Toward a Unified Metaphysical Understanding: What is a differend?    
 What is a differend?
2013-11-11, by John Ringland

A differend is a form of invisible oppression. It was first examined in the context of a post-modern analysis of the judicial system and oppressed classes, however it applies to all human interactions.

“A damage occurs when one being is harmed by another. Many kinds of damage may be litigated against, taken to court, proven, and compensated for. But sometimes a damage cannot be expressed, whether because the being who undergoes the damage is unable to speak in a language to which the judges will listen (as in the case of animals, children, the mentally ill, the dead), or because the judges are the ones who have done the damage, whether directly or through affiliation, or because the testimony of the one damaged is deprived of authority for whatever reason. Such a scenario is called a differend, and the person who suffers from both a damage and a loss of the ability to prove it is a victim...

... “subjects are constituted through exclusion, that is, through the creation of a domain of deauthorized subjects, presubjects, figures of abjection, populations erased from view.” It is a question of “who qualifies as a ‘who’” and hence of who can speak, whose testimony will be heard. The silencing of certain voices, the effacement of certain persons’ sufferings, is achieved through the denial that they are “whos,” or through their abjection, and this makes violence to them permissible, indeed invisible.” [link]

For example, a person who is different from the masses is embedded within a society that routinely dehumanises and harasses them (overtly or subtly), whilst the members of that society remain oblivious to the harm that is being done. If the victim speaks out they are dismissed as weak or whining and in many cases the person becomes so alienated and traumatised that they are unable to speak out.

Such people are pushed to the fringes of society where they become isolate or form into sub-cultures of “deauthorized subjects, presubjects, figures of abjection, populations erased from view”. There are no formal or informal mechanisms for justice to be served within that society because it is unable to even recognise that what is happening is wrong. Harm is done but there is no way to get recognition of the harm, or reparations or treatment for the damage and there is no way to stop the abuse from continuing.

We perpetuate a differend whenever we think “they are just a _____” and we use that thought to dismiss someone’s suffering, ignore their perspective and testimony or to excuse draconian measures against them. Some examples of terms that fill that blank are: child, lunatic, criminal, junky, whore, moron, cripple, nip/nigger/foreigner, mystic, queue jumper (a term used to dismiss desperate asylum seekers in Australia), etc.


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