Butterflies and Bees04-09-2017
Butterflies and Bees
[caption id="attachment_18845" align="alignleft" width="269"] By Chiswick Chap - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0[/caption] Ralph Benko offers a fascinating metaphor of the Bees and the Butterflies that helps explain the political divide in the United States.
"Bees (like ants) live in a centralized hierarchical culture. (The use of “culture” here is not a use of pathetic fallacy. It’s a Thing. Study of such cultures in the animal kingdom is called ethology.) Bees have a Queen, fertilized by drones, who lays all the eggs from which more bees are hatched. The worker bees, all female, do the work of building the hive and foraging for nectar among the flowers, bringing it home to be refined into honey. Armed with stingers, consider them a militant species and, indeed, the hierarchical structure of the human military has many similarities with that of bees. Butterflies live in a decentralized, non-hierarchical, culture. They engage in courtship, mate, the female laying eggs which turn into larva and then caterpillars, which, in time, turn into pupa and emerge as butterflies. Butterflies, too, feed on nectar. But they don’t bring it to a central location, nor are they regimented. Consider the butterflies as somewhat akin to Hippies (of which I, although a credentialed right winger, am an aging specimen) of human society. America’s political structure originally was, and was designed to be, structured much like that of the butterflies. This was called a “republican form of government.” Enter democracy! It took a long time — the inflection point arguably occurred under President Woodrow Wilson, a progressive champion, with his enactment of the federal income tax, the Federal Reserve System, and, of course, his sending America into World War I, 100 years ago on April 2, 1917, that the world “be made safe for democracy.” The American political system has been deeply restructured, over time, along bee hive lines. Advantage: Bees! If the Trump administration succeeds — not foreordained — in capably restoring it to butterfly cultural lines: Advantage Butterflies! There is nothing inherently “wrong” with either the culture of the bees or the culture of the butterflies. Both provide sustenance for their respective species. The question is: which is better adapted, right now, to the purposes for which the American government was constituted: to secure “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”"Somehow Benko's metaphor makes political differences both comprehensible and palatable. If we can understand that those Republicans are butterflies and those Democrats are bees, it is easier to respect them. It makes eminent sense that bees and butterflies can share the same meadow even as they maintain their differences. This strange idea, that a plurality of people with different understandings of the good can join together in a political world is at the center of Hannah Arendt's political thinking. Politics, as Arendt understands it, begins with the recognition of plurality and proceeds to discover the common understandings that exist amidst our differences. Those common understandings begin with the recognition of facts and the sharing of experiences. Together, shared facts and experiences contribute to a common sense that weaves us together without requiring that we hold the same opinions or live life in the same ways. Arendt's idea of politics is a unity amidst plurality. It is probably closer to the culture of butterflies than it is to bees, for Arendt was deeply suspicious of sovereignty and the unitary single governmental power of the hive structure. But Arendt also believed firmly in constitutional limitations to the eccentricities of pluralistic communities. A constitution is an expression of those common truths we come to share in spite of our differences. We are living through a time when common sense, common experiences, and common facts are increasingly rare. There is no top-down antidote to our loss of a common world. We can only re-create that shared world by talking to each other across divides, coming to share conversations, experiences, and encounters that will allow us to see and hear what holds us together and not only what keeps us apart. This is why Ralph Benko is a leader of the "Living Room Conversations" movement. The idea is to simple, to bring people who disagree politically into a structured conversation to listen to each other. The Arendt Center has been sponsoring Living Room Conversations and Dorm Room Conversations this year at Bard College, to great success. It is a program deeply consonant with Arendt's defense of plurality as the basic fact of politics. You can learn more about Living Room Conversations here. —Roger BerkowitzForm more information visit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-bees-vs-the-butterflies-the-ecology-of-politics_us_58e50a73e4b09dbd42f3dc4e
The Strategic Turn
Christian Parenti and James Davis make the strategic argument that the left should not censor speech on college campuses.
"Students and faculty are absolutely correct to challenge reactionary speakers. But they should never ask for censorship. This might seem like a minor or technical point; it is not. Censorship used against our enemies will soon be used against us. The Left will never win the battle of ideas by trying to suppress opposing arguments. The only way to win is by a concerted, long-term effort to out-argue, out-educate, and out-organize the Right. To be clear, we are not making a moral argument. We are not saying that racist and reactionary ideas are worth hearing — they are not. Rather, our point is purely strategic. Asking for censorship makes the Left appear narrow-minded and afraid. And it opens the door for censorship to be used against us. Lest one think that last concern is an abstraction, recall that in January Fordham University denied Students for Justice in Palestine the right to operate on campus because the group’s work “leads to polarization.” The strategic way to frame left opposition to offensive right-wing speakers is with more speech. Use free speech to drown them out, and more importantly, expose them for what they are. Fight speech with speech. Slogans like “free speech against hate speech” are better than “free Milo from ever speaking again.”"Parent and Davis are right on the matter of strategy. They are wrong to say that that oppositional ideas are not worthy hearing. One reason that censorship does not work strategically is that it is widely recognized as morally wrong. More importantly, it is intellectually wrong; intellectual life requires humility, the recognition that one might be wrong. The best reason to hear from those one finds wrong and even offensive is that you might learn something. It may be time to stop defending the right of others to speak with the rhetoric of free speech. Freedom of speech should be a broad and wide-ranging statement of values that encompasses intellectual, moral, strategic, and constitutional arguments. Sadly, free speech has been reduced in contemporary parlance to simply a constitutional right. Charles Murray and Milo Yiannopoulos have a Constitutional right to speak, but not at a college campus. The reason they should be allowed to speak at a college is not because they have a right, but because a campus is, above all, a space for encountering heterodox ideas. In the name of intellectual freedom and the pursuit of truths, we must always be willing to hear from those whose ideas are counter to our own. That is the only way to protect ourselves from the danger of orthodoxy. It is also the only way to affirm our belief in plurality and our commitment to a world of meaningful difference. By defending heterodox speech on campus we remind ourselves that the value of speech is in its ideas. The point is to bring voices to campus that are underrepresented and can challenge the status quo. Maybe in the disputes over free speech, we can remind ourselves about why speech is so important precisely in the context of a college or university. —Roger BerkowitzForm more information visit: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/04/free-speech-charles-murray-campus-protest/
Plurality and Campus Speech
Lynn Pasquerella offers a good intellectual defense of a pluralist intellectual life on college campuses.
"Liberal education is grounded in a commitment to intellectual diversity and protection against the suppression of unpopular viewpoints as a means of guarding against political indoctrination. Insofar as colleges and universities are sites for encountering divergent perspectives, assessing conflicting ideas, evaluating competing claims of truth, creating new knowledge, and upholding intellectual integrity, a liberal education is designed to develop students’ capacities to think critically and to make themselves vulnerable to criticism by welcoming dissenting voices. When preparing students for the future, faculty members should offer curricula that include a diversity of intellectual perspectives appropriate to their disciplines, and they must also be aware of the extent to which their positionality, framing of issues, and syllabi, together with written policies, campus cultures, and comments by other members of the community, can serve as inhibitors of speech. To prepare the next generation of informed citizens who will shape our democracy, colleges and universities must remain free from entrenched and intellectually rigid forms of political partisanship and engage students from across the political spectrum. In fact, the honest and genuine pursuit of truth, at the core of a liberal education, mandates tolerance for ambiguity and respect for those bearing radically different perspectives. As members of college and university communities come together and appeal to their institutional values in guiding the determination of whether speech is protected, a commitment to respect for others, free inquiry, and inclusivity must be paramount in maintaining an environment in which the free exchange of ideas can thrive."Form more information visit: http://www.aacu.org/about/statements/2017/free-expression