It is always “advisable to have a place to go to”, to quote the I Ching, the main pillar of Chinese philosophy, also known as The Book of Changes. It is always advisable to know where you intend to go and where you can be safe. This becomes particularly obvious when changes overwhelm us and we face a crisis, either individually or as a community.
Round about 2,400 BC the I Ching sought to describe and understand the states of the world and their evolution in a universe that operated on the principle of change through a dialogue between two opposed parties. And —whether we like it or not— as humans we are still there: learning to manage opposite poles, trying to bring about positive change that upholds the highest values and managing the anxiety caused by an uncertain world.
We did not choose the shock that we have experienced. It is a painful opportunity for change and we do not know where it will lead us because the potential of its consequences lies before our eyes in the international arena. However, driven by an ideal of justice and the rage and humiliation of not finding any —and realising that their voice can resonate across the world—, millions of people have decided that “it is advisable to have a place to go to”, a place that must be shared by the human race. Whereas Orwell’s 1984 expressed the author’s fear that technological advances would afford the State such might that all individual resistance would be futile, now we can see that, while new technologies pose threats, they can also work for individuals in this transformative time. Indeed, advances in telecommunications have become the guarantors of individual freedom and an efficient, immediate way of coordinating people who are voicing their intended destination.
If it is always advisable to have a place to go to, then our own individual satnav necessarily relies on J. S. Mill’s On Liberty, a book that claims, in Humboldt’s words, that “the leading principle, towards which every argument hitherto converges, is the absolute and essential importance of human development in its richest diversity”. Inspired, like Mill, by “the highest sense of what is true and what is fair” millions of people around the world have marched agains racism and in defence of diversity, clearly stating that silence is complicit in the face falsehood and injustice. This is a battle which humankind is fighting without observers and it concerns all of us. It is not merely the battle of a complex, diverse society, like in the US, but a struggle that speaks to us all, to all our streets, schools and places of work, where the anomaly of homogeneity does not match our reality.
As a movement, Black Lives Matter is a general reaction against all kinds of racism, as well as a call to individual intervention, a call to take a stand and do our duty to transform society and denounce any divisive instances of censorship, abuse of power and limitations on free speech that can easily go unchecked by the authorities, be it political, judicial, police or any other kind.
The issue of race relations is hardly new in the US. Martin Luther King’s revolt and death in 1968 did not bring out about definitive progress, but partial victories only. Now we are seeing a new driving force spread across all racialised minorities. The call that enough is enough is not going away and many political leaders seem to be listening, president Trump being the exception: he is driven by divisiveness, sexism and abuse in all its shapes and forms.
The belief in absolute reason is a common ill that Mill also warned about when he encouraged us to take no end of precautions against the risk of fancying oneself infallible and he warned against “absolute princes, or others who are accustomed to absolute deference, who usually feel this complete confidence in the own opinion on nearly all subjects”. Doubting one’s own infallibility requires humility, something we all need, given that all individuals —in every time in history— have espoused absurd views and many of the ideas we hold true today will undoubtedly be proven wrong in the future. That’s why, knowing that we are fallible, we should be humble enough to remember that deeply-held beliefs have been proven wrong throughout history. We should apply this principle to avoid the absurdity of censoring art that was created as a result of the thinking in that period and use today’s critical thinking and the intelligence of others not to silence it.
Knowing where to go: “To be certain that we got as close to the truth as possible in our own time”, without disregarding any dissenting warnings, whomever they come from. Like Socrates, who was convicted of impiety and immorality by his peers.