Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Ghettoside: How to Preserve the Status Quo

Ghettoside: How to Preserve the Status Quo
P. Schultz

This is an email exchange with a former colleague and friend that seemed interesting to me. 

Paul wrote: >
> Hey, what are you up to? Campaigning for Trump down in that swing state; maybe you are throwing your weight behind Clinton. It strikes me that there are two Presidential candidates that you would love.
 My freshman honors seminar is in revolt right now because I give open-book vocab quizzes on the assigned reading. If you look up a word, write down the definition in the margin or on paper, then you can use it for the quiz. The find this very nerve wracking. No joke.
> All the best, Paul

I wrote:
On Sun, Sep 25, 2016 at 1:37 AM, Peter Schultz wrote:
To my favorite former Assumption College philosophy professor:

I have already voted via absentee ballot cause I know the Republicans in N.C. will do all they can to make voting in person a miserable time.  But it doesn’t matter one whit as Trump is merely around to re-legitimize the establishment, which is about as inane and delusional as it is possible to be. It’s really funny how “Trump hysteria” has even made some people say, “Bush II looks good now.” And Obama? What a lie he has turned out to be.

We are presently in Montana and will be doing Yellowstone and Glacier National park for the next week. Retire, or as I like to say, “QUIT!”, as soon as you can. "Work if for suckers," as a good friend likes to put it. Spent two weeks in July with friends in Ireland playing links golf. Wonderful. Since then, I have had one round in the 80’s and the rest in the 70’s. A few months ago, I shot my age, a 69, one under par at Tanglewood. There is nothing like year round golf. And reading whatever I want. I only wish I had discovered some of this stuff while at Assumption as I could have really made Mahoney - and probably Gallager - nuts!

Yeah, our young, like the rest of us, are quite unable to cope with anything that jolts their/our comfortable lives. It struck me some time ago how our young, whom we so much like to disparage, are really little more than reflections of ourselves.

I use to get revolts in class whenever I proposed mandatory national service, military or civilian, their choice, after high school for a year or two. I loved it. And in this too they, the young, are just like the rest of us. Stand for our national anathema? Required. Serve your country? Optional. And I would love to witness the response of many parents of the young now if they were confronted with a draft. “What? You want my child to defend the republic against those jihadis? Are you insane?” You can’t make this stuff up.

But I am not worried because after our second Clingon presidency, all will be well with the world! Believe it! The bitch will nail those oh so evil Muslims and corral the greed on Wall Street. But I shouldn’t be so hard on those supporting Clingon II: After all, it makes perfect sense for well off white people to vote for her. It’s only the people in Kansas who are confused, I guess.

Let the games begin.


Paul wrote:

I had a retirement assessment done recently--maybe when I am 65, but likely 70.

Read Ghettoland by Jill Leovy. It really nails the dynamics of race and police without the blame game. Best read I've had in years. --Paul

p.s. I will be teaching an Ethics course--if everything goes right--at MCI Framingham, a medium-security women's prison, next semester. 

I wrote:

For “Ghettoside”: NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • The Washington Post • The Boston Globe • The Economist • The Globe and Mail • BookPage • Kirkus Reviews

 Well, if all of these mainstream media organs loved it, it has to be filled with conventional wisdom to the brim. I will be sure to read it when I can. I am sure it will be as enlightening as I find the NY Times and Washington Post and Boston Globe these days. 😈

Paul wrote:

Don't let the populraity fool you. It seems the height of conventionality to reject something because certain people or groups accept or reject it. You can read the Introduction to REBEL NATION (don't read the entire book; it is overwritten--an article turned into a book) in order to get the American fascination with "being different from the mainstream" or "thinking outside the box" or being "unconventional" Indeed being unconventional is the most conventional of American conceits.

Leovy's book is filled with questions not answers. I am sure the Globe can isolate what they want, but the book is superb. --P

I wrote:

Thank you so much for educating me as to the meaning being unconventional, but I have thought it had something to do with what one was actually thinking, not whether one was “thinking outside the box,” to use a phrase that is meant to marginalize those who are being unconventional. I mean to describe Nietzsche as thinking “outside the box' seems an excellent way of dismissing Nietzsche rather than taking him seriously. “How quaint! Friedrich was ’thinking outside the box.’ Now that I understand that I don’t have to worry about what he thought.” Again, to say that Malcolm X was “thinking outside the box” is a way of marginalizing his thought. Which leads me to ask: If unconventional thinking is so “American,” how come so many who were or are unconventional are marginalized as they are, e.g., by being described as “thinking outside the box?” 

Such a description is merely a way of dismissing someone, not engaging with them, which in my experience in academe is how an awful lot of academics respond to those who don’t accept their arguments. 

But to remind you of what I actually said, not what you say I said: I said I would read “Ghettoside” when I can but was not expecting it to be anymore enlightening than the media that has endorsed it, ala’ the NY Times, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, all of which are “big house newspapers” that merely serve to underwrite the status quo. Nor do I expect much from a book that may be accurately described as “not playing the blame game,” as you put it. How any one can confront "the dynamics of race and police” without blame seems incomprehensible to me. Just that phrase, “the dynamics of race and police” has all the makings of an obfuscation that serves to perpetuate the status quo, that is, the racism that pervades our society and our establishment, from left to right. 

“When violent people are permitted to operate with impunity, they get their way,” Leovy tells us. “That’s what the criminal justice system is for.” Who is she writing about here? The police or blacks? My bet, she is writing about blacks. Nice example of “dog whistle” racism embedded in the phrase, “violent people.” What if those “violent people” were described as those “oppressed people?” Hmmm, that’s a different phenomenon altogether, isn’t it? 

Again, from the Washington Post review: "It [the book] should show why making policing more effective — while, yes, doing far less collateral damage — is an absolute necessity for helping those neighborhoods find safety and justice. When, to take one extreme, the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition in Madison, Wis., calls for the police to withdraw from the community and says that the method of interaction they want with the police is “no interaction,” we should see both why that is understandable and why it is deeply, deeply wrong.” 

I love how the reviewer throws in, almost as an afterthought “while, yes, doing far less collateral damage,” a phrase that is used to justify the killing of innocents both here and broad. Perhaps the damage isn’t “collateral,” but endemic to our racist society. 

And, ah yes: without the police, black neighborhoods are terrible places - hence, almost any collateral damage is or will be acceptable. Of course, with the police, they are or resemble occupied, apartheid spaces. I’m with the Young, Gifted, and Black Coalition in Madison on this one. As Hedges pointed out, the police killings will not stop even when the “professionalization” of the police has taken place because that violence is endemic to our racist society and embraced by our establishment, both “left” and “right,” ala’ the mass incarceration facilitated by Bill Clinton, et. al.

But, boy, it sure must feel good to have good things to say about a book lays bare, allegedly, life in “the ghetto” - another “dog whistle” phrase - and yet ends endorsing more of the same. And this is oh so comfortable: Life in “the ghetto” isn’t our -  that is, middle, upper middle, upper class people - problem after all. The police will deal with it and we can go on with our comfortable lives. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Hillary's "Deplorables"

Hillary’s “Deplorables”
P. Schultz

            Hillary has claimed she “misspoke” when she asserted that half of Trump’s supporters were “deplorables,” They are “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it.” But she only misspoke if we ignore how her characterization of some of Trump’s supporters is quite consistent with  - and thereby reminds us of – the origins of what is called “Progressivism.”

            The Progressive movement began as an effort to “cleanse” or “purify” American society, an effort that required regulating, managing, and even sterilizing those people(s) who were threatening the “healthy” people(s), viz., white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The threat was two-fold: First, the healthy people were in danger of committing was called “race suicide,” and they should, as Teddy Roosevelt asserted, “Work, fight, breed!” Second, the unhealthy people had to be controlled as they threatened to overwhelm the healthy people by winning the “battle of the cradle.” And to win that battle, many Progressives were led to support eugenics, including Margaret Sanger, the feminist, who proposed sterilizing entire “disugenic” populations in order to prevent the birth of “hordes of defectives,” as Teddy Roosevelt’s advisor on “inferior races” put it. Such thinking culminated in the Supreme Court case of Buck v. Bell, where Justice Holmes, in upholding Virginia’s compulsory sterilization law, claimed “It is better for the world if. . . .society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind….Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

            The “defectives” included Jews, Catholics, blacks, the Chinese, etc., etc., etc. As Roosevelt’s advisor on “inferior races” put it: “You can’t make boy scouts out of the Jews.” And a Baptist missionary manual claimed that the lower classes and races were characterized by “Low living, low intelligence, low morality, low capacity, low everything.” And as one well-known zoologist put it: “the mixture of two races reverts to the lower type [so] the cross between a white man and a Negro is a Negro, a white man and a Hindi is a Hindi, and the cross between any of the three European races and a Jew is a Jew.” [All quotes are from Hellfire Nation, by James A. Morone.]

            There is a dark side to progressivism, a racist, xenophobic, and sexist side, and Hillary’s use of the word “deplorables,” just like her use of the words “super predator” to describe “inner city male youths,” should remind us of this fact. Our national policy of mass incarceration, which received quite a boost from Bill Clinton, is not an aberration. Rather, it is a policy quite consistent with a “progressive frame of mind,” one that does not and cannot inoculate its bearers from racist, xenophobic, or sexist policies because it is, ultimately, “the other” who threatens us, creating a politics of fear that in turn facilitates hatred, a hatred that breeds oppression and justifies inhuman policies like torture, the killing of innocents labeled “collateral damage,” and endless wars. Remember Roosevelt’s admonition: “Work, fight, breed!”

            The bottom line? It is not enough for Hillary to say she “misspoke.” She needs to repudiate her assertion and explain why. But this she will not and cannot do because it would mean repudiating her progressive politics, and she has no idea why she or anyone needs to do that.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Trump and Hillary: Rival Claims of Superiority

Trump and Hillary: Rival Claims of Superiority
P.  Schultz

            Trump and Hillary are sounding more and more alike, with the latter of late sounding a lot like Trump in claiming that half of Trump’s supporters are “deplorables,” implying of course that Trump himself is “deplorable.” And, of course, Trump has long talked about Hillary’s supporters and others in similar ways.  But why should this concern us? After all, isn’t this just “business or politics as usual?”

            It is useful to distinguish between claims of “merit” and claims of “superiority.” Politicians may claim that they “merit” an office, here, the presidency; or they can claim that they are “superior” to their opponents. And this is not a difference without a distinction. And, currently, it is the latter claim of being superior that is being made by both Trump and Clinton. Each is claiming his or her superiority to the other and not claiming that she or he merits being president. So when Clinton claims that Trump is “unfit” to be president or that his supporters are “deplorable,” her implicit claim is that “I, Hillary, am superior to Trump and my supporters are superior to his supporters.” And Trump makes the same, implicit claims.

            Now, such claims make the candidates’ rhetoric and campaign more intense, more personal than these would be were the candidates to claim that they merited the presidency. “Proving” or demonstrating one’s superiority to another requires that this other be shown to be inferior; that is, shown to be an inferior human being, a human being who is not entitled to the equality that comes from a recognition of commonality, a recognition of sameness. That “half” of Trump’s supporters who are “deplorable” should not be entitled to participate in our politics, just as the “47%” of Obama’s supporters that Mitt Romney called out in 2012 should not have been entitled to such participation. Conversely, though, debating one’s merits does not require the superior/inferior paradigm. My merits may be judged independently of your merits, whereas my claimed superiority requires your inferiority. “I am fit but you are unfit!”

            This distinction is crucial in a republic founded on the claim that all are created equal. Basing one’s claim to rule or govern on merit is consistent with such republicanism, while basing one’s claim to rule or govern on superiority is not. For if officials think that they govern because they are superior to those being governed, then they can claim to govern independently of “the consent of the governed.” Their superiority justifies severing the link between them and that consent, which is of course the basis of all legitimate government power. And, further, without consent, there is no politics. There is only administration or bureaucracy and the disempowerment of “we the people.”

            Insofar as Trump and Clinton are claiming the right to govern us because they are superior, just so far they are claiming the right to govern without regard to “the consent of the governed.” They might take this consent into account but they do so only as a matter of accommodation, not as the essence of republican or popular government. Conversely, were they to base their claim to govern on their merits, they could do so only with our consent because claims to govern based on merit do not subvert the kind of commonality between the governing and the governed that lies at the core of republican or popular government. Claims to govern based on superiority do subvert both the commonality and the equality needed by and aspired to in republican societies. And insofar as Trump and Clinton makes such claims based on their superiority, just so far each of them has embraced an elitism that is unalloyed by a recognition of the human sameness and it accompaniment, the affection or caring that should characterize republican citizens and their governors.

            In the “corporate world,” a world populated by managers who seek to manipulate others so as to increase the corporation’s and their own power, such caring, such affection is or seems simply “idealistic.” But in the political world, at least in a republican political world, such affection is not only indispensable but is or should be the very essence of citizenship.  

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Funny How Falling Feels Like Flying

Funny How Falling Feels Like Flying
P. Schultz

            “The past isn’t dead. In fact, the past isn’t even the past.” Thanks to William Faulkner. The future is a mystery to us because it is unknowable. But so too is the present mysterious because we cannot know the future or how the present will play out.

            So, we have to ask: What is our present? What might it augur for the future? Many are saying that this presidential election is crucial, that it will determine the nation’s fate for some time to come. This is, of course, conjecture and a conjecture based on the assumption that we are faced with a choice between two competing, even incompatible options, with one those options representing “progress” and the other representing “reaction.”

            Leaving aside the personal qualities – or lack thereof – of the two major parties’ candidates, this assessment assumes that our nation is “on the rise,” that it is getting stronger, more secure, and freer; not that it is actually getting weaker, less secure, and less free. If the latter is a more accurate picture of our nation’s status and prospects, as most Americans seem to think, than the idea that we are confronting a choice between “progress” and “reaction” obscures the most important or what should be the most important issue: How do we restore the nation’s health? To pose the choice as, “How do we continue our progress?” when we are not and have not been progressing is to court, even to guarantee, further failures. Or if we mistake superficialities – such as electing the first black president or the first female president – for real progress, we also facilitate or guarantee further failures.

            One of my favorite songs, from the soundtrack of the movie Crazy Heart, contains the line, “Funny how falling feels like flying – for a little while.” While the argument that this presidential election is crucial because our allegedly healthy political order faces a reactionary threat is a comfortable argument to make, it is more likely that we are in danger of thinking that we are flying when, in fact, we are falling. And if this is the case, then once again the slogan, “Yes We Can!” will morph into the slogan “No We Can’t!” Looking back to 2008 confirms that “falling feels like flying.” It is also confirms that it feels that way only “for a little while.”