3 September 2009
FURTHER THOUGHTS ON DIGNITARIANISM
What Robert W. Fuller's terms “rankism” and “a dignitarian society” seem to me to come down to is respect vs. disrespect, for others and for ourselves.
Etymologically, to respect is to look again, which implies taking a second look or noticing with attention and regard, which may be seen as the beginning of an ascending sequence: respect > regard > concern > care > affection > love. Respect, then, is positive regard for someone or something, an attitude that, with cultivation, may culminate in love, that “brotherly love” which Philadelphia is named for, or which fraternities and sororities ideally exemplify.
Nobody wants to be a nobody. Everybody wants to be a somebody. We all need the dignity of such self-esteem, as much as we need vitamins. We thrive on the respect of unconditional positive regard, respect for simply being human. To disrespect us causes anguish, defensiveness, and possible hostility: having been thus insulted, our reflex urge is to lash back, which easily leads to an escalating cycle of retaliation in which respect vanishes and disrespect, disregard, and dissonance defeat civility. Antagonism then rules.
Yet, for all its prominence in the daily news, antagonism and hostility are not the norm, I think, in most societies, which are generally “civil societies.” Civility and neighborliness are behaviors most people cherish and desire in their communities and practice habitually. Flare-ups of antagonism distress everyone involved, and peacemakers work earnestly to calm and reconcile the parties in dispute. That is our natural instinct, to bring about among adversaries conflict resolution and renewed cooperation.
A Dignitarian Society, a better society than has yet evolved in most human communities, is still our aspiration as a race hoping to mature into the sapience we’re named for (Homo sapiens sapiens). The incalculable preciousness of all human beings, no matter how warped and wayward adversities may have made them, will then be prized and appreciated, honored and esteemed—and redeemed.
That time of promise ahead seems now barely imaginable. Yet what’s imagination for if not to make such leaps and flights to follow after?