The latest draft of my bibliography for human rights is here.
“One of the reasons why so few people are to be found who seem sensible and pleasant in conversation is that almost everybody is thinking about what he wants to say himself rather than about answering clearly what is being said to him. The more clever and polite think it enough simply to put on an attentive expression, while all the time you can see in their eyes and train of thought that they are far removed from what you are saying and anxious to get back to what they want to say. They ought, on the contrary, to reflect that such keenness to please oneself is a bad way of pleasing and persuading others, and that to listen well and answer to the point is one of the most perfect qualities one can have in conversation.”
“Our self-esteem is more inclined to resent criticism of our tastes than of our opinions.”
“We all have strength enough to endure the troubles of others.”
“We often pride ourselves on even the most criminal passions, but envy is a timid and shamefaced passion we never dare acknowledge.”
“Greater virtues are needed to bear good fortune than bad.”
“Neither the sun nor death can be looked at steadily.”
“Our promises are made in proportion to our hopes, but kept in proportion to our fears.”
“What makes us so unstable in our friendships is that it is difficult to get to know qualities of soul but easy to see those of mind.”
“Everybody complains of his memory, but nobody of his judgment.”
“To be known well, things must be known in detail, but as detail is almost infinite, our knowledge is always superficial and imperfect.” [This is virtually identical to a key proposition found in Jain epistemology and provides one part of the justification of a relativistic and pluralist theory of knowledge.]
“Nothing is less sincere than the way people ask and give advice. The asker appears to have deferential respect for his friend’s sentiments, although his sole object is to get his own approved and transfer responsibility for his conduct; whereas the giver repays with tireless and disinterested energy the confidence that has been placed in him, although most often the advice he gives is calculated to further his own interests or reputation alone.”
“We are so used to disguising ourselves from others that we end by disguising ourselves from ourselves.”
“The glory of great men must always be measured by the means they used to acquire it.”
“The virtues lose themselves in self-interest like rivers in the sea.”
“Spiritual health is no more stable than bodily; and though we may seem unaffected by the passions we are just as liable to be carried away by them as to fall ill when in good health.”
“Virtue would not go so far without vanity to bear it company.”
“Nothing is so contagious as example, and our every really good or bad action implies a similar one. We imitate good deeds through emulation and evil ones because of the evil of our nature which, having been held in check by shame, is now set free by example.”
“Not many know how to be old.”
“We should often blush at our noblest deeds if the world were to see all their underlying motives.”
“It is far easier to stifle a first desire than to satisfy all the ensuing ones.”
“In order to succeed in the world people do their utmost to appear successful.”
“Alone among the moralists, La Rochefoucauld offered something like a theory of human motivations. In fact, his views about unconscious motivation and unconscious cognition are probably more valuable than anything found in twentieth-century psychology. To some extent it is true, as Jean Lafond says, that ‘a certain verbal exuberance together with the exaggeration required for an original assertion turns the psychology into mythology.’ Yet…some systematic views can be extracted from what first appear as a random collection of diamond-like maxims.”
—Jon Elster, from the section on “the French Moralists” in a work that evidences his singular capacity to see with remarkable clarity both the forest and the trees: Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions (Cambridge University Press, 1999). The four writers he treats in the part of the book—Montaigne, Pascal, La Rouchefoucauld, La Bruyère—“mark the beginning and the end of the greatest era in French intellectual and cultural history.” (Whether or not he intended it as such, we might read this, in part at least, as an indirect comment on the overweening infatuation with postmodern French philosophers among more than a few academic intellectuals.)
On the Facebook page for the group, Union for Radical Political Economics, which I recently joined, I read a wonderful 1930 essay from Keynes: “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren” (I’m not sure if this title is from Keynes himself). Keynes asks an uncommon question for members of his profession: “What can we reasonably expect the level of our economic life to be a hundred years hence?” I found his reflections on this question (in part II) pleasantly surprising and it prompted me to entertain the possibility that his membership in the Bloomsbury Group speaks in part to why he summoned the intellectual courage to indulge in such speculation, particularly insofar as it takes us beyond (capitalist) economics. It took some daring if only because, in his words,
“… [T]here is no country and no people, I think, who can look forward to the age of leisure and of abundance without a dread. For we have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy. It is a fearful problem for the ordinary person, with no special talents, to occupy himself, especially if he no longer has roots in the soil or in custom or in the beloved conventions of a traditional society. To judge from the behaviour and the achievements of the wealthy classes today in any quarter of the world, the outlook is very depressing! For these are, so to speak, our advance guard – those who are spying out the promised land for the rest of us and pitching their camp there. For they have most of them failed disastrously, so it seems to me – those who have an independent income but no associations or duties or ties – to solve the problem which has been set them.”
Keynes’ essay moved me to think of the possible direct and informal influences on his thought that may have arisen from participation and fellowship in the Bloomsbury Group, a select circle of rather intelligent and creative individuals whose class status and social background provided them a tantalizing taste of what freedom from “economic necessity” (in the capitalist sense) might mean for individual and collective self-realization. Of course axiomatic concern for such freedom earlier motivated Marx’s critique of capitalism, as Jon Elster makes clear in his brilliant essay, “Self-realisation in work and politics: the Marxist conception of the good life.” In other words, membership in the Bloomsbury Group is provocatively emblematic (as both cause and effect) of that which afforded Keynes both the time and inclination to reflect seriously in a utopian key (the phrase used here in a non-pejorative sense*) of life beyond capitalism, to imagine what it means for “man” (anthropologically speaking) to fully (i.e., existentially if not metaphysically) confront and ponder the real possibility of how to use “his freedom from pressing economic cares,” that is, to initiate careful consideration of “how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well,” which I suspect will undermine most of the current claptrap of what we think is involved in the pursuit and attainment of “happiness.” However precipitous its fall from grace and despite the somewhat harsh retrospective judgments by its own members of the Bloomsbury Group’s shortcomings, it’s worth speculating on the memorable praxis of this remarkable group of individuals who, to some significant extent at least, used their privilege, even if unintentionally, to concretely demonstrate what it might mean to live “beyond” or after capitalism.
Indeed, Keynes and the Bloomsbury Group calls to mind an earlier instance of a similar cause and effect relation of such interpersonal group dynamics on the thought of another original thinker, in this case, the anarchist philosopher William Godwin (1756 –1836). It seems Godwin drew inspiration for his model of the plausibility of anarchist society and its conspicuous reliance on sophisticated individual judgment as a vehicle of rationality and benevolence from “the context of the social circles in which he lived, worked and debated.” These radical social circles in turn “were part of a larger middle class community which drew on a range of philosophical and literary traditions in developing critical perspectives on contemporary social and political institutions.” (Mark Philp) To be sure, Godwin drew upon the philosophes and British radicals, as well as the periphery of the early Liberal tradition (e.g., Paine), but especially the “writings, sermons, and traditions of Rational Dissent” when composing An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (first edition, 1793, later editions to 1798), but his belief in the veracity of his critique and vision was grounded in the daily life of the social circles of metropolitan radicalism in which he worked and spent his convivial and leisure activities. While this social and intellectual culture soon succumbed to government repression, it provides the intimate empirical evidence Godwin needed to confirm his belief (shared with Condorcet) in the “perfectibility” (which is distinct from perfectionism) of man and the necessity of an anarchist society as the soil of germination for same. Godwin was not a political activist (although he knew members of radical groups and organizations) but a philosopher, but the radical social circles in which he lived tempers our understanding and seasons our judgment of the more extravagant utopian tendencies of his great work, at the very least they demonstrate radical principles were incarnate in a group praxis, even if Godwin had insufficient appreciation of the greater and deeper socio-economic and political conditions that gave birth to and nourished such radical sentiment: “Given the assumptions and conventions of his background and his social circles” writes Philp, “his position could be rationally defensible.” Godwin’s seemingly naïve faith in the power of private rational judgment received strong empirical or experimental confirmation, in other words, in his experience of these social and intellectual circles. In Philp’s words,
“…[Godwin’s] membership [in] a literate and intellectual culture which cannot be identified politically, socially or intellectually with either aristocratic privilege or with the potentially violent and disruptive London poor. It is in this group that we find the politically unattached intellectuals and writers who had greeted the French Revolution and who had called for reform at home on intellectual and humanitarian grounds.
[While this group is] “diffuse and made up of heterogeneous social and intellectual currents…there seems to be no doubt that in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, there existed in both London and the provinces significant number of critical, literate, professional men and women who held often very radical views on social, political and religious issues who regularly met together for the purposes of discussion in a number of overlapping social and professional circles. [….] Godwin moves in the company of artists, portrait painters, engravers, grammarians, industrialists, writers, editors, publishers, antiquarians, librarians, actors, theater managers, playwrights, musicians, novelists, poets, classical scholars, scientists, dons, lawyers, mathematicians, doctors, surgeons, and divines—and this list is not exhaustive. We should also recognize that members of these groups sustained a commitment to radical thinking throughout most of the last decade of the century.”
“As both [Roy] Porter and [Marilyn] Butler stress,” the middling class radicalism of these men and women was not simply the product of a Dissenting background, the French Revolution, and the influence of the philosophes, for it required the warp and woof of a cultural experience of that type of sociability that formed the “basic fabric of late-eighteenth century intellectual life:”
“Once he had concluded his morning’s work Godwin’s day was free and he generally spent it in company—talking and debating while eating, drinking and socialising. His peers’ behavior was essentially similar; they lived in a round of debate and discussion in clubs, associations, debating societies, salons, taverns, coffee houses, bookshops, publishing houses, and in the street. And conversation ranged through philosophy, morality, religion, literature and poetry, to the political events of the day. Members of these circles were tied together in the ongoing practice of debate. These men and women were not the isolated heroes and heroines of Romanticism pursuing a lonely course of discovery; they were people who worked out their ideas in company and who articulated the aspirations and fears of their social group. Their consciousness of their group identity was of signal importance….”
It is the daily life of this social round which fleshed out the skeletal structure of Godwin’s anarchist ideal of a natural society that is fundamentally “discursive,” in other words, a society defined by “intellectually active and communicative agents, a society where advances are made through a dialectic of individual reflection and group discussion.” Reason and argument were the lifeblood of the radicalism that flourished in this kind of sociability:
“The rules of debate for this group were simple: no one has a right to go against reason, no one has a right to coerce another’s judgment, and every individual has a right—indeed, a duty—to call to another’s attention his faults and failings. This is a highly democratic discourse, and it is essentially non-individualist: truth progresses through debate and discussion and from each submitting his beliefs and reasoning to the scrutiny of others.”
The values of openness, rationality, and discussion or conversation that distinguished this sociability were likewise suffused with the norms and values that animated the literature of sensibility from this period:
“Sensibility provided a means for exploring new regions of emotional and social experience, and in so doing it helped generate an identity for an emerging social class. Sensibility was not a philosophical perspective based on a withdrawal from the social world and a solipsistic reflection on sensation; rather, it was a celebration of that social world and an appeal to the emerging self-understanding of members of that world. Sociability and sensibility combined with a burgeoning market for literature of all kinds to produce a public realm in which art, literature, science, philosophy, and morality appeared as commodities to be consumed, discussed and improved. [….] The experiments in the possibilities of experience conducted in the literature of sensibility, the rationalism which with they laid open every dogma to criticism and the deep concern with the arena of politics from which many of this class were debarred by virtue of their religion or their incomes can all be seen as essential components of this socially, intellectually and politically critical and ambitious group. But these ambitions were less individual than group-oriented: it is as a group that they see themselves as the foundation for a new and equitable social order.”
I think it profoundly important to consider the indispensable role of “the group,” to tease out and trace the myriad causes and effects of such circles of convivial community and ethically robust sociability that we discover in the life and work of a Godwin or Keynes, particularly when we sit at our solitary desks and computers and imbibe on the more nourishing and exhilarating products of their fertile minds.
References & Further Reading:
One of our foremost scholars of Indic philosophies, Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, has an important guest-post at the Indian Philosophy blog: “On the possibility and nature of neurophilosophical study of Indic traditions.” I happen to be in full agreement on the following proposition: “I am not particularly confident that neuroscience in its current paradigm and practice settles anything about the nature and content of the discourse of these [i.e., Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist] contemplative practices.”
“Israel must attack Gaza even more mercilessly, expel the population and resettle the territory with Jews, the deputy speaker of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, has said. Moshe Feiglin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party, makes the call in an article for the Israeli news website Arutz Sheva. Feiglin demands that Israel launch attacks ‘throughout Gaza with the IDF’s [Israeli army’s] maximum force (and not a tiny fraction of it) with all the conventional means at its disposal.’
Force Gaza population out
‘After the IDF completes the “softening” of the targets with its firepower, the IDF will conquer the entire Gaza, using all the means necessary to minimize any harm to our soldiers, with no other considerations,’ Feiglin writes in one of several calls for outright war crimes.
Following the re-conquest, Israel’s army ‘will thoroughly eliminate all armed enemies from Gaza. The enemy population that is innocent of wrongdoing and separated itself from the armed terrorists will be treated in accordance with international law and will be allowed to leave,’ Feiglin writes.
‘Gaza is part of our land’
‘Gaza is part of our Land and we will remain there forever,’ Feiglin concludes. ‘Subsequent to the elimination of terror from Gaza, it will become part of sovereign Israel and will be populated by Jews. This will also serve to ease the housing crisis in Israel.’
Feiglin has a long history of incitement. Last week he expelled Arab members of the Knesset who dared to criticize Israel’s ongoing slaughter in Gaza and called for Israel to cut off power to dialysis patients there.
As of now, ninety percent of Gaza is without electricity, journalist Mohammed Omer reports, and most Palestinians in Gaza are getting as little as two hours of electricity per day.” [….]
Comment: Should this be construed as incitement of genocide? Incitement means “encouraging or persuading another to commit an offence.” Incitement is only prohibited in international criminal law with regard to genocide, owing to its gravity and heinous nature. Incitement is criminalized as such, as Cassese informs us, “even if it is not followed by the commission of genocide.” Incitement must be both “public” and “direct.” Feiglin’s remarks meet the first condition,* and insofar as his statements are provocative and not vague and indirect, it appears to involve this second condition as well. Yet, as Larry May explains,
“The ICTR’s (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) Akayesu Trial Chamber is forthright in recognizing that the intent of two different people must be proved (emphasis added): ‘It implies a desire on the part of the perpetrator to create by his actions a particular state of mind necessary to commit such a crime in the minds of the person(s) he is so engaging.’ There is a desire to create in others a desire to commit a crime. And because of this odd type of mens rea, the crime of incitement to genocide is especially hard to prove, because in effect we must peer into the mind[s] of two different people, or infer from their behavior what the mental states for two different people are.”
May also points out that while the same Trial Chamber required proof of direct causation between propaganda or incitement and the commission of a specific offence,“the ICTR Media Case Trial Chamber concluded ‘that this cause relationship is not requisite to a finding of incitement. It is the potential of the communication to cause genocide that makes it incitement.’” This is further distinguished from mere “hate speech” in several rulings. Moreover, the break with successful instigation of genocide renders this an “inchoate crime,” a category that also includes attempt, conspiracy, and solicitation.
Addendum: See Feiglin’s comments on Arabs and Palestinians at his Wikipedia entry.
Update: Over at Opinio Juris, Kevin Jon Heller states, correctly no doubt, that “Feiglin is advocating the forcible transfer or deportation of the Palestinians — commonly referred to as ethnic cleansing — not genocide.” In other words, he is urging behavior that amounts to “a crime against humanity,” although there is not, as with genocide, the inchoate crime of incitement to ethnic cleansing. In addition, because Feiglin writes that “[a]ny place from which Israel or Israel’s forces were attacked will be immediately attacked with full force and no consideration for ‘human shields’ or ‘environmental damage,” Heller notes that he is also “urging Israel to commit war crimes against the Palestinians.”
* See Antonio Cassese, International Criminal Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 2008): 229-230, and the discussion in Larry May’s Genocide: A Normative Account (Cambridge University Press, 2010), especially pp. 180-201
Raja Shehadeh, a founder of Al-Haq,* proffers advice to the Palestinian leadership in this piece from the London Review of Books, ending with a succinct proposal on how to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (i.e., the ongoing historic conflict, not the recent escalation of violence). I’ve copied a good portion of the article below which, unfortunately, is available online only to subscribers.
[….] “After the 1967 war, Israel spread the word that its occupation of Palestinian lands was the most benevolent in history, even if the ungrateful Palestinians refused to accept it. Those who actively resisted were called fedayeen; but Israel’s word for them was mukharebeen, which is what you call a naughty child in Arabic – anta mukhareb, ‘you are a spoiler.’ What, I wondered, were we spoiling? Then I realised that Israel was putting things in order for us and for them and we were spoiling it. Eventually, when George Bush declared the ‘war on terror,’ we graduated to being irhabyeen, ‘terrorists,’ every one of us, without exception. In Israel’s eyes we are all potential terrorists. And we are all here by permission of the Israeli state. Those who have a Palestinian passport are no different: the number on that passport is assigned to us by Israel and recorded in its security files and databases. Israel can on a whim forbid anybody to return home simply by revoking their residency. This is now the status of all Palestinians in the Territories and East Jerusalem. We are all infiltrators living where we aren’t supposed to live.
By 1987 the number of mukharebeen had greatly increased in the Occupied Territories. Most of us were spoilers. We used every non-violent method and some violent ones to show that we’d had enough of occupation: the First Intifada had begun. Our insistence on a military struggle had brought no results. It was the non-violent uprising of 1987, waged inside the Occupied Territories, that forced Israel to the negotiating table. In 1991, four years after the Intifada began, Israel was persuaded to attend an international peace conference in Madrid, which was followed by negotiations in Washington between the Israelis and a Palestinian delegation. But the leadership outside the Territories failed to recognise the role those of us living under Israeli rule had played in the civil struggle, as I was to discover when I took part in the negotiations as a legal adviser. Incidentally, I remember Edward Said coming to Washington to offer his services to the delegation only to be sent away. He could have played a crucial role, explaining to the American public what these negotiations were about. What sort of leadership refuses an offer like that?
Throughout the year I spent in Washington, and for some time afterwards, one question kept nagging at me: how did Israel succeed in using more or less the same tactics against the Palestinians and their property in 1967 as they had used in 1948? Why had the Palestinians not learned how to foil those tactics? Israeli military orders dealt with every aspect of life in the Occupied Territories as well as organising relations between the Palestinians – some but not all of them Israeli citizens – and the Jews who’d settled there. It was clear that Israel’s strategy in the negotiations was to hang on to as many of these orders – there were almost a thousand – as possible. Different orders applied to the two groups, discriminating between them in terms of allocation of land, use of natural resources and opportunities for development and growth. Marching in step with the military orders, Israeli laws were imported into the Occupied Territories and applied exclusively to the settlers. There had to be separate and unequal development – apartheid – if the Jewish settlements were to flourish. I had spent a year desperately trying to impress on the Palestinian leadership the need for a legal strategy based on a review of Israeli military orders when instructions to desist arrived from Arafat’s headquarters in Tunis: acknowledging the existence of military orders would only give them legitimacy. I packed my bags and went home.
After I left Washington I remained intrigued by the Palestinians’ and Israelis’ very different attitudes to the law. I began exploring each side’s legal narrative. A legal narrative – how people tell the story of their rights – is a construction: for it to stand it must have consistency and its own internal logic, as well as external reference points to which others can relate. And it must be communicable. In the Occupied Territories Israel has expressed its narrative mainly in terms of military orders, which it has successfully kept in force. The Palestinian leadership’s thinking on legal matters is characterised by a search for absolutes, apparent in the excessive stress they put on recognition of the PLO, believing that if the Israelis recognised the organisation they would somehow also be recognising its programme of self-determination.
The thinking is abstract: it takes no account of the shifting legal ground over which negotiations are conducted, and fails to anticipate the other side’s legal case, which makes it unable to respond adequately. At a meeting of the Palestinian National Council in Algiers on 15 November 1988, the PLO recognised the need for an international conference whose aims would include ‘the annulment of all measures of annexation and appropriation and the removal of settlements’. But it failed to devise a strategy for achieving this goal. Instead, the 1993 Declaration of Principles and the 1995 Interim Agreement between Israel and the PLO provided for the military orders to remain in force. Though it remained undeclared, what was in fact being preserved was a system of apartheid.
To this day Jerusalem demonstrates the inability of Palestinians to fight their cause by legal means, in stark contrast to the Israelis. After 47 years of Israeli rule Jerusalem is organised, run and designed for the sole benefit of Israeli residents, particularly settlers in and around Arab East Jerusalem, with a shrinking ghetto assigned to disenfranchised Palestinian residents. Israel never announced it was annexing the West Bank; as for its incremental control of Jerusalem, it too is discreet, sometimes brutally so. Compare the struggle in 2012 to win nominal recognition at the UN for the state of Palestine, even though the Palestinian Authority has no territorial sovereignty. Israel’s struggle takes the form of persistent, low-level administrative actions; the PLO – and now the Palestinian Authority – have lofty, abstract aims that have great resonance but are almost empty of practical meaning. The wish to entrench its virtual acquisition of a state sometimes manifests itself in physical terms: for example, the construction in Ramallah of a million-dollar presidential palace for visiting dignitaries who come to pay homage to the putative head of a state yet to be born.
This difference in approach to law and nation-building doesn’t of itself explain the defeat of the PLO in negotiations with Israel. Almost equally important is the fact that the experience of the Palestinian people under occupation meant little to Palestinians living elsewhere, including our leaders in exile. One kind of struggle, that of the glamorous, sometimes desperate fedayeen in the camps, prevailed at the expense of others, but it wasn’t because of a dearth of information from Palestinian organisations in the Occupied Territories. [….]
The negotiations that began in July last year between Israeli and Palestinian representatives under American patronage took place behind closed doors and between two hugely unequal sides. There was no prospect of international law being applied. Israel decides most aspects of Palestinian life as well as the very existence of the Palestinian Authority. Were there a powerful third party prepared to invoke the Fourth Geneva Convention and the enforcement mechanisms it provides for, Israel would be forced to withdraw and to reverse the consequences of its illegal occupation. But the third party is biased. Polling shows that most Israelis oppose withdrawal to pre-1967 ceasefire lines, even if land swaps were agreed to accommodate Jewish settlements. A number of observers on both sides have noted that the most any Israeli leader is prepared to offer is less than the minimum that any Palestinian leader could ever accept.
What can be done to end this conflict? I would argue for a two-pronged approach. Israel must be made to realise that the failure to apply international law will not last forever and that occupation will begin to exact an economic price; but it also needs to see the benefits it can derive from making peace. For the moment the Israelis show no sign of getting over the dangerous euphoria that was a result of their victory in the war of 1967 and continue to believe what Moshe Dayan, the minister of defence, declared at the time: that Israel is now an empire. Why should this empire, the sixth biggest exporter of weapons in the world, submit to international law? For the time being the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions movement seems to me a necessary tactic. I can’t exaggerate the relief I’ve felt now that it’s clear that I wasn’t criminal, mad or naive when I used to call for the enforcement of international law. Recently, in response to corporate accountability rules, several European banks and the Norwegian government’s pension fund have started to withdraw investments from Israeli companies involved in the settlements while the Norwegian Council on Ethics has recommended excluding Israeli companies ‘due to … serious violations of individual rights in war or conflict through the construction of settlements in East Jerusalem.’ Yet high levels of investment in Israel have been the norm for close to half a century, despite the fact that the international law relating to occupation is fundamentally unchanged. Why has Europe only now discovered that Israel is in breach of the law?
If disinvestment continues, Benjamin Netanyahu will turn out to have been over-confident when he declared in February that world demand for Israeli high-tech goods would enable the country to outflank the boycott. But the boycott is a means, not an end. The objective is to overcome the anger and hatred that fuel exclusion, partition and separation. Once Israel begins to apply international law, the political outcome, whether one state, two states or a confederation with other states in the region, should be resolved by referendum. And once people’s rights are recognised, all kinds of possibility begin to open up.
In 1993 I realised how quickly things can change. Just before the Oslo deal was signed, young Palestinians were saying that they would fight Israel to the last day of their lives. But once the deal was signed and began to offer a glimmer of hope the tone changed. You heard them say: Yikhribbeit el hjar, ‘to hell with stone-throwing.’ Reminded of their earlier position they said in their defence that they wanted a better future and a chance to live in peace with the Israelis. Prominent among those who went through this transformation and put their faith in the peace process was the Fatah leader, Marwan Barghouti, in his early thirties at the time, who is now serving several life sentences for allegedly leading attacks against Israel. It is a mistake to hold the young to the values we were proud of during the First Intifada, the golden time of struggle. To them we are the generation that failed.”
* Al-Haq is an independent Palestinian non-governmental human rights organization based in Ramallah, West Bank that was established in 1979 to protect and promote human rights and the rule of law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). The organization has special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
the long fly ball to center field
takes its time
the runner on first looks up
at a passing cloud
after the grand slam
the umpire busy
with his whisk broom
—Cor van den Heuvel (b. 1931)
Van den Heuvel “discovered haiku in San Francisco in 1958 when he heard Gary Snyder talking about short poems at a Sunday gathering of the Robert Duncan/Jack Spicer poetry group in North Beach.” He “was known as ‘Dutchy’ when he played catcher in the late 1940s for the Comets, a sandlot team in Dover, New Hampshire.” From a volume of baseball haiku edited by Van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura (W.W. Norton & Co., 2007).
I could not resist drawing attention to poetry that so skillfully joins a fondness for both baseball and haiku. And it seems this might be considered serendipitous, as haiku is a combination of two words: haikai (literally, ‘comic,’ ‘unorthodox’) and hokku, the latter a three line stanza and the former meaning “sportive” or “playful.” Bashō, a haikai master, sought to exemplify in his poetry both comic playfulness and spiritual depth, an uncommon blend of the vita contemplativa, which he practiced on his own terms, with the vita activa, evidenced in his willingness to take seriously “the ordinary, everyday lives of commoners,” portraying such figures as the beggar, the traveler and the farmer.
The first “baseball haiku” (1890) issues from the brush of the first modern haiku poet, Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), whose “writings on baseball later helped to popularize the game throughout Japan.”
this grassy field makes me
want to play catch
On the origins of haiku, see “A Note on Haikai, Hokku, and Haiku,” appended to Robert Hass, ed., The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, and Issa (Hopewell, NJ: The Ecco Press, 1994).
“Modern neuroscience is validating observations about the mind that Buddhists have known for thousands of years. When I first began to study Buddhism, it was common to hear put-downs of Western psychology and...psychotherapy in major Buddhist centers. There was a widespread belief that meditation would answer everyone’s problems, and if you were a really good Zen or Vipassana or Vajrayana practitioner, you wouldn’t need therapy. Now I could give you the names of abbots of those same centers who are themselves seeing therapists—they have realized there’s a complementarity between meditation and the interpersonal skills of Western psychology.”—Jack Kornfield, in a forum discussion, “Is Western Psychology Redefining Buddhism?,” Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly, Summer 2014 (Vol. 12, No. 4).
The latest draft of “Buddhism & Psychoanalysis: a basic reading guide,” is available here. As noted at the link, I have related compilations on “Buddhism,” “the Emotions,” and secondary literature on “Freudian and Post-Freudian Psychology.”
Highly recommended: Penelope Andrews, “A Champion for African Freedom: Paul Robeson and the Struggle Against Apartheid” (May 28, 2014). Albany Law Review, Vol. 77, No. 1, 2014.
From Part V, “Paul Robeson and Contemporary South Africa:”
“If Paul Robeson was around today, what might he say about the ‘rainbow nation’ and its transformative constitutional project? He might join in the chorus of applause about the text of South Africa’s constitution, the formal imprimatur of rights, and the mostly impressive series of judgments handed down by the Constitutional Court. He would no doubt celebrate the peaceful transition in South Africa from apartheid and authoritarianism to democracy, and particularly the significant role of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
But he might pause and ponder the dissonance between the fine constitutional text and its accompanying court decisions, and the limited signs of a human rights culture, as evidenced by widespread violence, particularly against women, African migrants, and homosexual South Africans. He might wonder why the Mandela government and its successors have openly embraced the ‘Washington consensus’ and a form of unregulated capitalism that has resulted in great wealth for some and the persistent impoverishment of others? He might wonder why the kind of crony capitalism euphemistically labeled ‘Black Economic Empowerment’ empowers and enriches only so few, and continues to fan the flame of black resentment—but now leveled against their black compatriots.
Paul Robeson would no doubt be shocked at the specter of black miners being shot by police officers in a manner reminiscent of Sharpeville and the dark days of apartheid. He might wonder what happened to that wonderful African concept of dignity—ubuntu—and why it often seems in such short supply.
Paul Robeson would no doubt ponder the bundle of contradictions that make up South Africa: first world and third world; contemporary and traditional; great wealth and extreme poverty; hope and despair.
And he would no doubt wonder why the promise of dignity, equality, and rights for women, including the right of security in the public and private domain, still eludes so many South African women, particularly those who are poor.
Yes—Paul Robeson may have celebrated and he may have lamented—but his legacy has shown that even as one struggle ends, new ones surface. And that the project of justice, human dignity, and equality requires ongoing vigilance and continuous struggle.”
A note regarding the aforementioned “peaceful transition in South Africa from apartheid and authoritarianism to democracy:”
Although the transition in South Africa was perhaps “peaceful” in broad historical and comparative terms, there was in fact a considerable amount of violence, the bulk of which was not committed by the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto weSwize (‘Spear of the Nation,’ or ‘MK’ as it was commonly known). From February 1990 to April 1994, roughly 14,000-15,000 people died as a result of such violence. In fact, as Janet Cherry points out, “more people died in the four-year transition, after MK had suspended its armed struggle, than in the preceding three decades.”
Here is a link to a revised paper (from 2011): “Natural Law ‘Externalism’ v. Law as Moral Aspiration.” This paper makes an argument against Thom Brooks’ characterization of the natural law tradition’s concept of justice as “external” to the law, in contrast with Hegel’s peculiar “internalist” conception of natural law. I’m not so much interested in Brooks’ interpretation of Hegel on this score as his rendering of the concept and conceptions of justice and law as found generally in natural law traditions and formulations.
“As it turns out, Marx himself, at least in his early years, recognized the relationship between the rule of law and substantive equality. In 1842, Marx criticized the Prussian censorship laws in rule of law terms, claiming that such ‘laws without objective norms are laws of terrorism, such as those created by Robespierre’ and ‘positive sanctions of lawlessness.’ Going on, he criticizes the law as ‘an insult to the honor of the citizen’ and ‘a mockery directed against my existence,’ in virtue of the fact that it is ‘not a law of the state for the citizenry, but a law of a party against another party’ which ‘cancels the equality of citizens before the law.’”
“One law for the lion and for the ox is indeed oppression, if that law requires everyone to eat meat or to grow a mane. And in a world where some people have a lot, and others are destitute, treating people how equals ought to be treated means taking from the former and giving to the latter. As it turns out, this is the correct interpretation not just of the ideal of distributive justice, but of the proposition that all are to be equal under the law. And this is a valuable discovery independent of distributive justice theory.”
“The rule of law is both an unqualified human good and a tool in the fight against social injustice.”—Paul Gowder
These quotes from a recent paper by Paul Gowder, “Equal Law in an Unequal World,” while not about natural law theory proper, suggest if not capture that type of natural law reasoning about the “moral ideal of the rule of law” and justice found in the natural law tradition and thus help illustrate how notions of justice and morality are not, pace Thom Brooks, “extrinsic” to its conception of the rule of law.
Please note: The SSRN link I provide to Brooks’ paper in my essay no longer allows its download (only the abstract), apparently because it is now part of a collection of essays in a volume edited by Brooks: Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012): 167-179.
Here is a link to my essay, “Poetry & Islam: An Introduction,” which was posted in two parts here several years ago and an earlier and shorter draft of which and published in CrossCurrents (March 2011). Clarification: It seems I was mistaken! This is virtually identical (I edited a few things) to the published version, which I had not looked at for some time.
There’s a wonderful post on the role of imagination in perception in Indian philosophy by Douglas Berger at the Indian Philosophy Blog.
Not mentioned in the post and subsequent discussion (as it’s confined to imagination vis-à-vis perception in philosophy) is an intriguing fact: within the four major schools of Sanskrit poetics (Alaṅkāra, Rīti, Dhvani, and Rasa), according to V.K. Chari, imagination (pratibhā, ‘poetic genius’) is not used in the definition of poetry, “although nearly all critics paid homage to it.” Indeed, pratibhā is simply cited as “only one of the causes of poetry, together with training (śikṣā) and understanding of the world (vyutpatti).”* Chari himself thinks that what others see here as a failure to do justice to the intuitive or imaginative parts of poetic creation is rather an analytic virtue of the scholastic approach of Sanskrit critics, for imagination “is at best a dubious concept, and its usefulness for criticism has not been proved.” The second half of the coordinating conjunction is likely true, although I disagree with the proposition that imagination is “at best a dubious concept.”
* Sanskrit manuals, writes Chari, make a firm distinction between “the cause of poetic creation (kāvya-hetu), the ‘fruits’ accruing from it (kāvya-phala) or the purpose served by it (kāvya-prayojana), and the nature of poetry (kāvya-lakṣaṇa).”
“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
“A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.”
“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.”
“I am for violence if non-violence means we continue postponing a solution to the American black man’s problem just to avoid violence.”
“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
“Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds. I have always kept an open mind, a flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of the intelligent search for truth.”
“Envy blinds men and makes it impossible for them to think clearly.”
“I am not a racist. I am against every form of racism and segregation, every form of discrimination. I believe in human beings, and that all human beings should be respected as such, regardless of their color.”
“If violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us, and make us violent abroad in defense of her. And if it is right for America to draft us, and teach us how to be violent in defense of her, then it is right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend our own people right here in this country.”
“I don’t favor violence. If we could bring about recognition and respect of our people by peaceful means, well and good. Everybody would like to reach his objectives peacefully. But I’m also a realist. The only people in this country who are asked to be nonviolent are black people.”
—Malcolm X (May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965), born Malcolm Little and also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz
Gospel verses for those Christians obsessed with public prayer in government fora:
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”—Matthew 6:5
“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”—Mark 1:35
“But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”—Luke 5:16
Images: “Christ in the Wilderness,” by the British artist, Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)
In his Salon review of Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), Thomas Frank writes:
“Academic economics, especially in the United States, has for decades been gripped by a kind of professional pretentiousness that is close to pathological. From time to time its great minds have grown so impressed by their own didactic awesomeness that they celebrate economics as ‘the imperial science’— ‘imperial’ not merely because economics is the logic of globalization but because its math-driven might is supposedly capable of defeating and colonizing every other branch of the social sciences. Economists, the myth goes, make better historians, better sociologists, better anthropologists than people who are actually trained in those disciplines. One believable but possibly apocryphal tale I heard as a graduate student in the ’90s was that economists at a prestigious Midwestern university had actually taken to wearing white lab coats—because they supposedly were the real scientific deal, unlike their colleagues in all those soft disciplines.
Piketty blasts it all to hell. His fellow economists may have mastered the art of spinning abstract mathematical fantasies, he acknowledges, but they have forgotten that measuring the real world comes first. In the book’s Introduction this man who is now the most famous economist in the world accuses his professional colleagues of a ‘childish passion for mathematics and for purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation’; he laughs at ‘their absurd claim to greater scientific legitimacy, despite the fact that they know almost nothing about anything.’ In a shocking reversal, he calls on the imperial legions of economic pseudo-science to lay down their arms, to ‘avail ourselves of the methods of historians, sociologists, and political scientists’; the six-hundred-page book that follows, Piketty declares, is to be ‘as much a work of history as of economics.’”
I’d like to point out to those (understandably) not familiar with, let alone failing to have kept abreast of, the academic economics literature* of, say, the last three decades or so, that this critique of the profession by Piketty is hardly new. In fact, it’s been made with eloquence, passion, and persistence—and in some circles at least, with devastating effect—by Deirdre (formerly Donald) McCloskey (who is not at all of Leftist suasion), beginning with The Rhetoric of Economics (University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), continuing through Knowledge and Persuasion in Economics (Cambridge University Press, 1994), and again, in a little gem (58 pgs.!), The Secret Sins of Economics (Prickly Paradigm Press, 2002). Much of what Piketty is saying here sounds virtually word-for-word what she has been saying for several decades now. In the latter book, for instance, she laments the appalling extent and degree of institutional and historical ignorance of her better-known colleagues in the profession, as well as their corresponding “cultural barbarism,” dated and simplistic (because crudely positivist) conceptions of science, and “high school” ethics, in addition to otherworldly mathematical formalism.
McCloskey has courageously and cleverly attempted to persuade her colleagues in economics to rely far less on mathematical formalism and a “scientistic style,” and far more on the “whole rhetorical tetrad—the facts, logics, metaphors, and stories necessary” [….] that can render economics “more rational and more reasonable,” not to mention accessible to a literate public. As she notes, “[i]t would of course be idiotic to object to the mere existence of mathematics in economics,” and indeed, mathematics in economics, used properly if not modestly, is a “virtue,” but “[l]ike all virtues it can be carried too far…, becoming the Devil’s work, sin.” Pure theory and econometrics, for instance, have too often been purchased at the expense of old-fashioned empiricism and intelligent inquiry into and observation of the real world (hence the need for journals like Real World Economics Review). Worship at the altar of qualitative theorems and statistical significance is otherworldly, consciously or otherwise designed to have its practitioners don the priestly mantle of “hard science” (as exemplified by physics). In McCloskey’s words:
“It is not difficult to explain to outsiders what is so dramatically, insanely, sinfully wrong with the two leading methods in high-level economics, qualitative theorems and statistical significance. It is very difficult to explain it to insiders, because the insiders cannot believe that methods in which they have been elaborately trained and which are used by people they admire most are simply unscientific nonsense, having literally nothing to do with whatever actual scientific contribution (and I repeat, it is considerable) that economics makes to the understanding of society. So they simply can’t grasp arguments that are plain to people not socialized in economics.”
Related critiques have been made by others, including S.M. Amadae in Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy: The Cold War Origins of Rational Choice Liberalism (University of Chicago Press, 2003), and in several articles and books by Philip Mirowski. Two works by Christian Arnsperger, Critical Political Economy… (Routledge, 2008), and Full-Spectrum Economics: Toward an inclusive and emancipatory social science (Routledge, 2010), proffer a programmatic focus on transforming the discipline from within and without, serving up a plethora of provocative if not utopian possibilities for fundamentally altering the character of the profession. I think it’s also useful to examine writings suggestive of “political economy” in the broadest sense—like Gandhi’s—that are clearly well outside the parameters of neoclassical economics: see, for example, B.N. Ghosh’s Gandhian Political Economy (Ashgate, 2007), and Beyond Gandhian Economics: Towards a Creative Deconstruction (Sage Publications, 2012).
* And without implying I’ve come anywhere close to mastering same.
This undated family photo shows Hong Yen Chang. Chang was an Ivy League graduate thought to be the first Chinese-born, United States-trained lawyer when the California Supreme Court denied his application to practice law in a 1890 decision. Now, students at a Northern California law school hope to persuade the current court to reverse the 124-year-old decision that is still studied in law schools. (AP Photo/Chang Family)
Under the heading of “better late than never,” or “posthumous justice,” is this news story from the UC Davis School of Law and the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA). [h/t, John Steele at LEF] As we learn below, while there is no California precedent for what this group of students is seeking, in Washington and Pennsylvania a symbolic victory over the effects of discriminatory legislation was achieved when applicants likewise excluded from their respective state bars were posthumously admitted. After the story of Hong Yen Chang I’ll share an analogous case of posthumous symbolic justice from South Africa. However, the South African case does not involve a denial of the opportunity to practice law (Chang himself was admitted to the New York State bar before being denied the right to gain a license to practice after moving to California), but rather a scenario in which activist lawyers (often communists) disbarred or struck from the roll of attorneys and advocates while fighting apartheid, were later (in the post-apartheid era) reinstated to the bar.
More than a century after a New York lawyer was denied the opportunity to practice law in California because of state laws that barred Chinese immigrants from most careers and opportunities, UC Davis law students are seeking his posthumous admission to the California State Bar.
The students in the UC Davis School of Law Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) are asking the State Bar of California, and eventually the California Supreme Court, to admit Hong Yen Chang, who was denied a license to practice law in California in 1890.
Chang attended Yale as part of the Chinese Educational Mission, a pioneering program initiated by the Chinese government. He then left the United States and later returned on his own to study law. He earned a degree from Columbia Law School in 1886 and sat for the New York bar exam by special act of the legislature. When he was admitted to the New York state bar, The New York Times reported that Chang was the first Chinese immigrant admitted to any bar in the United States. In 1890, he came to California with the intention of serving San Francisco’s Chinese community as an attorney.
At that time, the federal Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese immigrants from naturalizing as citizens, and a California law prohibited noncitizens from practicing law in the state. Taken together, these laws made it impossible for people of Chinese descent to earn law licenses in the state. Chang petitioned the California Supreme Court, but was denied admission.
He went on to a distinguished career in banking and diplomacy, but his story was not forgotten. Now, the students are seeking a symbolic victory on behalf of Chang and others who suffered as a result of laws that discriminated against the Chinese.
‘Admitting Mr. Chang would be a powerful symbol of our state’s repudiation of laws that singled out Chinese immigrants for discrimination,’ said Gabriel ‘Jack’ Chin, a professor at UC Davis School of Law and APALSA’s faculty adviser on the project. ‘At the time Chang was excluded from the practice of law in California, discrimination against Chinese persons was widespread. Congress prohibited all Chinese immigration. Even the California Constitution dedicated an entire article to restricting the rights of Chinese residents.’
The UC Davis School of Law California Supreme Court Clinic is representing APALSA in the case. It has formally requested the State Bar to support the project and will file a petition with the California Supreme Court seeking Chang’s admission this semester. The clinic, the first and only law school clinic of its kind, represents parties and amici in a wide range of both civil and criminal matters pending before the California Supreme Court.
Other states have posthumously admitted applicants who were excluded from their respective bars based on similar discriminatory laws. In 2001, the Washington Supreme Court admitted Takuji Yamashita, a Japanese immigrant who had been refused admission to the profession in 1902. And in 2010, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court posthumously admitted George B. Vashon, an African American who had been denied admission in 1847 because of race.
Chang’s descendants remain in the San Francisco Bay Area, including grandniece Rachelle Chong, the first Asian American to serve as a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission and of the California Public Utilities Commission. ‘In my generation, our family is extremely fortunate to have three lawyers admitted to the California State Bar: my cousins Suzanne Ah Tye, Kirk Ah Tye, and myself,’ said Chong. ‘It would be fitting and right to have my granduncle’s exclusion reversed by the California Supreme Court to ensure that justice, albeit late, is done. Our family is honored that the UC Davis APALSA students have taken up the issue of righting a terrible wrong.’
‘From its inception more than 40 years ago, UC Davis School of Law has been dedicated to the ideals of social justice and equality espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for whom our law school building is named,’ said Dean Kevin R. Johnson. ‘This effort by our students and faculty to admit Hong Yen Chang to the California State Bar stands strongly within that tradition and is deserving of support.’
During the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, lawyers were found in prominent activist and leadership roles, both in and outside the courtroom. Their political activism was often “illegal,” although the ostensible criminal behavior occurred on behalf of democratic rights and social justice. In fact, the role of law and lawyers under apartheid, during the transitional period, and with the emergence of the constitution of the new democratic State, is worthy of further and close examination, building upon such pioneering studies as Richard L. Abel’s Politics by Other Means: Law in the Struggle Against Apartheid (Routledge, 1995), Heinz Klug’s Constituting Democracy: Law, Globalism and South Africa’s Political Reconstruction (Cambridge University Press, 2000), and Stephen Clingman’s, Bram Fischer: Afrikaner Revolutionary (University of Massachusetts Press, 1998).
While readers may know that Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo were prominent lawyers, there were more than a few others, including Bram Fischer, Joe Slovo, Lewis Baker, Albert “Albie” Louis Sachs (in 1994, appointed to the Constitutional Court of South Africa), and Shun Chetty, the first three also members of the South African Communist Party (SACP). In fact, most of these lawyers (including, arguably but I suspect correctly, Mandela) were also communists, and thus their appreciation of the democratic rule of law and later commitment to Liberal constitutionalism serves to counter common assumptions and shibboleths about communists and their putative historic and universal disdain for, or failure to appreciate the true nature of, both democracy and Liberal constitutionalism. Mention should also be made of a handful of South African government jurists during the rule of apartheid, most notably South Africa’s former judge, Richard J. Goldstone.*
Following the 1994 elections in South Africa, a “Restoration of Enrolment of Certain Legal Practitioners Bill” had been in the works, aimed at figures like Bram Fischer, Shun Chetty and Lewis Baker who were disbarred or struck off the roll of attorneys for various reasons that arose out of their activist political opposition to apartheid. On October 28, 2002, the Reinstatement of Enrolment of Certain Deceased Legal Practitioners Act was passed into law by the Parliament and later signed by the President. The Bill reads as follows:
* * * To provide for the reinstatement of the enrolment of certain deceased legal practitioners who were struck off the roll of advocates or attorneys as a result of their opposition to the previous political dispensation of apartheid or their assistance to persons who were opposed to the said apartheid dispensation; and to provide for matters connected therewith.
WHEREAS it is appropriate to honour the memory of those legal practitioners who made a contribution to the opposition to the previous political dispensation of apartheid, or who assisted persons who were so opposed, and who were struck off the roll on account of such opposition or assistance;
AND IN ORDER TO redress the injustices of the past by restoring the professional status of those legal practitioners who were so removed during the apartheid dispensation,
BE IT ENACTED by the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa, as follows:
Reinstatement on roll of advocates or attorneys
1. (1)Despite the provisions of the Admission of Advocates Act, 1964 (Act No. 74 of 1964), and the Attorneys Act, 1979 (Act No. 53 of 1979), the name of any deceased person who was removed from the roll of advocates or attorneys prior to 27 April 1994, may, upon application brought by a member of such deceased person’s family or, after consultation with the deceased person’s family, by (a)the General Council of the Bar of South Africa; (b)the Bar Council concerned; (c)the Society of Advocates concerned; (d)the Law Society of South Africa; (e)the law society concerned; or (f)any other interested person, to any High court, be reinstated to the roll of advocates or attorneys, as the case may be, if the court is satisfied that the conduct that led to that person’s name being removed from the roll in question was directly related to that person’s opposition to the previous political dispensation of apartheid and to bringing about political or constitutional change in the Republic, or to assisting persons who were likewise opposed to the said apartheid dispensation.
(2) If a High Court orders that the name of a person be reinstated as contemplated in subsection (1)-(a)to the roll of advocates, the registrar of the Court must forthwith forward a certified copy of that order to the Director-General: Justice and Constitutional Development, who must enter a reference to that order opposite the name of the person in question; or (b)to the roll of attorneys, the registrar of the Courtmust enter a reference to that order opposite the name of the person in question in the registers kept by him or her for that purpose and forward certified copies of that order to the registrars of the other High Courts and the registrars of deeds appointed in terms of the Deeds Registries Act, 1937 (Act No. 47 of 1937), who, in turn, must enter a reference to that order opposite the name of the person in question in the registers kept by them for that purpose.
Names of reinstated persons to be submitted to Parliament
2. The Cabinet member responsible for the administration of justice must cause the name of any person who was reinstated to the roll of advocates or attorneys in terms of section 1 to be submitted to Parliament.
3. This Act is called the Reinstatement of Enrolment of Certain Deceased Legal Practitioners Act, 2002.” * * *
Bram Fischer, a remarkable (communist) anti-apartheid activist and lawyer, was in 2003 the first South African ever to be posthumously reinstated to the bar. Both Lewis Baker and Shun Chetty were reinstated to the roll of attorneys by the Pretoria High Court, the former in September 2005, and the latter, September 2006. In a future post I will discuss the life and work of these and other activist (or ‘cause’) lawyers in the struggle against apartheid in South African history.
* As it says in the Wikipedia entry on Goldstone, “He was one of several liberal judges who issued key rulings that undermined apartheid from within the system by tempering the worst effects of the country's racial laws. Among other important rulings, Goldstone made the Group Areas Act – under which non-whites were banned from living in ‘whites only’ areas – virtually unworkable by restricting evictions. As a result, prosecutions under the act virtually ceased.
During the transition from apartheid to multiracial democracy in the early 1990s, he headed the influential Goldstone Commission investigations into political violence in South Africa between 1991 and 1994. Goldstone’s work enabled multi-party negotiations to remain on course despite repeated outbreaks of violence, and his willingness to criticise all sides led to him being dubbed ‘perhaps the most trusted man, certainly the most trusted member of the white establishment’ in South Africa. He was credited with playing an indispensable role in the transition and became a well-known public figure in South Africa, attracting widespread international support and interest.”
Although the transition in South Africa might be fairly characterized as “peaceful” in broad historical and comparative terms, there was in fact a considerable amount of violence, the bulk of which was not committed by the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto weSwize (‘Spear of the Nation,’ or ‘MK’ as it was commonly known). From February 1990 to April 1994, roughly 14,000-15,000 people died as a result of such violence. As Janet Cherry points out, “more people died in the four-year transition, after MK had suspended its armed struggle, than in the preceding three decades.”
In honor of Sigmund Freud’s birthday, here is a link to my select bibliography of secondary literature on Freudian and Post-Freudian Psychology. In further celebration of the occasion, here is a link to my compilation for dreams and dreaming.
“2014 BMW i8 plug-in hybrid: High performance but with a conscience,” by David Undercoffler for the LA Times, May 3, 2014
Shortly after May Day, an eye-opening article (below) from the Business section of the paper calling attention to how a sub-class—“eco-chic speed freaks”—of the upper class lives (or should live) and plays, at least when sufficiently motivated by an inordinate desire to possess (hence ‘to covet’) expensive “toys.” And all this “with a conscience”! Those identified at the end of the piece as “moneyed Silicon Valley and Westside denizens” who are drawn to such “eco-chic” fast cars will no doubt protest: “We earned the right to buy such things,” the implication being that there’s no true coveting taking place here, as these cars don’t belong to anyone until they purchase them. Their consciences further satisfied by fashionable and effective “green” marketing.
“Attention, eco-chic speed freaks: Set aside your Teslas; you have a new toy to covet.
The 2014 BMW i8 plug-in hybrid and the all-electric i3 are the first offerings from the automaker’s new i subbrand. Equal parts sex appeal and efficiency, the cars combine electrification with lightweight construction and eye-catching designs. We recently spent a day in the i8, a 357-horsepower, all-wheel-drive coupe with wing-like doors that open upward and a body that will excite anyone with a pulse.
This is no Leaf or Volt. The i8 sells for $136,000. But it’s not a Porsche 911 or Audi R8 either — though it costs about as much. This car promises high performance, but limited by a conscience. [….] Even with a $136,000 price tag, BMW should be able to attract a crowd similar to the Tesla set: moneyed Silicon Valley and Westside denizens who want their speed to come in a form that still says, ‘I care.’”
Consider the following summary from a portion of the Catholic Catechism on the prohibition of greed and envy: “Covetous desires create disorder because they move beyond satisfying basic human needs and ‘exceed the limits of reason and drive us to covet unjustly what is not ours and belongs to another or is owed to him.’ Greed and the desire to amass earthy goods without limit are forbidden. Avarice and passion for riches and power are forbidden. ‘You shall not covet’ means that we should banish our desires for whatever does not belong to us.”
Do people really need to possess $100,000+ cars even if they can afford them? What can we, as as society afford? To be sure, there are many things we might possess that we don’t literally need and yet still find sufficient justification or warrant for acquiring. But does this desire (as cultivated by capitalist marketing and involving the clever exploitation of irrational psychological impulses and dispositions) for and subsequent possession of such cars say anything to us about the socially just, ethically proper, and ecologically sane production, distribution, and consumption of precious resources and the humane employment of human labor? How does the production and consumption of such vehicles contribute meaningfully to (or impede the pursuit of) individual human flourishing, let alone the basic welfare and well-being of individuals and groups in our society? In a manifestly inegalitarian society in which there is an abundance of both absolute and relative poverty, how can we rationalize this kind of consumer production for the upper classes?
And of course the conception of “care” invoked in the last sentence of the article, it should be clear, is not in any way related to the notion of an “ethics of empathic caring,” be it among and between human and non-human animals or in the ecological world more generally. In other words, it has nothing whatsoever to do with that kind of “care ethics” that is animated by concern with the relief of the myriad forms of avoidable and thus eliminable human suffering and which arises while acting in pursuit of individual human flourishing (in the eudaimonistic sense), the necessary conditions for which are found in the provision of general welfare and well-being made possible by coordinated collective action (which takes place, in the first instance, through the institutions and processes of democratic government and governance).
On an existential level, when we recognize the extent to which our lives are molded by social constructs, we become able to free ourselves from a type of emotional entanglement that disturbs our tranquility. The social ambitions that motivate us—money, wealth, power, privilege—lose their grip, become less influential. Other possibilities for a flourishing life may emerge, not determined by manipulative actions and its attendant desires. With the diminishing of the hold of desires and conceptual constructs, one’s mode of engagement with the world will be more accommodating, allowing events to happen without attachment to outcome. Thus the loosening of artifice goes hand in hand with the cultivation of a sort of indifference toward worldly success and failure.—Steve Coutinho, An Introduction to Daoist Philosophies (2014)
“Nothing makes it so difficult to be natural as the desire to be so.”—La Rochefoucauld
Indeed. This is an illustration of a mental and behavioral fallacy that Jon Elster, after the late psychologist Leslie Farber, termed “willing what cannot be willed,” that is, a mental state or state of affairs in the world—like spontaneity or sleep, courage or faith—that cannot be the direct product of willing but is rather a by-product or spillover (thus indirect) effect of other mental states or actions. And yet, invoking an exemplar from the Daoist tradition and after Chris Fraser, I want to show how it might be possible, in some sense, to “will” such a state, in other words, how one might have a “desire” or an intentional project to “act naturally” and yet not be involved in that species of pragmatic contradiction that assures failure in the attempt to act spontaneously or naturally as described so vividly by Elster under the heading of “willing what cannot be willed.” Such personal willing entails an assertive ego and anxious self-consciousness with regard to one’s immediate behavior that makes mincemeat of any attempt to “be natural” or spontaneous.
In Daoism, we discover how it might be possible to have a desire to act naturally or engage in an “intentional project” to “be natural” (in the Daoist sense), relying here on the notion of wu-wei (lit., non-action). Livia Kohn’s entry on this concept from The Encyclopedia of Taoism provides us with a succinct formulation: “Wuwei or ‘non-action’ means to do things the natural way, by not interfering with the patterns, rhythms and structure of nature, without imposing one’s own intentions upon the world.” The “natural way” is not meant here in the sense of how most of us, most of the time, “naturally” or habitually behave or are predisposed to act, but is intended in the sense that to “act naturally” in the world is to be intrinsically in harmony with or expressive of (in an immanent sense) of the Dao. Less obliquely, it is to emulate the “way of the natural world,” properly understood. Thus wu-wei is not, literally, non-action or not-doing, but refers instead to a qualitatively distinct and uncommon kind of action, what Huston Smith calls “creative quietude,” meaning one acts with a still or clear (‘unmuddied’) mind in a manner that embodies the Dao or acts in harmony with the manifestations of Dao in the world. Such action is characterized by a freedom and spontaneity (ziran) that come from a heart-mind (xin) experiencing, it seems, an ecstatic oneness or identity with “all-there-is.” It is the characteristic and conspicuous action of the sage (shengren), the behavior of the ideal ruler and is, arguably, a direct product of ascetic praxis (or ‘spiritual exercises’ in the Stoic sense) and mystical states of consciousness. In short, wu-wei is acting with a meditative heart-mind (like a polished mirror, to use a prominent metaphor) in harmony with the natural world and tian (‘heaven’) while instantiating the Dao.
Ascetic self-discipline, training in the arts (at least in the Confucian tradition), and meditative praxis are necessary yet not sufficient conditions for wu-wei. In other words, while “making every effort,” “striving,” “working hard” or even “willing” are, in one important sense, truly the antithesis of wu-wei, arduous striving, self-discipline and training the mind are no less integral to the eventual accomplishment of wu-wei. The “acting naturally” that is wu-wei, therefore, does not come naturally to us, hence we are instructed, by way of an “intentional project,” to “return to the uncarved block,” dampen the passions and still the mind, all by way of attaining a “second” nature in Joel Kupperman’s sense, as it requires forms of self-discipline and self-knowledge that are arduous, that involve ascetic or ascetic-like training of the body and the heart-mind (i.e., reason and the emotions). Only then might we prove capable of acting in a timely fashion with the consummate skill, grace and spontaneity befitting alike the exigencies of daily situations and unique circumstance, and in a manner indicative of our ability to “be” one with Dao. In sum, acting naturally in the Daoist sense means cultivating what for us does not come naturally, and thus self-cultivation brings about, so to speak, a second nature, a nature in accord with the natural world, and capable of spontaneously and effortlessly realizing the Dao. The aim of meditation is to attain an “empty” or clear or polished heart-mind such that one’s ego is sublimated or absent, that one’s will is no longer purely personal but individuated through grounding in Dao, which fills the void, as it were, of the empty mind, making it possible for one to act naturally, spontaneously, effortlessly, gracefully, in harmony with the natural and heavenly worlds and (so to speak) thus with Dao itself, the ultimate, impersonal ground of (individuated) willing: “The personal does not exist for him—isn’t this how he can perfect what is most personal?” (Laozi/Daodejing: 7.3)
More mundanely, we might fill out this notion of “acting naturally” as a by-product or spillover effect from an intentional project in a temporally extended sense, in which the ego and personal will is sublimated or transcended, with an illustration of what is involved in the mastering of any skill, craft, or art, be it surfing or playing the piano. A necessary condition of such mastery is clearly strenuous effort, hard work, perseverance, and so forth, all of which engage the will and ego and what we call propositional knowledge, “knowing that...” After Gilbert Ryle, such knowledge is distinguished from non-propositional knowledge or “knowing how…,” which is typically exemplified in action, in which case we at the same time demonstrate the former kind and prior possession of “knowing.” And so it could be said that the former—“knowing that”—is typically a necessary yet not sufficient condition of the latter—“knowing how”—but possession of the former is often best exemplified by the latter through our behavior, in the form of actions that are conspicuous for their demonstration of ease, of gracefulness, of spontaneity, of a kind of naturalness, and cannot be fully captured in propositional language: like the master surfer riding a wave or the improvisations of the virtuoso jazz pianist Art Tatum. As Steve Coutinho explains, “It is not that we cease to plan, think, and control, or attempt to leave no footprints whatsoever. The only way we could do that would be to disentangle ourselves from the natural world altogether, and to do that we would have to cease to exist. Rather, we optimally minimize our intention to control according to artificially inculcated desires and instead seek to fulfill our wants and needs with the least interference possible. In this way, we watch how nature flourishes and find a symbiotic place in its pattern, enabling both of us to flourish to our natural potential. [….] It is not that [we] do not categorize things or conceptualize the world at all, but [our] understanding is not determined by customary systems of significance. The concepts through which deem things (wei) to be so are no longer thought of as simply what those things are (wei).”
This newfound non-attachment to or freedom from our previous desires and habitual ways of carving up the world into concepts and categories that effectively predetermine our means of “seeing,” thinking, and acting, means there is no longer “only one way to understand the world,” we are able to “see things in a new way,” one in which the world no longer possesses an apparent ontological independence along the lines we previously assumed: “Phenomenologically, we have the capacity to respond to the phenomena of experience with a level of subtlety that remains indeterminate with regard to specific concepts.”
 Chris Fraser, “On Wu-Wei as a Unifying Metaphor,” Review of Effortless Action, by Edward Slingerland, Philosophy East & West 57.1 (2007): 97–106.
 See Elster’s Sour Grapes: studies in the subversion of rationality (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983): 43-66.
 Livia Kohn, “wuwei,” Fabrizio Pregadio, ed., The Encyclopedia of Taoism, vol. II (New York: Routledge, 2008): 1067. Notice the definition refers to not imposing one’s intentions on the world, suggesting the possibility that an “intentional project” in the extended temporal sense outlined by Fraser in his review of Slingerland (above), to wit: “If acquisition of an effortless state is understood synchronically, this is indeed paradoxical: one cannot be effortless while simultaneously exerting effort. But as long as the process of achieving the effortless state is understood diachronically, no paradox arises. We can and frequently do acquire the ability to act effortlessly, as when we master skills or regain a physical ability through rehabilitation after injury. Acquisition begins with deliberate exertion, but eventually we internalize the skill and develop the ability to act automatically and sometimes effortlessly.” And yet, a paradox perhaps remains: “On the other hand, if we take wu-wei to refer to the absence of intentional action, as I suggest, then the conceptual structure of intentionality may indeed render the directive to achieve wu-wei paradoxical, even construed diachronically. To cite just one of several potential paradoxes, on some accounts of intentionality, an agent cannot intentionally cause herself to perform actions that are wholly non-intentional, because intentions (unlike effort) remain in effect over time, even when not consciously held in mind, and their scope covers all the subsidiary actions that contribute to their fulfillment. For example, this morning I set to work on this review spontaneously, without consciously forming an intention to do so. Nevertheless, my activity was intentional, because it is part of a project I am performing intentionally. At some level of description, any voluntary movement an agent performs is intentional, merely by virtue of being an action rather than a reflex.” For our purposes, what is important is the possibility that the original intentional project is capable of becoming “subconscious” or even “unconscious” in Elster’s sense, meaning one attains a state of “relating directly to the world without relating also to the relating,” which he proceeds to characterize as an exquisite piece of moral psychology, “an argument to the effect that the good things in life are spoiled by self-consciousness about them.” For further discussion with regard to the (mystical) state “empty consciousness” (wherein there is absence of either an external or internal object) which is nonetheless a state of awareness, please see my paper, “Daoism: a rational reconstruction of some key terms.”
 In his chapter on “Confucius and the Problem of Naturalness,” Kupperman distinguishes among a number of meanings of “naturalness,” and it’s only the Daoist account that interests us here: “Philosophical Daoism was not a monolithic movement, and even within a single work (e.g., the Zhuangzi) a reader can find shifting areas of emphasis. Nevertheless Daoist conceptions of naturalness do have characteristic foci. I may briefly and simply summarize these as being spontaneity in behavior, simplicity in social life, and harmony with the fundamental tendencies of the universe” [here one would need to minimally understand the dao of ‘the ten thousand things’ and tian, as well as the related roles indicated by the concepts of qi and yin/yang in the manifestations of Dao]. Daoist naturalness certainly is not [as with Confucius and in the salons of the Republic of Letters in the French Enlightenment] naturalness within ‘the restraints of decorum,’ which the Daoists considered ridiculous and artificial. The naturalness of the Daoists also did not involve giving general vent to feelings [as in ‘anything goes’ or ‘let it all hang out’]. The Daoists were not wild men: indeed, they believed that certain common feelings such as anxiety should be as much as possible eliminated rather than expressed.” See: Joel J. Kupperman, Learning from Asian Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1999): 26-35 and 79-94.
 Steve Coutinho, An Introduction to Daoist Philosophies (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014): 74.
 Ibid., 100-101.
References & Further Reading:
This is one of several Rockwell paintings that can serve more or less as a civics lesson (cf. the 1964 painting, The Problem We All Live With; from 1965, Southern Justice; and New Kids in the Neighborhood from 1967). I was thinking about it again because it’s the cover jacket art for Kimberley Brownlee’s important new book, Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience (Oxford University Press, 2012). Brownlee wrote the entry on “civil disobedience” for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP). In the Introduction, she explains why she chose this painting for the cover of her book:
“It captures a charged scene of a jury of 11 men and one woman who are long into their deliberations. We do not know the facts of the case or what verdict they are debating. All we know is that the woman sits in a rickety chair with her back straight and her arms folded while 10 of the men stand or sit around her, leaning over her in united opposition. One man dozes to the side. In this smoke-filled, wood-paneled room echoing of a men’s club where jackets have been shed and tempers are running high, she is entirely alone. She is exposed. And, she might be wrong about what she thinks of the case. She seems to be aware of this since she is listening intently to the men around her. But, she is also unflinching. In her folded arms, straight back, and attentive expression lie the kernels of the conception of conscientious conviction that I defend in these pages.”
The following (sans notes) is from a “teacher’s guide” “developed to accompany the exhibition Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., from July 2, 2010 through January 2, 2011. The show explores the connections between Norman Rockwell’s iconic images of American life and the movies.”
“At the time Rockwell painted The Jury, eighteen states still imposed restrictions on women’s jury service. Jury trials, individual holdouts, and women’s roles were highlighted in television and film in the late 1950s. Greer Garson starred in an episode of the popular series Telephone Time that aired in September 1957, in which Garson’s character campaigns for women to be selected as jurors in a murder trial. Without women, the killer would go free because all available male jurors were either his friends or too fearful to vote for conviction. The most revealing connection between Rockwell’s painting and contemporary popular culture lies in the parallels it shares with the movie 12 Angry Men (1957). In the film, Henry Fonda stars as the holdout on a jury that, except for his dissenting vote, will impose the death sentence on a young Hispanic man charged with killing his father. Each of the other jurors votes to convict—some for personal reasons, some out of prejudice against nonwhite Americans, some because they simply wanted to escape the heat of the jury room and go to a baseball game. One by one, as the Fonda character poses reasonable questions about the value of the evidence presented, the other jurors acquiesce to his arguments. The final ballot results in a unanimous verdict of not guilty. As in 12 Angry Men, the jury deliberation portrayed on Rockwell’s canvas has been lengthy. Cigarette butts and crumpled ballots litter the floor of the smoke-filled room, but the holdout remains unswayed, despite the psychological pressure imposed by her fellow jurors.”
Women being arrested during the Defiance Campaign of 1952 in South Africa.
Additional reading recommendation: A nice complement to Brownlee’s book, owing to its historical focus, is Lewis Perry’s Civil Disobedience: An American Tradition (Yale University Press, 2013).
With the Enlightenment, the very way conversation was thought about changed; it no longer dealt only with the aesthetic preoccupations of a privileged elite but now addressed the basic problems of the new culture. The spoken word had to serve truth rather than merely provide entertainment. In eighteenth-century debate, writes Jean-Paul Sermain, ‘conversation was conceived as a group activity to further the advance of reason by offering an open and attentive method of inquiry into the best subjects and as solid reassurance of social cohesion, so as to strengthen concern for the public good.’ The great intellectual salons of the era—from the Marquise de Lambert’s to Mme Necker’s, by way of those of Mme de Tencin, Helvétius, the Baron d’Holbach, and Julie de Lespinasse—can be seen as so many possible variations of this unique, ambitious project.
The new responsibilities invested in conversation went hand in hand with the evolution of the idea of politesse, which alone made it possible for the esprit de société to be fully realized. Whether it was false or sincere, generous or egotistical, politesse had, at least in principle, introduced into a society founded on ‘rank’ a criterion of distinction and an assessment of merit that were independent of the established hierarchy. People could thus take part in worldly exchange on an equal footing, and as long as the discourse was regulated and solidarity was guaranteed, no other authority was required. When at the dawn of the eighteenth century politesse became the hallmark of the nation and was no longer the distinguishing mark of a gentleman, its pedagogic and moral aims became an integral part of civilization and progress. [....]
Having started life as an idealistic challenge, conversation had gradually developed a system of communication that, by entrusting itself exclusively to the respect for manners, made it possible for society to provide itself with its own forum, what David Gordon calls a ‘free audience “behind closed doors,”’ where it could express its own opinions. So private conversation made up for the lack of representative conversation, opening itself out to egalitarian dialogue and the confrontation of ideas. [....] For the philosophes who assimilated its code of behavior and subscribed to it fully, the art of conversation aimed not merely at promoting the Enlightenment and its popularity, but constituted the very dynamics of intellectual thought.”— Benedetta Craveri (trans. Teresa Waugh), The Age of Conversation (The New York Review of Books, 2005): 357-358
A contemporary philosopher who has endeavored to accord religious praxis far more attention than it has received in philosophical and other circles is John Cottingham. The first chapter of his book, The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value (Cambridge University Press, 2005), is appropriately titled, “Religion and spirituality: from praxis to belief.” As he states in the Preface,
“There is, to be sure, a cognitive core to religious belief, a central set of truth-claims to which the religious adherent is committed; but it can be extremely unproductive to try to evaluate these in isolation. There are rich and complex connections that link religious belief with ethical commitment and individual self-awareness, with the attempt to understand the cosmos and the struggle to find meaning in our lives; and only when these connections are revealed, only when we come to have a broader sense of the ‘spiritual dimension’ within which religion lives and moves, can we begin to see fully what is involved in accepting or rejecting a religious view of reality.”
Perhaps the most compelling reason to address the praxis dimension of spirituality comes from the fact, according to Cottingham, “that it is in the very nature of religious understanding that it characteristically stems from practical involvement rather than from intellectual analysis” (a fact reinforced by—in the standard case—early socialization into a religious community). Cottingham’s argument for granting primacy or priority to religious “praxis” begins with a brief discussion of Pierre Hadot’s work on the role of spiritual exercises in the ancient Greek world (discussed of course by Nussbaum as well in her volume on Hellenistic ethics) and thus the “practical dimension of the spiritual” in the sense later found in St. Ignatius Loyola’s sixteenth-century Ejercicios espirituales (Cottingham outlines the relation of ‘spirituality’ to religion in a way that warrants the wider application of the former to encompass such Stoic ‘exercises.’). As Cottingham says, with Ignatius, “we are dealing with a practical manual—a training manual—and the structured timings, the organized programme of readings, contemplation, meditation, prayer, and reflection, interspersed with the daily rhythms of eating and sleeping, are absolutely central, indeed they are the essence of the thing.” As Hadot and Nussbaum would remind us, more than a few Stoic treatises were titled “On Exercises,”
“and the central notion of askesis found for example in Epictetus, implied not so much ‘asceticism’ in the modern [or pejorative] sense as a practical programme of training, concerned with the ‘art of living’ [hence the revealing subtitle of John M. Cooper’s recent book, Pursuits of Wisdom: Six Ways of Life in Ancient Philosophy from Socrates to Plotinus]. Fundamental to such programmes was learning the technique of prosoche—attention, a continuous vigilance and presence of the mind (a notion, incidentally, that calls to mind certain Buddhist spiritual techniques) [in Buddhism, attentiveness is one facet of the meditative practice of ‘mindfulness’]. Crucial also was the mastery of methods for the ordering of the passions—what has been called the therapy of desire.”
Among other things, Cottingham has a wonderful discussion of Pascal in this regard as well, allowing us to place the latter’s famous “wager argument” in proper perspective:
“In the first place, though his wager discussion is often called the ‘pragmatic argument,’ he is emphatically not offering an argument for the existence of God (…he regards the question of divine existence as outside the realm of rationally accessible knowledge). In the second place, and very importantly, he is not offering an argument designed to produce immediate assent or faith in the claims of religion; in this sense, the image of placing a bet, an instantaneous act of putting down the chips, is misleading. Rather, he envisages faith as the destination—one to be reached by means of a long road of religious praxis; considerations about happiness are simply introduced as a motive for embarking on that journey.”
I hope this suffices to entice the reader to consider Cottingham’s brief on behalf of the primary importance of spiritual praxis, one that does not, as with fideism, ignore, downplay, or even wholly displace the cognitive dimension of religion, but attempts rather to simply remove it from its pride of place in the philosophical study of religion. Perhaps ironically, while Cottingham’s analysis takes place largely within the context of Christian traditions in which “believers” have accorded creedal beliefs a comparatively strong historical role (e.g., the Nicene Creed, atonement doctrines, etc.), his argument is even more pertinent to an examination of “spiritual” traditions from “the East:” Daoism, Confucianism, Hinduism and Buddhism, for example.
The spiritual significance of prosoche (attention) is likewise seen in the work of the philosopher and writer Iris Murdoch, who is thought to have borrowed it from Simone Weil, although Murdoch was more Platonist than Christian. Murdoch believed that all of our states of consciousness and action presuppose cognitive and affective discrimination and that any such discrimination is subject to moral appraisal, as evidenced here in a passage from her book, Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (1992):
“The moral life is not intermittent or specialised, it is not a peculiar separate area of our existence. [….] Life is made up of details. We compartmentalise it for reasons of convenience, dividing the aesthetic from the moral, the public from the private, work from pleasure. [….] Yet we are all always deploying and directing our energy, refining or blunting it, purifying or corrupting it, and it is always easier to do a thing a second time. ‘Sensibility’ is a word which may be in place here. [….] Happenings in the consciousness so vague as to be almost non-existent can have moral ‘colour.’ All sorts of momentary sensibilities to other people, too shadowy to come under the heading of manners of communication, are still parts of moral activity. [….] [M]uch of our self-awareness is other-awareness, and in this area we exercise ourselves as moral beings in our use of many various skills as we direct our modes of attention.”
I came across the subject of “attention” once again in this moral-psychological and spiritual sense in a surprising context: when reading afresh about the Republic of Letters and its salons during the (French) Enlightenment. Suzanne Necker (Suzanne Curchod, b. 1737 – 6 May 1794) was one of the remarkable salonnières of the Enlightenment’s Republic of Letters. Dena Goodman writes that Madame Necker’s
“seriousness, and that of the salon whose discourse she shaped is revealed most clearly in the concern she displayed in all things for paying attention. The word attention dominates the five-volumes of her journals published after her death by her husband. One must pay attention, she reminded herself repeatedly, not get distracted. Her purpose in life was not to distract men from their serious business but rather to discipline herself and her guests so that that business might be carried out. Her concern was to concentrate her own attention and to focus that of the philosophes (her guests); her intent was to be a serious contributor to the social and intellectual project of Enlightenment through the shaping of its discourse in her salon.”
Goodman selects a handful of examples “drawn from the many instances in which attention occurs in Necker’s journals: 1) Attention allows one to find new ideas in the most common things: one cannot read aloud well without fixing one’s attention; in a word, distraction kills, negates all the intellectual faculties. 2) One gets used to inattention in letting one’s mind wander when one is alone. 3) As soon as the attention of men gathered together is distracted for a single moment, one cannot fix it again. 4) The great secret of conversation is continual attention. 5) Virtue, health, talent, happiness, are the fruits of patience and attention.”
As Goodman points out, the notion of “attention” was not foreign to Enlightenment thought, being central to Condillac’s epistemology, serving as well as an epistemic virtue for Diderot. The economist and philosophe, André Morellet, “identified attention as the first principle of conversation.” For Necker, “attention” was the centerpiece of what we might christen a secular spiritual praxis or askesis that decisively shaped her “art of living” in general and her governance of the salon in particular. Nonetheless, this secular spiritual praxis should be viewed in the light of an upbringing by a father who was a Calvinist minister, as well as her faith in and commitment to both Catholic France and Enlightenment Paris.
According to Goodman, the “ideal woman” of this time and place “was characterized by a lack of ego which enabled her to direct her attention to coordinating the egos of the men around her.” Perhaps needless to say, the fact that these men required this sort of vigorous group coordination and conversational governance, in other words, enforcement of the rules of polite conversation, speaks volumes about their egos and a corresponding lack of the requisite self-discipline needed to properly engage in the type of sophisticated intellectual conversation that salons brought to prominence in the Republic of Letters during the French Enlightenment. It also speaks, at least indirectly, to the “agonistic” character of French pedagogical theory and practice. In the words of Goodman (drawing on the work of Walter Ong): “Since the days of Peter Abelard in the twelfth century, French schools had been steeped in the language of battle.” And this was not peculiar to France: “The primary form the agon took in education of boys and young men from the Middle Ages on was disputation, a form of ceremonial combat.” The salons, in effect, and under the gentle yet firm guidance of Necker and other salonnières, had to counter the deleterious effects of French education on male elites with their steadfast yet subtle enforcement of the informal social norms of polite conversation.
One of the reasons why so few people are to be found who seem sensible and pleasant in conversation is that almost everybody is thinking about what he wants to say himself rather than answering clearly what is being said to him. The more clever and polite think it enough simply to put on an attentive expression, while all the time you can see in their eyes and train of thought that they are far removed from what you are saying and anxious to get back to what they want to say. They ought, on the contrary, to reflect that such keenness to please oneself is a bad way of pleasing or persuading others, and that to listen well and answer to the point is one of the most perfect qualities one can have in conversation.—La Rochefoucauld, Maximes (1665)
 John Cottingham, The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value (Cambridge University Press, 2005): x. For a similar conception of this notion of “spirituality,” see John Haldane’s article, “On the very idea of spiritual values,” in Anthony O’Hear, ed., Philosophy, the Good, the True and the Beautiful (Cambridge University Press, 2000): 53-71.
 In Buddhism, there are meditation practices (spiritual exercises) for the cultivation of mindfulness (P. sati; S. smṛti), and thus attentiveness, systematically directed both inward (on one’s own body, mental objects and states) and outward (on objects or phenonomena anlaytically distinct from oneself). As a polysemous term, its fundamental meaning could be described as the ability to focus or concentrate on a chosen object (mental or physical) without forgetfulness or distraction. As Michael Carrithers explains, “such mindfulness” (and ‘self-possession’) requires “the ability to witness here and now with full lucidity the inner and outer states of oneself (and, by extension, the analoguous experience of others),” the “foundations” of such mindfulness being “dispassionate, immediate and clear perceptions of the meditator’s own body, feelings, states of mind, and mental contents.” Such scholars of early Buddhist texts as K.N. Jayatilleke and his student, David J. Kalupahana, would probably find much in Condillac’s radical empiricism reminiscent of and congenial to their interpretation of early Buddhist epistemology (excluding the six types of ‘higher knowledges’ or supranormal powers: chalabhiññā).
 Ibid., 4-5.
 Ibid., 7.
 Iris Murdoch, Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (London: Chatto and Windus, 1992): 495.
 Dena Goodman, The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994): 79-80. See too Goodman’s essay, “Necker’s Mélanges: Gender, Writing, and Publicity,” in Elizabeth C. Goldsmith and Dena Goodman, eds., Going Public: Women and Publishing in Early Modern France (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995): 210-223.
 Ibid., 80.
 Ibid., 92. A training that was anything but conducive to what is rightly termed intellectual humility (an elusive epistemic virtue regardless). Please see the discussion of this epistemic virtue in Robert C. Roberts and W. Jay Wood, Intellectual Virtues: An Essay in Regulative Epistemology (Oxford University Press, 2007): 236-256. In addition to the effects of the “militancy of learning” or the centrality of agonia in education that affected this male ego, we should not forget, with Goodman, the general (and related) personal and social anxiety or insecurity over rank, privilege, honor, and reputation that likewise infected personal relations with tension, aggression or violence (e.g., the duel), especially in those situations where interpersonal encounters involving individuals of different status, rank or class were not formalized or highly scripted in a manner internalized by the respective parties (increasing the possibility of misunderstanding and thus the risk of insult, which need not have been intentional).
References & Further Reading:
Grassroots Tea Partiers see themselves in a last-ditch effort to save “their country,” and big-money ideologues are determined to undercut Democrats and sabotage active government. They are in this fight for the long haul. Neither set of actors will stand down easily or very soon. [….] [I]t will take a long and dogged struggle to root out radical obstructionism on the right, and the years ahead could yet see Tea Partiers succeed by default. Unless non-Tea Party Republicans, independents, and Democrats learn both to defeat and to work around anti-government extremism—finding ways to do positive things for the majority of ordinary citizens along the way—Tea Party forces will still win in the end. They will triumph just by hanging on long enough to cause most Americans to give up in disgust on our blatantly manipulated democracy and our permanently hobbled government.—Theda Skocpol
In a liberal democratic polity, “[m]uch of what goes on in actual social and political bargaining…concern[s] the negotiation and renegotiation of beliefs.” In a legislative assembly, we find bargaining alongside another form of communication or “speech act,” arguing. Both arguing and bargaining as speech acts occur in the context of the collective decision-making of legislative bodies that typically conclude with the act of voting (and ‘vote trading,’ as a form of bargaining, may be part of this aggregation of preferences). Robert Goodin notes that disputes over beliefs are occasionally resolved through persuasion, but more often they’re “resolved” through negotiation. In such cases, the parties retain belief in the truth of their respective beliefs, but seeing the need to “get on with it” (e.g., governing; doing something rather nothing; having some predictable and tangible effect on a problem rather than effectively ignoring it, and so forth), are willing to work toward decisions that allow them to retain their beliefs but act “as if” other propositions may be true (for the time being at least or until such time as they may prove otherwise). The propositions agreed to through such bargaining or negotiation are therefore treated “as if true” for the purposes at hand, so as to come to a resolution, arrive at a decision, determine this or that course of coordinated action. When the give-and-take of bargaining is successful, according to Goodin, it ends in an agreement, an agreement on “what we will do, and why.” As to arguing, those representing the Tea Party in the legislature believe such arguments should only end in consensus: in final agreement on their political views. Short of consensus, arguments are merely rhetorical formulations designed for mass media consumption, hence the voting of legislator is of little value (say, to identify the enemy) unless there’s assurance it will end in consensual agreement on their platform (or some component part thereof).
More could be said (and Goodin has much more to say) about such bargaining, but it suffices to demonstrate how Tea Party activists and politicians are conspicuous in their stubbornness with regard to acting as if they’ll succeed only through argument that ends in persuading or convincing those who disagree with them in the (absolute) truth of their political “agenda.” This helps explain their recalcitrant refusal to negotiate, which is couched in the rhetoric of political “principle” so as to appear to be taking the high road above the dark and dire world of conventional politics, the former possessing putative revolutionary resonance in the politics of the Founding Fathers and an ostensibly “popular originalist” reading of the Constitution. The ritual invocation of principle reflects rather a collective self-righteousness and an unwarranted confidence in the absolute veracity of their beliefs, in other words, an unwillingness to concede that it’s possible they may be mistaken or wrong, in addition to reckless disregard of the likely harmful socio-economic and political consequences of such arrogant confidence. It further reflects their belief that “no-governance” is a perfectly acceptable political outcome (a satisfactory default position as it were), a viable alternative to some-governance, real-world effects on people’s lives be damned. In turn, this unduly restricts (or insulates or diminishes) the scope and content of otherwise “public reasons” insofar as parties are assumed to (or should) be arguing and bargaining over reasons, values, and interests among a public (or publics). Why? Because it effectively ignores the fact that such political deliberation necessarily entails arguing and bargaining in recognition of differential perceptions of the most compelling public reasons about what is in the public interest, about what constitutes the common good. It is in that case, that the need to come to a political resolution among the parties, to act in one way or another, perforce must allow for a decision to be reached that may and usually does fall considerably short of anything close to the rational persuasion or conversion of one party by another party of the (absolute) truth of its agenda.
What makes for politics here, with regard to the common good at least, is a zero-sum game, and for the Tea Party itself, a winner-take-all game. For Tea Party members, second- or third-best scenarios do not exist: what is not at the top of their preference ranking is by definition at the bottom. Agreeing to joint action is not a sufficient reason to engage in give-and-take bargaining, to reach compromises of some sort, for to let another party—in the end, and this time ‘round at least—prevail, is out of the question, for that is to relativize absolute truth, to compromise on patriotic principle. Reasoning together in the legislature as a whole, on this account, can never improve the prospects for “just” legislation:
“I may think politically as the partisan of a particular conception of justice competing uncompromisingly with its rivals. But I cannot think responsibly about institutions if my thinking is dominated completely by my substantive political convictions. To think about institutions and politics, I must be willing at least part of the time to view even my own convictions about justice—however true or important I take them to be—as merely one set of convictions among others in society, and to address in a relatively neutral way the question of what we as a society are to do about the fact that people like me disagree with others in society about matters on which we need a common view. That is the logic of legislation. It is not an easy logic to live with, for it entails that much of the time one will be party to—or, at the very least, one’s name will be associated with—the sharing and implementation of a view about justice that is not one’s own.”
The collective endeavors served by meeting the responsibilities intrinsic to democratic representation cannot trump the essentially libertarian agenda for Tea Party Republicans, for they must act merely, hence solely, as populist (i.e., direct and unreflective) representatives of a (neoliberal and extremist right-wing) political agenda, thus neither in the first instance or incidentally as guardians or trustees of a common good arrived at though (indirect and reflective) democratic processes of representation and deliberation that, in part, at least, must resort to bargaining and negotiation so as to responsibly govern in a liberal democratic fashion. In other words, Tea Party members let their commitment to largely libertarian and neo-conservative politics and values run roughshod over a possibly deeper or simply prior commitment to democratic decision-making and the institutional bodies designed to give voice to the sovereignty of “the people.” Tea Party members do not believe in the wisdom of “the people” as democratically constituted by legislative assemblies (one reason we refer so often to and well understand the meaning of ‘Tea Party obstructionism’). Put differently, they do not believe that “[t]he people acting as a body are capable of making better decisions by pooling their knowledge, experience, and insight, than any subset of the people acting as a body and pooling the knowledge, experience, and insight of the members of the subset.” In short, the Tea Party “subset” of “the people” believes it has a monopoly on knowledge, experience, and insight. To subject this knowledge, experience, and insight to the terms and conditions of negotiation and bargaining is to break up its ideological monopoly on what makes for justice, to abandon its factional vision of the Good, to soil its patriotic convictions. Their politics is at odds with what Rawls identified as a defining feature of a democratic political culture, namely, a “diversity of conflicting and irreconcilable comprehensive doctrines.” Tea Party members can never concede that those not persuaded by or convinced of its political platform may nonetheless be capable of articulating the “wisdom of the multitude” in an Aristotelian sense, that those who disagree with them may turn out to be the better judges “not only of matters of fact, not only of social utility, but also and most importantly of matters of value, matters of principle and the nature of the good life….”
For the Tea Party, the legislative product of political argument and bargaining—and thus anything short of incarnating belief in the truth of its political agenda—must be characterized, ironically, as the “tyranny of the majority.” The Tea Party is not committed to pluralist politics, to granting the likelihood let alone the virtues of persisting political disagreements, what Waldron argues “must be regarded…as one of the elementary conditions of modern politics,” such disagreement being part and parcel of the Humean-like (i.e., conducted within the constraints of scarcity and limited altruism) “circumstances of politics.” Tea Party aficionados can never concede that “our common basis for action in matters of justice has to be forged in the heat of our disagreements.” Only legislative enactment of Tea Party principles and political goals would warrant their possibly speaking of the “dignity of legislation,” there being nothing whatsoever virtuous or accomplished in the mere “achievement of concerted, cooperative, coordinated or collective action” as such, whatever the circumstances of modern life.
Deliberative democratic politics, on this view, is valuable only to the extent we persuade or convert others to the truth of our political program: only their preferences are potentially subject to deliberative transformation, for ours has the sanctity of correct conviction, a salvific or messianic monopoly on truth. On this view, there can be no “epistemic” case for democracy, for there is no such thing as “democratic reason” if that is premised upon a sufficient degree of cognitive diversity and achieved through processes of deliberation (including arguing and bargaining) and majority rule, for democratic reason is “conditional on the existence of a social and cultural context.” The Tea Party seeks to overcome or transcend or subsume that context within its political “subset,” that is, it is dispositionally hostile to any social milieu that “nurtures and protects, among other differences, cognitive differences.” The Tea Party enables us to see the vices of an illiberal or authoritarian democratic politics that seek, in the end, to “foster conformism of views and stifle dissent” (its dissent is nonetheless of strategic and contingent value). In doing so, its partisans cavalierly risk the distortion of “both deliberation and majority rule into dangerous mechanisms for collective unreason, depriving themselves in particular of the possibility to come up with efficient solutions to collective problems, accurate information aggregation, and reliable predictions.”
 Robert E. Goodin, Reflective Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2003): 75. Cf.: “The upshot of bargaining over beliefs is…not any change in people’s beliefs. Nor is it simply an ‘agreement to disagree.’ The upshot of bargaining over beliefs is instead that bargainers settle on some course of action, together with some rationale as to how it is supposed to work to produce the desired results. In the course of that, they agree to treat certain beliefs ‘as if they were true.’ But they definitely do so in the subjunctive case—in the tentative and hypothetical way in which propositions being tested are treated in scientific experiments.” Goodin: 86-87.
 Jeremy Waldron, The Dignity of Legislation (Cambridge University Press, 1999): 91.
 Ibid., 94.
 Ibid., 105-106.
 Ibid., 155.
 Hélène Landemore, Democratic Reason: Politics, Collective Intelligence, and the Rule of the Many (Princeton University Press, 2013).
 Ibid., 234.
The Fight between Carnival and Lent, Pieter Bruegel (1559)
Individual understanding is…the primary aim of the activity thinking about life. Though you can indeed learn from those more experienced and wiser than yourself, you won’t count as learning at all if you can’t take on board what you hear from them. Understanding here is…manifest in what you can say only in the sense that your words are among your deeds. There must be some relationship between thinking well about life and living well, and the goal of the first is typically the second.
Here, then, is a parallel between thinking about life and thinking philosophically: the primary aim of each activity is individual understanding. [….] There is a sense in which a contemplative attitude is to be aimed at both in thinking about life and thinking philosophically, and a guiding principle of both activities is, or ought to be, to look to the bigger picture. [….]
The relevance of philosophy to real life, and to the ancient philosophical question ‘How should I live?’, has more than one aspect; but…one way in which philosophy is relevant to life would seem to be that thinking well about life and thinking well philosophically require similar traits of mind and character. Philosophy is not just something done by professional philosophers: any remotely reflective person philosophizes from time to time. And it is good for a society or a culture if the habit of philosophizing is generally valued.—Roger Teichmann in Nature, Reason, and the Good Life: Ethics for Human Beings (2011)
* * *
“’There is no time for playing around,’ says Seneca, attacking philosophers who devote their careers to logical puzzles. ‘…You have promised to bring help to the shipwrecked, the imprisoned, the sick, the needy, to those whose heads are under the poised axe. Where are you deflecting your attention? What are you doing?”—Seneca (Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales, 48.8) quoted in Martha Nussbaum’s Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (1994)
“Philosophy recovers itself when it ceases to be a device for dealing with the problems of philosophers and becomes a method, cultivated by philosophers, for dealing with the problems of men.”—John Dewey (1917)
“… [Plato] speaks of a descending as well as an ascending dialectic and he speaks of a return to the cave.”—Iris Murdoch, “The Sovereignty of Good Over Other Concepts” (1967)
“Philosophy involves us in the critical analysis of our beliefs, and of the presuppositions of our beliefs, and it’s a very striking fact that most people neither like doing this nor like having it done to them. If the assumptions on which their beliefs rest are questioned it makes them feel insecure, and they put up a strong resistance to it.”—Iris Murdoch in conversation with Bryan Magee (1978)
“… [It is no accident] that more and more philosophers are now being drawn into debates about environmental policy or medical ethics, judicial practice or nuclear politics. Some of them contribute to those debates happily: others look back at 300 years of professional tradition, and ask whether oral, particular, local, and timely issues are really their concern. They fear that engaging in ‘applied’ philosophy may prostitute their talents, and distract them from the technical questions of academic philosophy proper. Yet, one might argue, these practical debates are, by now, not ‘applied’ philosophy but philosophy itself. More precisely they are now (as Wittgenstein put it) the ‘legitimate heirs’ of the purely theoretical enterprise that used to be called philosophy; and, by pursuing them, we break down the 300-year old barriers between ‘practice’ and ‘theory’ and reenter the technical core of philosophy from a fresh and more productive direction.”—Stephen Toulmin, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (1990)
“What, however, about philosophy? Here the subject-matter is the maps or structures by which thought works, and—as would probably be agreed today—thought is not something separate from life. Yet, from the first beginnings among the Greeks, there have always been some parts of philosophy which were fiercely technical. Is it possible both to handle these properly and do justice to the full richness of the questions as they arise in the life around us? Can anyone speak both as a fully instructed professional and as a whole human being? [….] For a long time, the English-speaking philosophical tradition mostly nailed its colours defiantly to the post of wholeness and life. Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume and Mill all emphatically meant their writings to be widely read and to affect people’s lives. Even Bertrand Russell still often did so. But William James and John Dewey were among the last influential figures to follow this track whole-heartedly. In the twentieth-century, philosophy has largely gone with the rest of the academic world in accepting thorough specialization.”—Mary Midgley, Utopias, Dolphins and Computers (1996)
“A good many academic philosophers, for much of our own century, have strenuously resisted the idea that philosophy can help us with how to live. And while others, particularly in more recent times, have addressed questions about happiness and well-being, for the most part they have shrunk from offering more direct guidance on these matters to their fellow citizens. This generalization, like most, is subject to notable exceptions, but it remains true that the bulk of work on philosophical ethics is now addressed to those within the specialist confines of the academy. As far as the educated public is concerned, philosophy may, in the growing field of applied ethics, be perceived as making an increasingly important contribution on matters of public policy (problems concerned with such issues as the distribution of resources, the justification of punishment, the morality of abortion, and so forth); but few probably now expect much help from philosophers in the task of trying to live fulfilled lives. If they are miserable, or find their lives in a mess, they much more likely to turn to psychotherapy than to philosophy for guidance. [….]
The aspiration of philosophical reason to lay down a blueprint for how we should live tends to run aground when trying to deal with that side of our human nature which is largely opaque to the deliverances of reason—that affective side which has to do with the origins and operation of the emotions or passions. It is here that the contributions of psychoanalytic theory play a vital role. Though largely ignored by most specialists in moral philosophy, the concept of the unconscious turns out to have profound implications for the traditional task of ethics to seek out the conditions for human fulfillment.—John Cottingham, Philosophy and the Good Life (1998)
“The structures of power have an astonishing stability. In the large range of constructive imagining of options we turn again and again to archetypal patterns, to the Charismatic Leader, the of the Band of the Brotherhood Committee, to the Pure Young Hero, to the Good-Bad Earth Mother. Why are our imaginations of power structures so fixed? It is because we learn from experience; and our most formative experiences of power, and of power relations, are those we have during our prolonged and wholly dependent infancy. While this prolonged infancy makes empathy and psychological complexity possible, it exacts a cost. We are formed not only by what we have learned from experience, but by the ways we learn. [emphasis added] As long as we are in a complex and often highly benign compliance to those who nurtured and sustained us as infants, we associate security and well-being with dependence on power figures. It is to those beginnings that our imaginations return when we are discomforted, depleted, in need. Even though we eventually chafed at the restrictions of our nurturing figures, even though, if we were lucky, we developed sympathy and autonomy, we still have as part of our expectations our early experiences of childhood where reality meant dependency, being Subject to a Boss. If that relation was a benign one, we are all the more subject to gravitate to reconstructing it when we are troubled; but if it was a malign relation, then we are all the more incapacitated. For then a malign power relation is what we expect of the world. It is what defined normality. And of course if it was malign, then we are crippled in our abilities to envisage alternative structures.”—Amélie Oksenberg Rorty, from her essay, “Imagination and Power, Social Sciences Information 22 (New Delhi, 1983): 801-816, reprinted in Mind in Action: Essays in the Philosophy of Mind (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1988): 330-345.
“To know something to be thus—and-so-is ability-like, hence more akin to a power or potentiality than to a state or actuality. To learn that something is so is to come to be able to do a wide range of things (to inform others, to answer certain questions, to correct others, to find, locate, identify, explain things, and so forth).”
“The information that things are thus-and-so may provide us with reasons, in the context of our projects, not only for acting, but also for thinking or feeling something or other (e.g. feeling pleased or angry).”
“One can learn how to do something by experience, trial and error, by being trained or taught, by being shown how to do it and, with human beings, by being told how to do it. What one knows how to do is something of which it makes sense to say that one has forgotten how to do, that one realized that one was doing it wrongly and that one tried to correct it oneself. For to know how to do something is to know the way to do it, and knowing the way to do it implies an ability to distinguish between doing it correctly and doing it incorrectly.”
“[O]ne may be able to do something although it would be wrong to say that one knows how to do it, and conversely, one may know how to do something but be unable to do it.” The aged tennis coach may no longer be able to play tennis, be he surely knows how to, and one may know perfectly well how to lose weight but be unable to [owing, say, to weakness of will].
“To know how to do something…is to know the way to do it, and to know the way to do something is often to know, and to be able to say or show, that it is done thus-and-so.”—M.R. Bennett and P.M.S. Hacker. Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience (2003)
* * *
“But the general question of whether non-human agents using the Wolfram Language, or any other computer language, ‘know about the world’ in some suitable sense, that one still stands.” Please see “The Chinese Room all over again?” by Catarina Dutilh Novaes at the New APPS blog.
I understand knowledge, with Raymond Tallis, as fundamentally a mode of explicitness, of explicit-making consciousness. To elaborate a bit: after Grice, and in the words of Raymond Tallis, “linguistic meaning in the real world does not reside in the behavior of the symbols or expressions of which languages are composed—they are not located in ‘the system of symbols’ or its component terms—but in people who use languages to mean things, and the worlds they live in. This is because the specification of linguistic meanings requires that they are meant (by someone). What is more, in order that I should be able to determine what you mean, I have to intuit what you mean to mean.” This involves, as Searle shows, getting a listener to recognize my intention to communicate just those things I intended to say in the act of communication. One cannot ignore the speaking subject: “Our utterances are invested with, and exploit, an ‘implicature’ in virtue of which we can always imply more than we say. Verbal meaning, in short, resides in acts performed by human being who draw upon their knowledge of the world and make presuppositions about the knowledge possessed by their interlocutors.”
If one believes, as I do and again with Tallis (among others), and yet again after Grice (or Searle for that matter) that “[m]eaning cannot be separated from the psyche of the one who emits meaning, or from the psyche of the one who receives it,” and that our concept of knowledge is intimately tied to the various forms of memory (e.g., factual, experiential, and objectual), to emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and imagination, “the general question of whether non-human agents using the Wolfram Language, or any other computer language, ‘know about the world’ in some suitable sense” lacks any standing whatsoever. The question makes sense only if one thinks of meaning (which is, as Tallis says, ‘a quintessential feature of human consciousness’) “in purely linguistic terms and language being primarily a system of symbols.” One, it seems, has to have a (or something like a) “computational theory of mind” to imagine a computer language might exemplify having knowledge about the world (the relevant ‘knowledge’ here can only be metaphorical or secondary and derivative, parasitic in meaning on the knowledge possessed by those who program the computers, etc.). In short, knowledge requires “an enworlded self.” More explicitly:
“Knowledge begins with the sense of there being something beyond how things appear to us: it begins with the concept of an object that is other than the self who entertains the notion of an object. Implicit in the idea of the object is the intuition of the subject contrasted with the object; more precisely, the Existential Intuition ‘That I am this….’ [the nature and origin of which are discussed in Tallis’s 2004 volume, I Am: A Philosophical Inquiry into First-Person Being] Object knowledge [even Kleinian ‘internal objects’!] is also permeated [as ‘Wittgensteinians’ remind us] by a sense of publicness—of a shared world—that is not available to asocial sentience or asocial neural activities [or an electronic device that performs high-speed arithmetical and logical operations].”
Intentionality is a feature of perceptions, of propositional attitudes such as beliefs and desires, and of utterances such as assertions. This necessarily implicates consciousness, consciousness of something…. Computers are without minds, the most conspicuous feature of which is consciousness. And consciousness cannot be reduced to material or biological or neurological properties: in other words, materialism cannot account for the “indexicality of human consciousness” in the sense of being “here”and “now” as Tallis says, similar to the Da-sein Heidegger identifies as the essence of the human being (Tallis provides compelling arguments against attempts to neurologize ‘here’ and indexicality in general). Computers by definition can’t have first-person experience: a “narrative center of gravity” requires the higher-order activities of a self....
Update: Professor Dutilh Novaes has replied to my comment as follows:
“But to stipulate that intentionality must be exclusively to humans from the start is to beg the question on precisely what is at stake, i.e. can non-human agents instantiate phenomena that are relevantly similar to human cognition? That's one of the points eloquently made by M. Boden in the paper I linked to above.”
Perhaps I’m obtuse, but I fail to see where Boden “eloquently makes that point.” A computer can only instantiate phenomena that are relevantly similar to human cognition to the extent that it is human beings who program computers, and “similar” is then only used rather loosely if not figuratively: For instance, we sometimes hear it said that computers “follow rules,” but computers
“cannot correctly be described as following rules any more than planets can correctly be described as complying with laws. The orbital motion of the planets is described by the Keplerian laws, but the planets do not comply with the laws. Computers were not built to ‘engage in rule-governed manipulation of symbols,’ they were built to produce results that will coincide with rule-governed, correct manipulation of symbols. For computers can no more follow a rule than a mechanical calculator can. A machine can execute operations that accord with a rule, provided all the causal links built into it function as designed and assuming that the design ensures the regularity in accordance with the chosen rule or rules. But for something to constitute following a rule, the mere production of a regularity in accordance with a rule, is not sufficient. A being can be said to be following a rule only in the context of a complex practice involving actual and potential activities of justifying, noticing mistakes and correcting them by reference to the rule, criticizing deviations from the rule, and if called upon, explaining an action as being in accordance with the rule and teaching others what counts as following a rule. The determination of an act as being correct, in accordance with the rule, is not a causal determination but a logical one. Otherwise we should have to surrender to what results our computers produce.” (Bennett and Hacker)
The use of language that suggests, for instance, that computers instantiate phenomena “relevantly similar to human cognition” is fairly harmless until it is taken literally, leading us to suppose that it is a fact, or simply possible, that “computers really think, better and faster than we do, that they truly remember, and, unlike us, never forget, that they interpret [or understand] what we type in, and sometimes misinterpret [or misunderstand] it, taking what we wrote to mean something other than we meant. Then the [computer] engineers’ [or scientists’] otherwise harmless style of speech ceases to be an amusing shorthand and becomes a potentially pernicious conceptual confusion,” as is, I think, the case here.
Dennett would have us speaking of Deep Blue as “playing” chess, just like Kasparov, but the computer only “’plays’ chess in the sense that the microwave ‘cooks’ soup, though the programming is vastly more complicated.” (Daniel Robinson) What’s “stipulative” is the “intentional stance,” fashioned, in part, so as to make it appear plausible that machines (among other things) are, like us, “intelligent systems.” In Robinson’s words, “[c]onsider the broad, various, cultural, and dispositional factors that need to be recruited in order to qualify an activity as ‘play,’ and then array these against whatever ‘process’ gets Deep Blue to have the Bishop move to QP3.” And then, relatedly and further, we might ask, “If Spassky and Kasparov are doubtful as to whether computers are ‘playing’ chess, is it not Dennett who must rethink the matter?”
It’s on the order of a category mistake to think intentionality applies to non-human agents (although it applies in some degree to at least some non-human animals), Dennett’s “intentional stance” and nonsense about the fictional character of folk psychology notwithstanding: the ascription of psychological attributes is not about an interpretative stance, heuristic overlays or theoretical posits (it’s not surprising that Boden uncritically cites Dennett on this score). One does not merely adopt an “intentional stance” in the use of psychological predicates.* But my point concerns consciousness (intentionality being one feature or property of consciousness) in the first instance and not intentionality, at least insofar as some mental phenomena are not obviously intentional in any conventional sense (e.g., moods or sensations). In any case, it would be more precise to say, after Bennett and Hacker, that what is intentional is “the psychological attribute that has an intentional object.” Therefore,
“[o]ne cannot intelligibly ascribe ‘intentionality’ to molecules, cells, parts of the brain, thermostats or computers. Not only is it a subclass of psychological attributes that are the appropriate bearers of intentionality and not animals or things, but, further, only animals, and fairly sophisticated animals at that, and not parts of animals, let alone molecules, thermostats or computers, are the subjects of such attributes. …[I]t makes no sense to ascribe belief, fear, hope, suspicion, etc. to molecules, [contra Searle] the brain or its parts, thermostats or computers.”
* For the full critique of Dennett on this score, see the first appendix to M. R. Bennett and P.M.S. Hacker’s Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience (2003). I agree with Tallis who writes, “It is difficult to know why this argument has been taken seriously.” See too the debate in Maxwell Bennett, Daniel Dennett, Peter Hacker, and John Searle (with Daniel Robinson), Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind, and Language (Columbia University Press, 2007).
Highlander Folk School (main building) Monteagle, Tennessee
In honor of Black History Month in February I had planned a series of posts on the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project of 1964. Well, we’re into March and I’m just getting around to fulfilling my plans, although the intervening period finds a modification in the original intent of the series. Having spent unexpected and considerable time reading afresh books I read not long ago because I’d lost the original notes, as well as discovering more recent scholarship on the subject, I decided to look a bit closer at what we might term (some of) the necessary historical and sociological conditions (being necessary, implies they may not have been sufficient) of Freedom Summer. Toward that end, this post will simply introduce the Highlander Folk School (HFS) as an exemplum of what Aldon Morris memorably termed a “movement halfway house” in his classic study, The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change (Free Press, 1984). Morris defines a movement halfway house as
“an established group or organization that is only partially integrated into the larger society because its participants are actively involved in efforts to bring about a desired change in society. The American Friends Service Committee, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the War Resisters League, and the Highlander Folk School are examples of modern movement halfway houses.”
Importantly, Morris soon adds the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF) to this list. As Clayborne Carson points out in his definitive examination of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC; pronounced as if an acronym, with an added vowel sound: ‘snick’): “SNCC’s relations with SCEF illustrated a growing willingness of SNCC workers to associate with leftist groups,” in this instance, a comparatively small—in the sense of lacking a mass base—and predominantly white organization with goals close to, when not identical with, the civil rights movement. Although communists helped found this formally interracial organization in the 1930s, its ranks and supporters included non-communists as well. SCEF, for better and worse, attracted disproportionate attention given its fairly small size, while the steadfast and courageous efforts of its most active members speak to its equally disproportionate impact on other individuals and groups in the civil rights movement:
“During the late 1950s SCEF became a target of the southern press when one of its representatives, Carl Braden, refused to answer questions before HUAC [House Committee on Un-American Activities] and was later sentenced to a year in prison. Despite the controversy, SNCC leaders as early as the fall of 1960 developed close ties with Braden and his wife Anne. SCEF’s newspaper, The Southern Patriot, devoted considerable coverage to SNCC activists at a time when the organization received little attention elsewhere, and during 1960 and 1961 the paper contained essays written by Ella Baker and James Lawson.
The Bradens had gained the trust of SNCC workers because they understood better than most white leftists the militant mood of black activists, and they respected the desire of those in SNCC to remain independent of all outside control.”
Both Anne Braden and Ella Baker attended Highlander Folk School workshops (in particular for our purposes, its ‘college workshops’). In fact, it was shortly after the HFS’s seventh annual college workshop on April 1, 1960 that sit-in leaders from the college ranks met to form SNCC under the initiative of Ella Baker, then serving as executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The formal structure for SNCC was created in October 1960.
HFS, like other movement halfway houses, provided an array of “social change resources such as skilled activists, tactical knowledge, media contacts, workshops, knowledge of past movements, and a vision of a future society” for existing and future SNCC activists. The pedagogical, epistemic, and political functions performed so ably by HFS for SNCC and the civil rights movement generally, was strategically significant in (1) the coalescing and coordination of young black leaders, men and women; (2) in the provision of a mass education program that “was revolutionary from an educational, political, and social standpoint,” this being directly linked to mobilization outcomes; and (3) through its partial but no less exemplary instantiation of a “visible and successful model of a future integrated society.” The second and third strategic functions illustrate dimensions of what Wini Breines describes as “prefigurative politics,” at least insofar as we detect belief in and reliance on the theory and methods of participatory and deliberative democracy, as part of the greater attempt to embody here-and-now the future—socially integrated—society.
This society is not so much evidenced in direct action tactics and protests (although these are largely parasitic on the virtues of prefigurative community), but in the blurring and transcending of public and private boundaries that serve to privatize moral life on the one hand, and leave the work of politics to elites (politicians, bureaucrats, corporate lobbyists, professional experts…) on the other. This makes for the propitious emergence of moral if not “spiritual” communities whose members have devoted much of their lives to discerning—through thought and deed—the lineaments of the “good society,” of psychologically meaningful yet elusive notions of “happiness,” of the terms and conditions of human fulfillment. The interpersonal nature of these intimate communities is grounded in intrapersonal values, commitments, hopes and the like of self-defining and self-actualizing individuals who practice a revolutionary and eudaimonistic “politics of virtue.” Such communities are not “communitarian” if by that one means individuals are constitutionally deferent to existing traditions and social norms but rather emblematic of a eudaimonistic individualism in which communities serve as fora for interdependent values realization of persons who have come to feel a compelling and urgent obligation (from the outside looking in, this may appear as supererogatory) to realize objective values in the world, each individual serving as a unique locus for such values realization. In the words of the late David L. Norton,
“For eudaimonism the common good is no more and no less than the particular good of individuals in complementary interrelationship. The requirement for complementary interrelationship is implicit in the fact that the good to be actualized, conserved, and defended—the good that represents the individual’s achieved identity—is an objective good, that is, it is of value to others no less than to the individual who realizes it. [….] [E]very well-lived life must utilize values produced by (some) other well-lived lives. And that is to say that within a society, every person has a legitimate interest in the personhood of every other. [….] In this form of community individual self-determination, self-direction and self-fulfillment are not sacrificed to the ‘common good’ but nurtured as the foundation of the common good.”
In the civil society of capitalist democracies, such communities are fragile and evanescent, and being merely one form of associated living, must compete in a neo-Malthusian and socially Darwinian environment with larger and more impersonal forms of same that serve as vehicles for the regnant cultural ethos and dominant ideologies that shamelessly exhibit symptoms of what Erich Fromm diagnosed as a “fear of freedom” and a “pathology of normalcy.”
The prefigurative politics of virtue in the moral and spiritual communities nurtured by HFS and SNCC was revolutionary or radical to the degree that it went beyond the goals of the mainstream civil rights organizations and the conventional politics of constitutional Liberalism in seeking societal wide systemic change involving socio-cultural and economic spheres and institutions heretofore structurally resistant to the imperatives of egalitarian distributive justice and the extension of the principles and practices of participatory and deliberative democracy. This revolutionary politics involves the struggle to generalize the welfare and individual well-being of all members of society so as to collectively supply as a moral and political entitlement grounded in human dignity, the conditions and opportunities of moral and psychological individuation and self-determination insofar as these cannot be self-supplied by individuals (alone or in community). SNCC’s Mississippi Summer Project of 1964 was a vivid and inspiring demonstration of the germination of seeds sown by earlier traditions of radical black activism (especially communists, and both here and abroad), civil rights organizations (e.g., NAACP, CORE, and SCLC), and movement halfway houses like HFS. It is no exaggeration to characterize HLS’s pivotal halfway house role here as “the educational center of the civil rights movement during the 1950s and early 1960s” (emphasis added) and, “until 1961…in the forefront of the drive to end racial segregation in the South.”
In our next post, we’ll examine in finer detail the pedagogical, epistemic, and political practices of the Highlander Folk School.
 Aldon D. Morris, The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change (New York: Free Press, 1984): 39.
 Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995 ed.): 51.
 Ibid., 51-52.
 Morris, 139-140.
 Ibid., 141.
 “Prefigurative politics” is discussed in the chapters 1 and (especially) 4 in Wini Breines, Community and Organization in the New Left, 1962-1968: The Great Refusal (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1989).
 See David L. Norton, Democracy and Moral Development: A Politics of Virtue (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1991). On “community” in SNCC, consider what James Forman wrote at the time of SNCC’s fourth general conference in April 1963. After first noting the group’s achievement of organizational security, in the sense that it was no longer insecure about its survival, he says, “The meeting was permeated by an intense comradeship, born out of sacrifice and suffering and a commitment to the future, and out of knowledge that we were indeed challenging the political structure of the country, and out of a feeling that our basic strength rested in the energy, love, and warmth of the group. The band of sisters and brothers, in a circle of trust, felt complete at last.” Quoted in Carson, 82.
 Ibid., 124.
 On how “dignity” might provide such a grounding: George Kateb, Human Dignity (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011), Michael Rosen, Dignity: Its History and Meaning (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), and Jeremy Waldron, with comments by others (Meir Dan-Cohen, ed.) Dignity, Rank, and Rights, The Berkeley Tanner Lectures (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
 John M. Glen, Highlander: No Ordinary School (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2nd ed., 1996): 3 and 154 respectively.
(The last post in the series will contain a select bibliography.)
At the Indian Philosophy Blog, Jonathan Edelmann argues in his post, “Philosophy and Theology—let’s be clearer,” that we should think of the great Advaita Vedāntin, Śaṅkara, as a theologian, rather than a philosopher (my response follows):
“[I want] to raise an issue that has bothered me since the very first time I read Śaṅkara in a second year undergraduate Sanskrit course at the University of California in Santa Barbara, and about which I wrote an article for the Journal of the American Academy of Religion.
I think Indologists, philosophers and theologians who examine Indian texts, and religious studies scholars could more carefully distinguish philosophy from theology, even if the two are not mutually exclusive and have considerable overlap. This is especially true in a ‘Hindu’ context (I acknowledge the difficulty of that word). The differences between philosophy and theology are generally well known and respected in the larger worlds of Christian theology and Western philosophy, yet such distinctions are less frequently known and respected among those who work on Indian texts.
In brief, philosophy uses anumāna and tarka alone in the course of argumentation, whereas theology engages and interprets śabda-pramāṇa (conceived of as a revealed source of knowledge) in the course of argumentation.
Philosophers like Udayana, Gaṅgeśa or the early Yogasūtra commentator Vyāsa, use anumāna and tarka as the primary methods for establishing their point. Śabda, conceived as an unauthored or a divinely authored śāstra, is quoted only after a position was argued for by means of anumāna or tarka, if at all. Scripture may motivate their reasoning, but it does not form the basis of their reasoning. On the other hand theologians like Śaṅkara, Rāmānuja, Kumārilabhaṭṭa, etc. see their roles as interpreting a revealed śāstra. Anumāna and tarka serve the purpose of illuminating a fault-free śāstra’s meaning, and using śabda to establish an interpretation of śabda is considered reasonable.
Whereas philosophy proceeds rationally, theology does so exegetically. In the West too (for at least 500 years), the word philosopher refers to people who use reason to think about epistemology, metaphysics, etc. and not to people who see their primary roles as that of a scriptural exegete. The words theology and theologian were reserved for that. These two very different approaches to the use of reason are often conflated by scholars work on Indian texts, and at great cost.
A disregard for the difference can mislead. While pursuing a BA in (Western) Philosophy I took Sanskrit as well. Śaṅkara had been discussed as one of the most important Hindu philosophers. I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what philosophers did, having taken specialized courses on Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant and Quine. When I started reading Śaṅkara, however, it clearly was not philosophy and he was clearly not a philosopher. If Śaṅkara was a philosopher, he was unlike every philosopher I had studied. The text we read was, I believe, from his Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad Bhāṣya. Śaṅkara was trying to illuminate the meaning of the root text in light of his Advaitavāda. None of the philosophers I read spent any time carefully interpreting Biblical texts. It wasn’t until later when I read that Śaṅkara was a theologian – a scholar who accepts apauruṣeya-śabda as pramāṇa – that his project began to make sense.
If we don’t adequately distinguish the philosophers from the theologians we run the risk of confusing newcomers to the subject who already know about Western intellectual history.”
My response (I tried to post this as a comment at the Indian Philosophy Blog but was unsuccessful):
I don’t think it’s accurate to call Śaṅkara a “theologian,” at least insofar as (nirguṇa) Brahman is not “God” in the theistic sense of the Abrahamic traditions. And why need our understanding of philosophy remain utterly dependent on the notion of philosophy as it developed in the West? Why cannot we modify our conception to embrace those like Śaṅkara and Rāmānuja, or Confucius, or Daoists (collectively, as represented for instance in the Daodejing, or individuals like Zhuangzi) as religious or spiritual philosophers, much in the manner that Plato might strike one as a spiritual philosopher (at the very least, his ‘metaphysics’ is rather different than the contemporary articulations of same). The significance of the distinction between theology and philosophy follows largely the modern professionalization of these intellectual enterprises and thus is not always essential to figures of Eastern provenance or even in the pre-modern West: is not the “therapy of desire” (after Nussbaum) of the Hellenistic philosophers closer to the soteriological and spiritual (emancipatory, therapeutic, developmental) aims of religious worldviews than the avowed subject matter of most contemporary professional philosophers? When eudaimonistic concerns and questions of human fulfillment provide the primary orientation of ancient Greek philosophers (after John M. Cooper), this strikes one as closer to the motivations of religious philosophers and theologians than what motivates the wide array of specialized topics found in “analytic” and “continental” traditions of philosophy (and to a lesser degree and in a different sense in the latter). In these cases we find ample reason to soften any hard and fast distinctions between “philosophy” and “theology.” The “spiritual exercises” of these philosophers resemble religious ascetic practices and is utterly foreign to contemporary professional philosophy. The relief of suffering, the change of heart, or transformation of one’s overall mental attitude or psyche is closer to religion and spiritual praxis than philosophy proper, yet we christen these remarkable thinkers—from Epictetus to Gaius Musonius Rufus among the Stoics for example—philosophers.
Consider too, Islamic philosophy: it certainly has a religious or spiritual framework or accepts premises pivotal to classical Islamicate culture. Islamic philosophers, with varying degrees of success, endeavored to reconcile Greek philosophy with traditional Islamic sciences. Ibn Rushd (Averroës), for example, distinguished between philosophy and theology (kalam) yet saw these as compatible and different routes to the same truth(s). He viewed philosophy as beyond the reach of the common man and thus the prerogative of an epistemic elite in possession of that rare combination of virtue and wisdom. And then we have Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, a theologian who argued against the views of the Islamic philosophers yet defended Aristotelian logic for such purposes. Indeed, and further, Oliver Leaman states that “his arguments against philosophy are themselves philosophical.” While it is true that kalam and falsafa developed, as they did in the West generally, fairly independent of each other, periods of fertile conflict and constructive engagement might find value in looking beyond the distinctions between philosophy and theology. For instance, Mu῾tazilah, the first truly doctrinal school of theology in Islam, is invariably defined as based on reason and rational thought!
In the case of Śaṅkara, and with Ram-Prasad, we could grant the primary role religious motivation plays in his writings while analyzing the sophisticated philosophizing which permits us to see how this monastic philosopher “place[d] Advaita on the map of Indian thought” and how, in fact, “philosophical inquiry plays a role in Advaita from the beginning.” The “urge” or motivation to do philosophy may not be among the sorts found among contemporary professional philosophers, but it is no less philosophy for all that. We may need to be acquainted with the “soteriological imperative of Advaita” in terms, say of cosmogony or metaphysics, so as to make sense of the philosophical arguments, but they’re no less philosophical arguments for being wedded to soteriological or emancipatory ends. I therefore find no compelling reason to label Śaṅkara a “theologian” as opposed to a philosopher: sometimes it helps to understand his preoccupation with spiritual aims, but this need not crowd out or trump our characterization of him (for several purposes) as a philosopher. The fact that you learned Śaṅkara was not a philosopher on the model of your training in Western philosophy speaks rather to the contingent and somewhat arbitrary circumscription of what “counts” as philosophy according to that tradition. An encounter with a wider world might prompt us to widen our criteria for what counts as philosophy, might compel us to embrace a more generous conception of philosophy, one that does justice to the range, depth, and creative contributions to “philosophy” from outside the canonical tradition of the West, a tradition that in any case itself does not always neatly demarcate the lines between philosophy and theology. I think it’s well worth the provisional risk of confusion among “newcomers to the subject who already know about Western intellectual history.”
A couple of other points: While it is true of course that Śaṅkara accepts apauruṣeya-śabda, that is only one of six of its accepted pramāṇas, it’s no less revealing that this religious worldview recognizes the traditional system of validating means of knowing or “knowledge-episodes.” The Advaita view on anirvacanīyakhyāti makes a philosophical argument that the “object-form” in cases of sensory illusion demonstrates a realm of objects neither existent nor non-existent, at least as a consequence of Brahman-awareness (the metaphysical ‘non-realism’ that is distinct from idealism on the one hand, and realism on the other, but appears to partake of epistemic insights from—or makes concessions to—both sides of this philosophical divide, although I agree with Matilal that the theory ‘in fact tends more toward realism than phenomenalism or idealism’). Whatever the aim, we have here a philosophical position that, in the words of Ram Prasad, “may be characterised as being realist from an idealist point of view, idealist from a realist point of view, and skeptical about both points of view.” Philosophically speaking, this is a novel philosophical argument involving both epistemology and metaphysics: what is gained in viewing this simply and solely as a piece of theology? So, while it is true that philosophical arguments are essential to, in the end, the philosophical goal of validating or proving the liberating role of apauruṣeya-śabda, it is for that very reason that Ram-Prasad can “bracket” what he calls the soteriology, believing Advaita philosophy to be therefore of “intrinsic” philosophical interest. So too with Śaṅkara’s use of the dream-analogy: intriguing philosophical arguments are crafted, albeit in keeping with the legitimacy of apauruṣeya-śabda with regard to Advaita exegesis of the Upaniṣadic doctrine of liberation.
From the exquisitely produced Kyoto Journal, a brief review of Bruce Rich’s To Uphold the World: A Call for a New Global Ethic from Ancient India (Beacon Press, 2010). Some readers may recall my post from several years ago: Aśoka, Buddhist Emperor of India.
At the risk of sounding cynical, I’m not sure what value or purpose such declarations of a “global ethic” (or ‘ethics’) have for us, at least insofar as they take the form of preaching to the choir. But I refuse to grant this uncertainty a power sufficient to crowd out or diminish my ethical idealism!
“What about the ownership and control of economic enterprises as a source of political inequality? Ownership and control of firms affects political inequality in two ways that are closely related but rather different. First, ownership and control contribute to the great differences among citizens in wealth, income, status, skills, information, control over information and propaganda, access to political leaders, and, on the average, predictable life chances, not only for mature adults but also for the unborn, infants, and children. After all due qualifications have been made, differences like these help in turn to generate significant inequalities among citizens in their capacities and opportunities for participating as political equals in governing the state.
Second, and even more obvious, with very few exceptions the internal governments of economic enterprises are flatly undemocratic both de jure and de facto. Indeed, genuine political equality has been rejected by Americans as a proper principle of authority within firms. Hence the ownership and control of enterprises creates enormous inequalities among citizens in their capacities and opportunities for participation in governing economic enterprises.”—Robert A. Dahl, A Preface to Economic Democracy (University of California Press, 1985): 54-55
What follows is a copy of a letter I sent out to a bunch of folks and posted on FB as well.
Image found here.
You may or may not know about the dire situation for Rohingya Muslims in Burma, including acts of violence, lethal and otherwise, directed against them by (ostensible, self-identified…) Buddhists in the country. Attempts at ethnic cleansing are increasingly successful and the threat of genocide is very real. I’ve posted links (thanks to Michael J. Perry) to two recent pieces below by Graeme Wood from the New Republic that strike me as helpful in this regard: providing the relevant information with a keen sense of the possibility that matters might quickly and precipitously get even more reprehensible (I’m not an expert on Burma/Myanmar, so I happily defer to anyone better informed and more knowledgeable on this topic*).
I write to ask what we might do, individually and/or collectively, to voice our pleas and concerns to the relevant actors involved, as well as government officials and bodies charged with oversight and responsibility for affairs in matters of this kind (or perhaps there is some existing organization or action we can support or join). I well realize that our “action-at-a-distance” as it were may fall far short of what’s needed to quickly alleviate the suffering of the Rohingya and stop the acts of intimidation and violence. Nonetheless, it seems unconscionable to remain passive and thus coordinated action of some kind: letters, a petition, what have you, is a moral and political necessity. While I have experience in political activism on the ground in local fora, I’m not at all experienced as to what to do in response to a global situation of this sort, so I’m hoping others can proffer suggestions and concrete help. [See “update” below.]
Thanks for your time and attention.
* The extent of my knowledge is found in this recent post on Buddhists and violence.
Please read: “A Countryside of Concentration Camps” and “Ethnic Cleansing Just Went from Bad to Worse in Burma,” by Graeme Wood in the New Republic.
Update: Here is a link to a page at the U.S. Campaign for Burma (thanks to Mark Lance) to contact President Obama. And here is a link for contacting your Congressional representative regarding proposed legislation. Finally, here is the page on the Rohingya and ethnic cleansing.
As February is Black History Month, I’ve decided to select a particular theme from the civil rights movement to highlight throughout the month with powerful images: The Mississippi Freedom Summer Project of 1964. I chose this in part because I discovered a wonderful online source for information on Freedom Summer at the Wisconsin Historical Society’s website. Time permitting, I’ll add additional material to the images, which will be posted with basic citation information and a link to the original page from where I find them. Below is my first post for the month. Image above is found here. (There are exquisite photos on that page as well.)
Title: Civil Rights Volunteers in Mississippi
Folder Description: In the summer of 1964, Freedom Summer volunteers pose in front of a campaign poster for Victoria Jackson Gray, Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party candidate for Congress representing the 5th District. Photo is likely taken outside of the Victoria Jackson Gray’s MFDP headquarters.
Subject: Mississippi Freedom Schools; Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party; volunteers; women
Some readers may be interested in my contribution to Catarina Dutilh Novaes’ post, “Philosophy as Conversation,” at the New APPS blog. I hope to develop these somewhat ad hoc and disconnected comments into more coherent and consistent reflections at a later date. Below: Tibetan Buddhist monks engaged in debate at Sera Monastery.
(Pete Seeger portrait by Robert Shetterly)
Pete Seeger died yesterday. The obituary notice in the New York Times. While he began to formally distance himself from the Communist Party USA in 1949, Seeger remained a lifelong “communist” (i.e., with a lower case ‘c’).
“Although the folk song revival in the thirties and forties never made a big splash in the mainstream of popular culture, it did create a national audience of folk music fans and a sizable collection of songs that were critical in reinforcing left-wing identity in the years that followed. By 1960 the folk music constituency had produced a new generation of singers and songwriters—and, most unexpectedly, commercial record companies took an interest. It did not take long for the work of performers like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, and other protégés of Seeger and Guthrie to become highly popular, and eventually to help shape the sensibilities of the emerging youth revolt.
The folk song revival turned out to be the most notable instance in which consciously left artists, working within the cultural apparatus of the organized left, ultimately influenced mainstream popular culture. Despite the effects of blacklisting and commercialization on the original project, its political impact was nevertheless substantial. From the thirties to the sixties a widening stream undoubtedly affected the consciousness of audiences that were attentive to it. Indeed, the movements of the sixties are hard to grasp unless one recognizes the ways in which music help crystallize the identities of many ‘alienated’ youth, and provided the occasion and emotional underpinning for numerous collective gatherings. Moreover, in the years since the sixties, protest themes continue to be heard in popular music oriented toward youth, and mass protests continue to be powered by political minded musicians. [….]
In the early sixties music and protest were more deeply intertwined that at any time since the days of the Wobblies. Not only did Dylan and other New York-based folksingers help inspire support and recruit activists for the civil rights movement, but the movement itself, based in the black churches, was producing its own songs, rooted in the rich soil of gospel singing. The interpenetration of these two cultural streams can be illustrated by the story of ‘We Shall Overcome’—the great anthem of the civil rights movement. This was a song first learned by Seeger from the singing of Southern unionists in the early forties. They in turn had adapted it from a traditional gospel hymn, ‘I Will Be All Right.’ ‘We Shall Overcome’ was sung in left-wing circles during the forties and fifties, and was carried to the Highlander Folk School, a left training school for civil rights workers, by a Seeger disciple, Guy Carawan. Carawan taught the song to the first group of student sit-inners in 1960, and it immediately caught on—finally being brought back into the black churches and restored again as a gospel-style hymn. There can be little doubt that the song played a crucial role in binding people together in the face of fearful threats; singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ with thousands of others—its melody permitting rich, spontaneous harmonizing, its lyrics simply and directly addressing fears and announcing hopes—was an emotional experience that surely helped sustain mass involvement in the movement. Indeed, the song is now sung worldwide in an astonishing array of diverse protest contexts.”—Richard Flacks in Making History: The Radical Tradition in American Life (Columbia University Press, 1988)
“Banks of Marble” by Pete Seeger
I’ve traveled round this country
From shore to shining shore.
It really made me wonder
The things I heard and saw.
I saw the weary farmer,
Plowing sod and loam;
I heard the auction hammer
Just knocking down his home.
But the banks are made of marble,
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver,
That the farmer sweated for.
I’ve seen the seaman standing
Idly by the shore.
And I heard their bosses sayin’
Got no work for you no more.
But the banks are made of marble,
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver,
That the seaman sweated for.
I’ve seen the weary miner,
Scrubbing coal dust from his back,
And I heard his children cryin’,
Got no coal to heat the shack.
But the banks are made of marble,
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver,
That the miner sweated for.
I’ve seen my brothers working
Throughout this mighty land;
I prayed we’d get together,
And together make a stand.
Then we’d might own those banks of marble,
With a guard at every door;
And we would share those vaults of silver,
That we have sweated for.
Update: Dick Flacks shared a link to a wonderful essay he wrote on Seeger’s 90th birthday for Jewish Currents: “Pete Seeger’s Project”
“As business and political leaders gather in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss the improving world economy, new evidence emerged about how much the rich have become richer — and how much further the poor are falling behind.
The 85 richest people on Earth now have the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the global population, according to a report released Monday by the British humanitarian group Oxfam International. The findings highlight the widening gap between rich and poor ahead of the annual World Economic Forum this week. The report, and others recently on the issue, could boost efforts in Washington to increase the federal minimum wage, which President Obama has made a priority.
‘It is staggering that in the 21st century, half of the world’s population own no more than a tiny elite whose numbers could all sit comfortably in a single train carriage,’ said Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam’s executive director. ‘Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table,’ Byanyima said.
The bottom half of the population — about 3.5 billion people — account for about $1.7 trillion, or about 0.7% of the world's wealth, according to the Oxfam report, titled ‘Working for the Few.’ [Hyperlink to PDF doc. of report added] That’s the same amount of wealth attributed to the world’s 85 richest people. [….]
Oxfam said the United States has led a worldwide growth in wealth concentration. The percentage of income held by the richest 1% in the U.S. has grown nearly 150% from 1980 through 2012. That small elite has received 95% of wealth created since 2009, after the financial crisis, while the bottom 90% of Americans have become poorer, Oxfam said.
The uneven gains of the economic recovery, in which many people have had to take lower-paying jobs, have exacerbated income inequality, said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.’ The people who are losing ground are the people in the middle and the bottom’ of the economic spectrum, Owens said.
There also are concerns about the broader effect of the wealth gap. ‘Income inequality is also socially destabilizing,’ Owens said. ‘So it’s not just a question of fairness; it’s a question of how do we preserve a functioning democracy, and it’s difficult to do that if we don’t have broadly shared prosperity.’
The problem exists worldwide, Oxfam said. [….] The share of wealth owned by the richest 1% since 1980 expanded in all but two of the 26 nations tracked by researchers in the World Top Incomes Database. That has put a ‘massive concentration of economic resources in the hands of fewer people,’ the report said. Falling taxes for the rich and an increased use of tax havens have helped widen income inequality, Oxfam said.” [….]
For the entire article by Jim Puzzanghera in today’s Los Angeles Times, please see here.
Update: Rebecca Bratspies has kindly provided me with a link to the Credit Suisse Research Institute’s Global Wealth Report 2013 (upper left hand column) that Oxfam relies upon.
The Beginnings of the International Anti-Apartheid Movement and the Economic Divestment and Boycott Campaign against the Apartheid Regime in South Africa [From the Wikipedia entry, albeit edited and with additional material]
“The Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM), originally known as the Boycott Movement, was a British organization that was at the centre of the international movement opposing South Africa’s system of apartheid and supporting South Africa’s non-whites. In response to an appeal by Albert Luthuli, the Boycott Movement was founded in London on 26 June 1959 at a meeting of South African exiles and their supporters, including Tennyson Makiwane, Vella Pillay (the South African Communist Party’s contact in London), and Abdul Minty. In addition to being a founder of the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM, the Boycott Movement’s later name), Pillay was its first treasurer and later named co-chairperson. The Boycott Movement was originally a subcommittee of the Committee of African Organisations (CAO), and the South African Freedom Association (SAFA) was an important forerunner of the AAM. In the words of Mac Maharaj, ‘Without disclosing that we were Communists, we helped these things grow, but they grew by attracting many different people to the cause of supporting South African freedom.’ [….] The Boycott Movement ‘embraced a network of organisations across the political spectrum, though mainly those on the Left, including the Movement for Colonial Freedom, Christian Action, Committee of African Organisations (CAO), the National Council of Civil Liberties, the African Bureau, student bodies, some trade unions, the Communist Party, and some sections of the Labour Party.’* On 28 February 1960, the movement launched a March Month, Boycott Action at a rally in Trafalgar Square. Speakers at the rally included Labour Party Leader Hugh Gaitskell, Liberal MP Jeremy Thorpe, Conservative peer John Grigg, 2nd Baron Altrincham, and Tennyson Makiwane of the African National Congress (ANC). Its aim was to campaign for sport, cultural, academic, and economic boycotts of the apartheid regime. The AAM represents the construction of the ‘fourth pillar’ of the African National Congress (ANC) as outlined by Nelson Mandela (the first three pillars consisting of 1. mass mobilization and political action, 2. a sustainable political underground, and 3. armed struggle, initiated in the first instance with MK).
The Sharpeville massacre on 21 March 1960, when 69 unarmed protesters were shot dead by the South African police, triggered an intensification of action. The organisation was renamed the ‘Anti-Apartheid Movement’ (AAM) and instead of just a consumer boycott the group would now ‘co-ordinate all the anti-apartheid work and keep South Africa's apartheid policy in the forefront of British politics,’ and campaign for the total isolation of apartheid South Africa, including economic sanctions.
At the time, the United Kingdom was South Africa’s largest foreign investor and South Africa was the UK’s third biggest export market. The ANC was still committed to peaceful resistance: armed struggle through Umkhonto we Sizwe [‘MK’] would only begin a year later.
The AAM scored its first major victory when South Africa was forced to leave the Commonwealth in 1961. It held a 72-hour vigil outside the Commonwealth venue, Marlborough House, and found willing allies in Canada, India and the newly independent Afro-Asian member states. In 1962, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling on all member states to impose a trade boycott against South Africa. In 1963 the UN Security Council called for a partial arms ban against South Africa, but this was not mandatory under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
Abdul Minty, who took over from Rosalynde Ainslie as the AAM’s Hon. Secretary in 1962, also represented the South African Sports Association, a non-racial body set up in South Africa by Dennis Brutus. In the same year, he presented a letter to the International Olympic Committee meeting in Baden Baden, Germany about racism in South African sports. The result was a ruling that suspended South Africa from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. South Africa was finally expelled from the Olympics in 1970.
“Mac” Maharaj recalling his time imprisoned with Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu (among other ANC and SACP members) at Robben Island:
“In many ways, like all of us, Madiba [Nelson Mandela] changed over the years. I think that in prison his anger and hatred of the system increased, but the manifestations of that anger became less visible. They were subdued, tempered. He became cold and analytical in focusing on the evils of the system. Madiba was meticulous in examining issues. Once he arrived at a position, he was extremely stubborn, almost unshakeable. At the same time, he was very dignified and extremely ruthless in debate. He prepared well, and he would pin you with questions; he would be relentless.
Walter [Sisulu], on the other hand, never came across as holding unshakeable positions. He had his views, he was a very good listener, but he would probe you very gently. I have always said that he inspired us to think outside the box because he never tried to crush us in debate.
There was something very, very special about Walter. He did not have that sense of inferiority that many people living under oppression acquire, or the countering over-assertiveness such people often take on. There was no issue that I couldn’t take to Walter. I was never met with a dismissal. I would go to Walter with crazy ideas, but he wouldn’t say they were crazy. Instead, he would inspire me to investigate those ideas further, and in that way he would often bring me back to a sober position. He was a great encouragement.
Walter interacted as an equal with those who had a superior education. It’s a remarkable ability. Oliver Tambo, who was a mathematician, and Anton Lembede, a philosopher with an MA, a lawyer—they were among those who used to gather at Walter’s home in the 1940s for intellectual discussion. Walter was like a magnet drawing them all to him.
Walter and Madiba had the greatest regard for each other’s perceptions of strategy and tactics. Nelson had the determination to grapple with ideas, even to the point of stubbornness, but I think he understood that what Walter brought to the debate was a deep understanding of the human psyche.
I went to prison at the age of twenty-nine and came out when I was forty-one. These are very important years in anybody’s life, your thirties. You are at the peak of your mental and physical abilities, and prison can be a very debilitating place. I went through all that personal agony. But against that, I had the privilege of living with people of a very high caliber. We interacted closely, debating vigorously and often acrimoniously. But in the end, the presence of Walter, the presence of Madiba, and seeing how they conducted themselves were major influence in my life.” From Padraig O’Malley, Shades of Difference: Mac Mahahraj and the Struggle for South Africa (Viking Penguin, 2007): 163-164.
* On the prison at Robben Island during the time in question, an indispensable study is Fran Lisa Buntman’s Robben Island and Prisoner Resistance to Apartheid (Cambridge University Press, 2003).
I am giving away my body as an offering of light to chase away the darkness, to free all beings from suffering, and to lead them—each of whom has been our mother in the past and yet has been led by ignorance to commit immoral acts –to the Amitabha, the Buddha of infinite light. My offering of light is for all living beings, even as insignificant as lice and nits, to dispel their pain and to guide them to the state of enlightenment. I offer this sacrifice as a token of long-life offering to our root guru His Holiness the Dalai Lama and all other spiritual teachers and lamas. – Lama Sobha, in his final testimony, after setting himself afire on January 8, 2012. The testimony was found after his death, recorded in a tape cassette, wrapped in his robes.
“123 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009. All but one of those self-immolations has occurred in the last two years. The latest took place this past November.
The number of self-immolations peaked in 2012, with 85 taking place that year. There were 27 in 2013.
102 of the self-immolators have died.
19 of the self-immolators were women.
The two oldest were in their sixties. The youngest was 15. In all, 31 were teenagers, 59 were in their twenties, 13 in their thirties, eight in their forties, and three in their fifties. 53 were between 18 and 24 years old.
Not many details about the work of the self-immolators have emerged, so the record is incomplete. But what is known is that 40 were monks, 12 were former monks, six were students, four were nomads, three were farmers, one was a forest guard, and one was a writer. 13 have been reported to be parents–nine fathers and four mothers.
But what exactly did these 123 citizens hope to achieve through self-immolation? What difference has it made? And what, if any, change has occurred as a result of the self-immolations?” [….]
All of Tibet is essentially under lockdown. “Tibet” here corresponds roughly to what the Chinese government has designated the Tibet Autonomous Region, plus Tibetan areas of the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu and Qinghai. It’s a huge area–five times the size of France. [….]
Chinese-ruled Tibet, by contrast, is a totalitarian society under military occupation. No independent reporting is allowed in Tibet. Chinese reporters must serve the state, and their reporting is more tightly controlled than in China. Indeed, almost all Chinese reporting from Tibet comes directly from Xinhua, the official state news organ. Foreign reporters are not allowed in Tibet except when accompanied by government minders on government-controlled itineraries.
Given such tight control of information, it’s amazing how much has gotten out about the self-immolations and other news the Chinese government would prefer no one know about. Most information that ‘escapes’ from there is sent out via cell phone and internet by ordinary people to Tibetan exiles, news organizations such as Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, and Tibet advocacy groups such as International Campaign for Tibet, Free Tibet and the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.
Still, even though news of the self-immolations has emerged, I wonder whether or not there is any other place in the world where so many people could have killed themselves in such dramatic fashion with so little clear effect. [….]
The self-immolations are almost certainly related to the demonstrations of 2008 that swept across Tibetan areas, the largest and most widespread since the Chinese occupation of Tibet began in 1950. (The first self-immolation of 2011 occurred on March 16, marking the third anniversary of those demonstrations.) The Chinese government’s response to the 2008 demonstrations was– as has been its response to almost every act of Tibetan self-assertion over the last thirty years—to increase political, religious, cultural, social, and economic repression.
Within this context, one can read the self-immolations as being one of the few remaining acts Tibetans feel they have at their disposal. The scope of action for the average Tibetan in advocating for the basic rights of his or her people has been narrowed to basically zero; the Chinese government has shut down just about every avenue.
Considering that there is no tradition of self-immolation as a form of protest in Tibetan history, and that the act is controversial from the Buddhist point of view, the self-immolations are a sign of just how heavy the repression is. Each is like a statement: What else do we have left? Many of the self-immolations have occurred in areas where the 2008 demonstrations were the biggest and where, subsequently, the Chinese government crackdown has been the hardest.
Few of the self-immolators have left messages that have found their way to the outside world. Many are reported to have shouted, while on fire, calls for the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet and for Tibetan freedom, as well as opposition to Chinese rule. More generally, it appears that their reasons have also included concerns about cultural rights, religious rights, language rights, land rights, rights over natural resources, freedom of movement, and freedom to be educated as they wish.
It appears that the self-immolations have not been strategic, coordinated, calculated, or instrumentalist. That is to say, the self-immolators did not have a plan, according to which, if they set themselves on fire, this would happen, and then this, leading to this concrete result. The self-immolations were political protest but not pragmatic. If they hoped to be catalysts of change, it was not in the immediate sense of setting off a chain reaction. They were powerful acts of powerlessness. They were expressions of desperation without being acts of despair.” [....]
Please see the entire piece by Tenzin Tharchen (‘the pseudonym of a commentator living in China’) at The Reporters, Inc.
For a “basic reading guide” on self-immolation (as ‘fire suicide’ or ‘auto-cremation’) see here.
Sathyandranath Ragunanan “Mac” Maharaj interrupted his hard-won studies at the London School of Economics and left his wife behind in 1961 (‘It would be the story of my marriage. I was either gone or going somewhere.’) because the Communist Party wanted to send him to the German Democratic Republic (GDR) for military training. The SACP had taken “the first step toward an armed struggle in 1961,” with the African National Congress (ANC) following suit soon thereafter. The Party and the ANC merged the “armed wing” of their respective organizations as Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) (Spear of the Nation), the military “pillar” of the ANC. As Nelson Mandela has explained, MK was from that point forward one of the “four pillars of the struggle,” the other three being mass mobilization and (above ground) political action, the construction of a “sustainable political underground,” and international solidarity efforts aimed at isolating the apartheid regime. In a summary of Mac’s time in the GDR, O’Malley states that “For the first time in his life, his color was not an issue, at least overtly. He discovered his dignity as a human being.” In his own words, Mac recalls that his
“experiences in Germany were favorable and complemented my theoretical commitment to Marxism. For example, it was the first country where I did not feel that I was being discriminated against because I was a black man—unlike London, where I had gone to look for accommodation advertised in newspapers and had been turned away. [….] I was never refused accommodation in the GDR because I was black or looked at askance in a restaurant. Nor was I ever insulted in the streets.”
Apologies to anyone who might have noticed I haven’t posted anything since the start of the new year. One reason follows, but first I want to note that the subject of this post was not in any way “religious,” at least by most definitions of what makes for “religion.” And yet I think the course of his life during the struggle against apartheid exemplifies something like—if not identical to—the “Marxist spirituality” I attributed to C.L.R. James in a post last year.
Inspired by Alan Wieder’s wonderful volume on Ruth First and Joe Slovo (Monthly Review Press, 2013), I’m doing research related to the strategic use of non-violence and violence in the anti-apartheid struggle and the remarkable role of the South African Communist Party in that struggle (its membership strongly overlapped with the ANC). I thought I’d share this delightful snippet from Padraig O’Malley’s Shades of Difference: Mac Maharaj and the Struggle for South Africa (Penguin Books, 2008).
The brilliant anti-apartheid activist, Sathyandranath Ragunanan “Mac” Maharaj,* speaks about his time in London in the early 1960s (‘a very cosmopolitan environment’), a period when he was attending the London School of Economics and an active member of the British Communist Party (BCP):
“In the International Affairs Committee of the party and the Africa Committee, I met and worked with people such as Jack Woddis, Idris Cox, and, the chairman of the International Committee, Palme Dutt. I met Maurice Cornforth, the philosopher; Maurice Dobb, the political economist; John Lewis, the philosopher, and J.D. Bernal, the world’s leading marine biologist. These guys were running classes at the Marx Memorial Library, and I studied Marxism under them.
I was active in the Movement for Colonial Freedom under Fenner Brockway. He came from the Independent Labour Party and was in the House of Commons. I met face to face with people whose books I had read, like the historian Eric Hobsbawm. I got involved in organizing the Paul Robeson transatlantic concert that was played over the telephone after Robeson’s passport had been taken away by the American authorities. Later I was involved in organizing his concert in London and supporting his trip to the Soviet Union.” !!! (in lieu of yet more superlatives)
* In the words of Padraig O’Malley, “His life is an expression of the struggle against apartheid and institutionalized oppression, of the triumph of endurance in the face of almost insurmountable odds, of absolute conviction in a cause that became his raison d’être and consumed him to the exclusion of all other considerations and led him repeatedly to put his life at risk.” Nelson Mandela wrote the foreword to O’Malley’s book.
The regnant ideological doctrine in theory if not praxis of this nation’s particular incarnation of post-welfare capitalist democracy can be described as a neo-liberal technocratic plutocracy suffused with a Constitution-transcending or constitutionally defiant legal ethos defined by an institutionally entrenched insecurity and paranoia that generates panoptical surveillance ambitions and totalizing information-gathering practices by both public agencies and private firms within the terms and constraints of a feverishly financialized turbo-capitalism on the one hand, and a colossal Orwellian National Security State on the other hand.
We might begin to fill out the “bread and circuses” component of the society ruled by this ideology as implicated in a network of “looping effects” of “human kinds” (Ian Hacking) with Werner Sombart’s notion of cultural immaturity (discussed as the peculiarly modern values intrinsic to mature capitalism): “The child possesses four elementary ‘values;’ four ideals dominate its existence. They are (a) physical bigness, as seen in grown-ups and imagined in giants; (b) quick movement—in running, bowling a hoop, riding on a roundabout; (c) novelty—it changes its toys very quickly, it begins something and never completes it because another occupation attracts it; and (d) sense of power—that is why it pulls out the legs of a fly, makes Towzer stand on his hind legs and beg nicely, and flies a kite has high as it can.” As my former teacher, the late Raghavan Iyer explains,
“[Sombart] referred to the tendency to mistake bigness for greatness; the influence on the inner workings of the mind of the quantitative valuation of things [Americans everywhere and always exhibiting the ability to ‘prefix to every commodity its monetary values’]; the connection between success, competition, and sheer size; the tendency to regard the speediest achievements as the most valuable ones; the connection between megalomania, mad hurry, and record-breaking; the attraction of novelty; the habit of hyperbole; the love of sensationalism and its effect on journalism; the concern with fashions in ideas as well as clothes; and the consciousness of superiority through a sense of power that is merely an expression of weakness.”
People are aware that they cannot continue in the same old way but are immobilized because they cannot imagine an alternative. We need a vision that recognizes that we are at one of the great turning points in human history when the survival of our planet and the restoration of our humanity require a great sea change in our ecological, economic, political, and spiritual values.
“Boxing is only possible if there is an endless supply of young men hungry to leave their ghetto neighborhoods, more than willing to substitute the putative dangers of the ring for the more evident dangers of the street; yet it is rarely advanced as a means of eradicating boxing, that poverty itself be abolished; that it is the social conditions feeding boxing that are obscene.”—Joyce Carol Oates
“In the name of that ethic of strength and domination –and in order to escape that common fate of the oppressed, in whom he discovers and detests his own wretchedness as a victim—he sells his strength, his agility and his courage. He sells even that rage which makes him so combative. At once, it is no longer his, it is taken from him. The assertion of his sovereignty becomes his livelihood. Obedience replaces anarchistic pride, lordly will shrivels before harsh discipline. The exercise of violence—directed, channeled, orientated [sic] in the direction of maximum profit for the promoters—is no longer the easy demonstration of a brutal superiority. It is instead a painful and dangerous labour that is faced in anguish and often pits the boxer against a better-armed opponent: he learns the limits of his power through the sufferings inflicted on him. [….] As long as he remained in the working class, it was a lonely individual’s blind, explosive reaction to exploitation. Once he is a servant of the bourgeois class, his fight in the ring incarnates his fight for life in the bourgeois system of competition. [….] His violence being, in and of itself, an ever fruitless spasm to struggle free from poverty and his milieu, he accepts that it should precisely be the instrument for his promotion into the other class. In fact, the promotion does not really take place (except for a tiny minority). He sells his violence, remains one of the exploited, and on the boxing market finds the same competitive antagonisms that pit workers against one another on the labour market.”—Jean-Paul Sartre
“‘Each time we moved, the conditions got worse—from being poor to being serious poor to being fucked-up poor.’ Tyson’s mother’s friends were now mainly prostitutes and her lovers inclined to violence—though Tyson recounts how his mother once poured boiling water over one of her male friends: ‘That is the kind of life I grew up in. People in love cracking their heads and bleeding like dogs. They love each other but they’re stabbing each other. Holy shit, I was scared to death of my family….’” Mike Tyson, quoted in Joyce Carol Oates' review of Tyson’s book, Undisputed Truth (New York: Blue Rider Press/Penguin, 2013)
Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1958 draft of the second volume of his posthumously published Critique of Dialectical Reason put forth the intriguing proposition that “Every boxing match incarnates the whole of boxing as an incarnation of all fundamental violence.” More interestingly, perhaps, he also argued that the “so-called witness” to the match is in fact a “participant: he intervenes to stop a brawl or else lets it run its course—out of cowardice, sadism, or respect for tradition. [....] The brawl is a common event.” Sartre then proceeds to demonstrate how “bourgeois capitalism itself is expressed through boxing.” The “boxing” section of the Critique was likely in part inspired by (as Ronald Aronson has noted), although it is rather different from, Roland Barthes’ well-known 1957 essay on wrestling.
In any case, I think Sartre’s piece might be systematically and fruitfully compared to Joyce Carol Oates’ writings on boxing, which are phenomenologically perceptive if not brilliant, albeit at times contradictory in execution. For example, she states unequivocally that “Life is like boxing in many unsettling respects. But boxing is only like boxing.” This claim is reiterated in her assertion that “boxing is not a metaphor for life but a unique, closed, self-referential world….” This approach to the “sport” (Oates does not in fact believe boxing is a sport, especially insofar as a sport is understood within the conceptual parameters of a ‘game’) is salutary in that it encourages acute perception to detail, a focused attention on the subject at hand, unaltered or disturbed by some underlying agenda or ideological goal that tends to constrict what one will perceive, allowing only that which one expects, wants, or hopes to see. Oates is explicit if not emphatic about not viewing boxing as a metaphor for something else, that “something else” which might serve to diminish or distort our understanding of what takes place both inside and outside the ring. There is at once a singularity to each boxing match and a sense in which “each fight is all of boxing” (in Sartrean terms, its ‘totalization would remain schematic and formal…if it were not incarnated in the singularity of an “uncertain contest’”).
And yet I sense that Oates perforce is compelled to draw upon a number of analogies and metaphors that belie the notion of boxing as “a unique, closed, self-referential world,” hence her statement in the preface (1994) to the latest edition of On Boxing (2006) that “to write about boxing is to be forced to contemplate not only boxing, but the perimeters of civilization—what it is, or should be, to be ‘human.’” Indeed, for Oates the boxing match speaks to an undeniable feature of human nature, for it “is the very image, the more terrifying for being so stylized, of mankind’s collective aggression; its ongoing historical madness.” These comments are closer in spirit to the philosophical explorations initiated in Sartre’s Critique and account for her treatment of the boxing match as an event which, to slightly paraphrase and quote, risks and sometimes realizes “the agony of which agon (Greek, ‘contest’) is the root.” Oates once again begins to break out of this “closed, self-referential world” when she refers to boxing as “the most pitiless of sports, as it can be the most dazzling, theatrical and emblematic” (e.g.: ‘a mimicry of a fight to the death, a theatrical sort of mortal combat’), or when boxing is described both as “a wordless spectacle” accorded “narrative unity” by the ringside announcer, and as a “performance…clearly akin to dance or music [rather] than narrative.” This dovetails nicely with her invocation of Nietzsche’s reflections on the Hellenistic “contest—athletic and otherwise [e.g., chariot racing]—by which Greek youths were educated into Greek citizenry.”
Still, while the gymnasium loomed large in the lives of both upper class young Athenians as well as young Spartans, it seems the athletic contest proper (with training in training in wrestling, boxing, running, throwing the discus and javelin, for example) was perhaps more important to some Greek city-states (e.g., Sparta) and less so for others (e.g., Athens): Plato’s Athenian pedagogical ideal, for example, revolves around dance and music (or ‘ritual play’) as fundamental to paideia (moral socialization or education) generally, although Dorian Sparta, at least according to Plato, remained an exemplar of choral excellence. Whatever the significance of the athletic contest, music or dance among ancient Greek city-states, the contemporary boxing match is a uniquely literal and analogical incarnation of “agony” (with substitutionary atonement as one function of this brutal, stylized spectacle?). And while homoeroticism (in general, intimate, and masochistic forms) may suffuse the world of boxing, as it did the world of ancient Greece, Oates assures us that the violence of its “ritual combat” (or ‘the Sweet Science of Bruising’) is not to be confused with love (‘Love, if there is to be love, comes second.’). Nor is the “play” of ritual as expressed through music and dance, fundamentally or typically agonistic (that is, even if it is, it should not be), let alone violent (to be sure, music and dance, as Plato himself appreciated, can assume inhumane or improper if not ‘violent’ forms contrary to human reason and virtues, hence our need for humane normative psychological, moral, and aesthetic evaluative criteria for these arts). Ritual combat may partake of music or dance, but it is the violent substance of the match itself which defines essence of this cruel spectacle, in other words, it “is an event that necessarily subsumes both boxers, as any ceremony subsumes its participants” (Oates), for its violence is no longer the individual property or under the sovereign control—as Sartre informs us—of the boxers themselves. Finally, and rightly, Oates cannot but fail to appreciate that the individual life history of exceptional boxers is conspicuously “emblematic of much more than their individual lives,” she remains fascinated by “their relationship with the politics and culture of their eras, their role in the ongoing ‘racial drama’ of America,’” a reminder, with Sartre, that boxing is much more than “a unique, closed, self-referential world.”
Images (from top to bottom): Jack Johnson, Rocky Marciano, and Muhammad Ali.
Secure in their own wealth and retirement income, some of the nation’s chief executive officers are now calling for cuts in Social Security.
Scott Klinger for the Los Angeles Times (December 1, 2013)
“Many of the nation’ top CEOs have joined forces to ‘fix the debt.’ They want to achieve this goal, in part, by reducing Social Security benefits and raising the retirement age to 70.
One of the chief executive officers, David Cote, runs Honeywell. ‘As an American, I couldn’t know about this problem and not try to do something about it,’ Cote told Wall Street Journal TV. Cote has $134 million in his Honeywell retirement account, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and he has worked there only 11 years. That amount could provide him a monthly retirement check of $795,134 once he turns 65. The Social Security retirees whose checks he wants to reduce receive, on average, $1,237 a month.
Cote is not alone among those with lavish private retirement benefits to be calling for major cuts in Social Security. He is one of 200 large-company CEOs who belong to the Business Roundtable, a powerful lobbying club that represents the interests of America’s corporate leaders. Roundtable is a leading voice calling for replacing the current formula used to calculate Social Security cost-of-living increases with a less generous one. The change it suggests would steadily chip away at retiree benefits each year until, after 20 years, Social Security checks would be about $100 less than if the current formula was retained.
The Business Roundtable also advocates raising the retirement age to receive full Social Security benefits to 70, which would give the U.S. the dubious distinction of requiring workers to wait longer than any other developed nation to receive their public pensions.
Like Cote, many of the CEOs on the Business Roundtable have corporate retirement benefits that ordinary Americans would find unimaginable: an average of $14.5 million, enough to garner monthly retirement checks of $86,043, according to a new report, ‘Platinum-Plated Pensions,’ published by the Center for Effective Government and the Institute for Policy Studies.
The report examines America’s growing retirement crisis. CEOs’ decisions to cut their workers’ pensions have played a direct role in this crisis. In 1980, 89% of America’s largest corporations offered their workers a defined-benefit pension that reliably delivered monthly pension checks to retirees. Today, only 11% of these firms offer pensions. Most have switched workers to riskier 401(k) plans, which generate huge fees for Wall Street — and the prospect of an uncertain retirement for most employees.
The elimination of so many corporate pensions has left Americans more dependent on Social Security. More than a third of all Americans over age 65 receive 90% or more of their monthly income from Social Security, and that’s in an era when many retirees still draw pension benefits. Six million Americans over the age of 65 currently live beneath the poverty line, with 2 million more expected to join them by 2020. Cutting Social Security benefits would make things worse.” [….] Read the rest of the article here.
Buddhism is generally seen as associated with non-violence and peace. These are certainly both strongly represented in its value system. This does not mean, though, that Buddhists have always been peaceful. Buddhist countries have had their fair share of war and conflict, for most of the reasons that wars have occurred elsewhere. Yet it is difficult to find any Buddhist rationales for violence, and Buddhism has some particularly rich resources for use in dissolving conflict. Overall, it can be observed that Buddhism has had a general humanizing effect throughout much of Asia. It has tempered the excesses of rulers and martial people, helped large empires (for example, China) to exist without much internal conflict, and rarely, if at all, incited wars against non-Buddhists. Moreover, in the midst of wars, Buddhist monasteries have often been havens of peace.—Peter Harvey
Inspired by a post by Kenan Malik, “Buddhist Pogroms and Religious Conflicts,” I’ve assembled a small list of titles (below) that treat the topic of Buddhists resorting to violence in the context of social and political conflicts, especially Buddhists whose individual and collective identity has become entangled if not fused with nationalism. Malik begins his piece with the dire situation of the Myanmar’s (Burma’s) Rohingya:
“The Rohingya are Muslims who live mostly in Rakhine, in the north west of the country, bordering Bangladesh. Early Muslim settlements date back to the 7th century. Today, in a nation that is 90 per cent Buddhist, there are some 8 million Muslims of which probably a quarter are Rohingya. Many feel they are fighting for their very existence.
The military junta that came to power in Myanmar in 1962 (or Burma as it was then) has, over the past half century, sought to build popular support for its rule by fomenting hatred against minority groups. The Rohingya have been stripped of citizenship and officially declared foreigners in their native land. Restrictions have been placed on the Rohingya owning land, travelling outside their villages, receiving an education and having children.
The recent successes of the democracy movement has paradoxically only worsened the problems of the Rohingya. The junta, still clinging to power, has sharpened its anti-Rohingya rhetoric in an attempt to bolster its position. The democracy movement has refused to support the Rohingya for fear of alienating its largely Buddhist constituency. The leader of the democracy movement, the Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has been shamefully silent. When asked to condemn violence against the Rohingya, the furthest she has been willing to go is to condemn violence in general. Many members of her National League for Democracy are openly involved in extremist anti-Rohingya organizations.
The result has been over the past year an unprecedented series of pogroms against the Rohingya. Villages, schools, workplaces and mosques have been attacked and torched by Buddhist mobs, often aided by the security forces. Hundreds of Rohingya have been killed and some 140,000 left homeless.
The anti-Muslim campaign has been led by monks who justify their actions as in keeping with the demands of Buddhism. The principal anti-Rohingya organization, the 969 movement, takes its name from the traditional nine qualities of Buddha, six qualities of his teachings and nine qualities of the monks. Its leader, a monk named Wirathu, has reportedly called himself the ‘Burmese bin Laden.’ Muslims, he insists, ‘breed quickly and they are very violent and they eat their own kind.’ Because ‘the Burmese people and the Buddhists are devoured every day, the national religion needs to be protected.’ Another prominent 969 monk, Wimala Biwuntha, insists that without the anti-Royhinga campaign ‘we’ll lose our religion and our race.’ Myanmar’s minister of religious affairs, Sann Sint, has backed the anti-Rohingya campaign.”
Malik also introduces us to the historic mobilization of Buddhist chauvinism against the Tamils in Sri Lanka, with the end of the war against the Tamils finding that chauvinism now directed at Muslims!
One of Malik’s conclusions is especially important, having implications beyond Buddhism. He argues that despite the prominent role of religious identity as an important variable in these violent conflicts,
“it would be as wrong to see many, perhaps most, of these conflicts as purely religious confrontations as it would be to see the anti-Rohingya pogroms as a religious war. Many have, like the confrontations in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, complex social and political roots, as groups vying for political power have exploited religion and religious identities to gain support. The importance of religion in these conflicts is often less in creating the tensions than in helping establish the chauvinist identities through which certain groups are demonized and one’s own actions justified.”
It is no doubt true that many “New Age,” “liberal,” and even “secular” Buddhists have romanticized and idealized Buddhism generally, succumbing to Orientalist illusions (most vividly perhaps in the case of Tibetan Buddhism) or fantasies that prevent them from coming to grips with the darker realities of “Buddhism on the ground” in countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. I suppose we might find some consolation in the fact that Buddhist groups and organizations like the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and the International Network of Engaged Buddhists have taken on the task of educating themselves and others about the Buddhist resort to violence in the contemporary world.
Violent Buddhists: A Select Bibliography
On the “Joint Plan of Action” agreement just reached between Iran and the P5+1,* please see this Arms Control Law blog post by Dan Joyner. Be sure to read the important material contained in the many links (including the text of the agreement) as well.
*The P5+1 is a group of six world powers which in 2006 joined the diplomatic efforts with Iran with regard to its nuclear program. The term refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely, the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France, plus Germany.