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.
Holy Crud! Have you read or re-read “The Elements of Anti-Semitism” recently? Everything written there can be used to discuss Trump, Islama-phobia, and the national capitalism of 2017.
“Elements of Anti-Semitism” is a chapter in the Dialectic of Enlightenment, by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. I am re-reading the DOE partly because I am using another chapter, “The Culture Industry,” in a class and partly to refresh my mind of the argument so I can draw on it for the book I’m working on, I Aim To Misbehave: Science Fiction Film and the New Values of the 21st Century. I didn’t expect to find much in “Elements,” but from the first line, I was mesmerized by how much the analysis applies today.
“Anti-Semitism today is for some a question affecting human destiny and for others a mere pretext” (137).
Switch in Anti-Islam or Islamphobia for Anti-Semitism, and you have a sentence that applies to today’s world. Racism, in this case against “Muslims,” that is against Middle-Eastern peoples, affects our human destiny—will we continue to be divided over minor differences or will we overcome difference and solve our problems together? But for many, it is also a pretext for their economic interest. This pretext works whether you are interested in controlling oil—a high priced and limited commodity on which all of your dead-labor—technology—rests and, thus, necessary for your profit-margin—or you are interested in the loss of jobs and, so, blame immigrants and refugees for what the capitalist has done to you.
“The [liberal] thesis that the Jews free of national or racial features, form a group through religious belief and tradition and nothing else… contains an image of the society in which rage would no longer reproduce itself or seek qualities on which to be discharged. But by assuming the unity of humanity t have been already realized in principle, the liberal thesis serves as an apology for the existing order” (137…138).
Race, we know today, is an alternative fact—it doesn’t exist, except socially to exclude some. So what unites the people under Trump’s—currently failed—immigration ban is a people of a particular religious belief. This point is both true and false. Like Christianity, Islam has many distinct sects. They are as divided as any Christian from another. Moreover, the current unity of those under the seven-nation ban is also an economic unity. Their countries—and thus the people there—represent economic interest opposed to the national economic interests of the US and the personal economic interests of Trump, who can almost be heard repeating the line from The Sun King, “l’etat c’est moi” (The State is I). In focusing on the ban, though, democrats and other left-wing liberals in the US (and across the world) ignore the underlying reality of the economy. The focus on religion or race detracts reinforces the status economic order—the great inequality that currently overwhelms conscience and Christianity.
Thus, we miss what Horkheimer and Adorno pointed out long ago: “Race today is the self-assertion of the bourgeois individual, integrated into the barbaric collective” (138). It justifies violence, as we see in this clip from 12 Angry Men, no less true today even if juries include “non-whites” on them. Thus, race, for the rulers, “serves as a distraction, a cheap means of corruption, a terrorist warning” (139). Trump’s ban and Trump’s wall distract from the fundamental inequality. By blaming Muslims and Mexicans, Trump points the finger away from himself and other rich bastards to people who are often worse off than the average American. In calling Mexicans rapists, killers, and drug dealers, he only repeats the line passed down from Reagan to Clinton to Bush.
What we have seen is anger and fear over the last 40 years, anger and fear that Trump was able to capitalize on, and which the Clinton-Democratic team also tried to capitalize on by labeling Trump the greatest fear. As Horkheimer and Adorno point out, this fear has roots in the denial of human rights.
“The purpose of human rights was to promise happiness even where power was lacking. Because the cheated masses are dimly aware that this promise, being universal, remains a lie as long as classes exist, it arouses their anger; they feel themselves scorned” (141).
Let’s ignore, for present purposes, the elitism here—an elitism we must resist. The main idea is that the vast majority of people recognize that class division, great inequalities of wealth, cannot exist hand in hand with freedom, which rests on human rights. A right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness opposes any strict class division. (Thanks to my colleague, Matt Guardino, for pointing out that this distinction may be exactly why Jefferson changed John Locke’s wording.) Classes mean that some will always have more life—not just a higher quality of life, but as has been shown, more life itself, as poor people die at higher rates than rich people; classes mean that some will always have more liberty—liberty to speak to the government, liberty to move about—who really among the working class can change where she leaves so easily, except at great cost to find another low-paying job (imagine what the lives and liberties of Mexicans must be like that the risk coming to the racist US!), or the liberty to leisure, or even the leisure to be free from paying taxes; classes mean that some will always have more happiness than others—and Will Smith’s The Pursuit of Happyness is only the exception that proves the fact, as his escape from the homeless shelter left thousands behind.
What we must resist, and what drives a great many people to be anti-Islamic, is class society! “Bourgeois anti-Semitism has a specific economic purpose: to conceal domination in production” (142). In 1944, the Jew represented the thief as a scapegoat for the real thieves, the owners of the means of production, the factories and farms. “The economic injustice of the whole class is attributed to him.” In an ironic twist of fate, today’s Muslim is our Jew, as is the Mexican and the black, and the Native Americans who are dying in the cold as the resist the oil pipeline that will poison the Missouri and, with it, the Mississippi, the great river of the US. These groups represent the injustice of the capitalist class. The Muslim threatens our freedom—that is, our economic freedom, for that is the only kind of freedom in which the politicians have any interest. The Mexican (and the Indian and Chinese) threatens our jobs—which makes it all the more fantastical that free trade has causes a loss of jobs in Mexico. The black threatens prosperity with their resistance to the state form, their laziness and welfare moms who procreate for more and more handouts, and their drug dealers who reject the 9—5 for a liberty only a capitalist could imagine.
Industrialism and contemporary life allow no reflection on these issues. Anyone who questions authority—from the Dixie Chicks to Edward Snowden—is ostracized, threatened in their economic life for voicing their opinions. The Tyranny of the Majority, divorced from the state, finds its true form in economic domination. And without reflection, we become self-absorbed, none as much as the Donald himself.
“Just as, since its rise, the human species has manifested itself towards others as developmentally the highest, capable of the most terrible destruction; and just as, within humanity, the more advanced races have confronted the more primitive, the technically superior nations the more backward, so the sick individual confronts the other individual, in megalomania as in persecution mania. In both cases the subject is at the center, the world a mere occasion for its delusion” (157)
America’s exceptionalism is a megalomania unlike any other—we must impose our form of life on others, for we represent freedom. The Muslim, like the Jew before, opposes freedom and wants to dominate us. They reject our way of life; so, we must strike pre-emptively and allow no more in. Megalomania takes the form of narcissism in the Commander in Chief who thinks he can run the country with executive orders, the stakeholders be damned. If the world does not reflect back his priorities, he is free to construct alternative facts, and the news media, already a tool of capitalist production, can do nothing to prevent him, despite their own rattling of sabers. For in the end, neither Trump, nor the democrats, nor the media can risk the revelation of the great wizard behind the curtain—that profit drives their version of the truth. Alternative facts represent that truth better than any other before: all values become marketing tools; truth and facts have already serviced capital in that role. Thus, class can never be challenged because any challenge is an alternative fact. Poverty is the result, not of capital and class warfare, but of the lack of personal responsibility. (In this, the Catholic Church has been complicit since Leo XIII declared that unions could not morally strike. We can only hope that Francis might reverse centuries of institutional drives for the heart of Christianity: charity.)
Such exceptionalism, megalomania, and narcissism points to Hitler, without hyperbole. “Democratically he insists on equal rights for his delusion, because, in fact, not even truth is stringent… Thus, Hitler demands the right to practice mass murder in the name of the principle of sovereignty under international law, which tolerates any act of violence in another country” (160). The US has practiced its own form of violence in other countries in the name of capital, demanding that The Hague bring to justice any violator of human rights, except its own citizens. The exceptionalism might lie at the root of the US, for what kind of person could strike out over thousands of miles to colonize a new land and spread over it, ignoring the people who lived the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness before them?
We cannot rest in such pessimism, though. We cannot fall into the darkness that haunts the legacy of Frankfurt School critical theory. We are always capable of choosing the direction of our future. We have to diagnose the sickness that threatens to overwhelm us—the exceptionalism, racism, narcissism, megalomania—all of it, rooted in class and capital. I do not say it will be easy, that it will be possible, only that human fate rests on this challenge. We must fulfill the promise of Aristotle, to become citizens of the world—that is, people who can direct their social living—which is restated by Marx: men make their own history.
I think Alfred Nobel would know what I mean when I say that I accept this award in the spirit of a curator of some precious heirloom which he holds in trust for its true owners - all those to whom beauty is truth and truth beauty - and in whose eyes the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.
You have to love Dr. Martin Luther King jr. I think it’s a sign of humanity to do so. I’ve taken a moment this year to reflect on his Noble Peace Prize speech and discovered wonderful utopian moments in it.
He begins by reflecting on struggles of black people just days before accepting the speech. We could do the same ourselves, I’m sure, and not only harms done to blacks but to Native Americans, to the LBGTQ community, and to many marginalized people. But he continues with this:
After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time - the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts.
A theme I am doing my best to develop—and I admit that this work is so hard today, in the Age of Trump, in the face of the rampant racism and sexism that drive US politics, and that drove much of the politics behind Brexit and what I know of politics in Poland—but trying to do my best to commit to the idea of non-violent peaceful resistance. And, of course, my doing so is easy—I’m a white (appearing), cis-hetero-normative male. I easily fit into the dominant culture.
But my role in the resistance has never been about violence or other physical resistance—it’s to use philosophy, theology, and social theory to support a vision of a better world and, when possible, to use my words, my writing, and my research to engage in local politics. This I am trying to do with midwives in the New England area.
The struggles that we face—we who are united in solidarity with the poor, the colored, the oppressed gendered—they are real, and non-violent resistance seems impossible. Yet, MLK speaks to us through the echoes of history.
I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.
Justice is wounded and lies in the blood spilled from our black brothers and sisters shot by police for no reason than a broken tail-light. Justice lies wounded across the land ripped and torn and punctured for lust of oil—black money. Justice lies wounded in the dorm rooms, the strip-joints, and the bedrooms across this land in the violated bodies of our sisters and our queer brothers. But we cannot be cynical in the face of this violence. Our armor and our inspiration is unarmed truth and unconditional love. We cannot demonize those who oppose the right way. This path is the one that leads to the dark side, that turns us into the monsters we wish to free ourselves from. The orange-one is only the face of such monstrosity, just as Hitler was only the face of national-racism in the service of capital and commodity.
No, we cannot, we must not, demonize. For to demonize the other is to demonize ourselves—to become demons.
We have to believe, instead, in the positive, utopian vision that MLK jr. painted.
I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.
And in doing so, we must remember that Dr. King was executed, not because of his defense of the black person, but because he stood up for the poor.
I remember—I could never forget—standing outside the hotel where he was shot. I pray that we will never know such violence. And I pray more that a thousand-million Martin Luther King jr.s rise up and lead us on the march to justice.
The news papers, the blogosphere, the left, are all wondering, What do we do now? The US has elected, through the electoral college, a man who is the least qualified and most divisive person in modern times. Donal Trump won primarily because of his demagoguery, but also because the major new media played this demagoguery over and over and over, without questioning it until it was too late. What do "people of good will" do now?
We need signs and messages of hope. Bobby Kennedy provides one such message through the echoes of history: one small act sends forth a ripple of hope. It was so wonderful to run into this quote as I walked into a coffee shop today. That ripple spurred on this little offering of mine, which I hope is ripple to any who reads it. For it is multiple ripples of hope that build a current and sweep away the walls of oppression.
We are not lost my dear people. Or as the song says,
But as long as a man
Sitting at Mass on Christmas eve, my spirit lit up on here the first reading:
The people who walked in darkness
We have walked in darkness so long. The last 18 months have been a gloom, for when Trump first announced his candidacy, I predicted what many people feared and many others thought impossible.
But a great light still shines for us, for we are that light. One man can do nothing without our permission. We each have a respondsibility to make ripples.
Well, it's been a week since Trump won the US Presidential Election.
People are still in shock. I spoke to several colleagues yesterday who are managing, but are just down about the election, and still find themselves doubting it. I see similar reactions on my Facebook feed.
I also see reactions of fear: fear of what Trump will mean to immigrants, to blacks, to the economy.
The shock is legitimate given the message in the media leading up to the election. I think it is also legitimate given how insular many have become, existing in bubbles on facebook or other social media, and in their neighborhoods. I still recall being shocked when a neighbor told me he was voting for Trump; and I'm someone who was expecting words like that from people, I just didn't imagine they would come from someone next door--though had I still been living in Mount Angel, OR, I would have. Which goes to show that often our shock emerges from what we are normally exposed to. And for two solid years, the major news outlets had set us up for the coronation of Clinton. So, when Trump won, it seemed like a major upset to most.
Obviously, the fear is also legitimate. We've seen many racist actions since the election: a black doll hung in effigy in an elevator at a Catholic college in New York. Swastikas painted on buildings at another institution of higher education. One of my colleagues told me that the independent group that tracks confirmed racists incidents has recorded 250 since the election--more than they do in a year. And we need not limit ourselves to fears about race for women were attacked over and over, and we already suffer from a terrible culture that normalizes and legitimizes rape. Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale seems more relevant now than ever. Here, women are valued only for their ability to reproduce, and those who cannot are sent to work cleaning toxic waste dumps.
What will life be like for people of color, for immigrants, for women in the near future? I cannot imagine, or perhaps what I can imagine is too horrible to allow myself to think on it.
So I want to be sensitive to the concerns of all people.
I also want to remember the people who elected Trump--the people who voted on class issues. I've made this point in this blog and previous ones before: we cannot separate out identity politics from class politics. That is the dangerous road we walked this election, and the one that allowed me to accurately predict Trump's win. I think, in fact, that Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story warned us about these issues: Trump could appeal to blue-collar and very poor, disenfranchised persons more than Hillary ever could. Hillary was not Bill, who could make this appeal, who campaigned on the slogan "It's the economy, stupid."
The Left has failed to keep in mind that race, gender, immigration, and the environment are tied intimately to capitalism. Will misogyny remain after capitalism? Maybe. It certainly existed before. Yet, as Silvia Federici shows, capitalism exploits latent misogyny and new and more horrible ways. What about racism? Ditto. Study after study has shown that race is determined by class conflict, as wave after wave of immigrant was labeled "black" until the next wave, because they competed for jobs. And immigration? Immigration is always a class issue--an issue of access to resources.
A week on, I do not see anyone in the press dealing with these issues. I've heard few people discussing them. A few people did at the Radical Philosophy Association, but not many.
A week on, we need to recognize--to diagnose--the ills of our society accurately, so that we can work to move forward.
Yes, many are shocked. Most of us are afraid. Now is the time to act, to organize.
Aristotle woke up, stretched, and rubbed his face. He wanted to go back to sleep, but his mind wondered, as it often did; and today it had more to wonder about. He stood up and made his ablations and dressed.
In the breakfast room, he sat next to Plato. They stared at each other a moment, both seeing red eyes staring back, both seeing exhaustion in the other. They shared a breakfast of oatmeal with fresh honey, blueberries, and flax. It was simple, but it was enough for the day.
"We better get to it," Plato said.
They cleaned out their bowls and set them aside to dry in the sun coming from the window. Aristotle smiled at the sunlight. It was strange, but it shored up the hope in his heart. Clearly, he was tired and frustrated and so sad... so very sad to have been right this one time.
Plato and Aristotle stepped out into the warmth of the new day and stared out at Athens. They could hear moaning coming from around them. Yesterday, Pericles had conceded to The Orange Haired Spartan. Her speech was conciliatory. But she also said that they had to give the Orange Haired Spartan a chance to lead. Pragmatic to the end, Aristotle thought. Pragmatism was what landed us here. "Paying the mortgage," he said to Plato. They both chuckled. It was their mantra for dealing with the last months. Everyone had to pay the mortgage; even they did.
"Living well," Plato said.
That was the only answer possible, Aristotle knew. You had to pay the mortgage, but you didn't have to sacrifice your life to it. That was the one thing that had defeated the Athenians... they sacrificed their life to paying the mortgage. Everyday. And then they made the final sacrifice that elected Pericles over Socrates.
They walked down the street and came to Aristophanes lying in his own vomit. They picked him up and carried him to his house. As Aristotle cleaned vomit from Aristophanes, he recalled some of the funny parts in The Clouds, even the ones that had made fun of Socrates. They play was funny, but it was sad that so many people had used it as a reason to reject Socrates. He was the only one that could have united the Athenians to defeat Sparta. Best not to dwell in the past.
They left Aristophanes to his own devices and continued down the way. As they went along they picked up trash in the street and put it in the correct bins. When they came to a homeless person, they invited him to join them. After an hour's walk, they came to Diotima's house. Aristotle could feel the nervousness of the men and women behind him. Diotima was a witch, and a midwife to boot. She knew the secrets of the world, secrets she had shared with Socrates. Since Socrates had drank the hemlock and passed his cloak over to Pericles, Plato and Aristotle had come to sit at her knee. Aristotle was not used to being around so many women, or around so much discussion of love. It put Plato's Symposium to shame.
Diotima invited them into the house. She did not hesitate when she saw the large number of people. instead, she smiled. They needed people now, now more than ever. She gave each homeless person some grapes, olives and cheese. When they were refreshed, she led them out into her garden where they met the other midwives and witches, witches and midwives, and midwife-witches.
"Let's ground ourselves," Diotima said. She struck a song bowl, it's clear note hanging in the air for an infinite moment. Then they learned to breathe, to feel the breath enter the body, fill it up with hope, and take away all the fear when it left the body. The ending note stayed with Aristotle the rest of the day.
Then they walked out into the fields around Athens and began to tend to the garden.
"We begin here," Diotima said, "where we are closest to nature, where we can feel the love pushing up from the ground and reaching for the sun." She took an old man's hands and pushed it into the cool dirt. "We begin where we remember that life comes round every year, that even in the coldest, darkest winter, the soil lives." She moved to the next one, and the next one, working her magic.
When she was finished, she walked over to Aristotle. he was bent down in the dirt, his dark hands covered with soil and a smile on his face. She placed her hands around his face and lifted it to her. Their eyes danced a dance with each other.
"It's time you began talking about love as well as friendship, is it not?" She had been working her magic on him for months now, and he was beginning to understand her secrets.
Aristotle was not sure he was up to the task, but then Diotima would remind him that it just takes a little every day. That was another reason they worked in the fields. Every day they could make a little change, and with their prayers, and their love, they might change the world. If nothing else, they would leave a little piece of it better than it was before.
This story began here.
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.
I agree with you entirely, Rod. It is time to rebuild. There can be no more pretense of a culture around us that is Christian or that is even content with Christianity being in its midst. We must be for the world by being against the world: Athanasius contra mundum. The world is leveling every cultural institution in its path — we must save them or rebuild them from the dust, for the world’s own sake, and for God’s.
A week ago, I wrote on two blogs published in Crisis magazine by a fellow colleague, Dr. Tony Esolen, in the English Department at Providence College. Just yesterday, I became aware of an interview published in The American Conservative of Dr. Esolen regarding the persecution he feels he has suffered at PC because of his blog posts.
I could say much about the interview, but I want to focus on one particular issue in this blog post: love, or more specifically, its absence.
Professor Esolen claims that it is time that we rebuild the world, and that we must be like Athanasius against the world. Athanasius argued against the Arians in the early history of the Church. (Arianism is a heresy that Jesus is not one with the Father, but separate and subordinate to God the Father.) This rhetoric mirrors Professor Esolen's rhetoric in his blog: the world is against us, the truly faithful, and we must stand strong in our faith in God. This view leads to Professor Esolen's rejection of "diversity" because one cannot, on his account, be diverse and share the same faith in the same God.
Thus, much of Professor Esolen's rhetoric, as well as the rhetoric of the interviewer, pits us against them, and insists that diversity opposes the Gospel message.
Nowhere in Professor Esolen's writings on diversity, however, do we encounter the Gospel message of love.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.
If we are going to call ourselves Christian or Catholic, then we must do our best to ground all words and actions in love.
Athanasius stands against the world. Like him, Professor Esolen identifies "THE GOOD GUYS" who will defend him against the "secularists," the faculty who "despise the Catholic Church," and the Persecutors." and "radical professors who have adopted politics as their god."
Yet, one wonders whether we can really side with Athanasius contra mundum.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
God did not stand against the world. Rather, He came to be part of the world, took on flesh, and dwelt among us. As He did, He identified God as Love. Love, of course, cannot be divisive. It cannot tolerate a divide between us and them. Rather, it calls us to an I-Thou relationship with each other, grounded in the diversity of the Trinity.
Not only is love absent overtly from Professor Esolen's interview, the underlying message is one of hurt and pain--a message which Professor Esolen cannot see. How else could he and the interviewer approve of words like the following, if they were aware of the obvious racial denigration involved in it.
Take a look at the specific "demands" the black faculty, students, and their allies are making of Providence College’s leadership. It is shockingly illiberal, and amounts to a thoroughgoing politicization and racialization of every aspect of campus life.
What does it matter that the faculty and students are black?
The answer is that it does not matter unless one has already grounded one's reaction in the race of the persons making "demands." Indeed, one wonders if Professor Esolen sees himself as making "demands," or whether he sees himself as defending something good.
My point here is that we cannot fall into the trap of speaking without love. To demonize Professor Esolen is to act as Professor Esolen. We must not re-act to Professor Esolen. Rather, we must act always from love and always with an eye to conversion--conversion of ourselves and of all others.
Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend
On 9 November 2016--if we're lucky--we will wake up to a clear presidential winner. If a miracle occurred, we'd wake up to President Sanders through a massive voter write-in across 50 states. Most likely, we will wake up to a President Clinton or possibly a President Trump.
Whatever the result, we still have to face the greatest threat ever to human life: climate change. Yet, human driven climate change is merely a symptom to the greatest threat to humanity ever--the lack of political agency and the domination of fear in our lives. This fear and the lack of agency today leads to repeat the mantra over and over: "paying the mortgage."
Paying the mortgage, as I have emphasized before, stands in for all those decisions that we take out of some self-imposed necessity: to drive the cheapest car we can buy rather than living closer to work, to refuse to pay taxes that build a mass transport people will use or to build schools that actually help people, to major in business or some other major we think will make us money rather than pursuing our passion, to refuse to hold accountable a congress that guts regulation because we believe freedom lies in making a profit selling things that aren't healthy for us: coffee and honey that aren't coffee and honey; etc.
And of course, the reason we are voting between Hillary and Trump is because of paying the mortgage: we believed Bernie had no real path to winning the White House; we believe that only two parties ever can win the White House; we believe that if it isn't us, then it's the end of the world.
So, the real miracle that has to take place, the real path forward, is for us to take a deep breath and remember that paying the mortgage has led us to the situation we now face. The path forward begins by looking our neighbors and co-workers in the eyes and saying we have to change.
We can change.
If we work together.
I have been wanting to say something about hope. Well, more specifically, I've been wanting to talk about Supergirl (and Superman) and hope.
The symbol of the House of El is a symbol of hope. I think that is the wonderful thing about Superman and Supergirl. But the recent Superman movies, directed by Snyder, have been about anything other than hope--they've been about fear. Jonathan Kent fears that someone will discover that Clark is an alien and that the government will take him away. And he convinces Clark to buy into that hope so much that Clark watches his father die from a tornado. Batman versus Superman was grounded in fear: Batman feared that Superman would destroy them all; Superman feared that Batman was a vigilante that didn't believe in justice. They feared each other so much that they took their eye off the real villain, Lex Luthor, who, of course, is only a villain because he fears the red capes--and someone should say something about how Luthor and Batman share that same fear.
Then recently, I watched the new Supergirl series. What a refreshing new wind--a wind of hope. Yes, Supergirl is a little campy because it is a television show. Yet, it is so grounded in the meaning of the House of El--hope--that it says something about our everyday world. The fears in the first season of Supergirl are fears surrounding the alien--the other. And as others have noted, sometimes what is being hinted at is the fear of sexuality and queerness. Cara "comes out" as Supergirl.
Yet, unlike Snyder's Superman, Supergirl never let's that fear drive her. Instead, she purposefully sees herself as a symbol of hope. So much so that the end of the first season--which could have been the end of the series--see Supergirl literally spreading hope to the people of National City to combat the robotic--should we say zombie-like--control they've fallen to.
In this election season, we are continuously told that we should fear the election of the other person. Many people are willing to buy into this fear, just as Snyder's Clark Kent buys into the fear that Jonathan Kent has.
Our challenge is not to fear. Whether it is fear of women, fear of Muslims, fear of Mexicans, or fear of angry white men, it will drive us to be zombies who follow a ruler without any thought to the hope that really lies ahead. We have to instead dig into ourselves to find that hope, and then spread it to others.
Just like Supergirl.
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.
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.