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Amor Mundi: Plurality On Campus

Plurality On Campus

(Source: Lisa Rathke)

Laurie L. Patton, the President of Middlebury college, reflects on the lessons learned in the wake of the violent disruption by Middlebury students of a talk by Charles Murray. We must, she writes:

“Move beyond the false dichotomy between free speech and inclusiveness. Our dual commitment to free expression and to making all students full members of our communities must be embraced fiercely and with conviction. But an educational institution does not become more inclusive by limiting freedom of expression. Nor does it achieve greater freedom by reducing its commitment to building an inclusive, robust, brave public square where all students are equally welcomed and valued.

  • Let students know that, when these values come into conflict, as they did at Middlebury this past spring, educational institutions have a primary obligation to foster open and civil discourse. Schools have to be prepared to enforce this commitment, as we did in this episode. Free speech lies at the heart of our purpose as an institution, and we cannot allow force or disruption to undermine it.
  • Ensure that students have a basic understanding of the First Amendment and its history as well as of historical and current models for creating a more inclusive public square. It is essential to include such topics in student orientations and to ask them to reflect on them at regular intervals throughout their careers.
  • Prepare students for our polarized politics by actively acknowledging and learning about the full range of perspectives on the important issues of the day. Faculty should regularly ask themselves and their students if anyone is afraid to speak about his or her views—including conservative students, who tell us that they often feel alienated in the classroom and social settings of left-leaning campuses.
  • Reflect on who is and is not included in different public debates, and ask why. Many students from underrepresented groups tell us that they get the message every day that they do not belong at elite colleges. Are there ways to create new traditions of dialogue and argument that can expand the definition of who belongs? Our public square must be as energetically invitational as it is educationally rigorous.

I believe that this dual commitment to free expression and inclusiveness is crucial to the well-being of our institutions of higher learning and to the health of American society as a whole. But I won’t pretend that the tension between them is easy to negotiate or resolve. If we manage it well, however, it can be a force in our public life for creativity rather than for distrust and division.”

Patton both affirms a core educational and political value in the open and honest exchange of ideas and seeks to climb the empathy wall to understand why groups on campus feel excluded and alienated from the campus community. She focuses on the experience of minority groups who are alienated on campus and who are now working to shut down disagreeable talks. She also addresses conservative students who feel attacked and de-legitimated by an intolerant liberal majority. Patton writes that administrators and faculty must do a better job explaining to students “a basic understanding of the First Amendment and its history as well as of historical and current models for creating a more inclusive public square. That is right.

Continue reading this piece here on Medium.

The Lonely Man

(Source: Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Rebecca Solnit turns to Hannah Arendt to think through the loneliness of Donald Trump. Solnit picks up on Arendt’s argument that loneliness leads to thoughtlessness. The lonely person, needing belongs, lives in a fictional world and will defend that world to the extreme. That is why loneliness, for Arendt, is at the root of totalitarianism. Solnit explores the different ways in which Donald Trump does and does not embody our modern loneliness.

“A man who wished to become the most powerful man in the world, and by happenstance and intervention and a series of disasters was granted his wish. Surely he must have imagined that more power meant more flattery, a grander image, a greater hall of mirrors reflecting back his magnificence. But he misunderstood power and prominence. This man had bullied friends and acquaintances, wives and servants, and he bullied facts and truths, insistent that he was more than they were, than it is, that it too must yield to his will. It did not, but the people he bullied pretended that it did. Or perhaps it was that he was a salesman, throwing out one pitch after another, abandoning each one as soon as it left his mouth. A hungry ghost always wants the next thing, not the last thing.

This one imagined that the power would repose within him and make him great, a Midas touch that would turn all to gold. But the power of the presidency was what it had always been: a system of cooperative relationships, a power that rested on people’s willingness to carry out the orders the president gave, and a willingness that came from that president’s respect for rule of law, truth, and the people. A man who gives an order that is not followed has his powerlessness hung out like dirty laundry. One day earlier this year, one of this president’s minions announced that the president’s power would not be questioned. There are tyrants who might utter such a statement and strike fear into those beneath him, because they have installed enough fear.

A true tyrant does not depend on cooperative power but has a true power of command, enforced by thugs, goons, Stasi, the SS, or death squads. A true tyrant has subordinated the system of government and made it loyal to himself rather than to the system of laws or the ideals of the country. This would-be tyrant didn’t understand that he was in a system where many in government, perhaps most beyond the members of his party in the legislative branch, were loyal to law and principle and not to him. His minion announced the president would not be questioned, and we laughed. He called in, like courtiers, the heads of the FBI, of the NSA, and the director of national intelligence to tell them to suppress evidence, to stop investigations and found that their loyalty was not to him. He found out to his chagrin that we were still something of a democracy, and that the free press could not be so easily stopped, and the public itself refused to be cowed and mocks him earnestly at every turn.

A true tyrant sits beyond the sea in Pushkin’s country. He corrupts elections in his country, eliminates his enemies with bullets, poisons, with mysterious deaths made to look like accidents—he spread fear and bullied the truth successfully, strategically. Though he too had overreached with his intrusions into the American election, and what he had hoped would be invisible caused the whole world to scrutinize him and his actions and history and impact with concern and even fury. Russia may have ruined whatever standing and trust it has, may have exposed itself, with this intervention in the US and then European elections.

The American buffoon’s commands were disobeyed, his secrets leaked at such a rate his office resembled the fountains at Versailles or maybe just a sieve (this spring there was an extraordinary piece in the Washington Post with thirty anonymous sources), his agenda was undermined even by a minority party that was not supposed to have much in the way of power, the judiciary kept suspending his executive orders, and scandals erupted like boils  and sores. Instead of the dictator of the little demimondes of beauty pageants, casinos, luxury condominiums, fake universities offering fake educations with real debt, fake reality tv in which he was master of the fake fate of others, an arbiter of all worth and meaning, he became fortune’s fool….

The man in the white house sits, naked and obscene, a pustule of ego, in the harsh light, a man whose grasp exceeded his understanding, because his understanding was dulled by indulgence. He must know somewhere below the surface he skates on that he has destroyed his image, and like Dorian Gray before him, will be devoured by his own corrosion in due time too. One way or another this will kill him, though he may drag down millions with him. One way or another, he knows he has stepped off a cliff, pronounced himself king of the air, and is in freefall. Another dungheap awaits his landing; the dung is all his; when he plunges into it he will be, at last, a self-made man.”

Looking in the Mirror

Richard V. Reeves reflects on the hypocrisy of the elite who are not in the top 1%.

“So imagine my horror at discovering that the United States is more calcified by class than Britain, especially toward the top. The big difference is that most of the people on the highest rung in America are in denial about their privilege. The American myth of meritocracy allows them to attribute their position to their brilliance and diligence, rather than to luck or a rigged system. At least posh people in England have the decency to feel guilty.

In Britain, it is politically impossible to be prime minister and send your children to the equivalent of a private high school. Even Old Etonian David Cameron couldn’t do it. In the United States, the most liberal politician can pay for a lavish education in the private sector. Some of my most progressive friends send their children to $30,000-a-year high schools. The surprise is not that they do it. It is that they do it without so much as a murmur of moral disquiet.

Beneath a veneer of classlessness, the American class reproduction machine operates with ruthless efficiency. In particular, the upper middle class is solidifying. This favored fifth at the top of the income distribution, with an average annual household income of $200,000, has been separating from the 80 percent below. Collectively, this top fifth has seen a $4 trillion-plus increase in pretax income since 1979, compared to just over $3 trillion for everyone else. Some of those gains went to the top 1 percent. But most went to the 19 percent just beneath them.

The rhetoric of “We are the 99 percent” has in fact been dangerously self-serving, allowing people with healthy six-figure incomes to convince themselves that they are somehow in the same economic boat as ordinary Americans, and that it is just the so-called super rich who are to blame for inequality.”

The Great Flip Flop

Ann Friedman, in a bid to plot out the next moves for the American left, takes aim at a strategy that she doesn’t think will work:

“The Golden State has long contained some of the richest zip codes in the country, but it’s increasingly becoming a state where only the wealthy can build a decent life for themselves. This is apparent in places like Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights, where my friend flies his rebel flag but rising housing prices are breaking up the Latino community that’s called the neighborhood home since the 1950s. Zoom out the lens, and you can see that it’s not just a local issue: since 2011, housing prices across the state have gone up 71 percent. That’s had real consequences. Between 2007 and 2014, more people left California than migrated here. Leading the exodus were people without college degrees—in other words, the same demographic that’s credited with delivering Trump a landslide victory in red states.

The hard truth about liberal secession fantasies is that California is not a place where progressive policies enable everyone to become successful. It’s a place to which people move to enjoy their success when they’ve beaten the odds elsewhere. As Kendrick Lamar reminded us, people come to California for “women, weed, and weather”—not decent wages, affordable education, and accessible health care.

Ruiz Evans’s case for secession rests on the claim that Californians’ “views on education, science, immigration, taxation and healthcare are different” from those prevailing in much of the rest of the country. This is certainly true when you look at polling on the issues. But when it comes to policies and outcomes, California’s unique values are less apparent. To take just the first example on Ruiz Evans’s list, California’s per-pupil spending on K-12 education has declined for years, falling well below the national average. In this realm, California is comparable to states like Florida and Texas—even though California also boasts some of the highest-performing high schools in the nation. This is not a sign of our more progressive views on education; it’s an indication that the state is deeply segregated along lines of race and class.”

Idealism Has Been Missed

Janet Daley reflects on the Liberals victory in British election and argues that the only meaningful conclusion is that “idealism, it turns out, has been sorely missed”—so much so that the Conservatives had forgotten how to respond to left-wing idealism.

“Labour did surprisingly well for more interesting reasons which are central to the serious changes that may be taking place in British politics (I say “may be” because it is far from clear whether this is as deep or far-reaching as it seems). Here is the essence of it: what kept occurring to me throughout this profoundly depressing election process was that we were seeing the return of the spirit of Michael Foot, but this time without the resounding opposition of Margaret Thatcher.

In other words, there was a one-sided case for socialism being made without any challenge. We were hearing one half of what should have been a heated exchange: a thesis without an antithesis. A sloppy and unexamined position was getting no proper critique or even rigorous examination. The Tories were, I think, taken completely by surprise by the rise of old fashioned Left-wing doctrine, which they had forgotten how to counter – or thought they didn’t need to counter.

It was not always like this. For those who remember it, the Eighties were a time of momentous political debate. The public discourse was quite extraordinarily convulsed with profound argument. In the course of daily life one encountered animated discussions of the morality of public ownership as opposed to private enterprise, and the relative value of individual rather than collective responsibility. Such things were the common currency of conversation, not just on the north London dinner party circuit or in senior common rooms but in pubs and workplaces. To be interested in what would properly be called ideology was not an academic prerogative.

Perhaps because the consequences of high taxation and state monopoly of public services impinged so much on the lives of ordinary people, these were matters of lively concern to huge swaths of the population, and they were a constant source of often very well-informed contention. Broadcast discussion programmes and newspaper columns were filled with fierce exchanges of dogmatic principle. Civic life was turbulent, arguments often quite personal and angry, but goodness, it was invigorating.

When the more pacific Nineties arrived with their pragmatic solutions and managerial political settlements, a quality of passion and concern went out of national life. But in some quarters the flame was kept alive. New Labour had buried state socialism as an official policy but Jeremy Corbyn and his friends were the guardians of the Old Faith, dutifully maintaining its historic purity like dedicated monks preserving the relics of a saint.

Here is the really important discovery of the general election: idealism, it turns out, has been sorely missed

Then their moment came. By a bizarre series of coincidences and misjudgments, those who had never forsaken the old beliefs were loosed upon the national scene. And to general amazement, it transpired that the fundamentalist creed still had the power to inspire. Most of the new converts were young – which is not surprising. They had no previous experience of the catastrophic economic failure or the illiberal social consequences of the doctrine, and fell head over heels for its meretricious appeal to communal virtue.

This was helped, of course, by offers of free money – as in the abolition of university tuition fees – but I’m sure that a good deal of the attraction was sincerely idealistic. So here is the really important discovery of the general election: idealism, it turns out, has been sorely missed. The abandonment of theories of social good and abstract political values – as opposed to mere practical solutions – had impoverished politics to an extent that almost no one in mainstream public life had appreciated. There was a hunger for it that was not recognised.”

Kingdom Coming

(Source: Cindy Lee Johnson)

Justin Taylor remembers American novelist Denis Johnson, who died late last month:

“Many wise and moving eulogies for Denis Johnson have been published in the past two weeks, some by critics who knew his work well, others by friends and students, many by fans. I am a fan. I wish I had known him, even a little bit, and as long as we’re making wishes here I wish he was still alive and that he’d won Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize. Anyway, those eulogies. They all praise his singular voice, his vast and restive talent—poems, novels, stories, plays, journalism—all of which is right, though it hardly goes far enough. He was the kind of writer who comes along once in a generation, if that often: a true original, in the same league as Melville and Whitman. But I have yet to see anyone speak at length about what I regard as the most important part of Johnson’s work, namely his profound spiritual and moral vision.

For all of its glorious derangement—hallucinatory tales of druggies and low-lives and murderers and fuck-ups, including a guy so far gone his friends all call him “Fuckhead”—Johnson’s writing is always rooted in the conviction that life is sacred, that evil is a symptom of suffering, which is to say of estrangement from the sacred. Johnson’s characters are people who do not know they are already in Hell, or purgatory, but for all his unsparing grimness in depicting those dark realms, Johnson does not damn his lost souls to stay lost. He believes in the possibility, perhaps the promise, of their redemption. All his characters are asking versions of Augustine’s question from Book 1 of the Confessions: “But who calls upon you when he does not know you?””

Posted on 11 June 2017 | 9:30 am

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