Roundabout VI

MARTHA NUSSBAUM – MORAL PHILOSOPHER, PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL

September 6, 2017


"[Philisopher Martha Nussbaum] argued that certain moral truths are best expressed in the form of a story. We become merciful, she wrote, when we behave as the 'concerned reader of a novel,' understanding each person’s life as a 'complex narrative of human effort in a world full of obstacles.'"
...
"Unlike many philosophers, Nussbaum is an elegant and lyrical writer, and she movingly describes the pain of recognizing one’s vulnerability, a precondition, she believes, for an ethical life. 'To be a good human being,' she has said, 'is to have a kind of openness to the world, the ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control that can lead you to be shattered.' She searches for a 'non-denying style of writing,' a way to describe emotional experiences without wringing the feeling from them. She disapproves of the conventional style of philosophical prose, which she describes as 'scientific, abstract, hygienically pallid,' and disengaged with the problems of its time. Like Narcissus, she says, philosophy falls in love with its own image and drowns."
...
"Nussbaum once wrote, citing Nietzsche, that 'when a philosopher harps very insistently on a theme, that shows us that there is a danger that something else is about to ‘play the master’': something personal is driving the preoccupation."
...
"Nussbaum went on to extend the work of John Rawls, who developed the most influential contemporary version of the social-contract theory: the idea that rational citizens agree to govern themselves, because they recognize that everyone’s needs are met more effectively through coöperation. ... For a society to remain stable and committed to democratic principles, she argued, it needs more than detached moral principles: it has to cultivate certain emotions and teach people to enter empathetically into others’ lives. She believes that the humanities are not just important to a healthy democratic society but decisive, shaping its fate."
...
"Anger is an emotion that she now rarely experiences. She invariably remains friends with former lovers, a fact that Sunstein, Sen, and Alan Nussbaum wholeheartedly affirmed. In her new book, 'Anger and Forgiveness,' which was published last month, Nussbaum argues against the idea, dear to therapists and some feminists, that 'people (and women especially) owe it to their self-respect to own, nourish, and publicly proclaim their anger.' It is a 'magical fantasy,' a bit of 'metaphysical nonsense,' she writes, to assume that anger will restore what was damaged. She believes that embedded in the emotion is the irrational wish that 'things will be made right if I inflict suffering.' She writes that even leaders of movements for revolutionary justice should avoid the emotion and move on to 'saner thoughts of personal and social welfare.'"
...
"We began talking about a chapter that she intended to write for her book on aging, on the idea of looking back at one’s life and turning it into a narrative. 'Did you stand for something, or didn’t you?' she said. She said that she had always admired the final words of John Stuart Mill, who reportedly said, 'I have done my work.' She has quoted these words in a number of interviews and papers, offering them as the mark of a life well lived. ... She said, 'If I found that I was going to die in the next hour, I would not say that I had done my work. If you have a good life, you typically always feel that there’s something that you want to do next.' ... 'I think last words are silly,' she said. 'Probably the best thing to do with your last words is to say goodbye to the people you love and not to talk about yourself.'"



U.S. WORKING CLASS HISTORY

September 6, 2017


"Working-class history is often about heroics and radicalism and solidarity at the plant gate and the union hall. But those bright stories should not distract us from the other side: the dark, hard, claustrophobic, insular, racist, angry, fearful, even bitter, social burn of a group of people who have little standing in American civic life."
...
"While the working class is a fractured multicultural mosaic, white guys remain its most volatile and angry part, even if, objectively, they have a lot less to worry about than working-class women and minorities do. We know, for instance, that those white men are less optimistic about their lives than are minorities, that their longevity is literally decreasing, and that their occupational mainstays are dwindling. They have fallen from grace. And they are explosive."
...
"What’s interesting about Trump is that he won, not that his strain of politics is new. It’s always been around. Let’s not go wild trying to figure out what happened: The crazy train of American history happened. The lineage that winds from Andrew Jackson to Tom Watson to Joe McCarthy to George Wallace to Pat Buchanan to Trump is not just 'conservative,' nor is it just 'working class' in any way an intellectually driven conservative or Marxist or liberal would recognize or celebrate. The conservative/liberal divide is a deeply tenuous construct. Looking for a populist savior, however, is bedrock Americana. ... [America] is a messy stew of populist, communitarian, reactionary, progressive, racist, patriarchal, and nativist ingredients. Any historical era has its own mix of these elements, which play in different ways."



SAVING SOUTH AFRICA’S FIRST LANGUAGE

September 4, 2017


"Ms Esau worked with linguists, Professors Sheena Shah from the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) in London and Matthias Brezinger of the Centre for African Language Diversity in Cape Town to create a N|uu alphabet and basic rules of grammar for teaching purposes."
...
"'When you look at the African languages, you learn that they help communicate different perspectives on life, relationships, spirituality, the earth, health, humanity,' says Mr Brezinger.
"'There is a wealth of knowledge on survival that has been passed down through the years in indigenous communities that the Western world knows very little about and when these languages die, that unique knowledge is also lost,' he continues."



A NEW WORLD MAP

September 4, 2017




IT’S OKAY TO FORGET WHAT YOU READ

September 4, 2017


Here's a problem, a false problem really, that has troubled me since grammar school through college, and to the present. Others remember details from what they read but I have much difficulty doing so. So, I often read things over and over to make up for my "deficiency." Still, I cannot remember details in what seems to be the easy manner others do. I've learned and been somewhat comforted that there are many others like me. Perhaps you're one.
Of course I wish I was like those fortunate ones who remember details from what they read, but we are a varied lot among creatures. There are different types of learning and learners. Fortunately, Humankind, over the long arc of our species' existence, has tolerated and in fact encouraged a wide range of learning approaches and people.
So stay calm and read on! Worry over a spotty memory be gone! There's more to be gained from those important facts we read than the facts themselves.
"What we get from books is not just a collection of names, dates and events stored in our minds like files in a computer. Books also change, via our mental models, the very reality that we perceive."



TIME TO STOP USING JOSEPH CONRAD’S ‘HEART OF DARKNESS’ AS A GUIDEBOOK FOR AFRICA

September 3, 2017


"[C]ontemporary writers continue to use Heart of Darkness as a metaphor and guide to their own views of Africa. Most recently, Maya Jasanoff, a Harvard University history professor, retraced Conrad’s journey up the Congo River in a New York Times op-ed. Her essay reflects the research for her upcoming book, The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World. In her article, Jasanoff compares her trip to that of Conrad and, in the process, falls right into the same racist tropes of Africa that he can be forgiven for, but not Jasanoff today."
...
"African stereotypes continue to dog the continent perhaps because they still reward the European and American journalists who trot them out. Just recently, the New York Times’ East Africa bureau chief Jeffrey Gettleman wrote a memoir that showed how “ooga booga” journalism made its way into his own Pulitzer-winning reporting.
"Fortunately, as the outrage over Jasanoff’s piece shows, the subjects of these Africa memoirs are no longer as silent as they were in Conrad’s day. They respond through their own books and reporting, as well as through increasingly powerful social media. Foreigners trying to sell their still colonial-minded views of Africa are being forced to apply much more nuance than they were a century ago."



DECOLONISING DRESS AND FASHION: AFRICAN WEAR IN GHANA NIGERIA, KENYA AND UGANDA

August 31, 2017


"This article considers the prevalence and acceptance of African print, fashion, dress and designs in four African countries, two in East Africa (Kenya and Uganda) and two in West Africa (Ghana and Nigeria) to argue for conscious decolonisation of post-colonial dress and fashion cultures and the encouragement and adoption of contemporaneous African fashion and dress. We shall see that in some countries, political leaders directly encourage wearing African dress while in others it is illegal and considered indecent to wear African designs."



HOW SHOULD WE PROTEST NEO-NAZIS? LESSONS FROM GERMAN HISTORY

August 30, 2017


What to do?
"One solution: Hold a counterevent that doesn’t involve physical proximity to the right extremists. The Southern Poverty Law Center has published a helpful guide. Among its recommendations: If the alt-right rallies, 'organize a joyful protest' well away from them. Ask people they have targeted to speak. But 'as hard as it may be to resist yelling at alt-right speakers, do not confront them.'
"This does not mean ignoring Nazis. It means standing up to them in a way that denies them a chance for bloodshed."



THE MISGUIDED DREAM OF A WHITE EUROPE. IT WAS NEVER WHITE IN THE FIRST PLACE

August 30, 2017


"In 'Stranger in the Village,' Baldwin pointed out the sheer futility of the nostalgia residing at the heart of white supremacy, noting that 'No road whatever will lead Americans back to the simplicity of this European village where white men still have the luxury of looking on me as a stranger.' He concluded even more powerfully: 'This world is white no longer, and it will never be white again.' Our goal, as classicists, should surely be to finish the disassembling of this dangerously misguided dream of white Europe. To join hands with Baldwin and add: it was never white in the first place."
...
"It cannot be said often enough: the ancient Greeks and Romans did not perceive race the way we do today. Most significantly, they did not in any way identify as, or invest any racial meaning in being, 'white.' We need to stop corroborating assumptions that they did with our silence.
"So, as classicists, let’s make it a priority to state clearly and repeatedly: if Europe was a world in which black men did not exist, it was a world in which white men did not exist either."



PSYCHIATRY AND THE ‘HARD PROBLEM’ OF CONSCIOUSNESS

August 29, 2017


I think this essay provides insights into why the 'hard problem' of consciousness remains unsolved. The living mind, self, or person that hard problem researchers seek in the brain to an almost total exclusion of all other aspects of the psychosocial life of an individual is, in fact, much more than what takes place in any single individual's brain.
"Until the underlying causal pathways for disorders such as schizophrenia are found, the biomedical model cannot define individual disorders by means of their actual known causes, as we do with cancer. This is so because psychiatry has yet to find any simple biological cause for any major mental disorder."
...
"The biomedical model concerns itself with providing an explanation for both the nature and causes of mental illness. Just as cancer is understood to be a term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade nearby tissues, mental illness is a term for diseases in which certain dysfunctions of brain processes lead to the destruction or dysregulation of brain systems.
"It is paramount to note that this is where the biomedical model diverges from the biopsychosocial: in giving us an account of the nature and causes of mental illness, the biomedical model will ultimately provide an explanation that is mechanistic. The ultimate aim is to show how the parts of a system (the brain) possess certain structures and activities which give rise to (cause or produce) the phenomena in question. It is a reductionist account that explains the nature of mental illness by appealing to underlying processes within that system itself.
"By contrast, the biopsychosocial model eschews the reductionist approach by appealing to factors external to the brain that play an equally important role in the development of mental health disorders. External factors such as child abuse, the state of one’s marriage, history of substance abuse, as well as stressful environmental events like unemployment or bereavement. The objection is that by focusing our attention and research on causal factors within the brain, we are neglecting equally important links in the causal chain without which a complete explanation will be impossible."
...
"Psychiatry’s biomedical model, in virtue of privileging the alleged biological underpinnings of mental disorders, gives us only a crude model of the vastly more complex web of the internal as well as external forces whose constant interactions create the inner mental life of the patient."



ON THE VERGE OF A GRAVE GLOBAL SYSTEMIC CRISIS?

August 25, 2017


"It is hard for me to see how American efforts in the world are being purposefully directed in any meaningful way.
"Also, as a government, the U.S. is not well informed or well equipped for strategic works of catalytic construction. Here we are in this information age, with our more than $70 billion intelligence enterprise, and as a government and as a country, I feel we are less able to reconstruct the policymaking world in the really crucial, swing countries than we were in Marshall’s time 70 years ago. And U.S. capacities for working with foreigners to solve their problems were also smarter and more functional 70 years ago than they are now.
"That does not mean Washington is not busy. A poorly functioning government is not inert. Instead, it lives the life of a pinball. The life of a pinball can feel quite busy. So many bright lights, so noisy, so bounced about.
"Maybe any more constructive moves will just have to wait a few years. Yet it does seem to me that the world is drifting toward a truly massive general crisis."



SOME CLARITY ON ANTIFA

 August 25, 2017


Some clarity on Antifa....
"A petition submitted to the White House on August 17, demanding that the Trump administration ‘formally recognize AntiFa as a terrorist organization,’ has obtained over 270,000 signatures at the time of this writing, on August 23.
"Considering that antifascist activists ('antifa(s)') have injured few and killed none, the (technically misguided) petition’s success is chilling, though unsurprising. At a rally held yesterday in Phoenix, Arizona, Donald Trump elicited loud boos from thousands of his supporters as he shouted: 'They come in the helmets and black masks! Antifa!' This comes at a time when the Trump administration has eliminated spending on fighting white power extremism. A 'terrorist' label for domestic antifa groups would permit even those who have have condemned white supremacy to cheer federal prosecutions, and approve the police harassment and arrest of persons attending protests who wear black, cover their faces, or bear antifascist insignia. Mass detainments have already taken place. Currently, the names of people who visited the anti-inauguration 'Disrupt J20' site are being collected by the federal government.
"Commenters on the left, right, and at the center will state disapproval of antifa’s methods and ideology, while maintaining concurrent disagreement with President Trump’s 'both sides' argument. This exploratory essay responds to criticisms of antifa that, when not simply reactionary, displays a deep misunderstanding of the relationship that defensive violence and skepticism of law—to the point of breaking it—has to political activism. Rather than rehearse left defenses of radical activism, I concentrate on two interrelated legal aspects that, to my view, invite further thinking: 1) the interactions and incompatibilities of rights and antifascist action, and 2) the criminal nature of some antifascist actions. I begin to identify tenses of violence, and hope to point up how violent potentialities are embedded within different ideological, legal and historical contexts."
...
"Detractors on the left argue that meeting violence with violence and breaking laws hands moral capital to those who don’t throw punches, even when their politics are reprehensible. The corollary argument appears to be that reprehensible politics may seem less reprehensible because its holders are nonviolent followers of law. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement’s nonviolent strategy are invoked, as antifascists are called, not only impractical and irrelevant—because nonviolence works—but committers of sacrilege against the legacy of proper anti-racist activism."
"This view of nonviolent protest during the Civil Rights Era is common, but selective and theoretically suspect, especially when applied ahistorically. Martin Luther King practiced nonviolence, but regularly used bodyguards until he died (see, for example, Bernard Lee, who was with King in Memphis in 1968). Despite deserved admiration for his commitment to nonviolence, King wasn’t always effective. His criticisms of the American economy, the Vietnam War, and even on the snails’-pace of racial desegregation, were resented and ignored by white officials."



POSTMODERNISM, THE ENLIGHTENMENT PROJECT, AND THE FUTURE

August 24 2017

HELP WANTED. Here are some notes on a project I created for myself. Your assistance in the form of comments, including suggestions, is kindly requested.
PROJECT TITLE
Postmodernism's Alternative to the Western Enlightenment Project? Still Waiting For It To Emerge From the Rubble of Deconstruction. Timeline, Means and Prognosis Unknown
NOTES
- Egocide and Ecocide as prerequisites for a better future?
- Cosmopolitanism, Pluralism
- What exactly is PM's argument that the EP is doomed to fail? Is it a good argument?
- Why do its initiators and subsequent supporters think PM will produce something better than the EP? Is their 'optimistic' view based on a reasoned argument or merely a hope in the face of impending doom?
- Populism and PM's Alternative Truths/Facts
Your thoughts, please.

Brett Welch Jim, a FB friend of mine named Karla McLaren wrote two short web articles on PM and its relationship to EP-like thinking several years back. I've gone back and read them and still find a lot to agree with. Enlightenment Project thinkers love to use Post Modernism as one of the 'big bad guys' to ruining or sabotaging critical thinking - and there is admittedly a lot to their critiques. And yet, these broad brush strokes sometimes fail to locate some of the good intentions or ideas that could be found in the core of some PM thought before it got stretched beyond reason into silliness and absurdity. 
Here is part 1 of the article:
https://missingthesolstice.wordpress.com/.../truth-is.../


Jim Lassiter "The enlightenment has its own problems. It's distaste for the irrational and subjective prevents it from attaining to the insights that post modernism can so easily grasp, even if it seems it does not quite know what to do with them beyond crush, topple and destroy."

Thanks, Mark, for taking the time to reply. Your views are very helpful. I will be re-reading and digesting your comment and those of Nathan, Brett and others.

My effort in this is to ground myself and in doing so make sense of what the Trump phenomenon (his presidency and that which preceded it ideologically, culturally and socially) means for the best the Enlightenment has to offer and for Humankind and Earth's future.

I have cathartically arrived at a level of acceptance of Trump that has helped me address my anger. But I'm yet to accept what his surprising and disturbing arrival says about Humankind and may mean for our species' future. His ascendancy has knocked me akilter on my anthropological foundation of what I understand about Humankind. I'm still in a cauldron of disbelief, denial, negotiation and, yes, anger about what Trump's rise and triumph say about the Enlightenment and what they portend for Humankind's future.

Right now I am neither assured that such an improved understanding is possible nor optimistic that Humankind's post modern future will be one of wellbeing, much less one of flourishing. I am hopeful that I might improve my foundation for understanding what has happened. And I'm reasonably certain that anthropology, in terms of its theories, and as a method and body of knowledge, remains useful. I'll say more later. Thank you for helping.


Mark David Dietz I had promised you another post, but I'm not sure anymore... The other post was to look at modernism. 

The primary accomplishment of modernism, I suspect, was not the revival of reason which we attribute, somewhat carelessly to the enlightenment when, in fact, reason had never left us. I don't think that reason was ever hidden beneath religious belief to any greater extent than it is today (or isn't today depending on your perspective). 

No, modernity, which I see beginning in the Renaissance, had one major revelation. It placed humanity into an historical context that was constantly changing. As such post modernism is its continuation, not its condemnation.

That's all I had to say. Not very interesting or notable, is it?

Jim Lassiter Very useful. I fully agree about reason. I sometimes argue it has been an ever-improving tool in Humankind's kit for 200,000 years. As for postmodernism being a continuation not a condemnation, I can grasp that but will have to dig through it to find when, how and why it evolved from intending to be a continuation into a condemnation for many of its proponents, which seems to have been the case. Not so?


Karla McLaren Hello everybody! For me, PM was always about questioning structure and meaning, and that's a good thing to do, though structuralists and meaning-makers tend to abhor and misconstrue it. 

I don't think there's a coherent PM approach to this moment in time, except to say that it is true. It is a very true thing about the U.S., about our level of trust in structures, about our understanding of process, and about our willingness to elevate our tribe and denigrate the other. It also says a lot about our degree of emotion regulation skills and basic emotional intelligence. People on the right and the left are falling for the most absurd emotional manipulations! Yet they have been doing so for quite some time.

I too have been thinking a lot about the rise of this seemingly sudden authoritarianism, hatred of government and institutions, and loss of unified civic life, but I see it following a through-line that was obvious long before the election. I'm reading "Strangers in Their Own Land" by sociologist Arlie Hochschild right now, and she was concerned enough about it in 2011 to devote years to a study of the extreme polarization of the right and the left in the U.S. I think that for people who study structure, this moment in time is a shame but not a surprise.

I've been thinking back to an early assignment I had in one of my first sociology courses, where the instructor asked us to choose one of the main sociological theories and explain the rise of Nazi Germany. As a reminder, the main theories are: Conflict Theory; Structural Functionalism; Symbolic Interactionism; Utilitarianism; and sometimes Postmodernism.

I grabbed SF and ran with it, and fully expected to return to class to destroy the other theories. But to my astonishment, each theory held a crucial piece of the story, and each theory could stand on its own. Which is why I became a sociologist!


Jim Lassiter Thank you, Karla, for your comment. I will read Hochschild's book and the two-part article of yours Brett suggested.

"I too have been thinking a lot about the rise of this seemingly sudden authoritarianism, hatred of government and institutions, and loss of unified civic life, but I see it following a through-line that was obvious long before the election. ... I think that for people who study structure, this moment in time is a shame but not a surprise."

I think it's that "through-line" I'm after. A shame indeed. More later, after I read and catch up. Thanks again. Jim


Karla McLaren I've been watching my educated leftist friends whipping themselves into endless lathers about Trump, and I'm astonished at the simple-mindedness of it. Where did they live prior to last year? He did not create this moment, but he did capitalize on it, with a lot of help. Reviling him only strengthens him, and getting rid of him will do almost nothing.

I'm reminded of a saying that I can't track down, darnit: "There was only one Hitler, but there were hundreds of Albert Speers."

Many people are focusing on the structure, and supporting existing organizations that may be able to help, but an astonishing number of people are focusing on specific personalities while missing the entire multi-pronged and decades old movement.


Jim Lassiter The following describes my starting point in my little project for which I have asked for help.

I can accept that the American Left allowed itself to be estranged from the labor unions and workers in general during the 1960s. That members of the whiteworking class abandoned the Left because they thought the Left's protests of the Vietnam war were unpatriotic. That the locus of the driving force of the Democratic Party shifted from a coalition between between the educated liberal elite and the labor unions toward a center of gravity on the campuses and among the faculties of the down-talking, pretentious and patronizing universities. And that working folks of the 1960s and thereafter found abhorrent the Left's disdain of capitalism and the pursuit of material prosperity, the very "system" blue collar workers supported and the material objects they desired and pursued through their labor and consumer purchasing. That, coupled and perfectly timed with the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, the Republicans seized on a significant portion of this sentiment through their Southern Strategy and rode it to power in the 1980s and thereafter. A moral sentiment that Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and fundamentalist Christians also seized upon.

Now, I can also accept the position of many on the Left (Rorty and others) that the Left, in large part, brought this situation, now manifest in Trump's presidency, onto itself. What I cannot accept, however, is the sneering and vileness that accompanies this Left on Left condemnation; and that the same level of outraged condemnation is not equally directed by these members of the Left at the Right's immoral positions and tactics from the 1960s to the present. 

Yes, the Left must accept the charge of arrogance and elitism. But, though deserving of blame for what began as an estrangement from the working class and contributed to and culminated in Trump, blame for the highest betrayal of the highest beliefs, values and goals of the Enlightenment, and subsequently the founding moral and governing principles of the American experiment in democracy and pluralism, must be laid squarely at the feet of the Right.

The Left occupies the moral high ground in this regard and has consistently done so since the Enlightenment. Their arrogance and lack of foresight (wisdom?), however, should be called out and soundly criticized, even blamed for what they have contributed to. There is plenty of blame for everyone. How about a good dose of blame for a public education system that, up until the last few decades, has whitened the history that is taught and refuses to make courses in critical thinking and comparative cultures and comparative religion compulsory beginning in middle school?

We should, however, give what is by far the biggest, most bitter portion of our outrage to those that most deserve it, the Right. Direct our greatest outrage at the nefarious, despicable pseudo-moral socioeconomic policies and actions of the Right. The greatest acts of arrogance and elitism on the part of the Left pall in comparison to the moral depravity of the policies and actions of the Right. If the outrage that I so often hear directed at the Left is intended to make me and others abandon our support of and membership among them, it's not working. I will stay with and remain a member of those who favor and work for greater pluralism, humanism, freedom, and justice for all, the Left. 

Those on the Right who insist on maintaining an ill-fitting sociocultural status quo on a dynamic, fast- and ever-evolving society, and place the accumulation of individual wealth and power above the pursuit of the greatest wellbeing for the greatest number in society, deserve our angry condemnation far more than the transgressions of arrogance and shortsightedness by the Left.

And, yes, fascism from either the Left or the Right is unacceptable. The likelihood of fascism from the Left is, at present, far less than it is from the Right. Arrogance from the Left deserves criticism. Inhumanity from the Right deserves strong resistance. I'd rather try and reform the pride of the Left than try and humanize the hearts and minds of the Right. The former effort is more likely to succeed and lead to human wellbeing and flourishing. 

That said, I shall read more and hopefully hear more from you, my friends. Then I will know what, if anything, in my understanding and positions needs adjustment.

Thank you once again.



HUMANKIND’S PROSPECT FOR SURVIVAL AND FLOURISHING

August 24, 2017


A counter to the Dark Mountain Project's prediction of Western liberalism leading to ecocide? See also Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken, another possible way to prevent ecocide.
With Trump's victory and the world's continuing obsession with zero-sum nationalism, I've let go of my optimism about Humankind's prospects for survival and flourishing based on our 200,000 year record. It's a crap shoot.
The powerful continue to rule more through money and might-makes-right than through reason. Their lust for wealth and control appears insatiable. Catastrophe seems the only thing that has potential for getting them to rethink their priorities and methods. Behaving humanely and sustainably in an ecological sense continue to be secondary to the pursuit of nationalistic hegemony and economic growth. The question becomes: How many catastrophes of what magnitude can Humankind and Earth withstand?
Your thoughts?



WHITE SUPREMACISTS ARE VICTIMS OF THE WHITE ECONOMIC ELITE

August 23, 2017


Salon is not always a good source of objective information but I think it is accurate here.
"As [Kevin] Williamson writes derisively in the conservative National Review, 'What does an angry white boy want? The fact that they get together to play dress-up — to engage in a large and sometimes murderous game of cowboys and Indians—may give us our answer. They want to be someone other than who they are. That’s the great irony of identity politics: They seek identity in the tribe because they are failed individuals. They are a chain composed exclusively of weak links. What they are engaged in isn’t politics, but theater: play-acting in the hopes of achieving catharsis.'"
"But Williamson only hints at what they seem to want — and it’s exactly what Slavin nails. [Steve Slavin, author of the new book, “The Great American Economy: How Inefficiency Broke It and What We Can Do To Fix It.] These angry whites are being bypassed by structural changes in the economy that are narrowing their options. Needless to say, most people in dire straits do not embrace violence and racism. But it seems the heart of their grievances appear to be based on class frustrations, not race. If the white marchers want to blame someone, they ought to point their fingers at the wealthy whites on Wall Street and in Washington."



WE ARE NOT HARD-WIRED

August 22, 2017


"The idea that we are 'hard-wired' for language or for other aspects of our biology and behavior should be viewed with some skepticism. Biological anthropologist Barbara J. King argued that the hard-wired concept is fuzzy and not very well defined, especially when applied to humans. Does it mean something is inexorable, the inevitable product of our genes, or is it more like an inclination? Still, the term remains popular, which likely has an effect on the way we think about nature and nurture. A quick Google search reveals that people have suggested that we may be hard-wired for: religion, war, beauty, social connection, compassion, racism, even doodling. It’s pretty clear that some of these are contradictory. If we are hard-wired for them, then they certainly cannot come out all at once. After all, doodling might not be your top priority during a war. If we are predisposed to any of the above, this at least suggests that circumstances matter when they are expressed. And, being able to respond to circumstances is part and parcel of being an organism...."



LIES, HALF-TRUTHS AND IRRELEVANCES ABOUT SLAVERY

August 22, 2017




POSTMODERNISM, ALTERNATIVE FACTS, AND THE RISE OF THE ALT-RIGHT - WHAT 'TRUTHS' WILL SURVIVE?

August 21, 2017


Postmodernism did not teach college students and the West at large "how to defend truths as such once the status quo was torn asunder."
"Postmodern theory's ... main idea was that 'truth' was unstable, contingent, contested. We were told this would make us feel uncomfortable, but that recognizing it was a first step toward liberation from the cultural hegemony that prevented positive social change.
"The post-truth political world we live in now is the result of social fragmentation and the disintegration of what was left of the old 20th century establishment. Many factors contributed to this fragmentation, including neoliberalism, social media, and globalization. Nonetheless, postmodernist thought also played a role. Its celebrators trained a generation of college students to deconstruct social norms, to call out what’s wrong or racist or sexist about a particular social arrangement, and to question any stabilizing rhetorical move invested in maintaining the status quo. But it didn’t teach them how to defend truths as such once the status quo was torn asunder. And as Angela Nagle’s recent Kill All Normies shows, it has been the alt-right that has most effectively used postmodern ideas to 'deconstruct' what it sees as a distinctly liberal hegemony.



WARNING SIGNS OF MASS VIOLENCE – IN THE U.S.?

August 21, 207


"Do Trump’s implied claims of a moral equivalence between neo-Nazis and counterprotesters in Charlottesville move us closer to the stage of polarization?
"Certainly, there are reasons for deep concern. Moral equivalence – the claim that when both “sides” in a conflict use similar tactics, then one “side” must be as morally good or bad as the other – is what logicians call an informal fallacy. Philosophers take their red pens to student essays that commit it. But when a president is called on to address his nation in times of political turmoil, the claim of moral equivalence is a lot more than an undergraduate mistake. We suggest this is a deliberate effort to polarize, and an invitation to what comes after polarization."



WHAT THE WEST WANTS FROM AFRICA REMAINS UNCHANGED

August 18, 2017



"The narrative of African rising can only be complete when our leaders realise that to move forward, Western ties with the continent have to be re-evaluated to the benefit of those who live in it."



RACISM IN THE U.S.

August 14 & 15, 2017

Why are people still racist? What science says about America’s race problem.

Excuse me, America, your house is on fire: Lessons from Charlottesville on the KKK and “alt-right”



PSYCHEDELICS AND THE SELF

August 13, 2017


I have expressed my views on the self many times on my blog jameselassiter.blogspot.com.
Now there's this, a report on the self-transformative effects of psychoactive substances, particularly psilocybin (‘magic mushrooms’) and LSD.
"We actually know quite a lot about the neurochemistry of psychedelics. These drugs bind to a specific type of serotonin receptor in the brain (the 5-HT2A receptor), which precipitates a complex cascade of electrochemical signalling. What we don’t really understand, though, is the more complex relationship between the brain, the self and its world. Where does the subjective experience of being a person come from, and how is it related to the brute matter that we’re made of?"
...
"Here’s where psychedelics come in. These drugs put a spanner in the works of maladaptive self-models, because they affect the neural mechanisms that self-awareness springs from. At the point of ego dissolution, two things seem to happen. One, the integrity of the self-model degrades. And two, we no longer take it for granted that our experience must be interpreted by that model."
...
"When the self falls apart and is subsequently rebuilt, the role of the self-model seems to become visible to its possessor. Yes, this offers a psychological reprieve – but more importantly, it draws attention to the difference between a world seen with and without the self. For an anxious or depressed person, psychedelics make it possible to appreciate the intermediate, representational role of the self-model. Ego dissolution offers vivid experiential proof, not only that things can be different, but that the self that conditions experience is just a heuristic, not an unchangeable, persisting thing."



LIVE LONG

August 7, 2017


'Keep a quiet heart, sit like a tortoise, walk sprightly like a pigeon and sleep like a dog.' - Li Ching Yuen
"Li maintained that inward calm and peace of mind combined with breathing techniques were the secrets to incredible longevity. Obviously, his diet would have played a large role. But its fascinating that the oldest living person in recorded history attributes his long life to his state of mind."




FINDING MEANING IN A REFUGEE CAMP

August 7, 2017


From 1996 to 2007 I visited Kakuma refugee camp in northwest Kenya many times. Over those years, on trips lasting from two weeks to two months, other immigration officers and I resided there and interviewed thousands of people for resettlement as refugees in the US. [The tax money spent and numbers of refugees that legally enter the US are minuscule compared to the total US economy and Federal budget, and compared to the number of illegal immigrants. Refugee resettlement does not hurt Americans, it helps the neediest of the needy and upholds the US's humanitarian standing in the world.]
Kakuma is a mostly tent and mud hut camp established by the UN in 1991 in the arid homeland of the warrior-herding Turkana ethnic group of Kenya, a very hot and dusty place. However, equal to my years with the US Peace Corps, refugee resettlement in Kakuma and elsewhere was the hardest, most humbling yet best work I've ever been privileged to do.
Welcome to a portrait of Kakuma camp where birds sound like cats, frogs sound like birds, and wolf spiders, snakes, scorpions, stink beetles, and malarial mosquitoes abound. And where camp residents, mostly Sudanese, try to hang on to their sanity and dignity for years, in an impermanent and often dangerous present and an uncertain future. Sports and other forms of entertainment help.



HAVE SMART PHONES DESTROYED A GENERATION?

August 4,2017


To a chimp, language and tool use among hominids was surely the ruination of the primate line. Then came writing, paper, the printing press. Then typewriters, radio, movies, television, sound and video tape recorders. Then there came personal computers, pagers and cell phones. Smart phones are merely the latest tool wielded by Humankind.
All these abilities and technologies have allowed us to broaden the exposure and deepen the quantity and quality of knowledge among more people. And allowed those same newly empowered people unprecedented options to personally benefit from, and in many cases contribute to, the ever expanding storehouse of human knowledge. Has each of the innovations listed above had its down side? Have they given voice to and contributed to an increase in the number of impaired psyches in the world? Have they, for some, led to more social isolation and decreased social participation? Yes, to all.
Overall, however, I think a good argument could be made that the benefit gained from each innovation and invention in terms of informing and educating more and more people has far outweighed the negative impact they have had on sociality and society. In fact, there may be a good argument that they have increased human social abilities, if not in terms of interaction quantity then in terms of the quality of interactions.



BLACK LIVES MATTER, 1917

July 31, 2017


This essay and especially its links are revealing of not only a dark time in US history but also of a deep racial hatred that remains in the minds of many Americans today. See especially the link 'mob lynching and the violence' to an NAACP pamphlet 'Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889-1918' (https://ia800405.us.archive.org/…/thirtyyearsoflyn00nati.pdf); and the link 'collected firsthand accounts' of descriptions of incidents that occurred during the East St. Louis Massacre of July 2, 1917 (http://gildedage.lib.niu.edu/island…/…/niu-gildedage%3A24051).
Regrettably, such have never been and still are not required readings at US high schools. Our youth need to learn about this part of US history and while reading such accounts allow the lynching descriptions to touch their natural potential for compassion and empathy for their fellow human beings.
From the essay:
"On the afternoon of Saturday, July 28, 1917, nearly 10,000 African-Americans marched down Fifth Avenue, in silence, to protest racial violence and white supremacy in the United States. New York City, and the nation, had never before witnessed such a remarkable scene."



CHRONICLING AND PREPARING FOR THE ECOCIDE

July 28, 2017


I post this and the following essay to provoke a questioning of the Liberal Enlightenment Project to prepare us for its possible failure. It is my hope that if it does fail we, rather than give up, continue on trying to survive and flourish, and continue trying to become better Earth stewards, anyway.
Continuing on through cultural adaption is what we do, it is what and who we are. It humanizes us and I prefer to think, for the better.
I remain convinced that the LEP is the best prospectus for Humankind's survival and flourishing. But I am not convinced of this by any fateful or wishful notion of its inevitable success, or any myth of Humankind's favored status or specialness. And I am not blind to the very real possibility of the LEP's and civilization's failure.
All that can be done is a giving of our best efforts, individually and collectively; and a tempering of our hope for success by an honest consideration of what we must do if the LEP fails.
I have frequently written elsewhere on my optimism about Humankind's future based on our long-term, for a primate, survival and flourishing as a species; and, within that, a prospective, self-correcting and successful future offered by the ideals and methods of the Western Enlightenment.
I could be wrong, very wrong. According to members of the Dark Mountain Project (http://dark-mountain.net) I am, especially about the self-correcting part. In fact, members of the DMP are convinced there is no slowing down much less turning back from the 'ecocidal' path Humankind is on. They believe we must find new ways forward through and beyond the end of civilization.
According to the Dark Mountain Project Manifesto (http://dark-mountain.net/about/manifesto/) here is the future we face:
"[H]uman civilisation is an intensely fragile construction. It is built on little more than belief: belief in the rightness of its values; belief in the strength of its system of law and order; belief in its currency; above all, perhaps, belief in its future.
"And so we find ourselves, all of us together, poised trembling on the edge of a change so massive that we have no way of gauging it. None of us knows where to look, but all of us know not to look down. Secretly, we all think we are doomed: even the politicians think this; even the environmentalists. Some of us deal with it by going shopping. Some deal with it by hoping it is true. Some give up in despair. Some work frantically to try and fend off the coming storm.
"Ecocide demands a response. That response is too important to be left to politicians, economists, conceptual thinkers, number crunchers; too all-pervasive to be left to activists or campaigners. Artists are needed.
"This response we call Uncivilised art, and we are interested in one branch of it in particular: Uncivilised writing. Uncivilised writing is writing which attempts to stand outside the human bubble and see us as we are: highly evolved apes with an array of talents and abilities which we are unleashing without sufficient thought, control, compassion or intelligence. Apes who have constructed a sophisticated myth of their own importance with which to sustain their civilising project. Apes whose project has been to tame, to control, to subdue or to destroy — to civilise the forests, the deserts, the wild lands and the seas, to impose bonds on the minds of their own in order that they might feel nothing when they exploit or destroy their fellow creatures.
"It is writing, in short, which puts civilisation — and us — into perspective. Writing that comes not, as most writing still does, from the self-absorbed and self-congratulatory metropolitan centres of civilisation but from somewhere on its wilder fringes. Somewhere woody and weedy and largely avoided, from where insistent, uncomfortable truths about ourselves drift in; truths which we’re not keen on hearing. Writing which unflinchingly stares us down, however uncomfortable this may prove.
"The shifting of emphasis from man to notman: this is the aim of Uncivilised writing. To ‘unhumanise our views a little, and become confident / As the rock and ocean that we were made from.’ This is not a rejection of our humanity — it is an affirmation of the wonder of what it means to be truly human. It is to accept the world for what it is and to make our home here, rather than dreaming of relocating to the stars, or existing in a Man-forged bubble and pretending to ourselves that there is nothing outside it to which we have any connection at all.
"We tried ruling the world; we tried acting as God’s steward, then we tried ushering in the human revolution, the age of reason and isolation. We failed in all of it, and our failure destroyed more than we were even aware of. The time for civilisation is past. Uncivilisation, which knows its flaws because it has participated in them; which sees unflinchingly and bites down hard as it records — this is the project we must embark on now. This is the challenge for writing — for art — to meet. This is what we are here for.
"This is a moment to ask deep questions and to ask them urgently. All around us, shifts are under way which suggest that our whole way of living is already passing into history. It is time to look for new paths and new stories, ones that can lead us through the end of the world as we know it and out the other side. We suspect that by questioning the foundations of civilisation, the myth of human centrality, our imagined isolation, we may find the beginning of such paths.
"We don’t know quite what we will find. We are slightly nervous. But we will not turn back, for we believe that something enormous may be out there, waiting to meet us.
"The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop. Together, we will find the hope beyond hope, the paths which lead to the unknown world ahead of us."
Excerpts from the essay below:
"'The world is entering an age of ecological collapse, material contraction, and social and political unravelling,' the network of writers, artists, and thinkers called the Dark Mountain Project believe. 'We want our cultural responses to reflect this reality rather than denying it.' In Dark Mountain’s view, the reformist stance of big environmental groups who stump for 'sustainability' is delusional; civilization as we know it is toast and deservedly so. It’s time everyone stopped pretending and time we started acknowledging humanity’s impending diminishment into a ragtag smattering of survivors."
...
"The monsters who walk among us and want to kill us are made of our fellow human beings, and soon enough we’ll all be monsters, too. Contrary to what Kingsnorth and his Dark Mountain cohorts believe, the stories we prefer to amuse ourselves with are haunted by the sense of an approaching catastrophe, and our imaginations are preoccupied with what might be required of us on the other side of it."



THE WAY THROUGH THE ECOCIDE

July 27, 2017


"I came across the work of Paul Kingsnorth, a British writer who called himself a 'recovering environmentalist.' He was one of the founders of The Dark Mountain Project, a movement of philosophers, writers and artists that had emerged from the 2008 economic crisis, and he believed the planet was experiencing an 'ecocide that nobody seems able to prevent.' Ecocide — the total destruction of our home — seemed inevitable to them, and to me, given the things I’d seen and any number of ongoing catastrophes: mass extinction, climate chaos, flooded coasts, mega-drought; oceans turning to acid, permafrost to muck. We humans are a disastrous species, as bad for the Earth as a meteor strike..."
...
"'I COME FROM A CULTURE OF TAKERS. No white male, certainly not from the American West, can claim otherwise. The takers flowed out of the Bronze Age, from riders of the Carpathian steppes of Eastern Europe, who put together the unbeatable combination of horse and wheel, who buried their warriors with their steeds, their chariots and their javelins. The takers spread as far as India, Europe and Scandinavia, to Vikings and the 'Northmen' of what is now France. In 1066, these Normans invaded England and usurped the Anglo-Saxons, raiders named for their swords, who had ousted the Celts.
...
"When their descendent, my great-great-grandfather, came to Wyoming as a scout for the Army and the Union Pacific Railroad, he was the sharpened tip of that culture of conquest, the same culture that colonized and subjugated places I found myself in, decades later, as a journalist.
"These takers are Marlow’s 'conquerors' in Heart of Darkness: 'The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.' Indigenous people of South America call them 'termites.' In Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates calls them Dreamers: 'Once, the Dreamers’ parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion, a plunder with no known precedent.'"
...
"Relying in part on Jeffers’ work, Kingsnorth built an idea he called 'dark ecology.' In the Orion essay (
https://orionmagazine.org/…/confessions-of-a-recovering-en…/) where he coined the term, he offered five answers to the ecological crisis, most of them suggestions for reconnecting to the wilder world: preserving nonhuman life; rooting oneself in the work of land or place; insisting that nature has intrinsic value; and 'building refuges' where non-human life can flourish. 'Withdraw,' Kingsnorth advised, 'so that you can allow yourself to sit back quietly and feel, intuit, work out what is right for you and what nature might need from you. Withdraw because refusing to help the machine advance — refusing to tighten the ratchet further — is a deeply moral position.'"
...
"Perhaps, then, the way through the ecocide is through the pursuit of integrity, a duty toward rebalancing the whole, toward fairness, in both senses of the word. ... The pursuit of beauty can create a form of justice, a healing of injury. When I allow my backyard to grow unchecked, when the un-mown lawn becomes a tangle of blade and seed, the garden a mess of roses, grapes and hollyhocks, I have created a refuge and put something to right, returning wild to the world that has been taken away elsewhere by violence, trespass or dominion. ... Conversely, the creation of beauty can come from advocates of justice. A human rights lawyer, a sanctuary church, protesters for women’s rights or science or both, demonstrations against police violence — these heal injury also, rebalance the whole, adding beauty to the world."



BOOK REVIEW
DEMOCRACY IN CHAINS: THE DEEP HISTORY OF THE RADICAL RIGHT’S STEALTH PLAN FOR AMERICA by Nancy MacLean

July 24, 2017


"[Libertarian Nobel laureate economist and 'foot soldier' for the US Right, James Buchanan] came to believe that the best way to bring about radical change was to focus on the rules, not the rulers. Freedom would flourish only by imposing legal and constitutional shackles that prevented public officials from responding to the will of democratic majorities. In the late 1990s, [Duke historian and author Nancy] MacLean writes, a like-minded billionaire, Charles Koch, seized on Buchanan’s ideas as a 'personal operational strategy' for his campaign to 'save capitalism from democracy — permanently.' Because most Americans didn’t support their ideas, that strategy required stealth: small, piecemeal moves that could win approval without provoking an outcry. The result, MacLean suggests, is much of what has run amok in the modern Republican Party, including efforts to suppress voters, erode union rights, slash school budgets, privatize public resources, and dismantle environmental protections."
...
"...a 'vibrant,' well-researched history that illuminates the Southern roots of today’s right..."
...
"'Libertarians are not going to get what they want through the political system unless they use subterfuge, because most Americans don’t agree with those policies.'"



THE RISE OF POPULISM IN THE WORLD

July 21, 2017

Here are two excellent essays that well explain the rise and staying power of the current surge of populism in the world, and what it will likely lead to. Regrettably, they offer no suggestions for what might be done about it.
Like others and I have said, maybe there's little to be done. Yes, continue to pursue the Liberal Enlightenment Project through legal and activist channels and means, nationally and internationally. But in doing so accept that achieving success, though the LEP is, perhaps, rational and morally right, will not be certain.
This current convulsion in the longer arc of Humankind's prehistory and history must play itself out "naturally." How else will we affirm if the LEP is a truly viable human adaption to the biosphere and the best accommodation Humankind can make to the needs of individuals, society, and the global community of nations and cultures, or not?
Reasonableness and occupying the moral high ground are insufficient tests for finding this answer. Only experience, through trial and error, will tell what path will lead to the greatest wellbeing and flourishing for the greatest number of people.
Your thoughts?
Excerpts and links:
"Crowds tell us something troubling about ourselves and our political subjectivities. They disturb liberal critics because they challenge the composition of the liberal subject – as a political being who possesses reason, intent and individuality."
...
"Democracy and liberal democratic values and ideals became humanitarian necessity in the theatre of war. Civilizational discourse gave place to humanitarianism, empathy and development.
"Crowds are the reflection of the Other both within us as well as outside as a residue of a collective origin and a past, which disturbs as well as assures us of our humanity and civility."
...
"The rise of nationalist democratic-authoritarianism within the West re-poses a conundrum to liberal critics and thinkers, enticing them to raise apocalyptic alarms."
..,
[The current] surge of populism has given life to a new set of fears and uncertainty, it has also imparted a sense of empowerment to many who had increasingly been feeling marginalized. This, I suggest, is democracy’s revenge."
...
"Crowds uncomfortably blur the line between us and the Other, reason and passion, and, most troubling for the liberals, democracy and authoritarianism. They are the mirror, in which we face ourselves and our fears."
http://criticallegalthinking.com/…/crowd-want-populism-ori…/

* * * * * *

"The main clash of the first half of the 21st century will not oppose religions or civilisations. It will oppose liberal democracy and neoliberal capitalism, the rule of finance and the rule of the people, humanism and nihilism.
"Capitalism and liberal democracy triumphed over fascism in 1945 and over communism in the early 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the advent of globalisation, their fates were disentangled. The widening bifurcation of demo-cracy and capital is the new threat to civilisation.
"Abetted by technological and military might, finance capital has achieved its hegemony over the world by annexing the core of human desires and, in the process, by turning itself into the first global secular theology. Fusing the attributes of a technology and a religion, it relied on uncontested dogmas modern forms of capitalism had reluctantly shared with democracy since the post-war period — individual liberty, market competition and the rule of the commodity and of property, the cult of science, technology and reason.
"Each of these articles of faith is under threat. At its core, liberal democracy is not compatible with the inner logic of finance capitalism. The clash between these two ideas and principles is likely to be the most signifying event of the first half of a 21st-century political landscape — a landscape shaped less by the rule of reason than by the general release of passions, emotions and affect.
"In this new landscape, knowledge will be defined as knowledge for the market. The market itself will be re-imagined as the primary mechanism for the validation of truth."
...
"In a world set on objectifying everybody and every living thing in the name of profit, the erasure of the political by capital is the real threat. The transformation of the political into business raises the risk of the elimination of the very possibility of politics."
https://mg.co.za/…/2016-12-22-00-the-age-of-humanism-is-en…/

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