Discussion: Reparations

I heard an interesting argument the other day and wanted to see what my followers and others thought and hopefully initiate a good discussion.

Though we might site historic incidents as responsible for the current state of some particular group of people, to what degree are those past incidences important in going forward.

A thought experiment is presented where let’s say someone very wealthy has hit you with their car.  This particular injury you receive however isn’t the kind that surgery can fix you right away, but rather will require years of physical therapy to become what you once were.  Now the person who hit you might be able to provide you with the financial support, but nevertheless you are the one that must work and make changes in order to fully recover.  In such a situation you could choose to take the tack that it’s not fair, why should you have to do all the work, and there is no doubt that it sucks and what happened in the past is the explanation for where you are today, but this gives you little to no basis for what you need to do, to recover from what happened to you in the past.

This thought experiment is cited as applicable to the sort of victim narrative that is prevalent today among oppressed groups.  I think from a psychological perspective it is important to acknowledge wrongs of the past, and I think this is something that is not often down by classes and races that hold power, but that being said we often don’t ask the question of what we really need to go forward.  It is possible that at least part of the solution lies in how we make changes as an individual and a group to overcome the obstacles that the past has set before us and not on those who did us wrong?

I would enjoy hearing what you all have to say on this topic.  Where does our personal responsibility lie, in the face of deeply troubling past?  When it comes to racism, are their policies that might make things better that are independent of past wrongs?  If we want a future where we are judged as individuals and not by the color of our skin, our gender, our sexual orientation, etc, is there a better conversation to be had?

10 thoughts on “Discussion: Reparations

  1. The wrongs weren’t just “in the past” they curred over centuries and still are occurring today. A place to start is to eliminate the wrongs being done today. Next, reparations are important but the people directly affected are mostly dead, so creating programs to advantage those who were left behind is a good idea. Things like Affirmative Action were good in concept by lacking in execution. What happens when we do such things is we vote on them and then we do not want to be bothered any more. To do a good job of making reparations, we need to follow through on anything we do. Once someone gets to a point of being somewhat secure and no longer suffering from the effects of current wrongs, then personal responsibility needs to be invoke. To invoke that now is to say “We gave you your freedom and what have you done with it?” without mentioning loan redlining, Jim Crow laws, separate by equal that was never equal, etc.

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    1. I like what you’ve said here Steve, and I in no way meant to imply that racism or racist practices are gone by any means. The thought experiment simply points that while the past points out the reasons for a present situation, it does little to lay out a path for recovery. In other words, even if we suddenly eradicated racism, things might still not improve for oppressed groups without a great deal of effort on their part.

      As I was saying to the Professor, it simply seems that we don’t focus on progress enough when it comes to these issues over focusing on acknowledgment of past wrongs. It seems possible at least to know nothing about what a people have gone through, but based on a current diagnosis of their predicament, be active in making their life better.

      And I agree with you about affirmative action. I think that it was poorly implemented in many cases, and didn’t produce the kinds of results it could have.


  2. It is possible that at least part of the solution lies in how we make changes as an individual and a group to overcome the obstacles that the past has set before us and not on those who did us wrong?

    I’m not sure the thought experiment has to be a choice strictly between A or B, or A) adapting to move forward, or B) forgetting or ignoring “those who did us wrong.” The risk in choosing “B” only is that we do not learn from our mistakes (atrocities) and thus repeat them over and over and villains are enabled to continue their abuses. However, as a victim not moving forward can stymie new ingenious ways of problem-solving and further advancements and solutions for humanity. Therefore, my question to the experiment is… Why can’t it be both? 🤩

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    1. I guess I should have given more context… But it seems like, at least in public discourse, that suggesting that group differences aren’t entirely due to the past will get you a lot of criticism. Because the example I gave does at least imply that part of the solution is the pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps… I’m uncomfortable ever saying this entirely either as an answer but in this environment of identity politics, suggesting such a thing on the left is political suicide… Even intellectual suicide, but I think that the discussion has to be broader than we’re making it, if we’re really interested in improving people’s lives.

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      1. …suggesting that group differences aren’t entirely due to the past…

        Oh dear, I hope I didn’t come across that way because on a biological and genetic level we can never fully escape our past! And then from a familial and community (environmental) level those influences must also be factored in. The distant past or ancient past — maybe going beyond a century or 6+ generations back? — I would think is much less a factor beyond Homo Neanderthalensis. Yes? Maybe? 🤔🧐

        I think that the discussion has to be broader than we’re making it, if we’re really interested in improving people’s lives.

        Completely agree there Swarn! 🙂


  3. Some interesting thoughts here, Swarn.

    I think in almost any conceivable scenario, taking responsibility for one’s life is a big part of moving forward. That isn’t the only element needed in the equation, but I think it’s a necessary one. And while it doesn’t make the past irrelevant, I think it makes the future that one desires all the more probable.

    I also think that too much focus on the past can lead to its projection and reenactment. While shoving the past under the rug when its consequences have led to suffering is never helpful, neither is dwelling on it.

    Ultimately I don’t think that either blame or guilt have anything to offer to a productive conversation about moving forward in a meaningful way. They’re two sides of a dysfunctional coin. But not taking on the guilt of past actions doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be done today to make improvements, and not blaming others for what happened in the past doesn’t mean there aren’t those who abuse power today.

    When we make it about blame/guilt I think it becomes an equation of one person or group “owing” another person or group, and then trying to figure out when the debt has been paid. If you think about how you would treat a family member, or someone you truly loved, who made a mistake or behaved horribly, even to you, it’s probably not the case that you’d tell them you’re glad they doing better now—just deposit $1,000 in this account for all the suffering you caused and then we can reconcile.

    That’s a bit of a crass example, but there’s a notion of what’s fair caught up in the middle of this, too. We know, for instance, that it’s false to suggest that we can offset real grief and anger with money. We want, I think, to be given opportunity the way we’re given a place in a good family—because it’s rightfully ours. Not because we’ve paid a debt, or been paid that debt. So I think we have to take responsibility to be empowered, and at the same time, we have to acknowledge the abuses of power that are happening today, right now, and fix them. And we need a certain amount of good faith and good will with one another to avoid projecting the past onto the present.


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    1. Thanks Michael. You have summed my thoughts pretty accurately here on the matter. I think that’s one of the main conclusions I have come to when I think about how government solves problems….even though the left claims to want to help people, the way such things often happen is just to throw money at the problem. Money, is obviously important, but more important is that people feel they are being listened to, feel like their concerns are being acknowledged and that those that have caused hurt are truly remorseful for their actions.

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  4. Thought we might site historic incidents as responsible for the current state of some particular group of people, to what degree are those past incidences important in going forward.

    Good question and one that I can relate with.

    50 or so years ago, the colonial government left Kenya physically or so we think.
    At the time they were leaving they installed puppets they could control. But they had also destroyed the communal ways of doing things, introduced new systems that were illfitted for the groups, created different classes of citizens.
    And for the Brits, they even gave us loans to buy back overpriced land they had grabbed. So events today have their causes back then.
    And what has happened now? Whenever there has been an attempt to change these things, the imperialists have interfered by supporting the despotic regimes that advance their goals. And now with Thatcherite and Reaganomics, it has become worse.
    Yes, the oppressed have a duty to do something. Only education that makes them aware of their situation can do this and then through this, they can revolt- that is- reclaim their humanity and that of the oppressor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your perspective. And certainly if we look at the prevalence of racism and oppression across various countries it varies, and for some it is certainly strong and very much in the present and not as much in the past. I certainly didn’t mean to say that those who are responsible for a present situation shouldn’t be interested in doing what they can to make things right again, only that it seems at least possible that a better future doesn’t require internal effort, as opposed to external effort. From what you describe, what would be best for the British to do is to back the fuck off (at the very least!), instead of continuing to interfere with Kenya’s right for self-determination.


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