Growing in Public & the Price of Forgiveness


Despite the anger (which personally doesn’t bother me in the slightest but I’m sure will ruffle somebody’s feathers), @Svndra25 is right. Although this is true on an individual, everyday person-type level, this is also true for intellectuals. The public – or a particular intellectual’s public – doesn’t always allow the growth of an intellectual when they chastise said intellectual for being wrong.
Now, context is, as always, very important. I’m not trying to say there aren’t limits to ‘being wrong.’ When I imagine wrong, in this sense, I’m talking about genuine opportunities for growth, where someone doesn’t yet comprehend a concept. What I’m not talking about is stuff like the recent Kevin Williamson debacle, or when so-called intellectuals want to argue ‘race science.’ Williamson and others like him – whose views are not moderate or conservative, rather they’re extreme and dangerous – are not looking to grow; they are purely agenda driven.
Think of your family, maybe some friends you know that aren’t exactly progressive. Think of how some of them aren’t entirely lost to reason, and how, often, it’s more a case of where people are getting their information that’s the problem, not so much a resistance to logic. In these instances, growth is possible. Such is the case with intellectuals. Because despite the possibly haughty label itself, being an intellectual doesn’t exclude a person from also, occasionally or even frequently, being wrong, too.
August Wilson Black History Month GIF by GIPHY Studios Originals-downsized_largeDue to fellow Master’s students I worked alongside this semester, I’ve thought a lot about learning in public – the act of taking part in public discourse and allowing yourself/your perspective to grow – as well as how this is partly a necessary condition for being an intellectual. An intellectual must be willing to put themselves out there in a vulnerable fashion; essentially, a willingness to be wrong.
So, what happens when the intellectual coincides with their – or just a – public, whose constituents seem opposed to growth? If someone’s views shift, and that person genuinely shows their ability to change, then how can a public deny them? This doesn’t mean a public has to forgive unconditionally. We ought to be strict about our values and sticking to them. However, it doesn’t help to wholly shut an intellectual out of discourse merely because they were wrong about something.
Again, this doesn’t extend to all gradations of ‘wrong.’ I’m simply trying to bridge a gap, to understand where there are areas through which growth is still possible after disagreement; even intense disagreement. I wouldn’t forgive someone such as Williamson advocating to hang women who have abortions. Certainly not without serious, lengthy repentance, and even then – as a male, as a white man – it isn’t my forgiveness to give, anyway.
KramerThis also brings me around to thinking about whose forgiveness is capable of liberating people from social prison; or, whose forgiveness has authoritative/official power. While it doesn’t involve an intellectual, I remember when Michael Richards went on a racist tirade after being interrupted onstage during a stand-up comedy routine at the Laugh Factory on Sunset Boulevard. It’s a horrible, awkward, and hideous moment to watch. In the aftermath, Richards met with prominent members of the black community in America, he went on TV to apologise, and it seemed that he was disgusted by his actions.
Later, many refused to give him a pass, and for black people, that’s their choice; it can’t be mine. At the same time, other black people dig forgive Richards, which presented an opportunity for growth. And as a comedian, Richards also tried using comedy to make fun of himself for the incident. In Season 7 of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, there’s a fake Seinfeld reunion, involving Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, and Richards, all reprising their roles from the sitcom to shoot one last special. In a scene from Episode 9 “The Table Read” there’s an encounter between Richards and J.B. Smoove’s character Leon, which ends in a confrontation. Smoove and Richards create a hilarious moment that pokes fun at Richards, and this makes me wonder about from where forgiveness can/must come; if it can at all.
Even though Richards said vile racist things, Smoove – a black man – was able to forgive him at least enough to act opposite him in an episode of television. Perhaps it’s a suggestion there is room for growth, though that growth is still dependant on a myriad of factors, and in turn those factors have to be determined by whatever community from which a person or intellectual is seeking forgiveness. Personally, I might allow Richards a second chance, but wouldn’t for a second entertaining forgiveness for any of these khaki-wearing, tiki torch-waving, angry white boys simply for the fact the latter appear very intent on their racism, whereas Richards seems more like a case of emotional issues. Despite any of that, it’s not my choice to offer any of these white people forgiveness.
White Supremacists March with Torches in CharlottesvilleIt isn’t always easy to forgive, nor is it easy or simple to forget, either. One big condition in regards to forgiveness in the realm of the intellectual has to be a potential for damage: even if ‘only words,’ does their argument, in conjunction with whatever power they wield socially/academically/economically(etc), pose a potential for damaging and negative real world effects? Williamson’s wildly idiotic abortion vitriol is dangerous, just as giving him a position with a widespread publication like The Atlantic would have been a dangerous move before he was booted recently. It’s the same as when people forgive politicians with extremist views, allowing them power and control over a constituency of voters which they don’t deserve.
And so this suggests there’s a price for the public/a public’s choice to forgive an intellectual, depending on the conditions of that intellectual’s reach. If we’re willing to forgive certain transgressions – and yes, even though Williamson’s stance is only an opinion, it’s suggesting we enact the death penalty against about a quarter of the population in America – then we must also accept the real world consequences of that forgiveness. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theatre if there’s no fire. There are consequences. Many apparently still live by the schoolyard rhyme of “Stick and stones will break my bones, but names will never harm me,” which only broadcasts their utter lack of understanding about the power of language.
I don’t know all the answers, nor can I speak to the various identities, races, cultures, genders, communities of which I’m not a part; forgiveness is subjective. What I do know is there are absolutely moments where forgiveness is possible, we just have to carefully consider what further transgressions lie over the horizon should we opt to exercise forgiveness.


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