Gaita, Raimond: Reflections on the idea of a common humanity

Gaita, Raimond

Friday essay: reflections on the idea of a common humanity‘, The Conversation, 12 August 2016

Gaita argues that ‘to recognise the humanity of others we must rise to the humanity in ourselves, but to do that we must at least be open to seeing fully the humanity of all people’. He mentions genocide, racism, sexism, the dehumanisation of enemies, and other phenomena that test the concept of a common humanity.

[M]any people now fear that within ten years or so, national and international politics will be dominated by crises that are caused and inflamed by the shameful gap between the rich and the poor nations, aggravated by the effects of climate change.

He uses the historical treatment of Indigenous Australians as an extended example. In a complex argument about emotion and reason, he notes how ‘[s]entimentality, a disposition to pathos’ can ‘undermine understanding’. He suggests that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians lack a shared understanding of what it means to be human and thus of what counts as crimes against humanity. He quotes Pat Dodson:

While the 1788 invasion was unjust, the real injustice was the denial by [Governor] Phillip and subsequent governments, of our right to participate equally in the future of a land we had managed successfully for millenniums. Instead, the land was stolen, not shared. Our political sovereignty was replaced by a virulent form of serfdom; our spiritual beliefs denied and ridiculed; our system of education undermined.

There is much more in the article – originally a lecture – and it provoked 158 comments. An earlier article by Professor Gaita on the study of humanities.


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