Thursday, February 15, 2018

Platitudes of Harm

This morning, we were concerned about the release of a very wrong message from our company on international social media. We apologize sincerely.

Although we have deleted the relevant information as soon as possible, we are very aware of the harm caused by this incident to the Chinese people.
Mercedes Benz
What was this "very wrong message" that caused "harm" to the people of China?
Look at situations from all angles, and you will become more open.
What made this a problem was that the quote comes from the Dalai Lama.

On the one hand, this incident is simply part of the People's Republic of China's never-ending crusade to legitimize their control of Tibet by marginalizing the Dalai Lama. Ho hum. That part I don't really care about. I happen to think that the Lama is a fairly enlightened guy who has his act together, but China wants what it wants, and he's in the way. Nothing new there.

What I find useful about this anecdote is how Mercedes Benz characterized the quote as harmful to the Chinese people. What's so harmful about it? It's simply a bland quote about seeing all sides of an issue. There are likely a million variations of this same idea available in poster form from anyone who has access to a decently-sized printer and a URL. And it can't merely be the fact that the words were spoken by the Dalai Lama. After all, the Lama says a lot of things, and this particular sentiment isn't unique to him. It's not as if saying "Good morning" would have prompted the need for an apology. So what we're left with is the idea that since China has declared the Dalai Lama an Enemy of the State, that showing any respect or consideration for the man is seen as harming the populace of the Chinese state.

And this is of interest because of the way it fits into the broader cultural narratives of "harm," "microagressions" and similar concepts. As a matter of day-to-day life, it seems difficult for me to imagine being harmed by the simple fact that someone else chooses to show some respect or reverence to someone that I happen not not like - or even consider a mortal enemy, especially outside of a context of advocating some action that may be considered dangerous.

I will admit, however, that this is easy for me to say. While quotes from people who are understood to be White Supremacists or otherwise anti-Black racists are fairly thick on the ground, I can't think of one from someone who I know of ONLY from their disdain for Black Americans, or that I have been taught to look at as both a cultural and personal enemy.

But even were that the case, it seems to take things a step too far to ascribe harm to the simple choice of whom to respect. China can force contrition from Mercedes Benz because it's a large market and the automaker could easily find itself shut out, either genuinely or virtually. But even groups that can't wield that level of economic clout understand themselves to be injured when those they dislike are shown respect, and often fruitlessly demand the same sorts of apologetic behavior. It doesn't resonate with me, because it occurred to me that if I ever wanted to be content with life, I couldn't afford to allow myself to condition that contentment on the obedience of others to my desires. But maybe, rather than serene, I'm just resigned.

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