The Fallacy of Inevitable
Let’s talk about the fallacy of inevitability.
At a Duke Student Government meeting this October, Steve Nowicki, the Dean of Undergraduate Education at Duke, responded to a question about the incidents of racism and anti-Semitism that have occurred on our campus.
The question posed was one asking what the Duke Administration was going to do to prevent acts of hate and intolerance from happening on our campus.
There isn’t really anything they can do.
These events are inevitable.
These events are not inevitable. Anti-Semitic language is not unavoidable, racial epithets are not inescapable. In fact, I think this is an incredibly dangerous mentality to have and we must understand why.
With this attitude, nothing can ever be accomplished. Imagine any lawmaker, any change maker, saying that because bad things are always going to happen, we shouldn’t do anything to prevent them. Imagine them saying that we shouldn’t do anything to protect the affected.
Imagine any person in a position where they could act preventatively saying that the inescapability is too much. Saying that we might as well give up.
Imagine this coming from someone who isn’t affected by the words, by the hatred, discrimination, or inequity at all.
Then imagine telling this to the abolitionists, to the marchers, to the people who have laid their bodies on the line for change. Those who have seen the worst of the worst and still knew that it wasn’t inevitable.
They knew that is was preventable. People just needed to care enough to do something about it.
It isn’t so much that I believe that in one step we can save the world or that I think that one particular act will prevent any slurs from being written on a bridge ever again. Practically, I can understand why prevention seems impossible.
It is that I believe that we must try and try again if we fail the first time. We must be vigilant. We must say that intolerance will not be tolerated. Because it is that hesitancy, the fear of repeated action, that prevents us from acting and allows hate and intolerance to persist.
So, we have to start somewhere.
To me, saying that incidences of hate and intolerance are inevitable feels like a copout. To me, the decision to deem something inevitable feels like removing responsibility from oneself. It is to say that if these things are always going to happen, there is nothing I can do, or should do, to prevent them.
If something is inevitable, you don’t have to do anything to stop it and you certainly don’t have to feel guilty about your lack of action.
I often struggle with what that something is, because how do you stop a mentality that has existed for far longer than you have been alive? How do you, as one person, prevent hatred that is so unwarranted, that is so wrong, yet that still can be found just as strong as it was a hundred years ago?
I don’t know if I have answer for that, which is often where I think this sense of inevitability comes from.
We think of racism as something that has existed for so long, as something that is so ingrained, that we sometimes come to the very cynical conclusion that it is something that will exist forever.
But this is a fallacy. It is a mistake based on the unsound argument that incidents of intolerance and hate will always occur.
Most importantly, it is an injustice to all people of color.
Because it is unbelievably easy to hide behind the veil of inevitability when what is inevitable has no bearing on your daily life. It is unbelievably easy to be dismissive when your job and education opportunities are not at risk, when your mental health is not suffering, or when your life is not the one on the line.
So we must be done with this cynicism because only hurts the people who are already hurting.
Rather than be bogged down by the intolerance that we feel is all encompassing, we must challenge that intolerance.
We must educate others on the words that cause emotional harm and social repercussion. We must educate others on the behaviors and the treatment that cause disparities. We must educate others on the inequalities that continue to persist in our society; inequalities that were not fixed with the abolition of slavery, that were not fixed with the integration of schools, and that were not fixed by the election of a black president.
But first we must educate ourselves.
We must educate ourselves that racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and anti-Semitism, are not inevitable, because, to say that any of these are inevitable is to say that they are tolerable.
And if we are to say that these acts are tolerable, are we not as equally culpable for them? Are we not even more cowardly and inhuman than the actors themselves?
It is so easy to be overwhelmed by the hate that still exists in our society, but it is equally easy to say that hate only exists in a small subset of our population. And maybe that’s true; maybe it is only a small portion of the population that hates deeply enough to take paint to a wall. But, it is the hate of a few that leads to the intolerance of more, which leads to the implicit bias of many.
Believing that racism is inevitable only helps racism endure. Saying there is nothing we can do only leaves room for those to act hatefully.
So when the questions of what can you do, what can we do, what can Duke Administration do, are asked, do not say there is nothing to be done when there is everything to be done. Do not say that these acts are inevitable.
We are each in a position of power to do something. We must act preventatively.
So if you are in a position to create change, yet feel as if there is nothing you can do or will do to create it, to that I say: step down.
There is surely someone who can take your place and do more.