Re: [sixties-l] Re: war and bonding and human nature

From: Sandra Hollin Flowers (
Date: Mon Jun 26 2000 - 06:34:17 CUT

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    I think my language is too loose and personal to stand up to some of
    the recent responses to this thread. However, maybe taking a stab at a
    working definition of "the human condition"--the term I used in the
    post that initiated this thread--is a good place to start as I address
    some of the comments the thread has generated.

    First, I don't know when the discussion began equating "the human
    condition" with genetics or even with "human nature." When I use the
    term "the human condition," I'm referring, as we do often in literary
    criticism and other fields, to the range of situations and experiences
    that are common to humanity of all ethnicities and locales, as
    recorded in the written, pictoral, and oral sources we've depended on
    to enlighten us since we started keeping track of ourselves as a
    species. In this limited sense, the term isn't interchangeable with
    genetics or human nature, unless one wants to use it as an attempt to
    distinguish human genetics from those of other life forms. Also, in
    the sense I'm referring to, the human condition necessarily is limited
    to recorded human experience. Thus, whatever humans or their ancestors
    did before the species developed methods of preserving and
    disseminating its history is beyond the pale of what my context. It's
    also immaterial, since we can't know what did or didn't happen in
    those early eons or beyond the periods covered by archeological finds
    and the speculations they give rise to.

    As for the question of what my son may or may not do in the military,
    I'd like to petition to remove him from this discussion. It was an
    insensitive and proprietorial error for me to bring him up as a topic
    in a debate in which he has no part. Since what we post here is
    accessible to anyone anywhere and might always be, I want to publicly
    apologize to my son for the characterizations I've subjected him to
    because of my loose lips/fingers. He's quite articulate and can speak
    for himself on this subject if he chooses to do so.

    Then there's the issue of my ethnicity vis-a-vis the positions I've
    taken in this thread. Let me put it this way: I'm really tired of
    having white _and_ black people remind me of what this nation has done
    to my people. The question is, what are we -- my people and all others
    who have the capacity to act -- doing about what's happening _now_,
    today? Is there _any_ ethnicity on earth that can't point to
    oppression by some other group at some time in history? (That's not
    altogether a rhetorical question; I'd appreciate hearing from one of
    our historians on the question.) Yeah, he who forgets the past is
    condemned to repeat it, and ignorance is simply ignorance, not bliss,
    etc. etc. In response to those truisms, I am committed to helping my
    descendants and my students of all ethnicities and the many unschooled
    young black people I come across to know and understand the history of
    this nation, its good and its evil aspects. But once one knows that
    history, what productive response can come from black people's
    withdrawing from or rejecting everything about life as it's currently
    lived because of what happened in the past?

    It's worth nothing that when African Americans celebrate and catalog
    their history, they include in that history their long heritage of
    military service to the United States. In fact, part of the effort of
    African American history as a discipline is to give credit to those in
    all areas of American life whom white-written history expunged from
    the record. So when we talk about genocide, let us remember that
    historical expunging itself is a form of genocide--cultural and
    psychological genocide because it asserts that the targeted people
    made no, or, at best, insignificat, contribution to the nation's
    history. Is historical expunging an outlived practice? Hardly. Have a
    chat with some high school friends and see what they've learned in
    school about ethnic peoples in America.

    But there's a difference between a continuous presence in the
    militaristic facet of the nation and in sanctioning oppression. We can
    no longer cavalierly assert that if you're not part of the solution
    you're part of the problem, because life has taught us how often we as
    individual women and men occupy, for one reason or another, a murky
    position between problem and solution. Similarly, if the only way that
    black people can free themselves of the taint of American oppression
    of _all_ kinds, not just militaristic, is by shunning military
    service, then it's a no-win situation for those black people who
    believe their presence throughout American life can make a humanizing
    difference. I think each of us has the right and the responsibility to
    choose where we want to or feel we can make a difference and take a
    stand there.

    My posts to the list over the last month or so should have made it
    clear that I've often been conflicted and ambivalence about my place
    in life. The sources of the conflict are rooted in (among other
    realities of my experience) gender, ethnicity, generation and, yes,
    history. One reason I'm glad Sixties-L is back is that it has prompted
    me to begin resolving nagging political conflicts and ambivalences and
    get on with the rest of my life in a productive, humane way. I'm
    younger than Mr. Mandell's "advanced age"; but being middle-aged, I'm
    not so young that I can afford the luxury or the irresponsibility of
    dropping out or encouraging young people to do so on the grounds that
    our government is corrupt and corrupting. If the sixties taught us
    nothing else, they should have taught us that.

    S. Flowers

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