Friday Philosophy: working for humanity

I spent yesterday sitting in the too hot sun during Commencement at Bloomfield College, a little north of Newark, New Jersey.  I was also searching my mind for something to write about this afternoon, which had been pretty much a wash since the shocking death of a colleague on Tuesday.

Jane Cheng had been my discipline coordinator since I started working here in 2000.  It was she who had convinced me to apply for a tenure-track position here in 2001, even though it was not in my field.  As I kept telling everyone, I was a mathematician and new very little about programming languages.  But Jane had faith that I could teach myself enough to be an effective teacher in this area.  She and the academic dean, Ilona Anderson, whose retirement takes effect at the end of this month, had faith in me.  So I have felt more than a little bit adrift.

But stuff happened at Commencement that spurred an idea.  And other stuff happened today to broaden that idea.

Maybe it is not too far astray.    

Carolyn Patty Blum, Emeritus Clinical Professor of Law at Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley, creator of Boalt Hall’s International Human Rights Law Clinic, and recognized authority on refugee and asylum law spoke to us about human rights in our present world society, including the necessity that people be allowed to love who they love, regardless of gender, and…oh, yeah…the fact that people should be protected from torture.  

[Our] institutional experience working with truth commissions around the world is that the opposite happens. Once people feel they are already protected, they don’t have any incentive to come forward.

–Carolyn Patty Blum, speaking about the possibility of a Truth Commission involving blanket amnesties, 12/8/08

Last month:

There’s still a lot we don’t know, about how this all took place, how this went up and down the chain of command.  Based on what we know now, it would indicate that the Department of Justice would be derelict in its duties to not follow the evidence where it might lead and initiate some sort of criminal investigation. Both of those who perpetrated it and those who ordered it – the relationship between the lawyers who were assisting part of a criminal conspiracy. Because that’s what we’re talking about here. A criminal conspiracy to violate the U.S. law against torture.

Dr. Blum was followed by Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, Sr.  Many of you may know of him since Cuba Gooding portrayed him in the TNT movie Gifted Hands:  The Ben Carson Story.   While I admire the work he has done and is continuing to do, I was less than pleased that he went off on a rant against separation of church and state and, in his words, “political correctness”, filled with right-wing talking points.

The last honorary degree recipient was Professor Doctor of Engineering Ion Visa, Rector of the Transilvania University of Brazov (Romania), a leading figure in the European Union of the development of sustainable and renewable energy.  I would have been overjoyed if he would have spent his time talking about his field of expertise instead of our collaborative working relationship with Brazov, but I understand there are times when political speeches trump the opportunity to teach.

At our baccalaureate ceremony on Wednesday, the speaker was Jamienne S. Studley, Esq., Chair of the San Francisco Ethics Commission and President and CEO of Public Advocates.

In law school we were taught to respond to the questions within the confines of the situation set up by the teacher. Challenging the ground rules is called “fighting the hypothetical” and is bad form. But sometimes fighting the hypothetical is the only way to test the underlying stereotypes and break out of traditional models of thinking.

–Jamienne S. Studley, 1992

The last speaker I want to mention was our senior class speaker, Laura Mejia.  Laura majored in Accounting and has plans to become a CPA.  She immigrated from Ecuador in 2004 and worked a day job in a bakery and nights as a waitress while going to school full-time at Bergen Community College.  She was then hired by a real estate company, earned her license as a realtor , transferred to and graduated top of her class at Bloomfield.

I do not wish to hear anything about immigration being harmful to this country.

So I was putting this together, in lieu of having anything other to write about, when someone wrote a diary including the self-description

I’m just pro-gun, fiscally conservative, anti-political correctness

while claiming to be “nearly 100% liberal on social issues (maybe not entirely pro-choice…).”

Feeling somewhat gored by that oxymoron in what he wrote, I asked what the f*ck he meant by “anti-political correctness.”  I was especially reminded about how one of those speakers came off as sounding like he didn’t fit with the others, at least from my point of view.

The original poster never did answer my question, but as frequently happens, some self-styled libertarian started prattling on about how “political correctness” was an intrusion into his right as a human being to live as he pleased.  That doesn’t fit very well with my definition of the phrase, which is a right-wing coloring of what most people would call politeness and respect for the humanity of others.

I get the feeling that some folks believe that respecting other people forces us all to be the same, when the truth I see is that respecting other people allows human differences to exist in this world.  I don’t know that other people will ever understand that point of view I have.

It all gets so old.  Whether it’s a distinguished pediatric neurosurgeon who wants us to acknowledge God in the classroom, to the point that he calls anyone against that point of view “schizophrenic” or a libertarian who believes that toleration of others is not only impossible, it is to be avoided, I’ve pretty much had it.

Neither of those people is never going to understand that toleration of others is not even the goal of people who want a better humanity.  Toleration is what people do of things which they cannot accept, let alone support.

I have extreme difficulty understanding people who think that the world would be a better place if they could just be left alone to ignore the problems that other human beings have trying to survive on this globe.  While I can “tolerate” and even accept that other people believe that’s the road to a worthwhile life, I just can’t live that way.    I am not a believer in personal greed, either for material goods or for personal ethics.

The world is too small and too hostile a place for us not to care about our fellow humans.  What better way is there to spend our time in it than by working for the benefit of all who live here?

And “all” is too small a word for me to divide.

I have the feeling that Dr. Blum and Ms. Studley would agree with me.  I know that Drs. Anderson and Cheng would mostly agree.  I would like to believe that Drs. Carson and Visa would as well.  And Ms. Mejia.

It is my fervent wish that there would be many more of us.

Opposing Shades

Political Correction

Which freedom trumps?

The freedom

to be obnoxious

about the existence

of people who are

different than you

or the freedom

of those people

to be different

to live lives

free from whatever


you wish to utter

and whatever defilement

you wish to perform?

–Robyn Elaine Serven

–May 22, 2009


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    • Robyn on May 23, 2009 at 00:01

    The candles can…and probably should…burn for each of us.

  1. … (and hot!) to look for the link, but I think one of the most brilliant responses to the “anti-PC” nonsense you ever wrote was “First They Came for the N-Word.”

    I think of that essay often when I read comments like that.

    • Alma on May 23, 2009 at 01:19

    The confederate flag flying, Bush loving people at the end of my street have moved out, and a nice looking family with a union bumpersticker has moved in.

    Course I feel bad for the people near wherever the people moved to.

    • Robyn on May 23, 2009 at 01:28

    …in Orange.

  2. is really starting to close it’s jaws lately.

    Rightwing Radio Hosts Across the Nation Make Discovery

    Just a feeling so far

    Cross yer fingers, Knock wood etc.

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