How do we describe a sociopath? It is someone who has no regard for the well-being of others. Someone who looks only to his own needs and treats other people as mere instrumentalities, as means to achieving personal gratification. It is someone who acts with cold calculation. Someone who is entirely lacking in remorse. Someone who can kill and think nothing more of it than the best means of disposing of the evidence.
Compare this understanding of the sociopath with the comments of Oscar Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga at a conference I was privileged to attend at the headquarters of Bread For the World this past June 3rd. I paraphrase the Cardinal's comments: "This economy kills." "The poor are superfluous." "What we are faced with is a phenomenon that is different than marginalization. At least when a person is marginalized, there is a place for that person, on the fringes. This economy excludes. And exclusion brings death." "We are not made for the market. The market is made for us. Thus, the market must become a humane market."
As I indicated, this is a paraphrase, but I think a fairly close one. The Cardinal posed a challenge: How do we make a more humane market? There are many things we might do to begin to reintroduce Christian principles to the marketplace. I might suggest three ideas to start the conversation.
First: Catholics -- and all Christians and persons of good will -- must take the principle of the living wage to be a non-negotiable right. Pope Leo XIII said as much in his encyclical Rerum Novarum, where he taught that all workers were entitled to wages sufficient to support a family.
The great Catholic economist Msgr. John A. Ryan developed this point in his book, "A Living Wage: Its Ethical and Economic Aspects" (1912). A living wage, he persuasively argued, is a natural right. It is absolute. It is a right that arises from the sacredness of the person. Every human being is entitled to be a fully integrated member of society. And this is only possible where people can support themselves, as well as dependents such as children or elderly relatives.
Ryan does not advocate a general leveling of wages. He understood that there will always be wage differentials and that such differences are not in themselves wicked. But where a plutocracy aggregates to itself an ever-increasing share of wealth at the expense of the vast mass of the working poor, then that system is unjust.
At a bare minimum, we must support the campaign to raise the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour. This campaign has already succeeded in some localities. Seattle just days ago raised its minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour, but the phase-in provision (permitting businesses that employee fewer than 500 workers up to seven years to comply) dilutes its effectiveness. Even so, this is an important victory, and Christians should bring this campaign to other cities.
Second: We must re-legitimize trade unions. Catholics especially have a long and honorable history of supporting unions. John McGreevy, the Catholic historian, has documented the depth of this involvement. (See "Catholicism and American Freedom: A History," 2012). According to McGreevy, "priests across the country spent the 1930's encouraging their parishioners to join unions." (p. 163). Archbishop Edward Mooney of Detroit even argued that Catholic laborers had an affirmative duty to organize.
In today's economic environment, we need a revival of trade unionism. A robust trade-union movement must be premised on recognition of the right that all persons have to come together for economic purposes. If the interests of capital have the right and privilege of organizing and pooling resources, then so too do workers.
In truth, unions and corporations ought to share the same set of rights and privileges under the law. Today, all power flows to capital. In the nineteenth century, corporations were strictly limited entities. They were bound by their charters to fulfill certain public purposes and would be punished for failure. Today such language is considered antiquated.
Corporations today exist for the purpose of making money for their shareholders. At the same time, they enjoy limited liability. Shareholders are immunized from virtually all risk of loss. Thanks to a category error committed by the John Roberts Supreme Court (in which the Court mistook the fictitious, limited legal personality of a corporation for a real human being) corporations enjoy political rights that would have been unthinkable a century ago. We may soon learn whether for-profit business corporations even have a right to their own religion.
We need an equal playing field, and unions have proven historically to have been an effective means of achieving this end. Today, there is a nascent trade union movement organizing especially in immigrant communities. Led by forceful personalities like the Catholic protege of Cesar Chavez, Maria Elena Durazo, this movement deserves the support of all Christians and persons of good will.
Third: We must reinvigorate the traditional Catholic conception of the state. The medieval philosophers and canon lawyers well appreciated that the state was a natural extension of human sociability and the means by which we achieved a measure of justice in the temporal sphere. The Second Vatican Council ratified this understanding of the state when it declared that the state is the means by which we effectuate "the common good." It is the instrument by which "individuals, families, and organizations . . . achieve complete and efficacious fulfillment."
This insight returns us to the sociopathic economy. The forces of money and capital are not natural phenomena. They are not the winds and the tides. The sociopathic market has assumed the shape it has because we have allowed the legal system to become skewed in its favor. A reinvigorated state would bring to bear in the regulation of the marketplace a set of humane values. It would rebalance the marketplace so as to fairly serve the interests not of capital alone, but of all employees and all interested human beings.
When I read Timothy Cardinal Dolan's essay in the Wall Street Journal, in which he asserted that "the answer to problems with the free market is not to reject economic liberty in favor of government control" I can only say, with all due respect, that he misunderstands Church teaching on both economics and the role of the state. For millions of American workers, trapped in a world of wage theft and poverty conditions, the economy is not free. And the government is not the problem, as the libertarian right wing would have it, but the instrument Catholics have traditionally relied on to remedy such afflictions.
Paul Raushenbush is right. Religious progressivism is probably the most exciting and most significant religious movement in much of today's world. Certainly, the religious right is a discredited shell of its former self. And the most important task confronting religious progressives is to subdue "the economy that kills."
Marc DeGirolami, a distinguished law and religion scholar at St. John’s co-hosts an important law and religion blog clrforum.org with his outstanding colleague Mark Movsesian, and he recently posted an intriguing short essay (http://clrforum.org/2014/06/05/olivier-roy-on-the-closing-of-the-rights-mind/) part of which I strongly disagree. In that post, he calls attention to a New York Times column by Oliver Roy. The essence of the column is that the Christian parties of the right in Europe have secularized and have lost contact with Christian values. At the same time the right is claiming that Europe is Christian – meaning anti-Islam. In the end, the Right’s formal embrace of Christianity gives a blasphemous cover for discrimination.
What aroused my disagreement was DeGirolami’s criticism of Oliver’s column, namely its embrace of the notion of separating church from state. DeGirolami contends that this separation theme has not only been rejected by the current Supreme Court (it has), but also rested on assumptions that were foreign to the European experience: “The notion that the association of politics and religion exerts a corrupting influence on religion may be traced in a direct line from James Madison all the way to David Souter’s church-state dissents. I take it that has not been the European historical experience.”
To be sure, this undeveloped claim appears in a short post. In a way though, this claim is consistent with DeGirolami’s sophisticated commitment to a Burkean respect for the long-standing customs, habits, and traditions of a society. And in fairness, I am sure that DeGirolami would not suggest that such corruption is no part of the European experience. Nonetheless, I think his claim is wide of the mark.
To begin with, Madison’s claim that supported churches become dependent, compliant, lazy, bloated, and corrupt was itself a reflection on the European experience, and criticism of clergy and church corruption was a recurring theme leading up to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. When churches are tied to unpopular and dictatorial governments, there is good reason to regard those ties as corrupt, to doubt their commitment to moral values and to think that these ties erode support for the churches in question. So it seems obvious, as Jose Casanova has detailed, that the Catholic Church did itself no favors when it supported or was perceived to support corrupt Kings of the past, or Franco, Salazar, Mussolini, and Vichy France. Similarly, the Church’s quiescence with respect to Hitler’s Germany undermined respect for the Church. At the same time, when the Church sided with the people against the Polish dictatorship and stood on the side of Irish nationalism, its unwillingness to be tied to the state was regarded as exhibiting strong moral leadership. That prophetic stance resonates even today though other factors have since undercut the moral force of the Church primarily in Ireland.
The factors leading to religiosity or its decline are complicated and controversial, and the decline in European religiosity is palpable. I would not contend that the close ties between religion and the state are the only explanation. After all, those ties persisted for a long time without a decline as DeGirolami observes. I would add that those ties can be helpful. The Church’s ties to Constantine surely enhanced its numbers despite the character of his dictatorship (though as Hauerwas has argued that partnership sapped the church of its prophetic character).
I admit the sociological complexities. But, with Casanova, I do think that various kinds of religious corruption have been a major part of the European experience.
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.”
In my last post, I argued that had the Supreme Court -- a la Justice Thomas's concurrence in the Town of Greece case -- never "incorporated" the Establishment Clause against the States, it might still have developed broadly similar limits on state authority by way of the Free Exercise Clause. (It might also have done so by way of Equal Protection or Due Process or otherwise, but I'm going to focus on Free Exercise here.)
I want here to suggest three observations -- not so much full-blown arguments as data points -- supporting that counterfactual conclusion.
Here, though, I just want to look at the first part of Justice Thomas's provocative dissent. Justice Thomas argues there that the Establishment Clause is "best understood as a federalism provision" denying Congress "any power to regulate state establishments" and, for that reason, should never have been "incorporated" via the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause to apply against the states it was originally meant to protect. Thus: "If the Establishment Clause is not incorporated, it has no application here [in a suit against the Town of Greece], where only municipal action is at issue." Case closed.
There are good reasons to doubt Justice Thomas's view that the Establishment Clause should never have been incorporated. But let's assume, just for the sake of argument, that he's right. Would that really be the end of the story? No.
Justice Thomas ignores two important, related, points.
The Isla Vista mass murder was a preventable tragedy. It was the destruction of innocent life without need or reason. It is proof, as if more proof were needed, that we are past the time to break the nexus between guns, murder, and mental illness. And we should do that by enacting rigorous new gun-control legislation that takes account of an individual's fitness to own lethal weapons in light of what we are learning about the human brain.
Our knowledge of the human brain is increasing exponentially. Consider just a few recent advances: The Human Connectome Project is in the process of mapping the brain. And the maps the Project is producing are not the rough, schematic sketches of just a few years ago but a detailed guide to "every twist and turn of the 86 billion neurons in the human brain." The mapping, it is suggested, will be helpful in diagnosing not only brain trauma, such as concussions or strokes, but a wide variety of psychiatric conditions "such as post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, and dementia."
Scientists are not yet able to read people's minds. Such a task involves multiple levels of consciousness and would be difficult to accomplish. On the other hand, neuroscientists have demonstrated the capacity to access the visual contents of dreams. And neurologists are also exploring ways in which deep brain stimulation can be used to relieve if not eliminate entirely the symptoms of major depressive disorder, Parkinson's disease, and even Alzheimer's.
"Can We Predict Crime Using Brain Scans?" So asked the headline of an article in Psychology Today, dated April 17, 2013. A neuroscientist from the University of New Mexico conducted brain scans of 96 convicted felons about to be released from prison. The scans focused on identifying neurological signatures of the convicts' impulsiveness, since it is known that poor impulse control lies at the root of many types of crime. The scans revealed that telltale markers in the anterior cingulate cortex correlated with poor impulse control and high recidivism rates. Indeed, "the level of brain activation predicted how long it would take before the person committed the [next] crime."
Brain science, in other words, has advanced to the point where we can see into the brain, alleviate the symptoms of mental illness, and even make credible predictions about future misconduct.
Now, what do we know about Elliot Rodger? We know that he displayed psychological difficulties from an early time in his life. He was in therapy, it seems from the age of 8 or 9. He found it difficult to interact with other people and displayed aloofness.
These difficulties only intensified as Elliot entered adolescence. He informed all who would listen to him of his perceived problems in attracting women. Elliot, however, was not experiencing normal teenaged social anxiety but was instead slipping free of the bonds of reality. His problem was not awkwardness or clumsy interpersonal skills. It was a thought disorder that led to grandiose views of what he was entitled to and a deep sense of grievance that he was somehow being deprived of his birthright.
Much has been said about the Isla Vista massacre as a crime of privilege. And I think that there is much truth in these observations. Elliot Rodger absorbed misogynistic and racist attitudes from the ambient culture, and he expressed these repugnant thoughts in Web postings and videos. He enjoyed all the privileges of wealth. On the night of the murders, he was driving a BMW that was a gift from his father. It seems that he saw women as the one material possession he could not have, and he felt deprived. The imaginings of his mind, in other words, were fueled by an unrestrained sense of entitlement.
His parents and therapists came to understand the dark and dangerous turns he was making in the way he viewed the world. He posted threatening videos. His parents contacted the police, requesting that they intervene. The police arrived at young Elliot's door, asked a few polite and deferential questions, and closed the investigation.
The police, it seems, never bothered to inquire about whether Elliot had any weapons. Elliot, however, acknowledged in his own writings that had the police sought weapons, it would have been all over for him. The larger question thus presents itself: How in the world did such a disturbed young man come to own an arsenal of deadly weapons?
Elliot, indeed, had equipped himself with the best weapons money could buy -- handguns retailing in excess of $1,000 a piece. And this gets us to the question of guns. Elliot had never crossed the threshold that would have prevented him from buying or owning guns. Had he made a credible "threat of violence against specific, identifiable victims to a psychiatrist, the psychiatrist would have been required to report it to law enforcement, and Rodger could have been banned from owning guns for five years." Elliot, however, had merely made non-specific threats. This was not enough to take his guns away.
This is an outrageous state of affairs. We must get serious about guns. Guns are not playthings. They are not ornaments. They are lethal weapons. The whole point and purpose of a firearm is to put holes in objects -- including living human beings.
We need to shift the presumption about gun ownership in this country away from a rights-based perspective. Gun ownership must be premised on responsibility. And we can draw on brain science as a means of determining fitness to own a gun. Can someone control his or her impulses? Do they have violent tendencies? If they do, they should not own a gun.
Sorry, gun ownership should not be the universal right and privilege of every so-called red-blooded American. The presumption should always favor public safety, and that means keeping guns out of the hands of people who may abuse them. With rational gun control laws tied to what science can tell us about human behavior, we might hope to put a limit to the senseless, needless tragedy of gun violence.
Those who study free speech are well aware that in the clash of privacy and free speech interests, the U.S. as a general part of free speech idolatry of free speech routinely permits the public disclosure of embarrassing details of a person’s private life. Thus the sex lives of public persons are open season along with the details of their health and finances. Those newspapers publishing the names of rape victims have been constitutionally protected. Although the Court has left open the possibility that it might not be permissible in some circumstance to publish the names of such victims, newspaper editors can breathe easy. Conservatives and liberals both engage in free speech worship when privacy rights are at stake.
Europe, on the other hand, is far more sensitive to the dignity of human beings even famous human beings, and their right to privacy. So, for example, when a British paper published a photograph showing Naomi Campbell emerging from a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous, the House of Lords found that the paper had impermissibly invaded her privacy. The press was free to report that she had a cocaine problem (only because she had said she was not like other models who took drugs), but the report of her involvement in Narcotics Anonymous was beyond the pale. The Campbell case is not an aberration in Europe. It is typical, and the privacy right has even deeper roots in France and Germany than it does in England.
My strong view is that the European approach is superior to the U.S. which elevates the interests of a voyeuristic culture over human dignity. But I must say that the relatively recent development of the “right to be forgotten” strikes me as stepping over the edge. The right began with the notion that a person who puts up a photograph on Facebook and regrets it should have a right to have it removed from his own page and to the pages of others who shared it. The latter is more controversial than the former, but the right has gone much further.
In a recent case the European Court of Justice ruled that a plaintiff had a right to compel Google Spain to remove from the list of links found in a search for the plaintiff’s name a link to an online newspaper story referring to an auction selling materials of the plaintiff because of his failure to pay debts some 16 years ago. The problem for me is not the result, but the sweeping character of the right in which the result is embedded, at least without appropriate procedural protections. Essentially persons have a right to removal of a link if it is false, or not up to date, or if the privacy concern is not outweighed by Google’s economic interest and the public interest in having it on the list. The vagueness of the general right is palpable.
I think, however, that this concern could be mitigated by providing for a hearing officer to adjudicate complaints when Google does not remove links that unnecessarily invade privacy. Google searches provide revealing glimpses into an individual’s private life. Europe rightly supposes that there should be protection for the privacy rights of individuals. Free speech cheerleaders may scoff at this. But Google is not a newspaper; it assembles data. Google should not have unqualified power to determine what it will or will not remove. But Google should not have to guess at its peril what counts as privacy in a balance. A reasonable procedure should be in place to afford an aggrieved a remedy when Google is intransigent, but Google should be able to rely on that procedure as dispositive.
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).”
This graduation season was marked by criticism of the selection of speakers at many colleges. This is not unusual. What seemed more pronounced in this cycle was the ferocity of the response. Most shocking to me was the response of Stephen Carter, a Yale Law professor, who used a hypothetical graduation podium to present a bombastic, sarcastic diatribe in which he berated the graduates for censorship, lack of reflection, and intolerance. http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-05-15/dear-class-of-2014-thanks-for-not-disinviting-me. Similarly, Damon Linker complains of the lazy moralism of academia and regards the objections to the selection of Condoleezza Rice on the ground that she approved of torture as “academic moral grandstanding.” http://theweek.com/article/index/261515/the-lazy-moralism-of-liberal-college-politics. Whatever the merits of the policies embraced by Rice, Linker opines that speakers like her should not be “excommunicated, ignored, or banished from public life” (as if criticism of her selection banished her from public life).
One of the common themes of these essays is that the protests against Rice and others betrays the university’s commitment to free and open debate.
I leave to the side the more bizarre of these complaints. Criticism of the selection of graduation speakers is itself free speech, not censorship. The complaint that protests about speakers like Rice lack reflection or involve moral grandstanding say more about Carter and Linker than they do about those they protest. Characterizing those who object to the honoring of a supporter of torture through the invitation of speaking at a graduation as involved in moral grandstanding leaves one to wonder whether the moral compass of Carter and Linker took the day off.
Most problematic is the assumption of Carter and Linker that graduation speeches are no different from the day to day open debate that flourishes in a university. A graduation is a day of celebration for the graduates. It is a day for looking back at the past and being inspired for the future. It demands so far as possible the presence of a speaker that all can embrace.
You might think from this that I do not think partisan politicians should be invited to speak at graduations, and you would be exactly right. If they are invited, they should be cautioned to be sensitive to the pluralism of views held by the graduates.
I am proud of the fact that I have been twice selected by students to speak at law school graduations. I am well aware that my views of law and politics are well to the left of the graduates I would ever address. On those two occasions, it did not occur to me to press my controversial views on the graduates (though it seemed inappropriate to hide those views from my students during classroom debates and discussions).
Graduation day is not a day for political debate. The graduates can be called upon to reflect on their past and future without the selection of polarizing speakers. The selection of high profile politicians may draw headlines for universities; sometimes those selections curry political favor; they may please many of the graduates; but they do not honor the diversity of the students who graduate.
“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
A local paper asked me to write an Op-Ed on the Town of Greece prayer case, but -- with grading and other end-of-semester business in the way -- I got it done too late for them to publish. So here it is:
We live in fractious times. Politics, law, religion, have all turned into bitter battlegrounds. Combine the three and all hell, so to speak, breaks loose.
Reaction to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway is a good example. In that case, the Court again upheld the constitutionality of official prayers at the start of legislative sessions, explicitly including (as had not been clear before) meetings of town councils. And it rejected the argument that the specific pattern of prayer in Greece, New York, was too narrow and sectarian. Partisans on one side cheered the Court for upholding tradition and national reverence. And partisans on the other side accused it of tolerating Christian hegemony. (Full disclosure: I clerked for Justice William Brennan, Jr. in 1983, when he dissented from the original decision in Marsh v. Chambers allowing official invocations in state legislatures.)
My take on the problem is different. The Court was wrong to allow official legislative prayer in the first place. But having allowed the practice, it was right not to try to force such prayer into a narrow, inoffensive, channel. Let me explain.
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)
The recent prayer case, Town of Greece v. Galloway, merits the abundant discussion it has received. I will settle for a few comments.
First, legislative prayer like “In God We Trust” on the coins and currency is an excellent example of how the role of history in constitutional interpretation causes our Constitution to fall short of the ideal. Prayers to the Almighty and the motto on the coins and currency discriminate against Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and agnostics. But the history and the continuing tradition supports the constitutionality of these practices. I wish we lived in a country with greater devotion to the principle of separating church from state, but we do not.
Second, although the motto of In God We Trust is constitutional, I think it plain that the motto In Christ We Trustwould not be constitutional because it is even less tolerant of our diversity. Although Town of Greece is a horror show, I do not think it changes this understanding. The Town of Greece allowed ministers from the town to lead its legislative proceedings in prayer, and those prayers were not only overwhelmingly Christian, but also quite frequently prayers that would divide one Christian from another. Justice Kennedy put his head in the sand and pretended that the Town of Greece by allowing for occasional prayers by non-Christians (after the law suit was filed – and then by less than a handful) was formally neutral and was, therefore, not endorsing Christianity. I suppose it is clear that if members of the public in addressing the legislature expressed their individual religious views, their expressions would not count as governmental establishment of religion. But a legislature needs to be held responsible for its actions. When government chooses to have ministers start its sessions with full knowledge of the religious content week after week after week, it is fatuous to suggest that government is not significantly involved in promulgating a sectarian religious message. This conclusion is fortified by the fact that the ministers could have been advised to give non-sectarian prayers. No case by case scrutiny of the prayers would have been necessary. The general admonition alone could have severed the link between the government’s invitation and any sectarian messages.
Third, even if Justice Kennedy is given a pass on his insensitive use of formal neutrality, his claim that the primary audience for the prayers was the legislature is downright disingenuous. As Justice Kagan observed, the prayers were delivered to the public with the ministers’ backs to the legislature! When Justice’s prevaricate about the facts, they manifest special disregard for the rule of law. They recognize that if the prayers are directed to the audience, the pressure to participate correspondingly grows.
Fourth, although many commentators have placed emphasis on the coercive effects of the prayers, I would argue that it is bad enough that our Constitution tolerates prayers to the Almighty (politics and religion are a bad mix, particularly because government tends to compromise religion), it is even worse for Our Constitution to tolerate government endorsement of more specific religious views. The more specific government endorsements are allowed to be, the greater the incursion upon religious equality. Moreover, government is not adept at theology. Constitutional toleration for government use of religion should be as narrow as possible.
Finally, Town of Greece is part and parcel of a Court majority that supports the rich (consider its business and political finance decisions) and seems to do its level best to maintain the authority of often unjust hierarchies (consider its dealings, not only with race, but also its generalized support for police authority and its upholding of the suppression of the free speech of students, employees, and prisoners). The pattern of too many Court decisions is susceptible to the reading that white male conservative Christian rich guys are the real Americans, Americans who deserve special judicial manipulation and protection. The Court is holding on to an old hierarchy. Its days are numbered.
Ron Collins threw some tough questions my way in an interview about my First Amendment views. Here's the link. http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2014/05/fac-4-first-amendment-conversations-steve-shiffrin-the-dissenter-at-the-first-amendment-table.html
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.”
Our Twitter Pope, Pope Francis, tweeted a message a week or so ago that seems to summarize so much about his papacy: "Inequality," he taught his tens of thousands of followers, "is the root of social evil."
And this was merely the opening act. He followed this message up with an urgent call for the "legitimate redistribution" of wealth to benefit the world's destitute.
These teachings are in accord with the lesson Pope Francis has been delivering since that day in March, 2013, when he chose the name Francis. "Don't forget the poor." On the day of his election, Pope Francis recalled, his good friend the Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes spoke to him in those very words. And it is clear that Pope Francis has taken those words very much to heart.
The Pope's call for economic justice happily coincides with the publication of a new report, authored by E.J. Dionne, William Galston and others. Published by the Brookings Institution, the report ("Faith in Equality: Economic Justice and the Future of Religious Progressivism") recognizes that historically there has been a close relationship between progressive thought and the Church. Before the Civil War, in the early nineteenth century, it was progressive Protestants -- especially Quakers and Unitarians -- who raised high the banner of the anti-slavery movement.
For most of the twentieth century, from the early 1900s to the 1980s at least, American Catholics provided steady guidance and support for progressive causes. That pantheon of heroes included Msgr. John A. Ryan (1869-1945). He was a "Right Reverend New Dealer" according to his biographer. Msgr. Ryan popularized if he did not actually invent the term "living wage." He argued relentlessly over decades for the adoption of the minimum wage.
And then there is the saintly Dorothy Day (1897-1980). The co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, Day was responsible for consistently calling attention to the plight of America's neediest. Nor should we forget the bishops who in 1919 issued their "Proposal for Social Reconstruction." Among other policy recommendations, they urged the United States to adopt a program of "comprehensive ... insurance against illness, invalidity, unemployment and old age."
Catholics once broadly shared these progressive ideals. In 1948, the liberal candidate Harry Truman won 65 percent of the Catholic vote. And in 1964, Catholics gave the liberal Lyndon Johnson 78 percent of their vote in the year he signed landmark civil rights legislation and launched the War on Poverty.
The Dionne and Galston report celebrates this past, but also asks important questions about what happened to the once powerful alliance between Christians and progressives. They trace the splintering of this alliance to the 1980s and the rise of the religious right.
The religious right began as a reaction to the shifting sexual ethics of the 1970s. But the religious activists who aligned with the Republican Party in seeking the reversal of Roe v. Wade may have failed in that goal, but they nevertheless remained unshaken in their new political allegiance. They have now broadly accepted a right-wing agenda, including suspicion of the social programs once so widely supported by believers.
At the same time, Dionne and Galston poignantly note that the religious right gave rise to a reaction against its agenda. Americans have become more secular, at least partially because of what they see as the excessive judgmentalism and hypocrisy of the religious right. And this has paradoxically made it more difficult for religious progressives to find political refuge, since many in the Democratic Party, their ancestral home, now find all religious claims suspect.
Still, I find the Dionne and Galston report an important development in rebuilding the connections between religious progressives and electoral politics. Their suggestions, indeed, comport well with Catholic social thought. I'd like to identify three areas where Catholic thought could help support and sustain religious progressive ideals:
(1) Dionne and Galston call for greater attention to be paid to the poor. And this must always be the focus of progressive concerns. Jesus, after all, ministered first and foremost to the poor. But even while we never lose sight of the poorest among us, we should also broaden our vision to support the rights of labor.
This is in keeping with Catholic social thought. Pope Leo XIII in his famous encyclical Rerum Novarum (literally, "On Revolution"), condemned the mistreatment of the working classes. Thanks "to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition," Pope Leo lamented, workers have been forced to endure conditions "little better than that of slavery itself" (paragraph 3). Leo insisted that it was the solemn duty of Catholics to respect the rights of labor and alleviate these outrages.
Forty years later, in 1931, his successor, Pope Pius XI, seconded this clarion call by insisting on the adoption of comprehensive legal codes protecting and ensuring workers's rights: Society must adopt "laws [which] undertake the protection of life, health, strength, family, homes, workshops, wages, and labor hazards" (paragraph 20, Quadragesimo Anno).
Generations of religious progressives found inspiration in these paragraphs by Leo and Pius as they labored for the rights of the oppressed. We would do well to turn to them again.
(2) Dionne and Galston also cite the need for immigration reform. Millions of undocumented women and men, many who know no other home than the United States, inhabit a legal netherworld, where they are not only subject to economic exploitation but live in continuing fear of deportation. These hard-working, law-abiding people must be put on a path to citizenship. Reform is urgently needed.
Here, too, Catholic teaching provides valuable resources. St. John XXIII described immigrants as members of "the human family," men and women who enjoy "citizenship in that universal society, the common, world-wide fellowship" of persons. Pope Francis has lived out his pontificate with this admonition very much in mind. He has mourned the tragic loss of immigrant life and has asked wealthy societies to welcome these weary survivors into their midst.
Some members at least of the American Catholic hierarchy are taking these lessons to heart and all Catholics should do the same. The American economy would benefit, as would American society. And so would the millions of immigrants who now proudly call America home.
(3) Finally, Catholic social thought can help in yet another way: Catholicism has developed a deep and rich notion of the common good which all progressives might call upon. American political speech has been coarsened in recent decades by a debased Ayn Randian individualism. We inhabit a world in which the public financing of health care and education, for instance, are routinely denounced as "socialism."
This debasement of language by the right needs to be countered. And, again, we can turn to the words of that good and great Pope, St. John XXIII. The whole purpose of the State, he wrote "is the realization of the common good in the temporal order." And that must include protecting the rights and meeting the needs of "its weaker members."
Health care is a right. Education is a right. The vocabulary of Catholic social teaching permits us to make that case. A revitalization of the language of the common good would allow progressives -- whether secular or religious -- to confront the more noxious elements of Randian right-wing thought.
We seem to stand at the threshold of the re-invigorating of progressivism. This is true in the secular as well as the religious world. In the Vatican, there is a Pope who now gives voice to the principles of social justice. Young people seem more altruistic today than perhaps ever before. E.J. Dionne and William Galston may find the timing of their report propitious. I, for one, look forward to the rebirth of religious progressivism.
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).
Law schools have traditionally purported to teach students how to “think like lawyers” rather than relying on their intuitions. Monday, without having law schools in mind, the Wall Street Journal offered a number of observations that cast doubt on many beliefs that persist in American law schools. The most important was this pair of observations. The number of calculations that the conscious brain can work on at any one time is one, only one. The number of calculations that the unconscious parts of the brain can work on at any one time stretches into the billions.
This is not new, but many law school professors believe that their main job in the first year is to combat emotions (which are invariably preceded by cognition) and intuitions, by demanding conscious rational analytic thought. Don’t get me wrong. Conscious analytic thought is often indispensable. But it is not the main engine of legal analysis, and it is not the primary form of rational thought.
In law school classrooms, despite their assault on intuitions, professors daily challenge students to confront hypotheticals. The hypotheticals work because the unconscious brain tells us that the “rule” we thought was a sound formulation to explain one case does not work at all in other cases. Our unconscious mind gives us answers to the hypotheticals and we are left with the task of consciously formulating the rules with which our unconscious mind has been operating. It is mind numbing to suggest that students cast aside their intuitions.
There is little that is special about legal thinking except that it takes place in a particular community of discourse with particular conventions and a large body of rules. Learning law-speak is more like learning a foreign language than learning how to think. If thinking like a lawyer means squelching emotions and intuitions, law school should abandon the process of teaching students to think like lawyers. Instead, they should encourage students to think like human beings.
Santo subito! -- "Sainthood now!" That was the urgent plea of the crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square in April, 2005, as Pope John Paul II lay dying. If the crowd had had its way, he would have been proclaimed a saint the very moment he died. And in truth, the canonization process has been extremely brisk. John Paul II has been dead only nine years and the Church stands ready to canonize him on April 27.
The passage of years, however, has allowed for a more sober assessment of his pontificate. For sure, John Paul II did things that make him worthy of canonization. There is no question that he was a deeply prayerful man who authored profound reflections on the meaning of Jesus and his mission. He provided a great witness to courage, first when he was shot in May, 1981, and then, two decades later, as an elderly victim of Parkinson's. He rallied Poland and Eastern Europe in the Cold War. Where others might have been intemperate, his messages always encouraged resolute, peaceful, non-violent resistance.
Still, the perspective of time allows us to realize that his pontificate had the effect not of strengthening but rather of weakening the Church in a number of crucial respects. And we would be a friend to history -- and to the Church -- if we acknowledged these flaws, for they are not insignificant.
First, there was the priestly pedophilia crisis. It was in the middle 1980s when the public first began to get a sense of its enormity. In 1983, the national media highlighted the serial abuse committed by a priest of the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, Fr. Gilbert Gauthe. And two years later, in a report to the American Bishops' Conference, Fr. Thomas Doyle detailed the depth of the problem and predicted that the pedophilia crisis might be the largest disaster to confront the Church "in centuries."
Fr. Doyle was right of course. And a healthy Church would have responded with shock, yes, but then with a thorough house cleaning. Regrettably, it has been three decades and the house cleaning is still less than adequate. Why? There are many reasons, but one contributing factor was the culture of clericalism that came to dominate the Catholic hierarchy in the 1980s and 1990s.
Priests and bishops were said to be special, set apart for leadership in the Church. Bishops, in particular, came to see themselves not as men dedicated to service and compassion but as defenders of the Church against her enemies, including, to the Church's great shame, the victims of abuse. John Paul II set the tone for his bishops.
And the crisis worsened as he aged. Pontificating excuse-makers duly explained that he lacked the capacity to grasp its scale. In the Poland of his youth, his apologists recited, many priests faced trumped-up charges of child abuse and now the aged Pope could not accept that these charges were genuine. Both for the clericalism he promoted and the cognitive dissonance he could not overcome, John Paul II bears at least some of the responsibility for the crisis.
And among the worst cases of child abuse was that of Fr. Marcial Maciel. The Founder of the religious order, The Legion of Christ, Fr. Maciel enjoyed extraordinary favor all the while he preyed on his seminarians, victimizing dozens over his long reign of terror.He fathered children with various women on at least two continents, and even plagiarized his spiritual autobiography. A group of former seminarians attempted to inform the Vatican of their mistreatment in the 1990s, but were never given a hearing. All the while, John Paul II feted Fr. Maciel in Rome and praised him for his devotion to orthodoxy. The cleansing of this sordid mess fell to his successor, Pope Benedict XVI.
On a very different note, John Paul II was celebrated in his day for the ways in which he defined doctrine. The post-Vatican-II Church of the 1970s, it was said, had been too experimental. Scholars wrote about liberation theology. Church historians examined tradition in path-breaking ways. Priests explored a variety of ways of doing liturgy. Yes, there were excesses. Yes, there was naiveté, enough to go around, but there was also genuine excitement and real life to the Church.
John Paul II sought to curb this enthusiasm, mistaking exuberance for heterodoxy. He craved certainty even while despising intellectual diversity. The Catholic Church was one and should speak with a single voice. A generation of Catholic scholars, the best and brightest minds the Church had, were investigated and silenced by John Paul II's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. A trained theologian, he attempted to write into Catholic dogma many of his own propositions, thinking them to be universal truths.
Going forward, these efforts to create a comprehensive uniformity of doctrine may prove to be among the most unfortunate aspects of John Paul II's pontificate. Take, for example, his theology of the body, which he developed in a series of sermons in the early 1980s and which forms the basis of the sexual teachings found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992.
Assuming what he wished to prove, John Paul II used the creation account -- "male and female he created them" -- as justification for a sexual ethic that now urgently requires rethinking. In the Catechism, he described same-sex attraction as "objectively disordered" (para. 2358). Same-sex relationships, he said were incapable of "proceed[ing] from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity" and so "[u]nder no circumstances can they be approved" (para. 2357).
We know, of course, that same-sex attraction is part of the natural variability of human sexuality. We recognize from simply observing love-in-action that genuinely self-giving, life-promoting relationships are not only possible but common among gay people. Gay people love and live, hurt and heal in exactly the same ways as heterosexuals.
Catholic moral theology must come to understand these elementary human facts. I am confident that it will, since the Church's teaching is always finally dependent upon a proper anthropology of the human person.Doctrine does develop. But John Paul II's work has made that development a far more arduous task.
Beginning in the middle 1990s, John Paul enlisted as a full-fledged combatant in the culture war. And this long twilight struggle of his papacy led to a generation of Catholics coming of age who can only conceive of the Church as the guardian of orthodoxy in a hostile world. Their websites are prolific. They are hasty to denounce their foes, fast to pronounce anathema, and quick to read people out of the Church. They rush to defend the Church, but in their misguided zeal, they only weaken it.
John Paul II, in brief, inherited a Church that was intellectually supple and mentally vigorous. It was a Church that was open to new questions and new experiences. It understood its mission as the implementation of the Gospel in all its richness -- embracing the poor, welcoming the marginal. John Paul bequeathed a Church that is inward-looking, defensive and brittle -- a Church that is altogether too quick to abandon whole dimensions of the Gospel message in order to wage a losing culture war.
In retrospect, had John Paul II chosen to do what his immediate successor did -- retire at an appropriate time -- he would have stepped down around 1995. Our assessment would be different. But we must assess his legacy in its totality. And when we do, we realize that recovery from it will be a years-long process.
That's the title of a new article by Lisa Fullam, D.V.M., Th.D., who teaches moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. Fullam's research interests include virtue ethics, medical and sexual ethics, the intersection of ethics and spirituality, and Ignatian spirituality.
Here's the abstract of Fullam's article:
Many Catholic contributions to the debate over civil same-sex marriage are too broad or too narrow. Too broad: civil same-sex marriage is sometimes described as parallel to same-sex marriage in the Church. Too narrow: some Catholic contributions to the discussion have centered on reproductive capacity, ignoring Catholicism’s rich tradition which values marriage beyond procreation. Here, I consider Catholic moral tradition on civil law: civil law is approached in light of the common good, expressed in contemporary societies in terms of equal civil rights. Second, I examine magisterial contributions to the public debate, which are framed in terms of a reading of natural law based in the Scriptural interpretation of Pope John Paul II. Such religious arguments may serve as normative for marriage within the Church, but do not reflect Catholic norms for civil law. Finally, I offer reasons Catholics might advocate civil same-sex marriage.
Georgia struck a blow this week for the Second Amendment, or so it says. It passed a law permitting owners to carry guns virtually everywhere including bars, schools, churches, and I assume the finish line of any upcoming marathon. The photo op for this law included seven good ol’ boys surrounding Governor Nathan Deal with a woman (or what looked like a poster of a woman) in the background wearing a plastic smile.
Georgia’s rendition of the Second Amendment goes well beyond that pronounced by the Supreme Court. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Court purporting to apply an interpretation of the original meaning of the Second Amendment held that the People have a right to possess handguns in the home. Some critics have suggested that if some such originalist right should exist, it should cover muskets, not handguns. Or if, the idea of the Second Amendment is that the People have a right to possess weapons that might be used by the militia, the People have a right to possess hand grenades. Justice Scalia maneuvered his way through that swamp with an unpersuasive set of unsupported assertions to the conclusion that weapons not typically possessed by law abiding citizens for lawful purposes are not protected by the Second Amendment.
Whatever the merits of these moves as part of an interpretive method that claims to be faithful to the original meaning of the Constitution, Justice Scalia, writing for the Court, then proceeded to abandon any pretense of following the meaning of the original Constitution by saying that laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in “sensitive” places like schools and government buildings were not in violation of the Second Amendment. I imagine Justice Scalia would not be keen on someone coming into a Supreme Court argument as a spectator or a litigant carrying a firearm. He might think there is good reason for weapons screening there. But he cites no evidence that restrictions on the possession of guns in sensitive places were common at the time of the adoption of the Constitution.
If adherence to the original meaning of the Constitution is the preferred meaning of the Constitution, Georgia might be right in its interpretation of the Constitution. (Under the Scalia approach, Georgia is permitted to pass the law in any event). If Georgia is right, however, it is time to say once again: “So much the worse for originalism.” Our Constitution need not require lunatic legislation. If Justice Scalia favors a manipulative and selective brand of originalism, I favor a brand of interpretation that is not tied to the customs and traditions of white, agrarian, male, eighteenth century slave holders, a brand of interpretation that forthrightly recognizes the wisdom of Justice Clark who was said, “There is no war between the Constitution and common sense.”
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).
In reviewing The Divided by Matt Taibbi in the Sunday New York Times Book Review, Timothy Noah makes the remark that poverty is being criminalized in the United States. He refers to the way that poor people are being treated on the streets, and he observes that while violent crimes have dropped by 44% over the past two decades, the prison population has more than doubled, skewing black and poor.
The remark causes me to reflect on the unity of conservative thought. Their effective opposition to a government safety net for food, clothing, housing, medical care, and jobs guarantees a desperate population that will commit crimes to sustain themselves and their families when necessary. The conservative reaction to this is to cast blinders on the root causes, to throw the rascals in jail, and to throw away the keys, if possible.
Those who are poor are poor because they deserve to be poor think the conservatives. They don’t work hard enough; they are irresponsible. Law violations prove that the perpetrators are morally defective. In addition, to being lazy and irresponsible, they do not respect authority. Their existence requires the softening of constitutional requirements except for the Second Amendment. The existence of a poor population requires an armed population to protect themselves. Never mind that the guns held in households for protection are a leading cause of inter-spousal killings.
The child development and social supports that lead conservatives to be so hard-hearted, angry, and frightened cannot be easily turned around. They are unlikely to be persuaded by facts that are contrary to this social picture. And demonstrations against their views are likely to make them angrier and more frightened. One of the factors fueling their anger and fear is the recognition that they are losing the White Male Christian (read right wing Christian) country they once took for granted. They still have significant power. But their days are numbered.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are slowing progress. They remain reluctant to make poverty an issue though (thanks to the Occupy Movement), they are willing to raise the issue of income inequality. Fortunately, the Pope has made the issue more difficult to ignore. But Democrats can do far more to combat the group libel of poor people, a group libel so often associated with racism. May they muster the political courage to do so.
Welcoming -- the sacrament of Baptism in the Catholic Church is the sacrament of welcoming. The child is presented to the Church, the community of believers, usually by the parents. The priest calls upon the parents, the godparents, and the entire congregation, to assume the solemn obligation of raising the child in the faith. And then the child is baptized, water poured over her head, as the priest pronounces the time-honored formula -- "in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit."
Baptism can be performed privately, of course, especially in danger of death. But it makes most sense when it is done as part of a community celebration. Everyone shares in the delight and the warmth.
On April 5, there took place in Cordoba, Argentina, a baptism that augurs coming change in the Catholic Church. A little baby, two-month old Umma Azul, was baptized into the Catholic faith. That may seem unremarkable until one realizes that the parents were a recently married lesbian couple.
The baptism is in keeping with the spirit of inclusiveness set by Pope Francis. In January, 2014, the Advocate, America's leading gay newspaper, asked the question: "Is Pope Francis Reaching Out to Gay Parents?"
The Advocate left little doubt that he was. The article quoted a speech he delivered before a gathering of religious orders: "Gay unions raise challenges for us today which for us are sometimes difficult to understand." He went on: "I remember a case in which a sad little girl confessed to her teacher: 'My mother's girlfriend doesn't love me.'"
The Italian text of the Pope's speech used the feminine "fiancee," indicating that the Pope was specifically talking about a gay, engaged couple. He advised his listeners to reach out to couples like these, always bearing in mind the children: "We must be careful not to administer a vaccine against the faith to them." These may look like small steps, but in a Church whose leadership just two or three years ago would have struck a much harsher note, this is progress.
And this brings us to Umma Azul. Two young women approached Archbishop Carlos Nanez of Cordoba, Argentina, requesting baptism for their daughter. They were directed to a parish priest who assisted them in preparing for baptism. Archbishop Nanez also made sure to contact the Holy See. While the Holy See did not publicly authorize the baptism, it clearly must have sent a clear "go-ahead" signal.
The Archbishop defended the decision to perform the baptism by referring to the rights of the infant involved: "The Church... demonstrates that she is a merciful and wide-reaching mother, in order to open the doors of salvation." "Baptism is the right of every human person." The Pope, the Archbishop reminded his listeners, believed this himself.
The right wing, it goes without saying, has been in an uproar over this action. Rorate Caeli, the traditionalist website, is probably as good a thermometer as there is for taking the measure of the right wing's fever pitch. Rorate reminded its readers that this baptism seemed to violate canon law: "There must be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion," reads canon 868 sec. 1. Rorate harrumphed that this was impossible in little Umma's case.
Clearly, Pope Francis and Archbishop Nanez disagree. They certainly know the canon law and they must believe that, in fact, there is a "founded hope" the child will be raised Catholic.
So what does this mean? On the purely personal level, it means a baby has been brought into the Church. Two young women who, judging by the photographs of the event, must love each other and their child very dearly, have been brought closer to the faith. The community of believers in Cordoba has been enriched by this experience.
On a larger level, it means that the Catholic Church has taken a small (dare I say "baby?") step toward becoming more inclusive. As I have written before, our scientific knowledge of human sexuality has evolved substantially in just the last three or four decades. We recognize now, what we did not fully appreciate in the 1970's -- that being gay is part of the natural range of human sexuality. And civilly, legally, we have come to give effect to this understanding by expanding our institutional structures -- marriage, the family -- to accommodate gay people.
Pope Francis is cautiously moving the Church in the direction of greater accommodation. He does not wish to split the Church. A glance at the right-wing blogs indicates real anger at even these limited steps. So we should not expect abrupt, revolutionary action from Pope Francis.
Still, those are worries for another day. Right now, I just want to say to Umma and her parents -- Welcome to the Catholic Church. I am delighted to be in community with you. And have a wonderful, blessed Easter!
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:
In fact, the Supreme Court in Citizens United and McCutcheon maintains that protection for some forms of political bribery is constitutionally required. The Court in Citizens United said that “The fact that speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that these officials are corrupt: ‘Favoritism and influence are not ... avoidable in representative politics. It is in the nature of an elected representative to favor certain policies, and, by necessary corollary, to favor the voters and contributors who support those policies.’” Get it? Buying influence and access is part of our democracy. The Court calls it democracy. I call it bribery.
Then in a sentence that will serve as a poster child for the extent to which the Court is out of touch, it assured us all that, “The appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.” Really? How does that prediction look now?
Anyone who read Citizens United cannot be surprised by McCutcheon. McCutcheon complained that the law would not allow him to contribute more than $123,200 to candidate and non-candidate committees over a two year election cycle. I find it hard to feel sorry for McCutcheon’s plight. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of Americans would regard the permitted amount as already excessive and threatening to the democratic process. Not so with the Court. The Court concluded that these limits seriously restrict participation in the democratic process. I wonder if the Court really believes that the electorate has faith in a democracy structured for the wealthiest of the wealthy to spend in ways that increase their already obscene influence and access.
Only the most sunny souls will cling to the view that our political system is legitimate.
Paul J. Griffiths is the Warren Chair of Catholic Theology at Duke University. He has a wonderful review, here, of Richard Rodriguez's new book, Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography. An excerpt from Griffith's review:
Among the impurities the Church might want to cleanse herself of is people like Rodriguez, he thinks, because he prefers to share his love and his bed and his life with a man rather than a woman. He takes the Church to be wrong doctrinally about homosexual acts, and often wrong, too, in what it teaches about women. He would like the Church to take instruction on these matters, as Jesus also did, from Mary, another darling in these pages. And he thinks that if it did, the Church’s self-shrouding fear might grow less and its loving embrace of pain might show itself more clearly.
I don’t agree with every position taken in Darling, or with every argument offered. On Islam, I suspect that what’s needed at the moment isn’t emphasis on the similarities among the three so-called Abrahamic religions as desert faiths, real though these are, but rather on difference and complementarity. The recent work of Rémi Brague on this, especially On the God of the Christians (and on one or two others), is especially instructive. On homosexuality and homosexual acts, by contrast, I think Rodriguez much closer to being right than not. Insofar as such acts are motivated by and evoke love, they are good and to be loved; insofar as they do not, not. In this, they are no different from heterosexual acts.
There are other interesting differences between the two kinds of act. But if you think, as Rodriguez seems to, and I do, and all Catholics should, that we live in a devastated world in which no sexual acts are undamaged, free from the taint of sin and death and the concomitant need for lament, then the fact that homosexual acts have their own characteristic disorder is no ground for blindness to the goods they enshrine. Gay men should, of course, darling one another; those of us whose darlings are of the opposite sex should be glad that they do, and glad of instruction in love by the ways in which they do. Love is hard enough to come by in a devastated world without encouraging blindness to its presence.
Again, the entire review is here.
In the oral argument in the Hobby Lobby case the other day, Paul Clement argued for the corporation and characterized the central issue as “who’s going to pay for the government subsidy” of insurance for expensive contraceptives such as the IUD. The owners of Hobby Lobby are religiously opposed to paying for contraception. They argue someone else should pay. Of course, if they win, it is likely that Congress will not authorize payment at all, and thousands of Hobby Lobby employees will be denied the benefit.
It is unclear why Hobby Lobby’s objection should win the day. Millions of Americans pay taxes supporting activities they believe to be immoral including wars. Their compelled support is not unconstitutional. The government in Hobby Lobby could have structured the insurance contribution as a tax that would be used to buy insurance. Indeed, if Hobby Lobby does not purchase insurance, it is required to pay a tax.
In my view, many of those who object to this provision of the Affordable Care Act came to their religious position out of opposition to President Obama and the act altogether. The question of how much complicity with what is perceived to be wrong is exquisitely difficult. I do not question their sincerity and I have no knowledge of the views of Hobby Lobby’s employers though I think their insurance coverage once covered contraceptives. However one comes to a sincere religious objection should not matter even if the process was fueled by politics.
Nonetheless, assuming sincerity, as I do, the question of whether a substantial burden is present is a legal question, not a religious one. As the Solicitor General pointed out at oral argument, the parent in Bowen sincerely objected to the government’s use of a social security number for the child, but the government ruled that the burden was not legally substantial. Here too, in my view, the burden is not substantial. It’s only money. The form in which the government takes it doesn’t matter.
Robert Grosseteste -- yes, that Robert Grosseteste (1175-1253), the medieval thinker and the bishop of Lincoln -- has made scientific headlines. A collaboration between physicists and medievalists has found that "[i]n his treatise on light, written in about 1225, Robert Grosseteste describes a cosmological model in which the Universe is created in a big-bang like explosion and subsequent condensation."
No, Grosseteste had not secretly solved Einstein's theory of relativity or performed the other equations necessary to prove the Big Bang as scientists describe it today. But Grosseteste was a keen observer of the world around him, a dedicated scientist, and a man fearless in exploring the frontiers of knowledge. He had insightful and original things to say, particularly about the nature of light. And, yes, he was a bishop of the Catholic Church, although (perhaps this comes as no surprise) he had frosty relations both with the popes of his day and the archbishop of Canterbury.
I am reminded of Grossetestes' contributions to scientific advancement when I see the reaction of biblical fundamentalists to the remake of Carl Sagan's Cosmos. Three decades after Sagan first brought theorizing about the universe and all within it to the popular imagination, this new version of Cosmos means to present, in docu-drama format, the recent discoveries in the world of science.
The episodes that have aired so far might be subject to some mild criticism. (I wish, for example, that Grosseteste might have been given equal time as that tragic episode in church history, the condemnation and burning at the stake of Giordano Bruno). That said, I like Cosmos. I like its commitment to curiosity, to imagination, to its cheerful admonition to always be daring in the pursuit of truth. I like the story it has told so far, about how the universe assumed the shape it has today, and how life evolved from simple to complex.
However, I am dismayed (though perhaps I should not be surprised) by the request by Answers in Genesis for equal time in Cosmos for creationist viewpoints. Answers in Genesis is the organization founded and managed by the Australian preacher Kenneth Ham and dedicated to a literal young-Earth creationism that declares that the Earth was created in six 24-hour days around 6,000 years ago. Kenneth Ham is also the moving force behind the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky and Bill Nye's recent debating partner on the subject of evolution. He is even now engaged in raising funds to build a large mockup of what he thinks Noah's Ark might have looked like.
As I wrote last May, Christians must confront scientific illiteracy. And this is a good opportunity to do so. Answers in Genesis should absolutely not receive any air time. None. They do not have a valid scientific viewpoint to present, and television networks should not humor them by pretending they have something valuable to say.
Let us consider the review of the Cosmos episode "Standing Up in the Milky Way" that appeared on the Answers in Genesis website on March 11, 2014. Signed by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell, a Tennessee obstetrician, the review challenged the "cosmic calendar," which estimates the age of the observable universe to 13.8 billion years. Dismissively placing quotation marks around "observational science," Mitchell attacks the 13.8-billion number as something that is based on "interpretations of scientific data."
Mitchell wields the term "interpretations" like a dirty word. To her, there are "observations," that are pure and pristine, and "interpretations," which are flawed human suppositions about what the observations say. Mitchell, of course, knows better. She know. She must know. Her medical education would have taught her this much, that data, standing alone, cannot convey meaning. Data is nothing more than meaningless trivia without an intelligent mind seeking to order it, arrange it, give it meaning -- in a word, interpret it. Interpretation is essential to scientific inquiry, as, indeed, it is to all learning.
Unfortunately, the Answers in Genesis project rests on nothing more than insinuations meant to arouse suspicions in the unsophisticated or the unwary. In brief, it does not seek to be scientific so much as to treat scientific inquiry as a conspiracy theory by secularists intending to undermine a good, old biblical worldview.
Mitchell, who seems to present herself as some kind of expert on the origins of life, has produced a whole stream of essays in the same vein as her review of Cosmos. In an essay on March 15, 2014, she purports to debunk some recent findings about the "Cambrian explosion," that period of time, around 550 million years ago, that saw an explosion of multicellular life. What caused this sudden explosion? What role did oxygenation play? And what led to the oxygenation? Primitive sponges growing in shallow seas? Small, unicellular animals? Serious scientists are engaged in vigorous debate on these questions.
Mitchell, however, takes the existence of this debate as evidence of an irresolvable controversy that ought to be answered by recourse to the Bible: "[I]f we accept God's eyewitness account in the Bible declaring that He created a habitable earth and all kinds of living things about 6,000 years ago," then this debate is put to rest.
Again, this is not science. It is not even good theology, even assuming for the moment that the creation account was meant to be taken literally. Mitchell describes God as giving an "eyewitness account." But nothing in the creation account makes this claim. The creation account is a third-person narrative, told by an unidentified third party, reciting stories of God's mighty deeds. To say that it is an "eyewitness" account, in other words, is an interpretation not derivable from the words of the text.
For its success, Answers in Genesis depends on something very deep in the American folk consciousness: conspiracy theory. You can go all the way back to the beginning of the Republic and find embedded in the American consciousness a suspicion that there were roomfuls of very intelligent men and women conspiring clandestinely to bring about wicked results. Taking Answers in Genesis' requests for equal air time would only contribute to rising scientific illiteracy in this country. And in a competitive global marketplace, where science is the key to remaining an advanced society, Answers in Genesis must remain on the margins.
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.
I just posted a paper to SSRN that will be of interest, I think, to some RLL readers. The paper is available here. The abstract:
In this paper, I discuss the criminalization of abortion both as a human rights issue and, especially, as a constitutional issue.
Governments are free, insofar as internationally recognized human rights are concerned, not to ban abortion. The serious question, which I address in this paper, is whether governments are also free, insofar as international human rights are concerned, to ban abortion. In particular: Is it a violation of a woman’s human rights for a country to ban abortion? One of the world’s most important human rights NGOs—Human Rights Watch—has answered in the affirmative.
Whatever the answer to the preceding question, a different question remains, and it is one of the most perennially contested questions in American constitutional studies: Were the Abortion Cases correctly decided?
Of all the constitutional rulings by the Supreme Court since the end of the Second World War, none have been more persistently controversial than the Court’s rulings, in 1973, in the Abortion Cases: Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. In Roe, the Court invalidated a Texas law that banned all abortions except those necessary to save the life of the mother. The Georgia law at issue in Doe was more permissive; it exempted abortions necessary “because (1) a continuation of the pregnancy would endanger the life of the pregnant woman or would seriously and permanently injure her health; or (2) the fetus would very likely be born with a grave, permanent, and irremediable mental or physical defect; or (3) the pregnancy resulted from forcible or statutory rape.” Nonetheless, the Court invalidated the Georgia law. In 1992, four Supreme Court justices voted to overrule the Abortion Cases; a bare majority of the Court—five justices—refused to go along. In 2014, over forty years after the Court’s rulings in the Abortion Cases, four justices, given the opportunity, would almost certainly vote to overrule the Abortion Cases: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito.
The conclusion I reach in this paper—that the Supreme Court’s ruling against the Texas law, but not its ruling against the Georgia law, was warranted—is, of course, controversial: Many insist that both rulings were warranted; many others, that neither ruling was warranted. Although controversial, the position at which I have arrived brings me into alignment—for me, comfortable alignment—with the position espoused by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1985, when she was a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit: In the Abortion Cases, then-Judge Ginsburg wrote, the Supreme Court should not have “gone beyond a ruling on the extreme [Texas] statute before the Court. . . . Heavy-handed judicial intervention was difficult to justify and appears to have provoked, not resolved, conflict.”
This paper is one of a several connected papers that I have posted to SSRN in the last nine months, discussing “human rights in the constitutional law of the United States”—discussing, in particular, the implications of one or more constitutionally entrenched human rights for the divisive controversies over capital punishment, same-sex marriage, and, in this paper, abortion. A list of the papers is available here.
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)
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“’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.
It has been a year since the white smoke poured forth from the chimney erected atop the Sistine Chapel signaling the election of Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis. His election has ushered in significant developments in the way the Papacy does business and how that influences the Church and the world. Let's review a few:
1. Pope Francis is not afraid to reveal his humanity.
In his interview with Corriere della Sera just a few days ago, he dropped revealing hints about the relationship he had with his girlfriend before seminary days. But he has been upfront about his humanity from the very beginning. He paid his own hotel bill following his election. He lives not in the Apostolic Palace, but modestly in a guest house on Vatican grounds, surrounded by the comings and goings of people with every day concerns. He invites homeless people to dine with him. He poses for a "selfie" with a group of visiting Italian teenagers. The self-imposed austerity and aloofness of prior popes is not part of his way of doing business.
2. He has invented new ways of talking.
Because the papacy represents the highest teaching authority in the Catholic Church, its modes of speech have been carefully circumscribed by tradition and law. Popes teach through encyclicals, or allocutions, or apostolic exhortations. These forms of speech have precisely graded values which allow Catholics to know how much solemnity should attach.
Pope Francis, however, speaks in new and bold ways. He gives newsmaker interviews, and big ones. He holds long press conferences on airplanes. He sits for interviews not just with the Catholic press but the Italian secular press -- even La Repubblica, owned and edited by one of Italy's foremost atheist public intellectuals. He gives off-the-cuff, down-to-earth sermons. He warns vividly against sins -- gluttony, greed, gossip -- and calls people to follow Christ by paying heed to the least among us. He even cold-calls people who write to him asking for prayers.
3. He is thereby demystifying the papal monarchy.
He refers to himself, accurately, but modestly, as "Bishop of Rome." He means thereby to remind his brother bishops of their role as collegial governors of the Church. When it came time to renew his passport, he did so as an Argentinian. As a head of state, he is entitled to travel on a Vatican City passport. But it seems he wishes to reduce the earthly, secular side of the Catholic Church and this is a small step in that direction. The logic of the papal monarchy, after all, ran its course in the 1870's when Pope Pius IX lost the papal state to Garibaldi. And Pope Francis, in many respects, is completing that logical development as he deemphasizes all of the renaissance ritual that still surrounds the Holy See.
4. He is renewing our understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.
Jesus' central concern was service to the margins of society. He called tax collectors and prostitutes to be among his closest followers. He dined with sinners. He rescued a woman about to be stoned for adultery. He sat down with the Samaritan woman at the well, who had been married five times and was now living with a man who was not her husband, and he promised her the gift of eternal life. Time and again, Jesus emphasized that his followers had to put the poor first and foremost in their hearts and minds.
And in large ways and small, Pope Francis is trying to imitate Jesus. African economic immigrants are shunned in Italy. And so Pope Francis traveled to Lampedusa to welcome them and to mourn the many who die every year trying to cross the Mediterranean. He washed the feet of a youthful Muslim woman confined in a Roman prison last Holy Thursday. And over and over again, he calls attention to the plight of the poor. An economy that mourns the loss of stock market valuation while ignoring the needs of the homeless, the destitute, the mentally and emotionally ill, is a dehumanizing economy, an economy in need of reformation.
5. Pope Francis has taken the Church's focus off of a single-minded obsession with theological correctness.
In 1978, when Pope John Paul II was elected, the great preoccupation was the restoration of ecclesial discipline. And this became a major focus of his pontificate. Under the supervision of Joseph Ratzinger, his loyal prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, investigations were launched into dozens of Catholic writers. Hans Kung, Charles Curran, Leonardo Boff, and Gustavo Gutierrez were just a few of the better known names.
By 2013, the Church was suffocating in the grip of this boundary-police Catholicism. A search of the Catholic blogosphere would reveal dozens of websites dedicated to detailed and inward-looking analysis of correct practice and criticism and condemnation of anything that did not conform.
Pope Francis is not a border patrolman. He dismissed some of the more extreme aspects of this single-mindedness as "narcissism" and "pelagianism." He has recommended that Catholics "make a mess." In speaking with a group of Latin American nuns, he told them not to be afraid to make mistakes in the service of the Lord. Do not fear a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he advised them. A living, growing Church is a Church that needs breathing room. It needs freedom. And Pope Francis is ready to let experiments flourish.
6. He has begun much-needed structural reform.
Realizing that the Curia has become sclerotic and dysfunctional, he has turned to a select group of eight cardinals, drawn from different corners of the world, to advise him on important matters confronting the Church. There is even speculation that he is planning to build a parallel Curia that can streamline and assume many of the old structure's duties.
Along these lines, perhaps the most important steps Francis has taken are with respect to Vatican finances. He named George Cardinal Pell as "Secretary for the Economy," tasking him with the administration of the Church's material wealth. He has also moved to reform the Vatican Bank, firing most of the old team and bringing in a new group of administrators. He has pledged transparency, and the early reports are good.
Still, the world waits for a more visible response on the matter of clerical sex abuse. The Pope's actions thus far have been timid. To be sure, Pope Benedict did more to remedy this grave injustice than he has received credit for, and the same may be true of Pope Francis. But the public must be reassured, and only visible, public action can provide the necessary reassurance.
As he revealed in his newspaper interviews, he is a man with a high regard for secular culture. His favorite musicians, his favorite painters, his favorite movie directors, are all secular artists. This is a man who does not see either himself or the Church as standing walled off from the world, a Fortress Ecclesia standing strong against a secular tide. He is open to the good things that secular culture has to offer.
It is impossible to wage cultural war if you have an accepting view of the culture. And it is therefore not surprising that he wishes to deemphasize some of the hot button issues. He knows that the Church is crying out for internal reform, and that is where his energies must focus.
8. "Who am I to judge?"
These five words may define Pope Francis' pontificate. He made this statement when asked about gays in the Church. "When God looks at a gay person does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?" So inquired Pope Francis. "We must always consider the person."
Pope Francis is a pastoral pope. And pastors always consider the person. His response to gays flows from his desire always to meet individuals in the circumstances of their lives. Catholics believe that individuals are judged individually, on their merits, based on the particular realities of their lives. What Pope Francis is doing is driving this point home. No categorical judgment is possible. Bloodless abstractions have no place. Only the person.
In his March 5 interview with Corriere della Sera, he said much the same thing about contraception. Paul VI's teaching on contraception was a beautiful statement, but it must be administered with "much mercy." Its concrete application, in the lives of Catholics, is first and foremost a matter of conscience. This has always been Catholic teaching, of course, but it is an aspect of Catholic thought that was lost sight of amidst the grand theorizing of the last two pontificates.
The Jesuit Father John Langan, Professor of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown, has grasped this essential point in his essay on Pope Francis, "See the Person." Coming from a pastoral perspective, Langan asserts that the Church must consider "a new stance on the subject of homosexuality." Calling for "research ... across the fields of biology, medicine, social science, and ethics," Langan hopes for progress. He knows that the old way of doing business -- "we know what we know, what we don't know is not worth learning about" -- no longer works in the modern world. Pope Francis, with his "Who am I to judge?" has opened the door.
Saturday I observed in a post (here) that Taryn Mattice had sugggested her congregants might consider giving up stress for Lent. On Sunday, her bulletin contains a prayer adapted from an unfindable source that can be interpreted to develop that view. With the exception of the last line (asking Jesus to rescue us from darkness), the prayer should have nearly universal appeal:
We live in the darkness of worry, O God. We worry about so many things, and we even believe our worrying will make things better.
We live in the darkness of apathy, O God. When worry doesn’t work, we decide not to care anymore.
We live often in the darkness of gloom and despair. And we’re ashamed to admit that we find comfort in the darkness because at least it is familiar.
We live with forms of stress we do not need. As Mattice points out, giving them up, in Lent and beyond sure beats giving up chocolate.
“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)
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“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.)
I heard a wonderful sermon on Ash Wednesday by Taryn Mattice. She recognized that most Christians give up chocolate for Lent or Facebook or something comparable. This might be constructive, but for many it causes self-absorption, a false sense of pride, or an excessively guilty sense of failure. Lent is not about self-improvement; it is not a period designed to provide new challenges for the spiritually mature.
Lent began as a 40 day period designed to help those who had denied Jesus (in favor of Caesar) to bring themselves closer to God so they could be reconciled with the church on Easter. At some point, the church recognized that all Christians were sinners and should specially devote the 40 day period to coming closer to God.
It is not remotely clear that in deciding how to get closer to God that giving up chocolate or losing weight or abandoning Facebook would be the first idea out of the box. Mattice thought giving up stress (to the extent possible) might be a worthy ideal (albeit it not completely achievable) for her college student congregation.
I told a friend and colleague about this sermon who suggested that giving up criticism for Lent would be a worthy goal, and that makes sense to me. I am thinking not about social and political criticism, but our (my) tendency in thought or conversation to engage in unnecessary criticism (gossip or internal thoughts) of others around us.
If we recognize the point of Lent (we are all part of a community of sinners trying to come closer to God), we should stop casting stones and try to see the presence of God struggling to emerge in ourselves and others.
Attorneys for Mark Zmuda, the former Vice Principal at Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish, Washington, have filed a civil suit against the school and the archdiocese today in King County Superior Court. I have not seen the complaint yet, but it is certain to make claims under the state antidiscrimination statute (RCW 49.60). I understand that lawyers for the school and the archdiocese already have a motion to dismiss prepared.