Archives for posts with tag: politics

Yesterday, 1/20/1917, Donald John Trump succeeded Barack Hussein Obama in a patriotic ceremony the tone of which struck me as diametrically opposed to the one of 8 years ago. The Capitol was wrapped in huge flags, Lee Greenwood brought the house down, and tears to the eyes of many; the inaugural speech was unabashedly jingoistic. In 2009 it was more of a celebration: history was being made, opening the doors for a new era of hope, tolerance and conviviality. The reality on the ground now is obviously not what was anticipated then. Something went wrong. Polls show that we have never been more divided, the vast majority of us thinking that the country is going in the wrong direction.

Mistrust and intolerance have shockingly multiplied. I do not recall rioting in the streets of Washington on inauguration day, ever. Hillary Clinton diagnosed the problem as being due to large swaths of irredeemable deplorables lurking in dark corners of civil society. These mostly uneducated white men, she said, were vehicles of hate and bigotry that need to be eliminated through better controls and regulation. There would be a federal solution for that! Trump effectively railed about stupid, self-serving, corrupt politicians and the crooked news media.

Reality does not comport with these hyper-simplistic formulations:

  1. Some/many of us tend to think that we have a complete understanding of culture and that everyone could do this. Wrong! All human beings have a very restricted and unique perspective that is determined largely by their personal, family and social history. Culture also has very many diverse critical components that most of us do not know about, much less understand: education, society, money, economics, health, science, work, law, art, religion etc., etc.
  2. Very important, many aspects of culture itself are riddled with unrecognized confusions and misconceptions.
  3. We tend to think that we understand our own minds. We assume that we are clear, in our own minds, about our understandings,  personal needs, desires and intentions. We think we know what we like and dislike, or the limits of what we will do or not. No doubt some of us are more in touch with ourselves than others, but none of us understand much about the emotions and prejudices that drive us from moment to moment. Almost daily, new scientific information is reported that indicates that consciousness is produced by exquisite systems that monitor events throughout the body, events that we are completely unaware of. There is also wide variation in the structure of our bodies, so I am really a black box unto myself.
  4. We also assume that we have a good understanding of what goes on in the minds of others – “most people are generally like me”. Wrong! The behavior of large swaths of irredeemable deplorables should permanently put this self delusion to rest. Our understandings, values, attitudes and assumptions vary greatly. There is, in fact, a dynamic interplay between our bodies, culture and mind, rendering who we are as individuals completely unpredictable.
  5. The sources of public information appear to be unable to provide impartial, accurate and comprehensive reports. There is much personal bias injected and the various power centers appear to resort to censorship and propaganda. Leakers, whistleblowers, Russian hackers and others have exposed deficiencies and vulnerabilities.

We live in the oldest democracy and many would argue that we have been the most successful. But the world is changing rapidly and we must adapt. As society becomes more complex, the interdependence of individuals is heightened. Our success or failure would depend on the efforts of each individual, trying to be the best that they can be, no matter what the area of their engagement. [Of course, how such a more perfect union would be structured is the million dollar question.]

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Latest Headline: DISCOVERY!! Black People are Humans!

The notion that black people are humans is a relatively new discovery in the modern West. The idea of black equality in beauty, culture, and intellectual capacity remains problematic and controversial within prestigious halls of learning and sophisticated intellectual circles. The Afro-American encounter with the modern world has been shaped first and foremost by the doctrine of white supremacy, …”

– Cornel West.

West’s main thesis:

…“I shall argue that the initial structure of modern discourse in the West “secretes” the idea of white supremacy…” It is “a particular logical consequence of the quest for truth and knowledge in the West. To put it crudely, my argument is that the authority of science, undergirded by a modern philosophical discourse guided by Greek ocular metaphors and Cartesian notions, promotes and encourages the activities of observing, comparing, measuring, and ordering the physical characteristics of human bodies.”

In conclusion:

… “The idea of white supremacy is a major bowel unleashed by the structure of modern discourse, a significant secretion generated from the creative fusion of scientific investigation, Cartesian philosophy, and classical aesthetic and cultural norms. Needless to say, the odor of this bowel and the fumes of this secretion continue to pollute the air of our post-modern times.”

– A Genealogy of Modern Racism. Race Critical Theories. Blackwell

Actually, the body of the chapter is a clear, entertaining, even brilliant, survey, from a postmodernist perspective, of a very small part of the cultural events of the enlightenment, from the 17th to early 19th centuries. The ignorance of the Europeans regarding the differences amongst members of Homo sapiens sapiens was almost total, in retrospect, but the consequences have been, and still are, tragic – a true holocaust. My question is, could the outcome have been different? Would it be reasonable to expect now that the Europeans should have, or could have, known better then? West blames the European (white?) interest in knowledge and truth which seems like a complete contradiction. Due to the successes of science we now know and partially understand our similarities and differences down to the level of molecules. The concept of ‘race’ may, in fact, be a fiction, not real! We should rather be talking about ethnic and cultural differences.

Of course, the whole point of Critical Theory, is to understand the world fully in order to change it. With regard to change, it seems that West’s only strategy is to make inflammatory and provocative statements. There is no unifying theory, but, in fairness to West, hidden amongst all the intellectual and rhetorical flourishes, are carefully crafted disclaimers: his genealogical approach “does not purport to be an explanation of the rise of modern racism, but rather a theoretical inquiry into a particular neglected variable, i.e. the discursive factor, within a larger explanatory model.” West, after all, is a public intellectual, i.e. a politician.

But West is correct, we are now living in a ‘post-modernist era’ – in fact, we will always be in a post-yesterday era. We always deal with problems as they exist in the present, whether we want to or not. So, his inquiry into the past does suggest a few clues. But they must be heeded with great caution since it may be even more difficult to make sense of the past than of the present. At least we have a fairly direct view of the here and now, albeit a minute slice. We have no choice, we must consult history and each other, but judiciously!

My small charitable contribution to the conversation on ethnic and cultural differences is to say that there is hope. I am sure we are learning to trust each other, to listen and to disagree, respectfully and peacefully. Angry voices will be heard, ‘non-discursively’ in the street – it is their desperate way of demanding rightful attention. Most importantly, we should try to accelerate the evolutionary changes that are needed. This is probably where I have a philosophic disagreement with Prof. West: a revolutionary way of modeling the problem would be self-destructive. Evolution unaided might be too slow a process, especially since large numbers of Americans still do not even believe that evolution is real.

“You can’t talk about wealth and inequality, you can’t talk about education, you can’t talk about massive unemployment and under employment and you can’t talk about drones being dropped on people in other parts of the world without talking about white supremacy and its ways in which it operates. It doesn’t have to be overt. The president is right about that.

But too many black people are niggerized. I would say the first black president has become the first niggerized black president…. afraid and scared and intimidated when it comes to putting a spotlight on white supremacy and fighting against white supremacy.

… Thank God for Ferguson. Thank God for the young folk of all colors. Thank God for Staten Island and fighting there. Thank God in Baltimore, now the precious folk in Charleston.”

– Cornel West, Professor of Philosophy, Union Theological Seminary and highly visible spokesman equating white supremacy and racism with most of the social evils of this world.

In the days when words had a fairly specific meaning we would have concluded that Cornel West is saying that racist supremacist ideologies of caucasians were directly responsible for our social, moral, spiritual and emotional ills.

Of course, anyone espousing such supremacist views are nowadays dismissed as kooky, but, according to Cornel, this white racist ideology of supremacism is now operating subliminally having been incorporated and institutionalized throughout history, in Western language and behavior. We are surrounded and suffused by institutional evil.

This sounds vaguely reasonable and fits in with the utterly modern fad of talking in circles: postmodernism and posthumanism. Narrative and history is dead; the only reason to study these is to identify and then reject the tenets of their source, the enlightenment. Unfortunately, like all revolutionary movements, there is rarely a clear idea of what the future will bring. Destruction of the present order (of injustice, inequality, oppression, exploitation or immorality) is the one unifying goal, what to do after will be figured out later.

Cornel West’s attempt at being politically relevant highlights the problem. The personal insights of one man, no matter how deeply felt, are just that – even if religiously inspired. One man’s opinion, by necessity, will be profoundly incomplete and, therefore, inevitably flawed. Invoking white racism ignores the fact that racism is universal. The real ‘problem’ is the perception of ‘white’ power, but that seems to be waning as democracy haltingly spreads around the globe. Victimhood is a far more interesting political story.

JIHADI JOHN – A BRAND. Prospect Magazine

Majeed Nawaz is the latest darling of the media looking for a reasonable, liberal Muslim:

“Tackling the real issue requires fundamental societal changes to dissipate the extremist Islamist ideology that underpins the brand of Jihadi John, and the circumstances that allow radicalisation of young Muslims to happen in the first place. This needs to happen more urgently than ever, with methods such as internet recruiting of Jihadists making young people easier to access than ever with extremist messages. In a survey conducted by the BBC yesterday, an alarming 11 per cent of British Muslims are reported to feel sympathy for people who want to fight against Western interests.”

His argument is of a type made by all Muslim apologists, and many others, in my experience. These apologists claim that the fundamental problem is not in the foundations of Islam. Rather, it is fundamentally a problem of attitudes and behaviors in Western society: prejudice, discrimination, exploitation, corruption.

This argument is wrong and encourages fundamentalist Islamists.

All faiths have an element of dogma. We BELIEVE this to be TRUE, therefore I shall do thus….  The problem with religions is that they easily conclude that their particular religion is true AND that all else is false. The faith part is underplayed or even eliminated. An article of faith and hope thus transmutes into an unquestionably TRUE statement. All kinds of irrational behavior ensue from such a delusion.

Islam seems to be the most dogmatic of all large religions. Dogmas, however, are part of everyone’s belief system – atheist, agnostic, etc. – and could thus motivate immature or deficient minds of any stripe to do all sorts of horrible things. (E.g. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc, etc.) Dogmas should continuously be, but rarely are, subject to review, revision and clarification. Dogmas are the axioms by which we guide ourselves and so most of us are unwilling to question the very foundations of our existence.

Islam is going through some very ugly convulsions now. Its foundational texts are so problematical that a full discussion of faith has not yet occurred. Heads are literally rolling as we speak!