Monday, August 20, 2012

Are We Losing Our Humanity?, Part 2.1

[By Prof. Jerry Ward]

Dr. Neal Lester, Foundation Professor of English and Director, Project Humanities, at Arizona State University, will provide the opening remarks for the September 7 forum.  Lester began Project Humanities as a university initiative in 2010, and I suspect he shares my belief that maintaining a divide between the hard sciences and the humanities is bogus.  Whether he shares my belief that divisions among the soft or human sciences, matters of law, and the actuality of evil are bogus may be revealed in his remarks.  It is unlikely his remarks will cast light on my reasons for being deeply angered by the wording of the question which locates the third discussion topic:

Is there room for the humanity of all seven billion people to be recognized, or is it inevitable that many will remain (or become) commodities? 

The question is at once Nazi and ghetto fabulous.  For over a million years the humanity of animals who ordained themselves human beings has been recognized.  That was the state of affairs until a few European animals/human beings  gave birth to the idea in an “Enlightenment Project” that they were superior to other animals/human beings on this planet.  The illegitimate child was named Rasse to denote her implacable imperial character.

The wording so angers me because I translate “is there room” into Lebensraum.  The arrogance implicit in speaking of “all seven billion people” as if the implied speaker were  light years  removed from the numerical count is tendentious at best and vomit-inducing at worst.  It a matter of dismay that contemporary cultural studies have rendered critical and ethical thinking so impotent that a person would speak of another person as a commodity, an item of economic exchange.  There is no room for such sinister blather in my pre-future vision.

To the extent that pre-future vision does work in African American literary and cultural studies, it seeks ways to make anger productive.  It will revisit What Is Life?: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self (Chicago: Third World Press, 1994) by Kalamu ya Salaam; C. S. Lewis’ s ideas about moral conflict in The Screwtape Letters (1942);  LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka’s Home: Social Essays (New York: William Morrow, 1966), Ishmael Reed’s Mixing It Up: Taking on the Media Bullies and Other Reflections (New York: Da Capo Press, 2008), Jared Diamond’s Collapse (New York: Viking, 2005) and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New Press, 2010).  Pre-future vision, in its dedicated meditations on the hidden dimensions of the September 7 forum will reconsider Critical Race Theory (New York: The New Press, 1995), edited by KimberlĂ©  Crenshaw et al. as well as the mandate from Vision Foundation International  that “the principle of generosity toward those in need must be coupled with the recipients’ willingness to make honest effort to help not only self and family but also to extend that help to others in their communities.”  The decline of compassion in the face of terrorism must be understood.  Pre-future vision, without losing its memory of what is most useful in M. M. Bakhtin’s The Dialogic Imagination and Cornel West’s Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Race in America, must seek to discover what such lively phrases as “shotgun sequence data,” “virulence maps,” and “mutated promoters” mean in speaking about genome biology.  It must ask in seeking a fuller response to the forum and the anger-making question what is the role in global society of the National Human Genome Research Institute, an arm of the United States National Institutes of Health. Pre-future vision is not ashamed to make literary and cultural mistakes.

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