Living with Evil II

white.tennantsThe dramas of Denis Ferguson’s housing situation show a clash of two very different ways of treating “the other”. Our governments are committed to inclusion as a means of reintroducing offenders into communities (see the last post), however, what is clear from Ferguson’s brief stint in Ryde is that many within our communities are committed to exclusion as the only means of treating “the other”, and particularly, “the evil other”.
Look at the way Volf describes this process of exclusion:

Others are dehumanised in order that they can be discriminated against, dominated, driven out, or destroyed. If they are outsiders, they are “dirty,” “lazy,” and “morally unreliable”; if women, they are “sluts” and “bitches”; if minorities, they are “parasites,” “vermin,” and “pernicious bacilli” (Hirsch 1995, 97-108). In a sense, the danger of “dysphemisms” is underplayed when one claims, as Zygmunt Bauman does, that these labels take the other outside “the class of objects of potential moral responsibility” (Bauman 1993, 167). More insidiously, they insert the other into the universe of moral obligations in such a way that not only does exclusion become justified but necessary because not to exclude appears morally culpable. The rhetoric of the other’s inhumanity obliges the self to practice inhumanity.
Exclusion and Embrace 76.

I think this is a really clear picture of what has occurred in Ryde, and other places Ferguson has found himself. The thought of including ‘one like him’ into the community is repulsive. But what drives people (us) to so quickly dehumanise others to justify our exclusion of them? To this, Volf says:

Sometimes the dehumanization and consequent mistreatment of others are a projection of our own individual or collective hatred of ourselves; we persecute others because we are uncomfortable with strangeness within ourselves (Kristeva 1990)… We assimilate or eject strangers in order to ward off the perceived threat of chaotic waters rushing in. We exclude because we want to be at the center and be there alone, single-handedly controlling “the land.” To achieve such “hegemonic centrality,” we add conquest to conquest and possession to possession; we colonize the life-space of others and drive them out; we penetrate in order to exclude, and we exclude in order to control—if possible everything, alone.
Exclusion and Embrace 78-79.

You might think these are useful criticisms of cases racial exclusion like that of colonial Europeans, or of gender exclusion. But I think Volf’s critique of exclusion also offers a profound approach to the question of ‘what do we do with child sex offenders?’
Exclusion, Volf would argue, is always an act of dehumanising, performed out of a fear of including the evil ‘other’ into our communities. And the basis of this fear is in what the inclusion of such an evil one might say about our communities—and ourselves.
This raises the issues of guilt, innocence and justice—aren’t there clear examples of such repulsive guilt that the only right thing to do is to deny their place within communities? Isn’t this a necessary act of justice? We’ll look at this next time


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