Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Colour and the Shape

I posted this photo on Facebook as a "diplomatic solution" to end all this rioting in Belfast. It was of course a joke, but as a political-philosophical experiment it is fascinating, I think. I read in The Nature of Doctrine about a experiment where some playing cards received different colours to the original, so that some diamonds were black and some spades were red, for example. This caused deep distress in a few of the subjects who were used to assess the altered deck of cards. One subject said, "I can't make the suit out, whatever it is. It didn't even look like a card that time. I don't know what colour it is now or whether it's a spade or a heart. I'm not even sure now what a spade looks like. My God!" Melodramatic as this may be, something similar tends to happen when our horizon of expectation meets an anomaly. In short, this is what happens when we don't know how to identify what we're looking at, especially when it seems so familiar. (Think of Keri Russell's haircut in season 2 of Felicity!)

It would be interesting to see what a flag like this would do to people who felt strongly about the original - either the British or the Irish. Who would feel more upset and distressed by it? I would imagine British people would be more offended (if you could measure offence) , which might serve to undermine the notion of our "post-racist" West: we will get angry and violent when things aren't the right colour. Colour still seems to matter more than form. . That's not necessarily a bad thing, because colour is intimately bound up with form. "I don't see you as black" as a phrase of tolerance for one's African neighbour is of course racism at its purest. To see things superficially, on the other hand, is to see that skin colour matters. It is integral to a person's identity and character, for it is definitive proof that we are, in MacIntyre's words, born with a history. We don't just get to be any colour.

Anyway, I've somehow dived into waters that I'm not prepared to swim in, so I'll be jumping back out now.

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