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Peace to the people
On Pope Francis's birthday guests and the National People's Congress
To celebrate his 85th birthday, Pope Francis hosted a group of migrants at the Vatican. The Pope is using his authority and resources to provide support to the migrants while they enter a program to be integrated into Italian society.
■ In his encyclical "Fratelli Tutti", Francis wrote that "Migrants are not seen as entitled like others to participate in the life of society, and it is forgotten that they possess the same intrinsic dignity as any person. Hence they ought to be 'agents in their own redemption.'"
■ A fair number of the world's problems stem from mistaking the many tiny but illustrious differences among individuals for big differences that ought to separate people, both as individuals and as cultures. We're different from one another in countless ways -- even happy spouses and identical twins have differences of opinion with one another, whether over small things like cuisine or large ones like religious faith. But in the end, there is nothing more essential to our survival as a giant world full of billions of people than seeing every human as a person possessing the same dignity as ourselves.
■ The abolitionist Sojourner Truth recorded this very sentiment about the dignity of people who had been enslaved in America: "[T]hough ignorant, helpless, crushed in spirit, and weighed down with hardship and cruel bereavement, they were still human, and their human hearts beat within them with as true an affection as ever caused a human heart to beat." Chattel slavery could not survive as an institution without explicitly denying the humanity of its victims. The same category of thinking was behind the atrocities committed under German law as the Nazis defined Jewish people and others out of legal protection.
■ It seems like an obvious thing to believe that all lives are intrinsically of equal value, but there's a difference between believing it in the abstract and committing it to real practice. It doesn't help when propagandists resort to explicitly discounting the lives of "others". But it also doesn't help when we fall for the representations that others make of their ability to speak for "their" people. The powerful individuals who take control of mass movements like to represent "the people" as monoliths -- the Communist Party in China refers to the National People's Congress for its legitimacy; Cuba has the National Assembly of People's Power; North Korea calls itself a "People's Republic" and calls its parliament the Supreme People's Assembly.
■ Humans are social animals, so we often have to work in groups. But it's perilous to make big decisions based upon thinking only of masses, rather than of the many individuals that make up any such mass. The National People's Congress may be belligerent, but China itself must be regarded as a place of 1.4 billion individuals, each of whom has equal claim to intrinsic dignity -- just as do the 24 million individuals of Taiwan (just for example).
■ No mass has a right to subjugate any or all of those individual dignities. And as we consider the very serious hazards to peace that mass powers introduce to satisfy the selfish interests of the powerful, the response of free countries must be guided by the principle that achieving protection for individual dignity is inextricable from what will ultimately secure a durable peace for people.