This paper deconstructs and criticizes the very notion of “an obligation to help humanity.” I argue that such an idea of an obligation is an evolution of the ideas that emerged in the 19th century regarding the “white man’s burden.” Referencing historical allusions to the 19th and 20th century European ideas of the white man’s burden, the concept of a greater obligation to help others can be demeaning and self-aggrandizing, creating a modern, updated “new white man’s burden.” As dispositively confirmed through my own anecdotal experiences in higher education, an obligation to help humanity, specifically non-white peoples, is born out of several factors: guilt, ignorance, expectation, and exemption from action. These four factors scrum in a verifiable crucible that ultimately produces this obligation to help others, ignoring the reality that a perceived moral duty to help those ostensibly less fortunate are the exact same circumstances that created the cultural ethos of the original white man’s burden. Reconciling with our complicated past is difficult but choosing to imagine an obligation to help others (regardless of what those others may think) is an extreme over-simplification of the introspection required to ameliorate implicit bias and treat those different from us with respect. Obligation is easy to quantify. Respect is not.
Adelson, Michael, "Uneasy is the Head That Imagines the Burden" (2022). Richard T. Schellhase Essay Prize in Ethics. 20.
Ethics and Political Philosophy Commons, Higher Education Commons, Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies Commons, United States History Commons
Third prize winner.