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The Principle of Coherence and Conflicting Memories

 In a liberal household and even in a liberal society, we tend to let each other keep their memories, even when we disagree.  Most of us do not appreciate someone telling us that our memories are wrong.  In some cases, however, it’s impossible that all the different views are true.  So how can we tell?  I think we can use the principle of coherence that I introduced in The Climate of Justice to help us decide.


The principle of coherence states that if A cannot be understood without B, then B cannot be understood without A.  Here is an example of the principle: 


Just as you cannot understand black America without understanding white America, you cannot understand white America without understanding black America.


Or, what about this version:


Just as you cannot understand Africa without understanding Europe, you cannot understand Europe without understanding Africa.” 


The first part of these statements makes sense. Does the second part? I think it does. Doesn’t the European/African version make just as much sense as the black/white American version?  Isn’t it true that if you tell the story of Europe without any word about Africa, you have told the same half-truth as you would when telling the story of white America without any inclusion of black America? 


In the previous post I analyzed the different meanings of the term, “America” as in “Native Americans” or United States of America.”  In a sense, I had the notion of coherence in the back of my mind, even though I didn’t say it.  “If you cannot understand Native Americans without understanding “United States of America,” then you cannot understand “United States of America” without understanding “Native Americans.”


Using coherence to test our memories requires that we examine the complete historical context of our memories and then bring to our awareness the aspects of the context that we had previously ignored or dismissed.  If we were to do this with our nation’s history, I don’t see how we can avoid the fact that our nation began in a climate of injustice. 


This does not mean, of course, that we tell only the stories of enslavement and genocide; that would also be incoherent.  We also remember the stories of the establishment of a democratic government that has been expanded from its original restrictions.  In fact, if we remember the whole story, we will acknowledge our nation’s climate of injustice, see possibilities for repairing these injustices, and move together toward a climate of justice.




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