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.
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.
As we think about how to make the world a better place, as we work to develop strategies and envisage steps forward, we face a significant problem: all of our models involve mass violence.
See, the problem with changing consciousness is that it requires two things: education and experience. You can get some education through experience and some experience through education—but you really need both to change consciousness, to see the world in a new way, in short, to either become more committed to the values you have or to change your values. And the challenge to changing consciousness through experience is that, we need a change of values on the level of society, not just the level of individuals. Don’t get me wrong, a change at the level of individuals can work wonderful changes for society—witness the rise of Christianity, and then of the Protestant Reformation. The turn to modernity and to capitalism did not happen overnight. But what violence brought these changes about: religious persecution, the burning of witches, slavery, etc.?
We might want to put our hope in the idea that only one person will have to suffer—one man or woman—to die on the new cross. Just such an event happened in Tunisia, sparking the Arab Spring: the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, who, unable to find work, began to sell fruit on the side of the road, only to have it confiscated by government officials. While Bouazizi’s suicidal sacrifice helped spark a wave of uprisings throughout the Arab world, that uprising has failed to bring about the great changes people hoped for. Moreover, his death has only so far affected the Arab world. The deaths of hundreds nay thousands, of black men at the hands of the state in the US have sparked protests, sometimes reaching across cities, but nothing that inspires a mass movement—or at least an effective mass movement.
Thus, the problem is two-fold: first, we only know how violence can change consciousness at a social level and, second, the violence required right now would be massive, world changing violence equivalent to, if not worse than, WWII. If we look to science fiction, we see few instances of social change that happened without violence. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Three Californias series imagines a movement that changed international law to get rid of corporations. But what are the steps that lead to this change, because the current society that elected Trump and passed Brexit is not capable of creating such laws? Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing imagines an uprising of women that was mildly violent, but it’s unclear why the US military-industrial complex would not kill old women who stand in its way. The most realistic image I know of is Ursula LeGuin’s Always Coming Home, in which environmental collapse changed the way most people think about and interact with nature and with each other. In this last case, billions died.
Yet, Starhawk’s challenge stands before us: magic is the act of changing consciousness. Moreover, we can no longer believe in doing the same thing over and over again: violence leads to violence; usurpers become the new rulers. Her beliefs mirror those of the Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, who insisted that we must engage in dialogical action and education to resolve the differences between people. The question that remains is whether such dialogical communities can exist in isolation and surrounded by capitalist, imperialistic states. We can take some inspiration from places like the Findhorn Community in Scotland, and other intentional communities. We can begin to grow our own such communities. In the meantime, we must still contend with capitalism and with imperialism, as we try to move forward.
I do not mean to abandon hope. Rather, I mean to inspire hope, for in the end, we can change things if we want to. Capitalism and imperialism work only because we allow them to work. And yes, that means changing our own consciousness. Such change can happen, but maybe it will not be overnight as in the stories. The Brazilian midwife, Ramiro Ramero, tells us that the grandmothers say that change takes nine generations. On the one hand, that is a long time. On the other, we are at the dawn of a new year and the dawn of a new world, and more importantly, still at the beginning of a 2000-year cycle on the Mayan calendar, a cycle that promises enlightenment and peace.
So, let us start.
Please share your own ways of changing consciousness and building a better world in the comments feed below.
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.
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.
Trump Wins Presidency; France Surrenders.
Sanders Found Dead; Clinton Sheds Single Tear
Trump Pays For Clinton's Victory Party; Grabs Bill
First Cubs, then Trump, Now Massive Asteroid
First Cubs, then Clinton, Now Massive Asteroid
Bill Clinton Caught With Melania At Hillary's Victory Party
Trump Resigns; Pence Prepares Cabinet
With Trump Victory, Price on Pink Stars Skyrockets
Obama Evacuates Standing Rock Protestors; Pipeline Ruptures
Obama Approves TPP Tradebill
Clinton Declares Victory; Files for Divorce
After Trump Victory, Largest Search on Google: Who Is Donald Trump?
After Clinton Victory, Largest Search on Google: Who is Bernie Sanders?
Trump Victory Leads to Bernie Suicide: "I Can't Believe I Wasted My Vote"
Four Horsemen Looking for Work After Clinton Victory
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.
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.