Jeffery L Nicholas
Philosophy and social theory
to building a society of flourishing people
united in common goods.
to building a society of flourishing people
united in common goods.
This post is dedicated to those who've asked me, "what are you writing about?" Most have greeted my words with frowns, asking, "what do those have to do with each other?" (Claire) or "What do you mean?" (Rachel). One has smiled and said, "I'd be interested in reading that." (Maddy) Just being asked gives me a little more reason to write, and whether I'm explaining my ideas to the frowners or the smilers, it helps me to figure out what I want to say. So, this post is about what I want to say.
well, I don't mean "government." And I don't mean what passed for politics today, in the US, UK, France, and other places around the world. The only love in that kind of politics, the politics of elections and bureaucracy and the status quo, is the love of power and money. Government has nothing to do with love; in fact it's the opposite of love.
By "politics," then, I mean working together in our communities to figure out what we most want and how we're going to achieve it. This idea isn't new, of course. Aristotle, as far as I know, first articulated it. More recently, Alasdair MacIntyre has developed a notion of this kind of politics. Notably, it is different from every other political theory I know today. And it is scary, because it makes the community important; yet, we've been taught to fear community--no doubt in part because capitalism cannot countenance the idea of community built on shared sister- and brother-hood. I will then have to talk about what I mean by "community" in my book, and that might be a bigger challenge than talking about politics or about...
We use this word, "love," in so many ways and so often that it has lost a lot of its significance. We know, however, what we mean by love. I love chocolate does not mean the same as I love dogs, which doesn't mean the same as I love my dog, Mickie. None of those mean the same as I love my friend, my partner, my family. We have different words for love: brotherly-love, erotic love, agape.
What do any of these have to do with politics, even politics in the way I mean the word?
In simplest terms, love is acting on and for those desires at the deepest core of who or what we are. To use God as an example: If God is love, then God had no choice in creation. The deepest desire of Love is to love and be loved, to act for Love. God has no choice in loving each and everyone one of us. God must love even Lucifer.
Let me move from theology to our every day: Love is acting. It is not a feeling/emotion. It is not some evolutionary calculation to ensure the survival of the species or the genes. It is acting on deepest desire. So, neither is it acting to get the next fix or because this chance of sex is here or because the cake looks good. Deepest desires are things I'll have to explain in the course of my book, but it's not our everyday desires, even if those desires might express in some sense our deepest desire.
If politics is about members of the local community pursuing their desires together, then it must be an expression of love. Anything that falls short of that is not as good as it can be.
So why write about love and politics?
Our world is on the verge of collapse. We must eschew government and politics as we know them for the politics I'm trying to defend. It might be utopian in the negative sense--as impossible--but maybe we have enough time to change the way we do politics today. It will take all of us, require us to give up our everyday desires for longer-term desires. So, while I'm not writing a blue print for politics, I am painting a picture for what we need to do different.
On the other hand, again, not as a blue print, but as a a hope, I write this book for how the younger generations can grow communities after the collapse which seems imminent and immanent. In this sense, I write about love and politics in the sense of positive utopia. It's a hope that humanity continues and can build a better world for the future.
Now is not the time for blame. Now is not the time to wallow in our misery. Now is not the time to become depressed. Now is not the time to throw in the towel or wash our hands of politics. Now is not the time to sit back.
Now is certainly not the time to listen to pundits: how did we go wrong on the polls? What mistakes did Hillary's campaign make? What about the third party vote? Was it because Hillary was a woman?
All of the questions that you will hear on television and in the news media over the next days and weeks will not be the right questions. The Fourth Estate is part of the disease it's trying to diagnose. Self-diagnose is usually not the best.
So, we, the people of the United States must wake up to what we have wrought, just as the people of the United Kingdom had to wake up to Brexit the day after, just as so many have had to wake up in the past to what they had wrought. Now is the time to begin asking the serious questions that we have avoided for so long. Questions about labor and employment, yes, and questions about misogyny and racism, yes. But also, and more importantly, questions about fear, questions about the future, questions about who we are?
The Left has a greater share of burden in these questions. For too long, the Left has ignored the proletariat. The Fourth Estate has already begun placing the blame there: white men without a college degree swung for Trump at 67%. This fact should not cause us to disparage those not educated in college. It should, instead, cause to ask, what are we doing in elementary and secondary educational systems?
Humanity faces a question every generation, and sometimes that questions becomes more dominant, more demanding of attention, than at other times. Each of us must face this question over and over in our lives.
Do we choose love or fear?
I predicted Trump would win, not because i believe in fear, but because I knew that the pundits and the political machines, especially the political machine of the democratic party, does not recognize how fear can make people vote. Maybe pundits and democrats cannot do so because it would require them to recognize their own fear--fear of the white, non-college educated, fear that to do so would question their own values and beliefs in free-trade, fear that maybe they cannot rationally control the fear, fear of their own misogyny buried deep beneath beliefs about what it means to be liberal.
Did Hillary lose because she's a woman. Yes.
But only because she is a woman with the name Clinton.
We know that when women run, they tend to win elections. Clinton couldn't do that because she's a Clinton. Yes, the Right and the Fourth Estate, which in the end is only a pawn of the Right, have vilified Hillary for 30 years because she's a woman. The real issue though, that cost the election, was not that she was a woman, but that she was a Clinton, and that came with two strikes. First, people simply do not want to see dynasties in the White House--they would require them to face the reality which they fear: we are not a democracy, but an oligarchy. If we keep changing persons in the White House, we can still pretend that we are a democracy. Second, because the Clinton name stands for center-right liberalism combined with a hate of the poor and unemployed and an abuse of blacks.
If the Left truly wants to know what to do now, then it has to begin by thinking about these issues more carefully and thinking about how to overcome that fear.
In short, it must turn away from fear and into love. Just because fear has won for the moment does not mean that all is lost.
Now is the time to breath in love, and let fear slide away.
Now is the time to ask, what does love require of me in this moment for my community.
Now is the time to look with love at those who disagree with us and ask, what have I failed to see, what do I fear seeing?
Now is the time to rid ourselves of the love of money, the love of self-indulgence, the love of fear.
For now is the time to build a community. For it is always the time to build community. For always, we ust answer the question of fear with the strength of love.
It is characteristic of work that it first and foremost unites people. In this consists its social power: the power to build a community. In the final analysis, both those who work and those who manage the means of production or who own them must in some way be united in this community. In the light of this fundamental structure of all work-in the light of the fact that, in the final analysis, labour and capital are indispensable components of the process of production in any social system-it is clear that, even if it is because of their work needs that people unite to secure their rights, their union remains a constructive factor of social order and solidarity, and it is impossible to ignore it.
Read that first line again: labor unites people; its social power consists in building a community.
My interest in midwifery stems from the social justice issues around it. For me, as most of my readers know, social justice ties directly to community. Midwives, unlike obstetricians and other medical professionals, are more inclined to help build community.
Thus, in the movie "Why not home," several of the midwives commented on their role in building community. "We should help build communities around birth because that makes families stronger."
In the US, our culture is built on death--how could it not be when it is founded on the genocide of First Nation Peoples? How could it not be when it arose at the same time as the industrial revolution which often requires the death of community, the death of individuals, and the death of the land?
We need to change. As mindfulness and Buddhist teachings tell us, we do not have to keep on going the same way we have been. We can, instead, look at our past and realize what we would like to change about it, and move forward with that change. Beginning with a change in the status of midwifery in the US is a crucial first step in this change. Just because doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies have fought over dollars in the birthing room does not mean that we need to continue to let this happen.
I invite you, not just to accept what I write here as fact, but to question. Question your doctors and hospitals about their high infant and maternal mortality. Question why the increase in C-sections continues when it coincides with a higher maternal mortality. Look at the studies, not just the ones done in the US, but those done in the world. Look at the Frontier Nursing Service which provided midwifery services in Appalachia--some of our poorest country--for 20 years without an infant death, compared the the growing obstetric practice.
And remember that I am not advocating that we stop all technology and all hospital or obstetric led birth. Rather, I am asking us to do what most needs to be done: to integrate our science with a life-affirming way of life.
The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.
Yesterday, I wrote on love and politics. This post continues the thoughts begun there.
For at least half of the human population, politics involves living in a city. For David Harvey, radical politics and the revolution begin with claiming a right to the city. Harvey nicely details how the structure of the city serves to distribute resources, and in our current times, to distribute resources from the poor to the rich. Thus, he calls, rightly, for a transformation of the city. He wants us to have "the freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves."
After I wrote yesterday, i was thinking about what it would mean for us to restructure the city on the principle of love. Actually, my thought was more pessimistic--it was a question: can we live in cities if the basis of our politics is love? Yesterday, I was more willing to answer this question negatively.
The reason I wanted to answer the question negatively in part derives from what I am teaching and how my students react to it. So, for example, in "Western Civ," we've talked about the right to property as a right for each person to own enough land to raise food for one's self. How does one construct a city around this principle, is the challenge my students offered? I'm tempted to say that perhaps we cannot, or certainly cannot on the same scale we do now. So what does that answer mean for living in a city and for Harvey's brand of political revolution?
One thing it does not mean is that we adopt a Rousseau-ian politics that sees civilization as negative and demeaning and living in the state of nature as best for developing human virtue and flourishing. I think that this divide is the threat that leads to a view like Huxley's Brave New World, with its noble savage.
Another reason I was wanting to answer the question in the negative is my visit to Findhorn. Findhorn, from what I saw, is a community of people living through integration with the land. It's not a city, more of a village. And I wonder given the beauty and love I experienced there whether that is our human destiny. Again, if it is, what does that mean for radical politics, for Harvey's political revolution?
I invite you, my dear readers, to offer your own visions of what a city built on love might look like, or whether you think such an experience is possible?
I want to reflect for a moment on a post from Graham Meltzer about transforming the world and the role of community.
No less than the role of community in the evolution of our species. Yes, I do see a link there! So this post is not about Findhorn directly, but about community life in general and its contribution to the making of a better world through the humane welcoming of babies and raising of children.
How do we change the world is perhaps the fundamental question of both Christianity and of Marxist philosophy, in many ways a Christian heresy. The big attempts at change were never really attempts at all in the Marxist sense--the USSR, China, Cuba, all began from different principles. The vanguard ideology was never something Marx fully embraced, certainly not in the way that we have seen it instantiated. Yet, that leaves us with the question, whence transformation?
What Graham points out is what must be obvious and what we ignore, especially in Western philosophical circles: it begins with children and how we raise children. Robin Grille's research demonstrates this point on a socio-psychological level.
Perhaps then, it might only take a few generations of our kids repeatedly enjoying a humane and loving welcome into community for peace, harmony and resilience to become the norm.
I'm always at pain with my students to remind them what children are really like when they are young. My students repeat what they hear in society: human beings are selfish, children are self-centered. Having raised three beautiful, wonderful human beings, I know, of course, that they can be, that every person must go through some stage of self-centeredness.
Yet, when they are young, a child is the first to come to someone who is hurt and offer a hug. A child is the first, when she is secured in her life, to offer to share.
What Rousseau got right, and what Marx emphasized is that society conditions people to act in certain ways. The communities we have, at least in modern liberal democracies today, emphasize selfish tendencies.
But one community at a time, built around healthy birth and a healthy relationship to the earth, provides an opportunity to raise children with different values.
My philosophical mission has always been grounded in this search for a new world. I'm not saying I am perfect, that I was a perfect parent, or that I know all the answers. What I am saying is that I have been searching for the philosophical foundations for this new way of being, this new way of life. I believe wholeheartedly with Paulo Freire that change without reflection is no change at all.
Intentional communities, like Findhorn, are intention--ed. And they are local. We cannot just take Findhorn and transplant it in Rhode Island. But we might be able to discover the principles which support the building of such communities. Science fiction is one way to discover these principles. Philosophy is another. But to paraphrase Thomas Aquinas, these are but straw if we do not put them into practice.
Graham Meltzer encouraged me to think about writing something on birth and community. I've spent some time thinking about what I would have to say here. It seems to me obvious that something should be said, but what should be said and why I should say it has been the problem.
It occurred to me as I walked to work this morning, that we can draw some parallels between birth and political community. As Alasdair MacIntyre notes in After Virtue, our politics has for a long time been removed from the hands of the people. Max Weber is notable for pointing out the workings of bureaucracy in the state. MacIntyre explains how, not the good or needs of the people, but the knowledge of the experts is the standard way for determining state policy.
This point should sound familiar. Whether midwives are permitted or not in the birthing room, the overwhelming driving force can often be the knowledge of the experts. This "knowledge" sees pregnancy and birth as pathological, has devised instruments for "helping" the birth along, and has removed agency from the hands of those most involved in birth. I know more about this in the US than other countries. In the US, midwives attend 7% of births. When my wife and I went to a midwife for the birth of our second child we were told no, because we were at risk. Why? Because it was the beginning of the second trimester and we'd not seen a physician yet. This fact put us at risk, despite my wife already giving birth to one child with no complications. I've read articles about court cases where midwives will testify, but their testimony would be ignored because of the expert opinion of physicians--the scientists. (I address scientism as a ideology in my article "Eucharist and Dragonfighting.") The experts can drive the decision making in the birthing room, and do so. In the US, midwives have been displaced as ignorant and dirty in favor of the experts. Regarding the UK, I am familiar with an article titles "Mad, Bad, or Indifferent." This article reports the ways that midwives often undermine the expert control of the physician in the birthing room. Overall, however, midwives are being attacked in the UK by the experts.
These are the negative aspects that unite birth and community. I want also to focus on the positive aspects. I invite you, my dear readers, to share below both negative and positive parallels of birth and community.
The last few posts have addressed the revolutionary nature of the act of a woman giving birth, both in its economic and in its cultural aspects.
In this post, I want to step back for a moment and reflect on the truly revolutionary nature of the Healthy Birth, Healthy Earth conference. I do so from the philosophy of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator who wrote The Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
It should be obvious to anyone that women, children, and all people are today suffering from oppression. It should also be obvious that the earth too suffers from oppression. The oppression is, in many ways, from our own making. Michel Odent pointed out that our culture is grounded in a domination of nature; Robin Grille pointed out how the domination of birth and children leads to ever greater domination; many speakers spoke on the way that birthing methods today are dehumanizing.
The tremendous praxis of this conference lay in the reality that we as oppressed people were speaking out and educating each other on this oppression and on change. (I include myself in this "we" even though I was not a presenter because to do otherwise would be to deny what happened to me personally, as well as professionally, at the conference.) Freire writes
This then is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well.
When they discover within themselves the yearning to be free, they perceive that this yearning can be transformed into reality only when the same yearning is aroused in their comrades.
The wonderful, lovely, inspirational, transformative reality of this Heal Thy Birth, Heal Thy Earth conference is that we have grasped on to this yearning and we want to spread it to others. The moment of solidarity is alive in the coming together, not to rail against the oppressors, but to understand our own oppression and how we might redeem ourselves and the world, how we might change consciousness by changing the way we relate to birth and the earth.
To use Freire again, reflection and action were one in this conference. We attendees engaged in transformative action during our reflection, through dance, singing, living together, eating together, and eating from the earth.
This week made our lives more difficult. Now we have returned to our daily lives where we are no longer surrounded by loving hands and minds. Our task does not change: that our action is reflective, that our reflection is active, that we are always inviting others to join us in praxis. Here, then, we must build community, one patient, one client, one friend, one family member, one person at a time.
Jeffery L. Nicholas (Ph.D philosophy, University of Kentucky) is an associate professor at Providence College and an international scholar on ethics and politics. He serves as research associate for the Center for Aristotelian Studies in Ethics and Politics at London Metropolitan University and a foreign research associate at Universidad Sergio Arboleda in Bogotá Colombia. Dr. Nicholas is co-founder of and executive secretary for the International Society for MacIntyrean Enquiry. He is the author of Reason, Tradition, and the Good: MacIntyre's Tradition Constituted Reason and Frankfurt School Critical Theory (UNDP 2012), as well as numerous articles. Dr. Nicholas writes on midwifery and birth, the common good, friendship and community, practical reason, and Native American philosophy. He aims to develop a philosophy of integral humanism that synthesizes the philosophical traditions of Alasdair MacIntyre, Frankfurt School Critical Theory, and Feminist Care Ethics.