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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ferguson Syllabus for Philosophers

Many of you have probably seen the excellent "Ferguson Syllabus" created by Sociologists for Justice, which has been circulated widely over the last several days and which provides a collection of research articles used to inform the arguments and positions represented in their Statement on Ferguson.  I strongly encourage you to keep circulating that document, and to use Sociologists' for Justice suggested hashtag #socforjustice when you do.

If you work in academia but outside of a Sociology Department, as I do, I suspect you've thought to yourself how helpful it would be if a corresponding syllabus were produced and circulated for your own discipline, as I have.  (Would that it were the case that professional Philosophers could agree on something like a"Statement on Ferguson," but I'm not holding my breath for that!)  Below, I've attempted to BEGIN the construction of a "Ferguson Syllabus" for the discipline of Philosophy.  The list of materials I have here is, of course, non-exhaustive and incomplete, so I welcome any amendments or additions from readers who specialize in Philosophy, Political Theory, Critical Race Studies and the like.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Democracy Must Always Be Severe

"Democracy must always be severe. Without either desire or dread of paradox, we may go even further. Democracy must always be unpopular. It is a religion, and the essence of a religion is that it constrains. Like every other religion, it asks men to do what they cannot do; to think steadily about the important things. Like every other religion, it asks men to consider the dark, fugitive, erratic realities, to ignore the gigantic, glaring and overpowering trivialites. It rests upon the fact that the things which men have in common, such as a soul and a stomach, such as the love of children or the fear of death, are to infinity more important than the things in which they differ, such as a landed estate or an ear for music, the capacity to found an empire or to make a bow. And it has, like any other religion, to deal with the immense primary difficulty that the unimportant things are by far the most graphic and arresting, that millions see how a man founds an empire, and only a few how he faces death, and that a man may make several thousand bows in a year and go on improving in them, while in the art of being born he is only allowed one somewhat private experiment. In politics, in philosophy, in everything, it is sufficiently obvious that the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal. And the thing which is most undiscoverable in all human affairs, the thing which is most elusive, most secret, most hopelessly sealed from our sight is, and always must be, the thing which is most common to us all. Every little variety we have we gossip and boast of eagerly; it is upon uniformity that we preserve the silence of terrified conspirators. There are only two things that are absolutely common to all of us, more common than bread or sunlight, death and birth. And it is considered morbid to talk about the one and indecent to talk about the other. It is the nature of man to talk, so to speak, largely and eagerly about every new feather he sticks in his hair, but to conceal like a deformity the fact that he has a head. This is the secret of the permanent austerity of the democratic idea, of its eternal failure and its eternal recurrence, of the fact that it can never be popular and can never be killed. It withers into nothingness in the light of a naked spirituality those special badges and uniforms which we all love so much, since they mark us out as kings or schoolmasters, or gentlemen or philanthropists. It declares with a brutal benignity that all men are brothers just at the very moment that every one feels himself to be the good grandfather of every one else. To our human nature it commonly seems quite a pitiful exchange to cease from being poets or vestrymen, and be put off with being the images of the everlasting. That is the secret, as I say, of the austerity of republicanism, of its continual historic association with the stoical philosophy, of its continual defeat at the hands of heated mobs. It strikes men down from the high places of their human fads and callings, and lays them all level upon a dull plane of the divine."

--G.K. Chesterton, The Fortnight Review, Vol. LXXIV., July to December, 1903.

Friday, August 15, 2014

"Somehow Philosophy Got Left Behind"

There's a really great essay by Eugene Sun Park entitled "Why I Left Academia: Philosophy's Homogeneity Needs Rethinking"  that appeared yesterday on HIPPO Reads.  Stop whatever you're doing and go read it now.

I've posted a fair bit of material on this blog addressing the racial and gender disparity in professional Philosophy, which remains truly embarrassing, but Park's first-person narrative of his experience is a telling account. After stipulating that Western academia has long been guilty of excluding women and minorities both from the Academy and from the canon, Park (citing Hollinger) concedes that much progress has been made in the last half-century to correct these errors and to broaden the humanities... BUT (Park notes in a transitional sentence that speaks more truth than its syntactical position suggests) "somehow Philosophy got left behind."  Unlike other disciplines in the humanities, Philosophy remains woefully "behind" when it comes to the inclusion of women and minorities not only in its professional representation, but also in "publications, citations and overall disciplinary influence."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

American Apartheid

For they know they are not animals. And at the very moment when they discover their humanity, they begin to sharpen their weapons to secure its victory.
--Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

America has always been and remains an apartheid state.  The latter part of that sad but increasingly undeniable fact was made apparent last night in Ferguson, Missouri to a group of peaceful protesters amidst tanks, deafening LRADs, a haze of tear gas and a firestorm of rubber (and real) bullets.  The other tragic fact made apparent in Ferguson last night is that America is only ever a hair's-breadth away from a police state... if we understand by "police" not a regulated body of law-enforcement peacekeepers empowered to serve and protect the citizenry, but rather a heavily-armed, extra-constitutional, militarized cadre of domestic soldiers who provoke and terrorize with impunity.  Much of the time, we are able to forget or ignore these unfortunate truths about contemporary America-- and by "we" I mean our elected officials, our bureaucrats and financiers, and a lot of self-delusionally "post-racial," though really white, people-- but the mean truth of gross inequality, both de facto and de jure, remains ever-present in spite of our disavowals, simmering steadily just below the allegedly free and fair democratic veneer of our polis.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The CIA Report Is The Purloined Letter and Obama Is The Prefect: My Break-Up Letter to President Obama

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some 
things that were wrong.  We did a whole lot of things 
that were right, but we tortured some folks.
-- President Barack Obama, Press Conference (Aug 1, 2014)

"That is another of your odd notions," said the Prefect, 
who had a fashion of calling everything "odd" that was
beyond his comprehension, and thus lived in an absolute 
legion of "oddities."
-- Edgar Allen Poe, "The Purloined Letter" (1845)

I don't suspect that President Barack Obama reads most of his mail. I am 100% certain that whoever reads his mail would certainly not pass this letter on to him.  That said, I am confident that there are millions of Americans who have, as I've often described my situation to Ideas Man PhD, had their political (and real) hearts broken by President Obama over and over again.  This is my "I quit you" letter to our Commander-in-Chief, who is not up for re-election, of course, but it's gotta be said.