When I first began writing my autobiography — over ten years ago — I wrote it with what now seems to be a naive notion in mind. I had made the assumption that people would be able to read it and simply know the difference between right and wrong. I believed implicitly that by simply telling my narrative in a straight way — as a narrative as such, and without additional commentary — that people would read between the lines and conclude something like: “This is not how humans should be treating one another.”
There were a lot of variables I hadn’t factored in, in making my earlier naive assumption. Some of them are as follows:
1. I had made my estimation based upon the moral finessing of relationships that people bring to the table when they identify each other as part of the same community. This was an overestimation of the strength of my position in life, since by virtue of being an immigrant, I was by no means an insider, to whom moral consideration would automatically be extended. As ancient texts show, there is always the tendency for human societies to polarise their morality in terms of dividing the world into “the humans” [us] and “the others” [those to whom human courtesies do not have to be extended]. I had presumed that I was more in the camp of the humans than in that of “those others”, but that was just from a position of feeling myself to be most human and worthy of consideration. It wasn’t how others felt.
2. The polarisation of contemporary Western society into factions of left and right makes it difficult for anyone to be heard who has something unique to say. Always the first question that anyone with a rudiment of education tends to ask themselves is: “Is this person speaking to me from a position of the left or the right?” Once this has been decided, everything else that a person says or writes about it interpreted within one of these two frameworks.
But there is very little that can be said, actually, when speaking on behalf of the populist left or populist right. Both positions tend to become entrenched as rigamortified opposites in relation to each other. At the populist level there is rarely an attempt to see the big picture any more. So, for instance, we have those on the right saying things like, “Education today is too soft. Children need to be taught about the possibility of failure.” On the surface, this sounds quite reasonable, but in reality this is an attempt to enforce a sadistic approach to teaching in opposition to the liberal “softly, softly” approach. Models of education thus become susceptible to intellectual gridlock, because discourse about educational models remains stuck at the ideological level.
The lowering of the standards of contemporary discourse to the level of political rhetoric, in turn, makes people very lazy. They become unable to respond to something that is new and original, without first trying to turn it into something they can already identity with — some hackneyed construct of left versus right or vice versa.
3. The contemporary nature of culture is that it is postmodern. This means that we no longer feel a need bother too much with psychology, or with a theory of other minds, when it comes to analysing data. Without an idea at hand that your mind is roughly similar to my mind, what somebody says is generally unbounded by general psychological limitations. What they intend to mean could be anything at all, in terms of this unbounded view. But as philosophers throughout the ages have pointed out, that something could logically mean anything at all in fact means it means nothing. In order to be able to mean something, we need to have some outer restrictions on the boundaries of possible meaning. If meaning is not grounded by common psychology, such as by a humanistic assumption of what it means to share a similar biology and therefore outlook, then a shared meaning is barely possible. Perhaps also your understanding of “discourse” is not going to be the same as mine, unless we also happen to be products of the same environment to begin with — which we are not.