I recently shared M. Shawn Copeland’s description of solidarity as a way of relating that has material consequences: it’s not just an ideal, it’s an ethic.
In this passage, Copeland explains how solidarity also relies on our memories of past ways of relating, specifically our memories of trauma and suffering.
Solidarity is an intentional moral and ethical task.
[It] begins in anamnesis—the intentional remembering of the dead, exploited, despised victims of history. This memory cannot be a pietistic or romantic memorial, for always intentional recovery and engagement of the histories of suffering are fraught with ambiguity and paradox. The victims of history are lost, but we are alive. We owe all that we have to our exploitation and enslavement, removal and extermination of despised others… Our recognition and regard for the victims of history and our shouldering responsibility for that history form the moral basis of Christian solidarity.” —M. Shawn Copeland, Enfleshing Freedom
As Miroslav Volf has argued, we can remember in ways that aren’t helpful and that ultimately corrode our relationships with others. “Fake news” and “post-truth” accounts of the past are faulty ways of remembering, for example. In Volf’s view, memorials that end in resentment are also faulty.
Copeland explains that memory has an even more fundamental value: memory of past pain honors our connection with people who have been harmed. Even if we can’t change what has happened, we can honor it by taking alternate action today. “Solidarity,” she writes, ” mandates us to shoulder our responsibility to the past in the here-and-now in memory of the crucified Christ and all the victims of history.” We honor the past by engaging the present deeply.
The book of James suggests that the way we live proves our commitment to our beliefs. In the same way, how much we exercise solidarity as a practiced ethic and not merely as an ideal demonstrates just how connected we think we are to others and their lives. The astronauts’ “overview effect” gives them an instant planetary perspective on life. And with all of humanity’s squabbling over borders, we do need that.
We also need an organic view of life, one that highlights the inescapable interconnection of all things and wakes us up to our mutual impacts on and responsibilities for one another. If I can remember the heat that has burned you as keenly as I remember the heat that’s burned me, I might just be motivated enough to turn off the stove. But until I am so moved, phrases like “Never again” will always be more aspiration than resolve.