#918: Philosopher Lewis Gordon on Racism, Moral vs Political Responsibility, and Relational Metaphysics

lewis-gordonlewis-gordonI had a conversation with philosopher Lewis Gordon at the American Philosophical Association Eastern Meeting in January 2019 that really stuck with me. He writes about the philosophy of racism, and takes a very holistic and systemic approach in looking at this issue. He says that racism requires people to identify groups of human beings, and then deny their humanity. He says it’s a very rich philosophically topic to unpack how and why this type of oppression happens.

Gordon takes a relational metaphysics approach meaning that he rejects approaches that try to look at things as an “isolated substance that is a reality completely on it’s own outside of relationship to anything else.” This type of relational metaphysics is similar to a process-relational metaphysics of process philosophy that is in stark contrast to the dominant perspective in Western philosophy of substance metaphysics, which tends to views things as “static entities such as substances, objects, states of affairs, or instantaneous stages.”

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on entry on process philosophy has a succinct summary of substance metaphysics:

Process philosophy opposes ‘substance metaphysics,’ the dominant research paradigm in the history of Western philosophy since Aristotle. Substance metaphysics proceeds from the intuition—first formulated by the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Parmenides—that being should be thought of as simple, hence as internally undifferentiated and unchangeable. Substance metaphysicians recast this intuition as the claim that the primary units of reality (called “substances”) must be static—they must be what they are at any instant in time.

Gordon says that basing our understanding of reality on these types of static, fixed entities is a form of “non-relational metaphysics” that he rejects. This type of thinking makes us susceptible to what he calls “epistemic closure,” which is when someone presumes complete knowledge about something from incomplete information. As an example, he says, “That person is black. I have everything I need to know.”

He says that we tend to see humans as some sort of fixed forumla rather than an open category of relationships that’s dynamically evolving and so there’s always more to learn. He says, “The mistake we often make is that we tend to think of humans beings or the worlds we live in as compartments instead of relationships that open up other relationships.” He says that “each relationship creates a reality that work like keys that unlock or disclose different modes of reality.”

This relational approach is a pretty fundamental paradigm shift, but I think it’s a pretty foundational shift in order to look at the full context and history of institutional racism. I found that I really resonated with the process-relational oriented philosophers at the American Philosophical Association because it does try to take a more holistic look at reality in terms of these patterns of relationships.

With all that’s happening in the world right now with the Black Lives Matter protests, then I wanted to dive into this conversation with Gordon as I think he provides a deep context for thinking about this issue in a holistic and relational way.

The impacts of institutional racism run far and deep into the US culture, economy, political systems, and network of institutions.

Gordon makes some differentiations between moral and political responsibility when it comes to racism as he tends to frame it primarily through a political lens. While I appreciate his points, I also think it’s valuable to look at it through both lenses because there is a moral responsibility to listen, learn, and educate ourselves. Bridging the gap between what each of us can do as individuals can do, and what types of institutional changes need to be made on a collective level is one of the biggest open questions right now.

But we can start by listening to the experiences and stories of black Americans. Here’s a sampling of Voices of VR interviews I’ve done that explore issues of race and diversity:


This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So over the last couple of days, there's been protests in every 50 states of the United States and actually around the world. This Black Lives Matter movement calling for racial justice and a broader awareness for a lot of the inequalities that we have. At the forefront was this case in Minnesota with the death of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin, who was originally arrested a few days ago for third degree murder. It was announced that they're upping that from third degree to second degree, and as well as the three other officers as well, charging them for aiding and abetting the second degree murder. So that's one step towards justice. I mean, it still has to go through the criminal justice process here in the United States and actually get a conviction. But it's at least a step towards bringing charges against these police officers. And as I see that, there's a bit of a risk of just thinking, oh, OK, even if they go through and they get put into jail, it doesn't necessarily, like, solve this issue of systemic racism. It's still embedded into the deep fabric of our society and our culture and so many ways of our institutions or economy. And so then if this movement continues, then it's a little bit of a question of, like, what do you do to really bring about deep systemic change? And I was reminded of this interview that I did at the American Philosophical Association back at the beginning of 2019. I'd gone to this philosophy conference and I wanted to just talk to different philosophers over a broad range of different topics. Ended up doing about 27 different interviews for a whole new podcast series that I haven't launched yet. But one of the conversations that I had there was with Lewis Gordon and he's looked into the philosophy of racism and He's somebody who has this relational metaphysics approach rather than substance metaphysics. So what that means in a nutshell is that substance metaphysics tends to see things as these objects that can be reduced down to a singular entity and he He's kind of rejecting that for what's called relational metaphysics, which you tend to look at things in terms of patterns of energy that are in relationship to each other. Alfred North Whitehead's process philosophy is deeply embedded into this kind of relational metaphysics, as well as Carlo Rovelli's relational quantum mechanics. So this relational approach is something that I tend to take as well. And it tries to look at these issues through a systemic lens. If you're looking at it through a reductive lens, you may say, okay, well, as long as these four individuals get prosecuted, then justice has been served. And then, you know, we're all good. But I think there's a general awareness that that doesn't quite go far enough. And so I think it actually requires a deeper shift into this more relational perspective. And I think what I found with going to this philosophy conference and talking to philosophers like Lewis is that philosophy can be really dense, especially with the language that has very specific meaning to it. I think in the moment, there was a part of me that I was capturing a fraction of all the things that he was saying. And then I went back and listened to it, and then edited it, and then listened to it a number of other times. And then over a year later now, I'm coming back and listening to it again and getting even more insights. And so There's a little bit of a warning of that this very dense interview that I did here, but treat it as like an onion that you're just kind of peeling different layers of and you're going to get some of it and maybe not all of it. I can't claim to have gotten every single aspect of this conversation, but I'll go ahead and dive into it and kind of unpack different aspects here at the end based upon my deep dives into these different aspects of philosophy. But I think it's just important to give a little bit more context into thinking about these issues in a holistic and systemic way, and really thinking about what else needs to be done at every level when it comes to bringing about this level of justice, both from a moral and political aspect. That's just one other thing that I wanted to point out is that Lewis is making this contrast between moral and political, where the moral is the individual, versus something that's a political issue, which is it's something that is wrong with the fabric of society, and it's more systemic. And so thinking about racism in terms of a moral issue and as a political issue, Lewis is leaning more towards this political side, although I think both are in play here. And then I'll sort of unpack a little bit more of some of his perspectives of what he's talking about here. So anyway, that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So, this interview with Lewis happened on Wednesday, January 9th, 2019 at the American Philosophical Association's Eastern Meeting in New York City, New York. So, with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:04:50.427] Lewis Gordon: My name is Lewis Gordon. I am a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut. I'm president of the Global Center for Advanced Studies, and I have an honorary chair at Rhodes University in South Africa, and the European Union chair at Toulouse in France, in philosophy. What do I do? The short version is, I'm interested in what is the nature of human relationships with reality. And that may sound very concise, very simple, but it turns out it's very complicated because it turns out what a human being is, is a divergence from the ordinary movement of submergence of what we could call being or reality. And so if something can diverge or distinguish itself, there's a word for that. It's called existence. And so the very idea that human beings exist poses all kinds of other questions from freedom, to the opposite of freedom, on freedom or oppression, etc. Of course, there is even more about being a human being, and this question about human beings' relationship to reality. For instance, one of them is that we can question that relationship, so that creates what we could call a meta-relationship. To put it differently, the very fact that we have an American Philosophical Association, or any philosophical association, tells you that human beings also ask the question of what the hell are we doing here anyway. And what makes this an even more interesting question is the more frightening question. You know, reality would have been perfectly fine without us. So we're haunted by this fact that we're here, but in it, the realization we didn't have to. And the idea that we didn't have to be here is something where we often try to seek a form of necessity for our existence, but it often leads to forcing things onto ourselves and others that actually get in the way of actually living our lives. So this has led me to look at not only good things about what we are, but very negative things. So I've written on racism, not simply because racism is a bad thing, but racism is also a philosophically rich thing, because racism requires being able to identify groups of human beings, and then denying they're human beings. So, at the heart of all racism is a fundamental lie. All the isms, the sexisms, the homophobia, etc., require identifying human beings in order to deny their humanity with those. I also look at, in a lot of my writings, not only phenomena such as colonialism, etc., but how they affect the very way in which we go about producing knowledge and thinking. So in some of my early writings, I had a concept of epistemic closure, which is the presupposition that if you have a little piece of information, that's all you need to know. If you look at how it works with racism, war, and sexism, oh, that's a black person. I know all I need to know. That's a woman. I know all I need to know. So it has a form of arrogance to it. Of course, the difficulty is the human being as an oping category. I argue the human being is not a well-formed formula. It means that there's always a lot to learn. And here's the additional part. In the act of learning, one also produces knowledge to be learned. So the very act of learning things, and this is in quantum physics as well, I also do work in quantum physics, is the very production of new relationships that are part of the ongoing configuration and production of knowledge. And if you're curious about what I do in quantum physics, it's because I work with people in string theory and a variety of other areas, computational theory, and also classical quantum theory, around the very idea of a dimension. And this, again, connects to my work. Because, you see, one of the things that human beings do is every time a relation is produced, it also produces new kinds of meaning. But the new kinds of meaning also produce new kinds of beings. So what I mean by that is that we human beings are always in the making, and the kinds of human beings to come, we can't even imagine right now, but our actions will contribute to it. But within the human world, we also live through multiple dimensions. And this is what brings me into that area of research. Because we tend to talk about dimensionality exclusively in spatial terms. So people think they enter a dimension, even when they think of time as a dimension, they spatialize it. whereas it struck me in line with thinkers such as Sri Aurobindo of India, Ernst Kussera from Germany, many others, Keiji Nishitani from Japan, and also just my own writings on these subjects that The mistake we often make is that we tend to think of human beings as having all the worlds we live in as compartments instead of relationships that open other relationships. And so if you could imagine that point I made that we didn't have to be here. For all we know, there are some people who have hypothesized that this might even be the 18th, could be a millionth instantiation of the cooling of heat to produce the universe, or the pluriverse. But in some of them, life comes about. But even if there's life, it doesn't follow it has to be conscious life. But in some of them, conscious life comes about. And even if you have conscious life, it doesn't follow that it has to be conscious life that has mind. But sometimes mind comes about. But of course the way we talk about mind is not just mind. Mind requires language, intersubjectivity, culture, all kinds of symbolic stuff. But as they come about, other things come about. And so what I've been looking through in a lot of my work is how each relationship that produces different kinds of reality through which we live, I argue, function more like keys. And keys, in the sense that they unlock or they open or they disclose different modes of reality. So, if we go full circle to my early remark, that simple question, what is the human being's relationship to reality? You could see just from this short set of reflections, it takes us in many directions. But the fundamental one, I argue, in all my writings, even though I've written on oppression, political work, questions of social transformation, aesthetics, all of those, they all come down to the questions of the kinds of disclosure human beings are able to produce. in our humanity. And among them, I join a community of philosophers throughout the ages who have argued that part of that disclosure is freedom.

[00:11:51.145] Kent Bye: Interesting. Just as you were talking about the relationships and quantum mechanics, I think of Carlo Rovelli's relational quantum mechanics as an interpretation of the quantum. Absolutely. And that seems to be in line with that, but also like Alfred North Whitehead's process philosophy, but also stop thinking about things in terms of concrete objects, but how there's these patterns of energy and how they're in relationship to each other. Does Carlo Rovelli come up much in terms of your work?

[00:12:14.524] Lewis Gordon: Actually, all the people you just mentioned, because I'm a critic of what I call non-relational metaphysics. You know, the idea of trying to look at things in terms of an isolated substance, that it's a reality completely on its own, outside of relationship to anything else. I argue that collapses upon itself. And that one of the reasons I talk about the idea of not being a well-formed formula, that's just a basic point that we actually transcend form. So, in a lot of my writings, I make a distinction between rationality and reasonability. Because I argue for relational metaphysics, for these relational forms, yeah, definitely connect to people like Whitehead, but I put them in conversation with many other thinkers. Because, you see, a big danger is, though we may advocate relationality, we can also reproduce non-relationality through failing to put ourselves in conversation with what other thinkers are doing and the creative resources they bring to the subject. So that's why a lot of my work is global.

[00:13:12.740] Kent Bye: Yeah, I've definitely been drawn to their work as well. And I'm curious if you could talk a bit about the relationship of race and racism into this field of unconscious awareness that we have. And in some ways, it sounds like the philosophers are watching the patterns of human behavior and then trying to come up with the primary forms and structures of those behaviors to try to have a critical theory that will be able to describe it. Of course, it's very difficult to mathematically model human beings. It's a very complex nonlinear system. So very much drawn towards this organism approach of the white head, which is very difficult to actually have a mechanical way of thinking about it. But in terms of fields, I can see how there are these either fields of influence of oppression or power and privilege, but also a whole dimension of unconscious awareness, almost like these blind spots that we have that we can't necessarily see. And so I'm curious if you could sort of expand on that and how you kind of conceptualize of all those things philosophically.

[00:14:07.876] Lewis Gordon: Well, this is where I break company from a lot of people in the discipline. And part of it is the discipline is dominated in the philosophical sense of liberal, liberal political thought. A lot of liberal political thought, thought that emerges roughly from late 15th into the 16th century on to what we have now, is actually antipathetic to the idea of political thought itself. And that's why it prioritizes moral thought, because then they could actually stratify it more into a realm of rationality that could be more consistent. However, one of the things I argue in my work is that the problem with reason is reason is able to point out that certain forms of rationality, when consistently applied, collapse into unreasonability. And so this leads to issues of responsibility that are more radical than a lot of others prefer. And among them is in racism. I actually argue that it's complete bunk, that there is no unconscious bias. It's something people want to believe because it enables them to escape the responsibility of their actions. So in my writings, no, it's not that there are white people who unconsciously think this way or that. They know exactly what they're doing. What they have is an appeal to saying that's not what they're doing in the public discourse to escape their responsibility. And that's why, in a lot of my writings, I look into bad faith. In my writings, bad faith is connected to questions of evidence and evidentiality. So, for instance, in my writings, the opposite of bad faith is not good faith. The opposite of bad faith is a critical relationship to evidence. In other words, it's an accountability to a world beyond the self. And that's why in a lot of my writings I write on concepts of evidence. And I point out the evidentiality of evidence. The thing about evidence is that evidence functions as evidence if it is able to facilitate the appearance of something else. And so there's always also, interestingly enough, something allegorical in all forms of evidence. Because an allegory is that which brings out in the open a phenomenon by virtue of something that's different from the phenomenon one is initially talking about. And this is where there's brilliance in various moments in the history of philosophy. Because, for instance, one of the things I love about Plato's Allegory of the Cave is that it's not just an allegory about seeking truth and trying to communicate it to others. It's an allegory about allegory. Because the very allegory is about bringing out into the open. And this is something that many people share. So what brings a lot of my work into the phenomenological sphere is because phenomenology, as I argue phenomenology, is always premised upon the notion of intersubjective disclosure of evidence. And that means it always has a structure. In other words, it's not an ecological self-reference to an eye. It's always a relationship through which one is able to develop an understanding of other subjects of meaning. And so within that framework, yes, when I look at things like racism or sexism or many of the others, I don't take the position of unconscious bias. I do, however, take a different position, which is that people are complicated enough to do simultaneously good and bad things. And what emerges through the disclosure of bad things or good things is the kind of commitment one is willing to take in relationship to that disclosure. So, for instance, if someone points out that I'm doing something wrong, if I'm committed to a particular project the way the world should be, I could start by saying things like, well, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have been doing that, and start working with what I should do. Of course, that's a discourse about me. That's in the moral sphere, right? Am I a better person or the ethical sphere? The political world, however, is very different. And what I argue is that there's a different kind of responsibility in the political world. And that's where I argue racism and those other categories are fundamental. In the political world, the question becomes not about me, but about the set of relations through which a social world of power is developed. If it's developed well, if we strive for it, there are more options available to people in which whether I individually am a good or bad person can become irrelevant. And so folks are often shocked when I say, I really don't care that there are immoral people in the world. I only care if they're on top of me or on top of others. If we create a condition in which their immoral positions become inconsequential, then you could deal with their loved ones, their private, can deal with them in that way. The problem is we've structured the world in such a way that the people who can have a greater access to certain institutions of power are those whose objective is to use them to disempower others. Whereas I argue what the political world is supposed to be about, in fact the very production of politics, which is the dissemination of power in the social world, is actually to produce new kinds of options through which we can live in a social world. So, for instance, the political conditions that could create an environment for this building enables you and me to sit in the building and have a conversation without the moment worried about if someone's going to harm us or if the building is going to fall, etc. Conditions that we may create around language, communication, this podcast. they're linked to certain forms of commitments that set the conditions where people don't have to know me or you personally for us to play a role in their lives by virtue of the ideas we offer. So communicability and language are parts of power, but power in the good sense, because when we're dead and gone, if what we say is useful, subsequent generations can build on those ideas that may facilitate others being able to do things well. If, however, our goal is disempowerment, we could change this conversation into a form of ideological screed that could try to rally forces to block people and others to have access and make sure that options are available to few. However, the very commitment of it being a podcast, the very commitment that it's on a mechanism that would make it, say, accessible without people having to pay fees for it, would be premised on the idea that the ideas, if they are useful, should be available to others. So this brings us to a very important political point. Moral responsibility isn't anonymous. You could say, Louis, you're being a bad person if you do X, Y, and Z, okay? Or you could say, Mary, or so forth. But political responsibility is anonymous. Because when you do a political act, even though in the room you may sign a document and say hi to your friends, a political action goes out to people you'll never meet, you'll never know, and many of them will never know you, but the anonymity of the impact of it goes across generations. And these are the elements of political power, right, that we need to consider. And the big mistake, the reason there's a desire to moralize racism, sexism, and all those categories, is because What dominates the commitments of the world we live in, in liberal political theory, is connected to its intimate relationship with, frankly put, capitalism. And the reason for that is because capitalism can function if it can give the illusion of the absolute individual substance-like self that can function like a miniature god and a consumer in the world. However, the big problem with that is that the very way I talked about power, social power, is connected to a different conception of capital. And this is where this stuff about reality I do come into play. Because I'm not a person in my writings that is against markets. And this is where it gets tricky. I'm against the collapse of markets into a fetishized object called the market. And that fetishized object called the market is similar to what you have in racism, sexism, and all of those, because it creates a particular group of human beings and fetishizes them into a God-like structure in which everybody else falls short. So if there is the market as an abstraction, The abstract market functions like a god, which means it cannot have any contradictions or anything outside of it, and it commodifies everything. But at the same time, what is left then, in a situation where there is no power that goes out in the social world, is it turns everything back onto yourself and it sets the mechanisms of power purely at the moral level over the self. However, in a social world with political power, it's a community's responsibility, it's the institution's responsibility, and they always deal with the anonymous, you see? And so, within that framework then, political power goes across generations, moral responsibility is specifically to the individuals, their actions, what they can do, and they could be connected to principles. It can be communicated, that's true, but ultimately, you can specify it. And the way this relates to questions of reality and a lot of these other concerns, well, we could look at it this way. Ultimately, it is possible to take on the individualized moral responsibility simply with an act of shame. However, political responsibility cannot stop at an act of shame. So if we come back to the example of racism, among the things I reject and often shock people is I hate, I hate the way people talk about privilege. If you look carefully at the things that people call privileges, they're actually things that properly should be called rights. Let's pick white, black examples. If you say to a white person, the white person is privileged for having food, shelter, education, clothing, physical security, etc. The response shouldn't be, you should not be ashamed for having those things. The response should be, something's wrong with the political system that doesn't make those things available to other people. However, those who don't want those things available to other people, the people who would like to lock it, privatize it, completely into the hands of a small set of people, they will prefer that model because then what you say is, well, I am ashamed of my privilege. Now, what happens? Well, in a racial encounter, you could be ashamed of your privilege and you could go home with all those privileges intact in a system that maintains the inequality. However, in a political response, you now have to do something about it. Not you individually, but the society. And here's where we come to a difference. What I argue is that what racism produces is not privilege, but license. And license is a different category of forms of access. And here's what I mean. A license can work with something negative. You can have a license to kill. You can have a license to maim. You could have a license to take away people's resources. Very easy. It just has to be declared. But that cannot be a category for privilege. You cannot say I have the privilege of raping you, the privilege of stealing from you, the privilege of killing you. And this already tells you something about the difference in these categories. However, here's the big difference. Although it would be problematic to tell people that they should abrogate or abdicate rights, it is not problematic to tell people to abdicate a license. And so let's go back to the scenario. If a black person says to a white person, and one of the proofs of this is this license, is all you have to do is look at the history of the United States and look at photographs of lynchings. All of the perpetrators are posing right there with their deed. The license means that the police will not hold them accountable. So if ones were to say, nobody should have such a license, it means that those people should be held accountable. That means now a white person can do something. Because it means a white person cannot work with a black person, a brown person, an indigenous person, you name the category, to say that nobody in a society should have a license to harm people. However, you can also fight together to say that such license produce forms of inequality that block a lot of people from education, clean water, health care, et cetera. And so this brings us to the last important element. All political designations pertain to what people can actually do something about. If it's simply about your shame, it's self-referential, it keeps things structurally and systematically intact. But if it's about a political change, you can produce different institutions, systems, structures. And so I'm more interested in my writings because I talk about a relationship to reality. If we really want to do something about racism, we really need to empower people politically. And we need to have conceptual frameworks that bring coherence to their political actions.

[00:27:47.392] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of philosophy is and what it might be able to enable?

[00:27:57.250] Lewis Gordon: I think the ultimate potential, in a nutshell, of philosophy is connected to that first remark I made about freedom. I think philosophy is ultimately about freedom. And when philosophers turn away from freedom, not only do they cease to be philosophers, but they also become instruments of disempowerment. In my writings, I've characterized it in three ways. I pretty much say that the human being has three fundamental questions that we ask, and they permeate philosophy when it's alive. Fundamental question number one, what the hell are we? Fundamental question number two, what do we do with the responsibility for what we are, freedom? And fundamental question number three is, is justification justifiable? If you bring those three together, philosophy addresses our radical responsibility for responsibility itself, and that is freedom.

[00:28:56.614] Kent Bye: Awesome. Great. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. So thank you.

[00:28:59.636] Lewis Gordon: My pleasure. And with all what I said about workers, we had the cacophony of the community join us. So in a way, it worked out beautifully.

[00:29:09.103] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's perfect. Awesome. Great. Well, thank you. Sure. So that was Lewis Gordon. He's a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, the president of the Global Center for Advanced Studies, the honorary chair at Rhodes University in South Africa, and the European chair at Toulouse in France in philosophy. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, Well, I have to say that there are certain aspects of this conversation that when I had it, I was really fighting against this denial of unconscious bias or that there could be different unconscious aspects that are at play. I totally understand where he's trying to get at, of trying to broaden it out to this political dimension and not turn it into a shame issue where if you just ignore the shame or learn to live with it and don't actually do anything to bring about the larger political change. But I think that both can be true. There can be an unconscious bias aspect where there's just things that were embedded into our worldviews and our beliefs that are unquestioned and that we're not even necessarily always putting language on to these unconscious biases. I think that's a very real phenomenon. So I'm not necessarily keen to just completely deny that. At the same time, I want to acknowledge what Lewis is trying to point at, which is that if you just only moralize race and racism and becomes an issue of privilege, he says that anytime you use the word privilege, think about instead of using privilege, think about it in terms of human rights. if it's a human right, then one needs to happen at a systemic level in order to really bring about the change to everybody. So it becomes more of a political issue rather than a moral issue. And the way that he differentiates between the morality and the political aspects is that the moral issue is not anonymous. It's very connected to you as an individual in terms of your ethical acts and how that reflects on your actions and your behaviors and how that impacts the world around you. And there's also an aspect of the political dimension, which is totally anonymous, which is that when you bring about change, you're starting to change the fabric of society to such a point where it impacts future generations for many generations, and it's much more anonymous. So I like that distinction between the morality and the political, because I do think it's useful to not just turn things into shaming around things that could be seen as white privilege. Now, how to actually distribute more in an equitable fashion the distribution of power is in some ways, Lewis is saying is that that's what politics is all about is the redistribution of power. And so just in reflecting around systemic racism, then it goes everything to access to education, access to opportunities and the social network, funding and the support and all these different things that are embedded into the culture at such a deep level that they can often be unquestioned. One of the things I've noticed, just as a journalist within the XR industry, is that a lot of times, underrepresented minorities, they'll have these amazing ideas, but they will need to, like, gather the resources and other people to help them to be able to actually bring about even just a prototype of their ideas. in the absence of having a prototype, then there's very unlikely for them to be able to then move on to the next phase, which is to get funding for it, and then to develop to completion to be delivered as a finished product. Now, for a long time on the Voices of VR podcast, I would only cover projects that were finished. And if I'm not looking at the systemic issues that are facing underrepresented minorities, for them to even get to that point of finishing a project, they have these ideas, they don't have enough support and funding and resources to even get to the prototype stage, let alone to complete it into a finished product that then goes out and is able to get what is usually then at that point, a newsworthy topic when it's actually been finished. So it's things like that, where just the funding and the support and the access to these resources and knowledge, it's embedded into such a deep fabric of our society that it actually requires a reorientation to figure out like, how do you cover and promote inclusivity and diversity within this broader ecosystem when you have these different types of dynamics like that. And so, I mean, this is such a rich interview. I could talk for at least two to three times as long of that, just unpacking all the different things. But just in the interest of time and just trying to synthesize it, because I do think it's worth just re-listening to it and try to unpack. But I did want to talk about the license, because he's making this historical connection to lynching and how lynching would happen, and that white people would have their photo taken next to people who they had just killed. so in some ways that was a license to kill. Like, there's a normative standard within the culture that accepted that. Like, they didn't face consequences. And so part of that license is that you're abdicated from any deeper sense of accountability or justice. Like, the police forces are policing themselves. There's no external justice. Like, they have their own rules. If there's a violation of something that happens, then they review it internally. And then more often than not, then there's no charges that are brought. And it's a bit of like this code of like, you can do whatever you want and there's no accountability. And I think that's been happening for years and years and years within the United States and likely all around the world as well, but especially in the U.S. There's just this license to kill Black people in a way that there's no accountability and no justice. And so there's this documentary on HBO. It's actually also on YouTube as well. It's called True Justice, Bryan Stevenson's Fight for Equality. And in that he's making the argument that there's this continuity from the days of slavery, to lynching, to segregation, to mass incarceration, that it is the same institutionalized racism that have that same level of license to be able to have these different injustices. that's embedding the racism deeply into the fabric of the culture to the point where it's accepted, like slavery was accepted, and lynching was accepted, and segregation was accepted, and now mass incarceration is accepted, even though there's been this disproportionate execution of justice. And so a lot of the work of Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Institute is trying to call to light these different injustices and to question both the death penalty and the mass incarceration and to do these whole series of truth and reconciliation rituals to be able to actually tell the truth of the history and to actually like stand with it and to hear the truth and creating these memorials that are trying to say the names of the people who have been lynched and to really honor them and their lives. So this is just a conversation that, in retrospect, really shifted my perspective in a lot of different ways. And I'm very grateful to having this brief conversation with Lewis Gordon at the American Philosophical Association. And I just wanted to share it now because it just seems very timely in terms of what next, like, how do you actually really start to think about this and this issue of systemic racism and this different political dimensions and you know, what's it really take to really get all the things that are necessary? And what can each of us do in our own moral imperatives to be able to be involved in this in any degree that we can, and to be able to just listen to more perspectives and more stories and to understand that just like the Me Too movement was able to, like, open up this whole flood of information of knowledge about us denying the stories of women who have gone through sexual harassment and sexual abuse, It's a bit of a, the Me Too equivalent type of moment that, you know, it's been, it's been happening, but it's really flipped over into this whole other new level right now of really listening to these stories of the experiences of African Americans and underrepresented minorities here in the United States. And I highly recommend checking out the work of Roger Wallace Williams. I did an interview with him and there's a number of different interviews that I've also done on the Voices of VR podcast. with Roger Ross Williams back in Episode 742, Tyler Musgrave in Episode 747, bringing different restorative justice practices from the communities of Oakland into virtual reality. Glenn Concave and his racial justice using AR to reclaim the history with site-specific context looking at how can you start to overlay augmented reality experiences on top of statues like the Columbus Circle in New York City of Columbus and trying to point out Columbus's connection to the slave trade. Opeyemi Okemi talking about diversity and inclusion and all the things that she's doing to be able to fund different artists with the African Interactive Art Residency Program with Dale Henry in episode 552 talking about the Oculus Launchpad program and his own experiences as an independent developer, his struggles of trying to get to that prototype stage before he can even get the larger funding and just the frustration of not having access to more resources, more funding, more support. And there's others that I've done with Kai Frazier using VR for Education back in episode 882, or with Clorama Dorvialis with Debiased VR and Diversity Training in episode 695, Morgan Mercer in episode 691 talking about Vantage Point and Diversity Training. So there's a lot of amazing XR creators that I think are doing some good work and just wanted to give them a shout out and to support their work that they're doing. But also that, you know, there's just a lot of issues, a lot of deep systemic issues that I think it's going to take time to be able to like really listen to those stories and to really integrate them into the fabric of all of our institutions. And I think it's going to require a long process to be able to do that. It's not going to happen overnight, but just happy that the conversation has begun. And I just wanted to do this deep dive into the philosophical aspects of it. Because I think that, you know, moving from this substance metaphysics to relational metaphysics is something that I, I feel like is a fundamental paradigm shift. And I think this is a part of it to really look at things holistically and systemically and not just in, you know, looking at things in these isolated instances, but to really look at the systems and structures of power and to really interrogate it and to see how it's going to take many different facets of of culture and law and economics and technology and code to be able to like address all these variety aspects of this issue. So that's all that I have for today. And I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoyed the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listen-supported podcast. And one of the things that that means is that I want to be able to make this information freely available for people and to really make it accessible for anybody in the VR community. And if you enjoy that and want to continue to have these different types of deep dive discussions, trying to unpack and interrogate a lot of these different aspects of what's happening, not only in the world, but also within the VR community, then consider becoming in relationship to the podcast itself by donating and supporting this work just to help to continue to, to amplify these different types of voices. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

More from this show