Lots of Cringe

With the help of my Professor, I see now that the whole “contradiction” business laid out in the sections below were truly caused by my misreading the passage. Super embarrassing. An explanation of the issue is in the next paragraph, and I will preserve my original writeup to maintain a record of my blunder.

The issue was that I had misread the very beginning of statement 1 as though instead of reading “Polyculturalism does not posit …”, it read “Polyculturalism posits that it is not the case that …”.


A few weeks ago I got into something less than a debate with one of my Professors regarding the following quote from Vijay Prashad’s Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting. I suspect that I now understand why my Professor denied my conclusion, which suggested that statements 1 and 3 of the following quote were not consistent, while maintaining her position that they were (albeit with no argument as for why). Faced with the requirement of writing an essay for that Professor’s class that demands that I explain the following quote, all the while maintaining that the statements are consistent, I worked to figure out how they could possibly be considered to be consistent. I succeeded.

What follows is an analysis of both views, writ and published for the benefit of my classmates and fellow scholars, and my own edification.

Thesis: For us to think that sentence 1 (statement 1) is consistent with the third sentence (statement 3), we must read the first statement as though it is one that is making a statement regarding the present state of a person, not their ultimate, inherent condition.

The quote:

“Polyculturalism does not posit an undifferentiated ‘human’ who is inherently equal as the ground for its critique of the world…Instead it concentrates on the project of creating our humanity…A polycultural humanism, for this tradition is a ‘practical index’ that sets in motion the processes that might in time produce a humanity that is indeed in some way equal,” (p. 69).

Statement 1:

“Polyculturalism does not posit an undifferentiated ‘human’ who is inherently equal as the ground for its critique of the world”

Statement 3:

“A polycultural humanism, for this tradition is a ‘practical index’ that sets in motion the processes that might in time produce a humanity that is indeed in some way equal”

If statement 1 is read as making a statement regarding humanity’s ultimate, inherent condition, it would suggest that “Polyculturalism does not maintain that humans are undifferentiated and inherently equal”, or that “Polyculturalism maintains that humans are differentiated and not inherently equal”. Read this way, one should find it to be weird that the author then suggests in the third statement that “A polycultural humanism1 … might in time produce a humanity that is indeed in some way equal”, for if one maintains that “humans are differentiated and not inherently equal”, how could they also hope to “produce a humanity that is indeed in some way equal”?

Presented with the task of acting as though these two statements were consistent, I needed to figure out what twist of logic would allow for them to be consistent, so indeed I did. Keep reading.

Note that statement 3 considers a future state. It suggests that at a future time period, humanity may be “in some way equal”.

Note that in statement 1, there was no explicit note that it considers states. In it, Prashad did not state that “Polyculturalism maintains that at this time humans are differentiated and not inherently equal”.

Note that in fact, the notion that statement 1 is considering states is further confused by the fact that Prashad suggests that “humans are … not inherently equal” [emphasis mine].

Think for a moment about how we tend to think about inherent aspects of things. Do we tend to think of inherent aspects of things as varying or changing from one moment to the next, so long as the thing as a whole remains consistent across both moments2? Do we tend to think of a blue piece of paper, of which its being of the color blue is an inherent aspect, as a thing that, from this moment to the next, could change its color to red or orange, yet still be properly called a blue piece of paper?

No, so in the case of Prashad’s writing, even if Prashad had neglected to suggest to the reader that he was implicitly making a statement regarding states, his point is confused by his usage of the term “inherent”, as it suggests that he is not making a statement that significantly regards states.

Nonetheless, I grant that if we are to maintain that statement 1 and 3 are consistent, we must read them both as though they were both regarding states. When read as such, they are consistent.

  1. We must assume that “polycultural humanism” would be consistent with the characterization of “polyculturalism” made in the first statement for these statements to make sense. 

  2. I am worried that a weak reader may read this sentence and think “yes, but I have already read statement 3, which suggests that a human is not consistent, so your point is moot.” I would applaud such a reader for their ability to make connections, but I would tell them, “dear reader, when you consider statement 1, consider it and only it, unless it suggests that you should also consider something else. I am sorry, but statement 1 does not even vaguely suggest the existence of statement 3, let alone suggest that you should consider it while considering statement 1.”