Re: Ethnicity

Tibor Benke (benke@SFU.CA)
Fri, 29 Sep 1995 14:26:09 -0700

John McCreery wrote on Sept 15, quoting me:

>I think, however, that he overstates the case when he
>suggests that Brackette Williams and I "heartily wish that
>ethnicity would just go away and we could all become rational,
>pragmatic individuals." For myself alone I would say that I have a
>more modest goal: to develop some rules of engagement that allow
>people from one group to interact with people from other groups
>in ways more civilized than either brute exploitation or war. I
>must thus stand opposed to any who see in one or another ethnic
>identity a higher value than the shared humanity which links us
>all. As one of my culture's heroes put it, "Here I stand, I can do no

I think John and I almost agree in the abstract, at least. The problem
seems to arise when the term 'brute exploitation' or whatever other
atrocity, has to be 'operationalized'. I think, the root of the problem is
best illustrated by the fable, (Aesop's, I think) , of the fox and the
stork. It seems the fox invited the stork to dinner, but served gruel on
flat plates, which prevented the stork from consuming any, and the fox ate
both portions. Later, the stork returned the invitation and served frogs
in jars, which the fox was unable to access. Thus, constructing some set
of 'rules of engagement' acceptable to all players is difficult, if not
impossible, for few of us will accept any given set of rules 'even unto
death'. That is, when I am loosing, and the stakes are life or death, I
will say either that you are cheating, or that the rules are not fair to
me. The only time we can expect 'sportsman like' behavior in a competition
is if the costs of loosing are still tolerable to the looser. It is always
up to the winners to make it so.

I often think, that abstract Christianity, for which Martin Luther thought
he stood, (as opposed to 'actually existing Christianity' which comes in
many varieties and the shadow of which is 'actually existing socialism'.)
advocates something along this line when it preaches salvation by grace
rather then by works "lest anyone boast".

Tibor Benke