[Trigger warning: this piece will discuss Melissa Harris-Perry and her speech to Elon University. Readers with a low tolerance for self-important race-based Social Justice jargon should proceed no further. To the rest, don’t say I didn’t warn you.]
It’s situations like this one where the “welders vs philosophers” fight becomes regrettable. Everyone — tradesmen included — should have at least some understanding of philosophical reasoning. It helps spot an intellectual cheat. Like Melissa Harris-Perry. In her speech, she hijacked the word ontological, as in “ontological blackness”.
Ontological is a philosophical term. It is the study of the nature of being. She claimed that “ontological blackness” (or the ‘being’ of blackness) applies to (among others) black, female, queer, transgender and immigrant.
She could only mean that, to her, “blackness” has nothing to do with “black” at all. It’s all about belonging to the currently trendy “victim class”, and by implication other groups are excluded and defined (denounced) as “privileged”.
She applies phrases like “social constructs”. Doesn’t she realize victim groups themselves are “social constructs”. They are arbitrary, and the future generation’s pantheon of special interest groups will be as different from today’s as today’s list is from 1995’s protected classes.
The complete speech was not available at the time of writing, but let’s look at one video excerpt [courtesy: campusreform.org].
Pop quiz — how many people are present in a photo of a pregnant woman? Don’t answer too quickly, it’s a loaded question.
She argues that answering the question creates a problem, tying it into “a conversation you have to have” about choice, rights, decisions, power, etc. A pregnant woman is a “problem” [her words] for how we understand citizenship. “This life is sort of a black life — I mean the pregnant woman’s life — and the public discourse about it… and the choices we’re going to allow a pregnant woman to make…”
Here’s where she derailed. The pregnant woman — unlike social justice categories — is not an arbitrary concept. The number of people in that photo is independently, empirically verifiable. Within that pregnant woman are two (or more) sets of separate DNA, readily identifiable by scientific testing. There are two or more separate skeletons, hearts, brains, possibly even blood types.
The only question remaining is whether or not we acknowledge the humanity of the second person in the picture before we begin discussing which rights prevail. This is ironically, a real question of ontology. (Thereby putting that baby’s doubtful status alongside readily acknowledged victim groups like people with disabilities, international political prisoners and tribal rivals in bloody genocidal conflicts — cases where unwanted life becomes disposable after being deemed ontologically “less human”.) That’s the jumping-off point where debates get lively.
Notice the very justification of her argument requires invalidating/reducing of the humanity of a different group or person. It’s a prerequisite idea necessary before building further. This is precisely my objection to so many “social justice” causes.
If the very foundation of her argument is demonstrably wrong, how seriously should the ideas that follow be taken? I leave that for you to decide.