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.
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.
Some students at Providence College today occupied the Provost's Office protesting the blog writings of one of the professors at PC. The professor, Anthony Esolen, has written some blog posts for Crisis magazine in which he laments cultural diversity and defends "the Truth of the Catholic Church."
I am addressing this issue in this blog for two reasons: first, because tolerance is the foundation of discovering the truth and, second, because one needs to show how intolerable views that are simply wrong, as Tony Esolen's are, ought to be treated--that is, logically and passionately.
In 1965, Herbert Marcuse contributed an essay to the volume "A Critique of Pure Tolerance," in which he argues that the Left ought not tolerate various views, especially fascist views. His argument is that the administered society represses the reasoning powers of citizens. Further, as Alex Callinicos notes, Marcuse does not trust in the ability of everyday citizens to think for themselves.
Alasdair MacIntyre's response is critical: either we trust in people's thinking ability or we end up being totalitarian like Stalin, who imposed a particular regime upon people. Grounded in Marxian theory, MacIntyre emphasizes Marx's point that the revolution must be brought about by the proletariat.
Our good friend, Paulo Freire, stresses the same point. A revolution that is imposed by leaders on the people does not liberate. Rather, it recreates the forms of oppression.
Liberation requires tolerance, tolerance based in trust. Further, to eliminate someone from debate, to prevent them from engaging in conversation, is to, not only silence them, but to silence ourselves. J. S. Mill has the best insight on this point: none of us have the whole truth, and even those who believe mostly false things have some element of the truth. Esolen should appreciate this point because it comes from St. Augustine.
Of course, in denouncing cultural diversity, Tony Esolen is merely trying to silence others. He does so by pretending that others have nothing valuable to share with us that the "West" does not already have, by contending that TRUTH comes from the Roman Catholic Church and cannot be doubted, and by various slights of hand, shadows, and mirrors. And might I add, very, very bad theology.
Let's take one example of Esolen's reasoning:
That is, supposing that the people of a tribe in the interior of Brazil are compelled to accept cultural diversity for its own sake, rather than merely adopting and adapting this or that beneficent feature of another culture (something that people have always done), will that not mean that their own culture must eventually vanish, or be reduced to the superficialities of food and dress?
Any one who has studied indigenous people know that the problem they face is exactly the opposite of what Esolen presents. Esolen believes the problem for them is cultural diversity. In fact, the fear is that someone will ask them to "adapt this or that beneficent feature from another culture": oil, for instance, or agriculture, which would destroy their way of life. Cultural diversity means trying to understand the values of the other culture and learn from them what truth they have.
Is not that same call for diversity, when Catholics are doing the calling, a surrender of the Church to a political movement which is, for all its talk, a push for homogeneity, so that all the world will look not like the many-cultured Church, but rather like the monotone non-culture of western cities that have lost their faith in the transcendent and unifying God?
Here, we see once more a confusion, really a twisting of words. For Esolen, diversity means surrender to homogeneity.
One should be mindful of this mind trick: it's exactly the same kind of mind trick that politicians pull--or try to pull--over people all the time. "We are pro-life," but we won't fund health care for pregnant women or provide food for babies. "We are pro-choice," but we won't address the fundamental inequality that makes women think they have to get an abortion.
I worked at a Roman Catholic seminary for seven years, and one of the marvelous things about it was its celebration of cultural diversity. We all joined with the Hispanic community to celebrate our Lady of Guadalupe, not white-washed "universally," but as Hispanic people celebrate it. Diversity leads exactly to that.
See, the reason Esolen is able to use mind-tricks is because he fails to define his terms. He wants to use them this way and that way so as to confuse the reader to his real purposes.
Thus, when Esolen writes the following, he is merely trying to "white-wash" China.
Granted that God redeems not only individuals but peoples, so that, for example, China in the arms of the Church will be more truly China than she was before, does not this diversity presuppose the distinction of cultures one from another?
The Church can only make China more truly China if it first accepts China. Esolen's argument is the reverse: only by accepting the Church does China become truly a distinct culture.
But to be more logical, I expect the students--as well as the editors and readers of Crisis--to be able to pick out such oxymoronic sentences as the following:
It remains to be seen how far they will go towards dismantling the most culturally diverse program at Providence College, our program in the Development of Western Civilization.
How can something be culturally diverse if in fact what it is teaching is one culture viz., Western Culture?
Socrates did not tell the Athenians not to listen to other people. Rather, he said, question them. And then he went around and he showed them how to question the cultural guardians of the day.
An education from Providence College should--and does, from the evidence I've seen, including student occupations of administrative offices--prepare students to question just as Socrates did. For that, we must have tolerance, because without it, it is much too easy for one to become totalitarian in the name of "truth" and "diversity."
The clock has turned--is it for the last time? Will we see the big D make a comeback from his last gaff?
I don't know. My suspicion is not, which means my prediction of over a year ago--that Trump would win the nomination, and that if it is Trump versus Clinton, Trump will win--is wrong.
But what did it take to get my prediction wrong? Oh, I know, Hillary has been ahead in the polls for a month now, blah, blah, effing blah. Polls don't mean squat--or are you going to finally tell me that all those polls showing Bernie ahead in states that Clinton won were true, and that, oh boy, yes we do need to go back and look at what happened there?
I thought not.
Sorry for my tone. But really, what do you expect when I still have people telling me that I have to vote for one neo-liberal, pro-war candidate so that the other neo-liberal, pro-fasicist candidate doesn't win? It shouldn't be happiness and cherry-pie. We're not at the Derby.
The tide seems to have turned against Trump just at the moment that Clinton desperately needed it too. Oh, you haven't read about the contents of her speech to Wall Street? You haven't heard how she said she has a private self and a public self? You know, the thing I've been warning about for the last four months, ever since it was clear she was trying to show a sunny side to the Bernie supporters?
Yes, I'm quite peeved that we have to choose between two different kinds of fascists, and my left-leaning friends refuse to recognize that, in fact, Hillary is two-faced and will go back on her word to Bernie.
But that isn't the real problem. The real problem is this: when she does, when she keeps fracking and giving out to the big banks, what happens in the next election? The Republicans will do their darndest to undermine her at every point and will have a nice pie-in-the-face for millennial voters with all of her back turning. Where will the country go then?
Oh, yes, I'm being quite pessimistic about the whole thing. Or is it realistic? This blog, my life, my philosophy, is all based on pointing out the corruption in the US--and Western "democracy" in general--and saying that we have to find a better way. And that means abandoning the two parties that dominate the system right now.
In the mean time, go back and laugh with Hillary as Trump continues to bury himself and the Republican party. The best thing that can happen right now is a unified, democratic controlled government... under Bernie. The worst, well, aside from a Donald victory, might be a unified, democratic controlled government under Clinton.
Neoliberalism for the win.
And, my dear readers, I hope you understand that I really, deeply, truly wish that I am wrong.
"The Cheyennes do not break their word," One-Eye replied. "If they should do so, I would not care to live longer."
What would it be like to live with this faith in one's people?
What would it be like if the two people running as Republican and Democratic nominees spoke like this?
What would this world be like if the US honored the treaties they made with the Cheyenne? The Lakota? Any group of American Indians?
I want no peace till the Indians suffer more"
Chief Black Kettle honored the treaties he made with the white man, with the representatives of the Great Father, the POTUS. For his faith in the Great Father, he had to live under the rule of Chivington who, not only attacked Indians he had said he was at peace with and said he would never attack, but oversaw the mutilation of those people killed--the cutting off of men's and women's genitals which his soldiers used to carry gun powder or war as trophies.
Black Kettle wanted nothing but to live a peaceful life. He was gunned down by Chivington's men as he tried to save his people from slaughter.
The Plains Indians knew they could not win a war with the US. They simply wanted to live in peace and to protect their way of life. When Red Cloud visited Washington, he said he knew some day the Lakota would have to turn to being farmers, but not yet. Give them time. They still had plenty of buffalo yet.
To the Indians, it seemed that these Europeans hated everything in nature--the living forests and their birds and beasts, the grassy glades, the water, the soil, and the air itself."
We like to think that it was the gold that drove the US government to break these treaties. But it was more than gold. It was land, the best form of property. We cannot separate the treatment of the American Indians from the treatment of the land by European-Americans.
Maybe it isn't hate--though it seems like it. Maybe it's just that they loved gold so much they could not see the land, or the Indian.
Pray with me to the Great Spirit today.
We are nearing the end of National Midwifery Week, so I want to leave you with something positive, something to continue motivating you to ask questions for your own care.
Midwifery is, not simply good health care, better for the mother and child and family, better for the community, but it is pro-woman. I've alluded to this before: the first role of the midwife is to help the mother trust herself and trust the natural process. The first role of the midwife is to empower others.
What we see in the US system is quite different. The system is based on fear: a fear of death ultimate, but that manifests as a fear of litigation and a fear of loss of control. Watch videos of women delivering and you will hear guttural--beautiful--noises coming from them. They are able to let go. Yet, we fear when to let our bodies go so often in this controlled society. We fear being too fat or too thin. We fear being sued because we have no control over the situation, so we try to tighten the screw. But like any normal screw, over-tightening leads to stripping the screw of its natural form, making it incapable of functioning. So we discard it.
The primary virtue--to be a little philosophical--of the midwife is trust. In the basis of that trust, she is able to help the laboring mother listen to her body, to trust what the body is telling her. Some times, the body tells her that it needs some medical help. That empowers the mother to exercise her agency, by listening to and trusting her body. She can make a decision grounded, not in fear, but in love and honesty.
I don't mean to romanticize the labor and birth. It's painful. Nor do I intend to demean any one who desires to numb the pain through an epidural. Rather, I'm simply inviting people to consider other possibilities. Possibilities grounded in the empowerment of women and of families. I've talked about the dominance of science in our country and asking ourselves where science and technology fit in human life. That is all I am doing here: at what point does technology and medicine in the birthing room support human life and at what point does it detract? A midwife is one of the best, if not the best, guide in helping to answer that question.
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.
Continuing my reflections on National Midwifery Week in the US, we might ask, why our midwives so prevalent in other countries and not in the US? What is the difference?
The movie, "Why Not Home?" brings out some of these issues. As a young country, midwifery was a practice of immigrants--whether of black slaves and free blacks after the Civil War or of the many waves of immigrants coming over from Europe. At the same time, the medical field began to grow--and of course, many of the innovations came from the US or were quickly adopted by the US. In Europe, Africa, and Asia, in contrast, midwifery had roots as deep as human life--it's the second oldest profession as midwives like to say. Thus, midwives were firmly established in the culture as part of the culture.
Thus, in the US, when doctors began to compete for dollars, they could easily target midwives as "dirty, ignorant immigrants." Sound familiar? In our country, midwifery serves as a clear window through which to see many injustices perpetrated and written in law in the US. Thus, because of other poor health outcomes, white men were able to colonize the birthing room.
In addition, pregnancy came to be seen as a pathology.
Some pieces of the puzzle that the movie left out but that played pivotal roles:
First, the role of the media. Women's magazines and health magazines helped to wage a campaign against the dirty immigrant midwives.
Second, the role of pain relief, which began in England with Twilight Sleep, a narcotic that knocked a woman unconscious during labor. Obviously, as one of the persons in the movie said, "it's hard work, it hurts." Yet, she ends this statement with the proclamation, "and you can do it." The medical field instead says, we can do it with drugs and technology.
Third, hospitals realized that if people are born in the hospital, then they have created a life-long customer. Hospital beds are expensive, and if they can keep them filled, get people used to coming into the hospital by making it natural from birth, they would fill those expensive beds and their coffers would over-flow.
Fourth, we need to recognize the role of class in this situation. At the turn of the 20th century, having a baby in the hospital with a scientifically trained male doctor was a mark of distinction. Those who could afford it did. (At the same time, the Frontier Nursing Service watched over births throughout Appalachia and had a 0 rate of infant mortality--they lost no one.) Now, of course, the reverse is true. It is a mark of class, or the affluent, to birth at home.
Because, insurance will not cover a home birth and will not usually cover a midwife birth. So you need the $4k it takes to cover the birth from your own pockets.
Yes, that's right: the insurance companies would rather pay anywhere from $11k--$28k per birth than $4k. The question why is an important sociological one to look at.
Because of these various factors, a midwife attending birth is less than 10% in the US, while it nears 100% in the UK. On top of which, we spend more money with worse outcomes.
It's time to change that. If you are of child-bearing age or know someone who is, contact your local midwife group and at least have a conversation with them.
Last night, I had to wonderful opportunity to participate in a panel on the movie "Why not home?" by Jessica Moore at the Sarah Doyle Women's Center at Brown University.
The movie is simply wonderful, showing the beauty of homebirth while discussing--in a most balanced way--the issues involved. If you have the opportunity, please attend one of the screenings around the country. I am thinking of attending the one at Brookline in order to meet the film maker.
In the US, we spend more on birth than any other industrialized nation ($111million), while suffering worse outcomes. For example, the C-section rate has increased to 32% in the US over the last 12 years, while maternal mortality has increased--more mothers dying from birth. Further, our infant mortality rate has fared poorly compared to other countries--deaths have decreased only 13% in the US while they have decreased by 23% in other industrialized countries.
One other interesting point from the movie: the main study used in the US to discriminate against homebirth refused to include the major study from the Netherlands. Thus, the Netherlands' study involved 500,000 homebirths, while the US study involved only 50,000.
As I stated last night, when we deny people information, when we limit people's choices, when we refuse to share information with others, we dehumanize them. In the US, our medical field and the media dehumanize women and children every day, every year, killing many and making many others suffer. I ask you to inform yourself and your loved ones and all you know about the facts around birth, midwifery, and family life to make the best decision for you.
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.