I believe in reincarnation and I believe I have been pursuing the same vision for approaching 2400 years...the vision of the cosmopolis....the idea that we are citizens of the cosmos. The cosmopolis embraces and celebrates human variety, learning from each other and seeking out the best from each culture, offsetting the weakness that every culture has with the strengths of others. The idea of the cosmopolis emphasizes that we, as citizens of this world, have responsibilities to the whole world and to all of the beings with whom we share it. The fundamental virtue is friendship...there is no justice needed between friends because if you are truly someone's friend, your highest wish if for their highest good. So, for me, part of my question is what can I, as a Pagan, do to support you as a (let's say Christian, at the moment), in your Christianity? With the expectation that you will show me at least the same respect and not try to shove me into a mold. There is way to have both high levels of expressive individualism and communal responsibility. And finally, in my vision, we would ultimately create a society designed around the pursuit of arete...which means both virtue (moral and virtue as in the purified life essence) and excellence. So that our society would maximize the conditions for the pursuit of arete and our values would align with that pursuit.
We have seen beginning models of what the cosmopolis can look like....the Hellenistic Near East and Egypt, for example. But the danger to it is actually a psychological one. So long as human beings do not find their own worth within, but have to continuously look outside and define themselves against others...inevitably trying to find some group to make "lesser" so they can make themselves "greater" we will have soul sickness that can make its way into structural oppression and violence.
This country has always, since its founding, been simultaneously moving towards the cosmopolis (which is why I am here, I think) but also mired in some of the most baneful, tragic, wicked "othering" that there is. White supremacy is our root sin in this nation, and is being intentionally strengthened again. We have to find a way to break it and part of the challenge is this...there is no such thing as white people outside of the doctrine of white supremacy. The idea of "white people" only arises as a justification for the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Any person with an honest heart can see that we have one of our political parties and an entire wing of our culture very intentionally building "White Supremacy" and culturally feeding White Supremacist Domestic Terrorism. We all need to denounce it, fight against it, and be on our guard. Those of us who are "white" and who have children, need to know that they are or will be targets for recruitment. Which is why I want to talk about something that concerns me with how we manage our discourses that are attempting to fight "white supremacy."
One of the great challenges that I have in dealing with the way we handle our current race discourses is that, I believe, the ways in which many of the kinds of trainings that we have etc., if I am honest, I think many of them backfire and feed white supremacy. The main reason for that is that I think this idea that I hear in virtually every race-oriented training or discussion is that the "dominant culture" is "white culture" and that white people are always in their culture. This is problematic. While I understand that part of the purpose is to highlight the way that minorities experience being othered in their daily lives, the framing is troubling. The dominant culture in the US is an amalgam. It has had contributions by many, many different groups of people...and pretending that it is white culture hides this simple fact.
In my experience of almost every training kind of conversation I have been part of for years it has gone something like this. A white person says they don't feel like they have a culture. The trainer says, all around you, all of this dominant culture is your culture. You don't see it because you are living in it every day like air. But the fact that I have heard this EVERY TIME and experience it myself says to me, there is something real in these experiences. In fact, I believe the reason white people don't feel like they have their own culture is because THEY DON'T. Because "White People" don't exist until the trans-Atlantic slave trade needed justification and was born from a phantom. The people who became "White" came from a bunch of different cultures, many of which didn't see a connection between themselves at all. So, when you constantly give those who are believed to be white people the message that the dominant culture is one to which they have exclusive ownership (which is dangerous) and that their identity, as white people is meaningful and the central defining characteristic of who they are...that identity is inexorably linked to white supremacy and you unintentionally build the bane. In fact, you make it nearly inescapable.
One easy way to demonstrate this is to just ask a group of "White people" what their visceral reaction is if someone were to come up and say to them, "We should get together as White People."
This problem, where the entire idea of "Whiteness" upholds White Supremacy, creates a serious conundrum. It is important for me to acknowledge that I have White privilege in this system and it is important that we continue to track differential outcomes (like, for example, differential educational outcomes), which requires people like me to continue to identify as "white." It is essential that we not fall into the naive notions that well-meaning people from my youth trained us into...the idea that we can just will ourselves to not see color. We have to be intentional.
However, in terms of personal identity, I am a Cosmopolitan American. That is my identity. And I think that we need a vision about the kind of society we are trying to build. It can't just be "not racist" because, as I tried to argue, the very way in which we define our categories will keep racism always there, right under the surface, until we build a new vision.
And I want to be a citizen of the Cosmopolis.