May 22, 2008

Podcast: Blame And Historic Injustice

The idea that past injustices have been hidden from history is based on an anachronistic conceptualisation of people’s problems, and the assertion of trauma as a result of Maori past suffering has become a way of winning public recognition and attention, and of making a claim on our resources.

The notion that the Maori version of events should not be questioned conveys the idea that they have some privileged access to the truth. And when people sense that they are held to account by a different standard of evidence to everyone else, they understandably begin to reinterpret their past in line with current values and expectations rather than hard evidence.

Maori social problems are not constructed through an archaeological excavation of the past. On the contrary, the attempt to ‘excavate the past’ is itself motivated by the a priori perception of a problem that somehow needs to be validated by history.

The sociologically naive idea that the Maori, who hitherto lacked a voice, have now discovered a new and brave willingness to ‘confront the past’ is a form of collective self-flattery. In truth, the act of remembering is an attempt to engage with the present through the idiom of the past.

There are many practices, that today we condemn as ludicrous, barbaric or abhorrent, which in the past were considered by the vast majority to be acceptable. Should we blame our early European settlers – after all, they surely couldn’t have been expected to know any better?

And does the answer to this blame question have implications for how we should handle cultures operating by principles or practices to which we might take exception.

From Britain's Open University Miranda Fricker (Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London) takes the broader perspective on blame and historic injustice in this twelve and a half minute program.

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