefronts were hoping to elicit a reaction and expose the fault lines in the community that liberal discourses of urbanization work to smooth over. I did not participate in the actions on Locke, nor do I know anyone who did. At first, I felt simply shocked by the action. But having observed the response from many people and communities, including fellow Christians I love and respect, I wondered if there might be another kind of Christian response. While it takes some inference and understanding of the perspectives and goals of the anarchist community to make sense of their praxis, shouldn’t Christians be precisely those people who can understand the perspectives of people who are, historically, against the violence of the state and who have so often attracted prominent Christians like Dorothy Day and Jacques Ellul?

The way the church has been mobilized in this case—as a tool to morally legitimate the violence that elicited “ungovernable” actions—shows the dearth of thoughtful analysis that too often afflicts the church’s engagement with its world. As someone who is interested in following Jesus and understanding what his life might mean for the world, I found their response inadequate. For those who are interested in seeing genuine engagement and mutual exchange between Christian communities and leftist politics, or simply between Christian communities and those who are marginalized in our world, this is distressing.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Human Rights & Human Wrongs: A Ground Motive Series

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A Ground Motive Series

“Human rights” occupy a strangely fraught place in political discourse today. In one sense, they bear the burden of being obvious. To deny the moral weight of human rights among those of good faith would be strange, at best, and suspicious, at worst. After all, few judgments are more immediately meaningful—and morally charged—than to say that an individual or institution is guilty of violating human rights. We might disagree about whether this is true or false in particular cases, of course. But we do not disagree that such a thing is possible.

However, like so many other concepts integral to our fragile humanity, the precise meaning of human rights is decidedly not obvious. Do human rights “exist”? Are they visible, however faintly, under the ever-sharpening gaze of cutting-edge neurobiology? Are they compelling fictions, devised naively by brilliant but outdated theorists of yesteryear? Are they gifts from God?

These questions are philosophical (and theological) in nature, but they are not academic—at least, not in the sense of being conveniently irrelevant to concrete scenarios of human concern. If anything, the present moment intensifies our embarrassment at such ambiguities even more palpably than previous generations. Whatever else might be the case in Trump’s United States, the Brexiters’ Britain, Zuckerberg’s social media, or Kim Jong-un’s Democratic People’s Republic, with respect to human rights, one thing is clear: things are unclear.

It is in this sober, clear-eyed spirit that we kick off our new series, “Human Rights and Human Wrongs,” here on Ground Motive. We will feature two kinds of reflections: on the one hand, we will present pieces dealing with various theoretical approaches to human rights and their significance in today’s world; on the other, we will engage thoughtfully with concrete contemporary events, thus sparking further reflection on the practical ways in which the language of rights affects our society. The idea is to “do what we do” at ICS—engage pressing questions pertaining to our responsibility before God in a world steeped in the bondage and decay of injustice—albeit publicly, i.e., in a spirit of conversation open to anyone interested.

In “Human Rights and Human Wrongs” we will feature the diverse, and in some cases directly opposing, views that represent the constituencies that make up ICS, its partners, and its communities of support. In light of this, we invite you to engage in this dialogue by submitting your reflections or responding to the posts in the series in the comments section. Our hope is to overcome the original discomfort proper to deep dialogue through a process of communal discernment and reflection, through which we can generate new ways of thinking about our societies, their challenges, and their futures. We look forward to your contributions and comments!

Please email Héctor Acero Ferrer at haceroferrer@icscanada.edu with your submissions.

In the series:

On Unlearning "Western" Philosophy, by Joshua Harris

Christian Reflections on Locke Street Anarchism, by Kiegan Irish