To see ourselves as others see us can be eye-opening. To see others as sharing a nature with ourselves is the merest decency. But it is from the far more difficult achievement of seeing ourselves amongst others, as a local example of the forms human life has locally taken, a case among cases, a world among worlds, that the largeness of mind, without which objectivity is self-congratulation and tolerance a sham, comes.Geertz is writing about people viewing themselves within the context of a variety of cultures: in passing, he mentions "American ethnographers, Moroccan judges, Javanese metaphysicians, or Balinese dancers." But near what feels like an especially divisive election day, it seems worth posing his insights as a challenge for all of our partisan beliefs.
While I am not a member of the Religious Society of Friends, I attended a college with Quaker roots and married a 22nd-generation Quaker. The Quakers have a term called a "query," which refers to a question--sometimes a challenging or pointed question-- that is meant to be used as a basis for additional reflection. So here is Geertz, reformulated as queries to myself.
- What effort do you make to see yourself as those from the other sides of the partisan divides see you?
- Do you have the "merest decency" to see those with other political beliefs as sharing a nature with you?
- Do you see yourself and your political beliefs "as a local example of the forms human life has locally taken, a case among cases"?
- To what extent is your objectivity a matter of self-congratulation?
- To what extent is your tolerance a sham?