Paulo Freire

Don Pesci: Of understanding and forgiveness

“Christ before Pilate ,’ ’ by    Mihály Munkácsy   , 1881

“Christ before Pilate,’’ by Mihály Munkácsy, 1881

VERNON, Conn.

Longtime Hartford Courant columnist Frank Harris III is not happy with President Trump. In his latest production, “Impeach the Vampire,” Harris plumbs the depth of his dissatisfaction:

“America has never been less great than it is today. Like a vampire, the president has plunged his fangs deep into the Constitution. His fangs are sharp, and he won’t let go as he sucks the blood out of the very meaning of America. He has sunk them into the flag, sucking away the red stripes, turning them against the stars of blue. He has sunk them into the Justice Department, making it his own right arm to administer his justice rather than the justice of the land. He has sunk them into the Republican Party, turning them into wind-up vampires, hissing the Trumpian line.”

Trump supporters are not spared Harris’ op-ed lash: “For Trump supporters who voted for this man who has brought a cloud upon the land, you are forgiven. But you know now what you have done. The light of dawn has exposed this president. You see now who he is. There are no mitigating factors. No rationales. No excuses. Continued support makes you complicit in the continuing criminal acts of this crooked, conniving president.”

Was forgiveness ever so quickly withdrawn?

Forgiveness figures prominently in Douglas Murray's latest book, The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity, an exploration of the breakdown of Western culture. Decades earlier Julian Benda identified one cause of the breakdown in La trahison des clercs, the treason of the intellectuals. Pointing to the wreckage he saw all about him in 1920, Benda asked “Was it for this Christ and Socrates died?

There are two problems with the postmodern world, Murray argues. Leftists in our time have turned a failed Marxism, the perpetual war against the proles and the bourgeois, into a multifaceted war of all against all. They’ve done this by dividing mankind into oppressors and oppressed: men oppress women, whites oppress blacks, teachers – said Paulo Freire, the author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, first released in English in 1970 – oppress students. Freire’s book was used as a textbook in teacher education classes during the silly seventies. The oppressed in our time -- they are legion -- are viewed as having the only correct appreciation of racism, feminism, identity politics, gender, transsexualism, ad infinitum. With the nod of treasonous intellectuals, students are now taught by their teacher-oppressors to defer to oppressed classes, always and everywhere.

The second problem concerns what scientist and philosophers used to call objective truth, the truth that lies outside one’s own subjective experiences; the truth that remains true apart from our apprehensions of it. Some postmodern philosophers -- Murray mentions Foucault as a noxious example – have quite done with truth. There is no such thing. The world and everything in it may be explained in terms of post-Marxian power struggles. Just as pseudo-science in the post- Nietzsche period had murdered the Christian God, so objective truth in the postmodern age has been murdered by its false philosophers. And what we have now are various power struggles of a world at war with itself. Since everything is a power struggle, including such fanciful pre-postmodern notions as love and marriage, it is passion, loud voices, rather than reason, rational argument, that decide important issues of the day.

There is only one way out of this maze of irrational passion, violence and hatred Murray says – the way of forgiveness. That was the way paved by Martin Luther King Jr. in matters of race when he insisted that blacks should be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. “The only means that we’ve ever come up with as a species for the undoability of our actions is forgiveness,” Murray says in a recent interview. “And our culture is obsessed with punishing any and all erroneous action in the world -- often an erroneous action that was only made erroneous 24 hours ago -- but spends no time thinking about forgiveness.”

Forgiveness is incommensurate with ignorance: To forgive is not to unknow or to forget; it is to forego infinite repetition. Forgiveness may never be an affirmation of evil. The evil is not to be ignored or soft peddled or defined away. It is to be wrestled to the ground and defeated through forgiveness and rational thought.

The postmodern mind insists everything is a power struggle rather a search for enduring truths. Pilate speaks to Christ in the language of the postmoderns. Pilate asks Christ, “Are you a king?” And Christ answers, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me,” at which Pilate, dressed in robes of power, scoffs, “What is truth?”

No, no, the postmodern power-worshiper replies, Pilate is right. Power is all.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based essayist.


at October 05, 2019