I don’t know if a 24 hour period has ever produced as many provocative, passionate and well-argued comments on Ethics Alarms before. This, commenter Holly’s reaction to my designation of the viral Baltimore mom Toya Graham clobbering her rioter son during the Freddie Gray disruptions in Charm City, is just one of several. I’ll address some of the issues she raises after the post; in the meantime, here is Holly’s Comment of the Day, in a day that will probably have more than one, on the post, “Ethics Hero: The Baltimore Riot’s ‘Mom of the Year’”:
I am surprised at this response. For a number of reasons. In any other circumstance, this woman probably would be going to jail. But if we watch the video more closely, the following observations can be made:
1. This child was leaving with his mother and she was so angry that she chases him to pull him back towards her to continue the beating. He appeared to be complying and in her anger continued to the assault the kid during the walk away.
2. The child was not in imminent danger. There are bystanders all around I saw no rocks being thrown in this video nor police for that matter. It does not appear the threat of losing his life was immediately in front of them.
3. The assault starts with a few close-fisted strikes as well as continuing with open-fisted strikes or what people are calling “smacks”.
Exemplary action on the part of this mother would not have been beating her son as he walked away from the riot, however. It would have included not allowing a 16 year out of her supervision to wander in the riot in the first place.
My real concern is the hypocrisy relating to the feelings behind the beating this mother gave her son. She was angry and for obvious reasons. She apparently saw him on television (because she apparently did not know where he was otherwise that she had to watch the television to locate her child) and when she finally went and found him, and he had obviously given up as he was walking with her, she was so angry, that she began to hit the child.
How is this any different than a cop pursuing a suspect in a chase fueled with emotion and adrenaline and once the suspect is apprehended after giving the officers chase get subsequently beaten by officers because they are angry…angry at the defiance of the suspect even when he submits? This child was also submitting after his defiance and shown to be walking with her when this beating started. How can this possibly be an acceptable way to parent this child? Why was this child allowed into the streets at this time in the first place? And how can we see this as an act of anything other than a beating in anger over her son’s defiance?
Has anyone considered that this type of parenting may be the root of this child’s reasoning for acting out in violence? If this is a learned behavior, we know exactly where he got it from. I’ve read many comments as to a lack of understanding as to how a black mother raises her child and that physical violence is a part of it. If that’s so, and her acts are exemplary, then why are the stats alarming and growing as to the number of incarcerated African- American men? Has anyone considered that this type of parenting, that people have commented is normal and unique to an African-American mother, might be a large part of this child’s issue?
I fail to see how her assault out of obvious anger is justified as he was acting out ironically in the way he’d been taught, and more ironically, acting out against the violence and subsequent death of a young man at the hands of law enforcement—possibly a young man with the same issues as this child shown being beaten. Not only do we allow the picking and choosing of the acceptable circumstance of violent behavior for our social convenience, we are praising a woman for doing what may have irreparably harmed this child mentally in the first place. The double standard is larger than life here. What message are we sending to this child and others like him when we allow him to be abused at the hands of his mother, yet continue to relay the confusing message that violence is not a way of communication?
Apparently, we ARE saying that IT IS by condoning what this mother did and not analyzing the situation deeper. I read today this child’s mother also has a history of violence with a temporary peace order/restraining order filed against her in 2011 in Baltimore. I’m not sure where the child’s mere presence in this situation acting out in a way that his mother has obviously influenced, justifies a beating (yes, a closed fist for a few punches is beating ) at the hand of the woman who is largely behind his behavior? I can’t be the only one to see this “life saving” beating “out of love” and feel that what I’m seeing is absolutely wrong and shouldn’t be praised or encouraged – am I? We are so quick to assess a decision based on our internal moral compass and our own learned behavior that we tend to forget that the misconduct of a person does not justify the misconduct of another person against that person just because the mother says it was out of love. Are we really turning into that type of society?
I’m having a hard time jumping on the praise train of violence. Violence begets more violence. And in my opinion, interpreting this beating as a justifiable act of love is ridiculous and dangerous. I’m also not saying it’s a malicious act of hate. But it is anger. Not love. And it should not be confused. It’s a response that she has been taught through muscle memory. That does not make it right. Not even if she is his mother. I’m not questioning this mother’s love nor blaming her for acting out in the way she was taught. At all. I’m questioning society for not seeing through the actions or being part of a solution that could help to end violence, reform law enforcement and take away the reason these people are rioting in the first place – which is not to accept violence as an answer to the question – which happens to be violence.
I like a lot of Holly’s questions, though she will probably not like my answers.
(I’m shifting out of italics now for readability’s sake….)
1. To answer her general complaint, I was acknowledging the apparent contradiction when I wrote, at the very beginning, “That’s the Ethics Incompleteness Principle for you: even conduct that is “always” unethical may be made ethical by unusual circumstances. Seeing your grown son participating in looting and rioting that are destroying your neighborhood changes the rules, or perhaps makes them inapplicable.” I should have linked to all the explanations of the EIP for Holly’s benefit, I guess, although familiarity with blog format can reasonable be presumed: in the tags was this link: Ethics Incompleteness Principle. I don’t think it’s expecting too much from readers to assume they will check unfamiliar terms that are central to my analysis. Is it?
2. “In any other circumstance, this woman probably would be going to jail.” Yes, and if we hadn’t been at war with Japan, dropping that bomb on Hiroshima would have been inexcusable. Next!
3. I don’t know how Holly thinks she knows what her son said in their encounter. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t, “I’ll sorry Mom, you’re right, I should be here. Thanks for coming to get me. I am so ashamed.” I think it’s fair to assume that whatever he said, she did not seem it sufficiently contrite.
4. “The child was not in imminent danger.” Ridiculous. The kid was on the streets of Baltimore during rioting, and violence was everywhere. She was in imminent danger.
5. Holly seems to think that good parenting includes keeping teens under constant surveillance. She cannot be reasonably blamed for his turning up at the riot. I would love to see Holly’s commentary on the free-range kids controversy, also in Maryland.
6. If one’s child insists on endangering himself, risking a confrontation with police and participating in mob violence, and you are smaller, older and weaker, what are your options, Holly? She has to get him home. He’s bigger and stronger than she is, and in her view, which is all that matters, he is in mortal peril. Should she picket him? Make scary faces at him? Call a cop? As I mention here often, abstract ethics unhinged from reality are not really ethics at all. She did what she could to solve the problem, which was her obligation as a parent. As I wrote.
7. “How is this any different than a cop pursuing a suspect in a chase fueled with emotion and adrenaline and once the suspect is apprehended after giving the officers chase get subsequently beaten by officers because they are angry…angry at the defiance of the suspect even when he submits?” Huh? How is it similar? She wasn’t hitting him to hurt him, and almost certainly didn’t. She was making a point that she felt was of life-and-death importance. She was also parenting in a unique and desperate, in her view, situation. A cop who beats a suspect is a felon. He’s violating a professional duty. He’s a menace to society and a disgrace to law enforcement.
8. “How can this possibly be an acceptable way to parent this child?” Nobody’s saying that beating in general is a good way to parent, or that this stands as proof that it is. My father never raised a hand to me. Would he have resorted to physical violence if he viewed it as the fastest, surest way to get me off the streets when violence and danger loomed? He was a man of action and good judgment, and I have no doubt that while he never hit me in anger, he would have knocked me cold if he thought that was the best and safest course. And apologized to me, possibly in tears, later….
9. “And how can we see this as an act of anything other than a beating in anger over her son’s defiance?” There is nothing unethical about a parent making a child understand that he or she disapproves of that child’s conduct, and showing anger is a legitimate tool for achieving that end. So is shaming. She embarrassed the hell out him. Good.
10. “Has anyone considered that this type of parenting may be the root of this child’s reasoning for acting out in violence?” Interesting to speculate on, but irrelevant to the issue at hand. She may have been the worst parent in the world, but she was, at that moment, doing what she felt was her best option to protect her child and make a vital point about behavior he should eschew in the future. Would Holly want the mother to pick that moment, of all moments, to reform?
11. “I fail to see how her assault out of obvious anger is justified as he was acting out ironically in the way he’d been taught, and more ironically, acting out against the violence and subsequent death of a young man at the hands of law enforcement—possibly a young man with the same issues as this child shown being beaten.”
a. My grandmother used a strap on my dad, and he would no more engage in a riot than flap his arms and fly to Saturn. Holly’s post hoc ergo propter hoc argument is stretched like taffy.
b. Her son wasn’t doing anything rational, and I guarantee he had no idea how or why Freddie died, because at that point, and even now, because nobody was or is sure based on actual evidence.
c, The victim’s mother was a heroin addict and a negligent parent according to every account.
12. We “pick and choose” conduct all the time, rejecting the same acts in some circumstance that we judge appropriate in others. That’s what ethics is all about. Holly likes rules. Violence is never justifiable. It’s never necessary. It’s always wrong. Baloney. Violence is a tool like any other that can be used appropriately to advance ethical ends or unethical ones. When the ethical ends are important enough and violence is the only tool available, it may be justifiable. This was, moreover, symbolic violence. If she had clawed his eyes out or broken his leg, She would not be an ethics hero.
13. “I can’t be the only one to see this “life saving” beating “out of love” and feel that what I’m seeing is absolutely wrong and shouldn’t be praised or encouraged – am I?” Oh, no. That doesn’t make you any less mistaken. Some of those agreeing with Holly have exited the orbit of reason entirely, like Stacy Patton, a college professor and author, who wrote this for the Washington Post. Money quote:
“Graham’s message to America is: I will teach my black son not to resist white supremacy so he can live.”
That’s right: the professor thinks Graham’s son should be encouraged to riot. She also compares Lynch’s discipline to a lynching. Black academics like this do as much damage to black youth as inept parents.
14. We are so quick to assess a decision based on our internal moral compass and our own learned behavior that we tend to forget that the misconduct of a person does not justify the misconduct of another person against that person just because the mother says it was out of love. Are we really turning into that type of society? Just because a conclusion is quick doesn’t mean it’s wrong. People have heard violent protesters, rioters and looters being excused, and empathized with, and thereby endorsed, by supposed responsible public commentators including the President of the United States, and quite correctly recoiled. They see an inner city mother of one of those “frustrated and angry African-American youths who are reacting in the context of generations of abuse and distrust” who is communicating ever-so-clearly on video, “Never mind that, you dummy. No kid of mine is going to be rioting, trashing cop cars and setting fires! Now get your ass home, or you’ll be sorry.” The mode of communication may be crude, but the message is absolutely right, and a lot more responsible than “we understand.”
15. “Violence begets more violence.” Except on those occasions when it stops more violence. This facile logic is what prompted the Mayor of Baltimore to allow her city to burn. For that moment in time, this beleaguered mother had a better understanding of how to protect a city than the city’s leaders did.
32 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “Ethics Hero: Toya Graham, The Baltimore Riot’s ‘Mom of the Year’””
Toya Graham gets my vote. She may have saved her son from a criminal record. She may have even saved his life. But, even more worthily, she got him away from bad company and taught him a valuable lesson in right vs. wrong. If that isn’t what parents are for, tell me what is.
I am not persuaded to call Toya Graham a hero. But I am grateful to have been able to see that for at least a moment, it appears that she attempted to do what she could, and apparently with good intentions. And I remain hopeful that in fact (which I may never know), she did the best she could, and, a resultant better life for her son – better than the life he would have led had she not intervened – will ensue.
Jack, I think your last point about “violence” (force) is excellent.
A faction of white America (mostly white I assume, but there are some Blacks too with more so-called ‘conservative’ ideas and approaches) relishes and in a sense ‘exploits’ those instances and events, as in Tonya Graham’s chastisement of her boy, and for example the other viral incident of a Black man severely chastening the whole community of rioters at Ferguson (the ‘Epic Rant’ as it has been called: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5f0mVn0HH6U) because it gives them ammunition, as it were, to counter the OTHER pole in this narrative which takes the form in the Wash Post article linked to above (http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/04/29/why-is-america-celebrating-the-beating-of-a-black-child/) where an essential view, an essential narrative, is expressed and iterated:
Blacks are actively suffering from white supremacy and thus violence or application of authoritarian social forms is an extension of the project of oppression that is white supremacy.
According to this view, then, the rioting was a normal, if you will, and a natural reaction to the state of oppression.
I see what may be called the ‘conservative pole’ as being, in fact and in truth, an extension of the original project of forcibly bringing the tribal Black populations into a service role in the New World (in the Colonies) with the expressed intent of Christianising them, or converting them from heathen paganism and forcing them into enlightened forms. I am speaking here of 17th and 18th century views—the anthropology that was prevalent and which conceptual order mediated understanding of the ‘primitive races’. No matter how the issue is looked at, the presence of Africans in the New World was not, and is still in some senses still not, a voluntary effort. So, this implies a basic and still-present ‘resistance’ to the Anglo Historical Project. If this is so it also provides a basis for understanding general resistance to what can be described as ‘occidental forms’ and even, to be quite accurate, ‘civilisation’. And by that I mean occidental civilisation, Western civilisation. It seems to me that one must recognise and one must understand that the presence of Africans in the New World began with basis and core violence. There is no way around this. But if that is true it leads toward the idea that it is the same basic violence, even in modified form, that operates, still, in our present. The conclusion is inevitable.
‘The logical of essential resistance’ (if I may coin his phrase), then, is part-and-parcel of the African-American psyche.
I think this leads to other interesting views and perspectives. Civilisation as we know it, and as we are participants in it (if we are European and if we are in ‘essential agreement’ with the project of civilisation), is in a very real sense an imposition that has been placed on us. A yoke as it were. I am thinking of the Roman conquest of Europe and the installation through absolute violence of the forms of civilisation that we now (generally) accept. Thus, we are also ‘outcomes of essential violence’. To submit to a civic authority is to submit to as essential idea about authority. We submit because, at some reasoned level, we accept the logic of the authority that surrounds us.
Sixties radicalism needs to be mentioned because—pretty obviously I assume to numerous people who write here—we have all come under the influence of radical doctrines that deal on the notion of ‘liberation from oppressive structures’. We have swam in these waters for so long, we have breathed these fumes for so long, that the ideas or motives (impetus, motivation) function in us at basic and perhaps subconscious levels. The same ‘liberationist’ terms function in many feminist definitions, economic definitions, the definitions that pertain to ‘race’ and to ‘oppression’ within an ‘oppressive structure’. Indeed, there most certainly exists the Idea, the perceptual model, that the US is the Ur-Oppressive Structure. And thus to be ‘human again’, to find humanness, is to ‘resist’.
ALL the projects of ‘Black Liberation’, except the ones that detail, outline, foment, and implement, assimilation into submission (I use this word in the strict and accurate sense and I say that any citizen ‘submits’ in a Platonic sense to the Laws of his country) to the civic US forms or the civilisation-forms, function COUNTER to the general project and are projects-of-rebellion. This is of course a general statement and would have to be carefully qualified in details.
So, in my way of seeing things, we have to focus quite directly on the concept and the notion of ‘violence’. Violence, or the use of core violence, is essential to all civilised forms. This in my view MUST be understood. When we think about all manner of different manifestations of ‘resistance’ we must think about, for example, resistance to ‘patriarchy’, resistance to established order, resistance to law, resistance to systems, resistance to hierarchies, to divisions, to levels. The Marxian conceptual framework that comes in with the air we breathe dominates in significant senses, or mediates perhaps I should say, our entire perception-model, and Marxian ideas tend to function against ‘established orders’.
OK so here it comes: The essential violence that began with the enslavement of a foreign population and yoking them up to an American Project, a Christian project (in fact), has to CONTINUE and to complete itself. It is quite incomplete at this time. There is resistance to completing it, and there is astounding levels of difference of opinion (ideological wars in fact) which stem from these core issues.
I know that what I have written here will not be well received. One part of it is that we wilt away from certain truths, certain facts, which are hard indeed to face. And when we do this we seem to seek refuge in what I understand to be a perversion of perception: white liberalism (to describe it generally).
The entire subject here, or the entire subtext, is quite literally that of ‘violence’. We who are submitted to civilisation’s controlling forms carry out in relation to our own selves auto-violence: self-discipline, restraint, redirection. Even our CONSCIENCE (to refer to a Nietzschean idea from ‘Genealogy of Morals’) is an authority that inflicts ‘violence’ on our own selves.
2. This is the kind of over-intellectualized claptrap that made ethics taboo as a subject and marginalizes intellectuals. Sorry. A nice, serious, well thought out argument that is just bat-crazy.
3. The Post article isn’t a “pole.” It’s old style, victim-mongering, black power pseudo-acedemic gibberish, more offensive than usual. Rioting accomplishes nothing positive and everything negative, obviously and by definition. It is not sort of like, but exactly like, a child’s tantrum, and with the similar result that rational observers decide, well, THAT kid isn’t mature yet.
4. THIS paragraph…
…may be the most well-stated nonsense in the history of well stated nonsense:
1. “I see what may be called the ‘conservative pole’ as being, in fact and in truth, an extension of the original project of forcibly bringing the tribal Black populations into a service role in the New World (in the Colonies) with the expressed intent of Christianising them, or converting them from heathen paganism and forcing them into enlightened forms.”
Well, what you see ain’t there. Kids shouldn’t be out on the streets rioting, and race has nothing to do with it. Would the reaction have been any different with a white mother or an Asian one? No. There goes THAT theory.
2. “No matter how the issue is looked at, the presence of Africans in the New World was not, and is still in some senses still not, a voluntary effort.” Utter, utter luncheon meat. No black man is any more involuntarily in the US than I am. Good lord.
3. “But if that is true it leads toward the idea that it is the same basic violence, even in modified form, that operates, still, in our present. The conclusion is inevitable.”
The conclusion is balderdash. Blacks are part of the larger culture—same books, same religions, same history, same values. Because violence was endemic to slavery, that explains black violence in the 21st century? Ugh. Nobody could possibly believe that.
Your basic thesis is fanciful, and in using that term, I’m being kind. Black Americans are part of the culture, and accountable to social norms. Efforts to declare those norms as inapplicable violate the social contract. They live in the single nation where they have the best chance of success, long life and happiness, and nobody is going to permit an effort to adopt cultural norms that allow nobody that chance because of black community social pathologies and their accompanying rationalizations and, in the case of your post, romanticizing.
Jack writes: “This is the kind of over-intellectualized claptrap that made ethics taboo as a subject and marginalizes intellectuals.”
That is not an argument. There may be such a thing as ‘over-intellectualisation’, but what I wrote is not in that category. Perhaps it is an area of use of intellect that you don’t like. But it is very relevant to me and I can explain and defend all parts of it. If what you mean is that I should not think what I think because it might ‘marginalise’ me and this will reflect badly on ‘intellectuals’, I have no idea how to respond. Anyone who reads widely will encounter extremely variant viewpoints. I read widely.
It is only my view of course, and is debatable, but it makes an effort to get to the core of the issue that underlies what we see occurring in our country now. Again, IMO.
Nor is it clap-trap. And calling it a name is the beginning of ad hominem in argumentation. Clap-trap implies ‘pompous, nonsensical’. I certainly did not mean it that way.
“The Post article isn’t a “pole.” It’s old style, victim-mongering, black power pseudo-acedemic gibberish, more offensive than usual.”
I have read pretty extensively Angela Davis, Eldridge Cleaver, Malcolm X, and numerous others. To refer to that pole, that structure of view, and dismiss it as ‘black-power super-academic gibberish’, is a mistake. (But to winnow out of it its Marxian strain and label it, is necessary).
It is true that that view, that interpretation of the Black experience in America, is common, is the accepted view (generally speaking), and is the view of, say, our own president who is studied in Black liberation theology under a renown theologian who preaches those doctrines. The underpinnings of that view-structure hinge directly into Marxian and revolutionary discourse. In that sense the Wash Post article expresses the view of a particular ‘pole’. I wrote: ‘…the OTHER pole in this narrative which takes the form’ expressed in the article. A cogent, and accurate, statement.
“The conclusion is balderdash. Blacks are part of the larger culture—same books, same religions, same history, same values.”
This statement certainly is not accepted by numerous Black theorists and historians.
“Kids shouldn’t be out on the streets rioting, and race has nothing to do with it. Would the reaction have been any different with a white mother or an Asian one? No. There goes THAT theory.”
While it is true that no kids should be out on the street rioting, and also that very occasionally whites and possibly others go on rampages from time to time (I have seen it in drunken university neighbourhoods and of course the rioting after sports events), what we are dealing with now is specifically Black rioting and ‘Black mob violence’ (which is a real category and is underreported in our media).
I tend to want to avoid the word ‘race’ because it is so terribly loaded. I would rather speak in terms of the Black experience in America and refer to situation and less to race (myself).
I attempted a commentary on the Wash Post journalist’s statement that physically beating up on her son was comparable to the white supremacist system beating up on oppressed Black. (She said [that the lesson would be]: “I will teach my black son not to resist white supremacy so he can live.”
Everything about the situations we witness, beginning in Ferguson (where my attention was grabbed), has to do very essentially with ‘violence’. But I do tend to want to expose what I call ‘cores’ and ‘essentials’.
I wrote: “The entire subject here, or the entire subtext, is quite literally that of ‘violence’. We who are submitted to civilisation’s controlling forms carry out in relation to our own selves auto-violence: self-discipline, restraint, redirection. Even our CONSCIENCE (to refer to a Nietzschean idea from ‘Genealogy of Morals’) is an authority that inflicts ‘violence’ on our own selves.””
You wrote: “The conclusion is balderdash. Blacks are part of the larger culture—same books, same religions, same history, same values. Because violence was endemic to slavery, that explains black violence in the 21st century? Ugh. Nobody could possibly believe that.”
I have to look up these words! ‘Balderdash’. I know that it is a piquant insult and might not/or might mean much, but it is not an argument. These terms usually are the first stages of ad hominem.
I think you must almost be kidding when you say that “Because violence was endemic to slavery, that explains black violence in the 21st century? Ugh. Nobody could possibly believe that.”
That is one of the CORE arguments. I heard it many many times at protests this Summer.
It doesn’t seem that you have much background in the writings of Black intellectuals and theorists. In my case I grew up around it.
You say that this is nonsense (balderdash, claptrap):
“I see what may be called the ‘conservative pole’ as being, in fact and in truth, an extension of the original project of forcibly bringing the tribal Black populations into a service role in the New World (in the Colonies) with the expressed intent of Christianising them, or converting them from heathen paganism and forcing them into enlightened forms. I am speaking here of 17th and 18th century views—the anthropology that was prevalent and which conceptual order mediated understanding of the ‘primitive races’. No matter how the issue is looked at, the presence of Africans in the New World was not, and is still in some senses still not, a voluntary effort. So, this implies a basic and still-present ‘resistance’ to the Anglo Historical Project. If this is so it also provides a basis for understanding general resistance to what can be described as ‘occidental forms’ and even, to be quite accurate, ‘civilisation’. And by that I mean occidental civilisation, Western civilisation. It seems to me that one must recognise and one must understand that the presence of Africans in the New World began with basis and core violence. There is no way around this. But if that is true it leads toward the idea that it is the same basic violence, even in modified form, that operates, still, in our present. The conclusion is inevitable.”
I see it is an accurate and historically-based argument that is entirely coherent. To understand everything that led up to the American Civil War, and so much that has occurred after it, requires understanding how the ‘primitive peoples’ (and in this case Africans) were visualised and understood in the 17th and 18th centuries.
In any case, I shared my ideas on an aspect of on-going event. It is, IMO, germane to an understanding of the present yet I can certainly understand that it is not a welcome conversational topic. That makes a great deal of sense to me.
No, it is an argument, and it’s not ad hominem. This jargon, that’s all, and social science cliche. Sorry—I find that kind of lecture neither enlightening nor tolerable. It is designed to force discourse into well-worn paths, like a chess game opening where the first moves are pre-ordained up to 20 or so.
“To understand everything that led up to the American Civil War, and so much that has occurred after it, requires understanding how the ‘primitive peoples’ (and in this case Africans) were visualised and understood in the 17th and 18th centuries.”
Here’s your argument: “No.”
Nothing in current US race relations has a direct relationship to 17th or 18th century attitudes about primative species. Sounds erudite. Isn’t. This is exactly what I mean by over-intellectualized claptrap—its a master’s thesis topic and theory designed to impress and confound, and without practical validity.
I’m not trying to marginalize anybody. Just keep the discussion in English and grounded in reality. That kind of rhetoric is is university speak, and I had low tolerance for it at Harvard. No tolerance now. It’s not clear, Gustav, and that makes it useless, even if it’s clear to you. These are constructs, not real arguments.
I said “And calling it a name is the beginning of ad hominem in argumentation.” A reasoned and reasonable statement. You characterise ideas and arguments in a way that ‘borders on ad hominem’.
You are not writing in English.
You are not grounded in reality.
You writing is jargon and cliche.
Those are just opinions.
“Nothing in current US race relations has a direct relationship to 17th or 18th century attitudes about primative species. Sounds erudite. Isn’t. This is exactly what I mean by over-intellectualized claptrap—its a master’s thesis topic and theory designed to impress and confound, and without practical validity.”
It is a mischaracterisation to imply that I sought to sound ‘erudite’. You have assigned a characterisation and argue against that.
“To understand everything that led up to the American Civil War, and so much that has occurred after it, requires understanding how the ‘primitive peoples’ (and in this case Africans) were visualised and understood in the 17th and 18th centuries”.
Everything in current race relations is a direct result of specific trends and currents in history. No part of it arose out of nothing, and all parts of it trace back to history which can be examined and talked about. To understand what is going on in our world, today, requires a great deal of understanding of what went before.
Arguing with someone who argues like you gets boring quickly.
You are not writing in English.
You are not grounded in reality.
You writing is jargon and cliche.
This is all true.
This is partially a cultural thing: lawyers are trained not to think like that, never speak like that, and if they write like that, they are sent to a home.
You write seriously and civilly—be my guest. I consider such jargon-cluttered text self-rebutting, but you may find someone persuaded by it. Don’t let me discourage you. I’m just letting you know that it hurts by eyes while provoking giggles. And I know you can do better.
You seem to argue through the characterisations you apply. It is a false form IMHO. I don’t think that is what you mean by arguing like a lawyer (I am thinking of ‘The Paper Chase’ all of a sudden).
I dismiss most of your characterisations with a flick of my imperious finger.
And I like the deconstructions and dissections that you perform on other topics and threads.
I’m sorry, I really am. But your assertion was 1) pure theory and not subject to proof or even argument, and frankly, doesn’t interest me, and 2) expressed, as I said, using about six terms that individually will make me stop reading anything.
That I read the whole thing is a compliment. As I said, don’t mind me. Just be aware that Marxist theories and sentences like “Even our CONSCIENCE (to refer to a Nietzschean idea from ‘Genealogy of Morals’) is an authority that inflicts ‘violence’ on our own selves.” cause me to tune out. Equating conscience with violence is conceptual masturbation, and does no good other than to massage an ego. And is the essence of balderdash.
I wrote: “Even our CONSCIENCE (to refer to a Nietzschean idea from ‘Genealogy of Morals’) is an authority that inflicts ‘violence’ on our own selves.”
You commented: “Just be aware that Marxist theories and sentences like “Even our CONSCIENCE (to refer to a Nietzschean idea from ‘Genealogy of Morals’) is an authority that inflicts ‘violence’ on our own selves.” cause me to tune out. Equating conscience with violence is conceptual masturbation, and does no good other than to massage an ego. And is the essence of balderdash.”
Good Heavens. If you tuned out at that, you might go into a coma if you read the second chapter of ‘On The Genealogy of Morals’ entitled: ‘Guilt’, ‘Bad Conscience’, and Related Matters’.
Let me unpack it a little for you (since you couldn’t get it done on your own):
Our moral self, and our ethical ideas, are an outcome of long historical processes. In the exact sense that Africans were conquered and dominated and made to serve in Anglo-American projects, so to the pagan European was a subject of civilising processes carried out by powers to which he became subject. That is where we come from. It is not theory. It is though a general description.
Nietzsche writes a great deal in those essays about punishment. The Christianisation of pagan Europe, the civilising of pagan Europe, was an infliction of the conquerer’s ‘punishment’ on populations. Punishment says “Do what I tell you to do and what I want you to do or I will hurt you”. This is a fact and not an invention or a theory. The first effort of conquest is a military effort. But once conquest has taken place then more subtle and longer-lasting forms of training occur. A rebel population is subdued and made to serve, through ‘core violence’, the will of the conquerer. The African was ripped out of Africa (‘kidnapped from the shores of Africa’ said Angela Davis) and forced to serve in the empire of the white man’s will. This is a fact, not an invention and not a theory.
We of European descent (America is a late form of Europe) are the outcomes of hundreds and hundreds of years of ‘training’ by civilising systems: schools, churches, government regimes. Generation after generation has been subject to the violence (remember now Toya Graham subjecting her son to ‘core violence’) of behaviour control. If I REALLY have to take more time to explain to you what should by now be pretty obvious I might begin to lose patience here. The end product of ‘all that’ is ourselves. Our Self.
Our ‘conscience’ as in (say) our Christian conscience or our (even more developed) Jewish conscience, is the outcome of long processes of moral training which also involved tremendous violence. (If you want me to explain, just ask). The violence of the Middle Ages for example. Rather absolute forms of violence. Or the violence of the Inquisition, in all its torturous, painful and inflicting ways. The goal of these efforts though is not incomprehensible: It is the moral self.
To be able to speak about ethics requires a pre-conversation that deals on ‘the moral self’.
(Wake up Jack! Jack!! JACK!!!)
I wrote in the first post:
“The entire subject here, or the entire subtext, is quite literally that of ‘violence’. We who are submitted to civilisation’s controlling forms carry out in relation to our own selves auto-violence: self-discipline, restraint, redirection. Even our CONSCIENCE (to refer to a Nietzschean idea from ‘Genealogy of Morals’) is an authority that inflicts ‘violence’ on our own selves.”
These are not at all inconsiderable ideas.
I say—with resounding authority, bellowing it to the Heavens and then down into the Earth—that to understand what is happening in our beloved America, and certainly in Europe, one has to understand the pervasive influence of Marxian ideas.
Now, consider the following in the context of what I have written above: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aR4MvD9IEAE
I think it is all very relevant … and super-interesting.
Nothing whatsoever to do with practical ethics. Zilch. Yes, Nietzsche is interesting. I’ve read enough of him, thanks. And yes, Marxist ideas have a lot to do, as it always had, as bad theories always do and always will, with what’s “going on.” That doesn’t mean that it makes any sense to included them in the discussion.
In some sense, I owe you an apology. I know you wrote a carefully constructed and thought out comment, and I know I was disrespectful to it. To some extent, you are taking the brunt of a philosophical objection that goes beyond you, to the reason the blog exists, and the reason I moved from the fields of political science to law to ethics.
This is a pan ethics blog designed for the intelligent public at large, and intended to help de-mystify ethics, and reveal its essential use as a tool of living, governing, and building society. When I took my first ethics course in college, I was shocked at how distancing the discourse was and how abstract the theories were. When I began involving myself in teaching ethics, I was amazed at how unpopular the topic was, and how boring it was regarded as by almost everyone. Ethics should not be boring, or distant, or abstract, or loaded with jargon. Nor should it be inaccessible to normal people with normal vocabularies. An ethical analysis of a situation like the Freddie Gray death and the resulting uproar in Baltimore is vital not just to understanding it, but in guiding public conduct and policy.Ethicists should be included in the daily analysis, and ethics—what’s right here?—should be part of the analysis. It isn’t, because the field and the profession is so associated with abstract navel-gazing that the public has turned off to the whole topic.
Intellectuals and scholars have a lot to contribute to public thought, but they have an ethical obligation to do so in a way that isn’t self-indulgent, uses language and concepts that have practical application, and not to give the field a bad name. My teacher in this respect was Jacques Barzun, who never wrote a sentence that wasn’t clear to an intelligent 12the grade graduate, and who believed that writing for a general audience was “a responsibility of scholars.” It’s even more a responsibility of ethicists, and those who think about ethics. (Barzun also believed, correctly, that Marx was a thinker whose influence on culture was profoundly destructive. So do I.)
I try to limit the incivility on this blog because I don’t want to drive a curious, serious, insecure seeker of ethics and truth away. In the same vein, I don’t want someone who fears the field to read things that make them think, “Holy Cow, this is just as abstruse as I thought it would be. Let’s see what Rush/Bill Maher says!” My test? If my eyes glaze over, if the comment has no practical applications, if it reads like the screeds I used to get from graduate students in the Sixties, it’s a problem.
My critique was not ad hominem, because that, as you should know, is a fallacious attempt to discredit a position by attacking the individual who holds it, using cognitive dissonance to avoid actual engagement. I am not attacking the writer when I criticize the writing, or the writer’s mode of analysis. True, I’m not engaging the substance of the argument, but saying that the form and method of an argument makes the substance either useless or irrelevant is a legitimate complaint. And is not ad hominem. Just because you feel attacked personally doesn’t make it a personal attack.
You have a lot to contribute here, and you’re an educated analytical thinker. Fine: contribute it in a way that isn’t just interesting to you, but that also has a chance of clarifying a complex ethical scenario and pointing the way to action. You obviously can do it.
I’m just coming across this dialogue today, and am finding it fascinating.
First, let me keep it real, Jack, as to your professed desire to keep things in the vernacular. First, Jacques Barzun was a total ass, in my opinion. My dad was an academic, and a populist from Nebraska, and I heard him many times express his disdain for what he perceived as erudition for the sake of appearing bright. I went to Columbia when Barzun was still there, and I have to agree – you want clear English, I could list a dozen great intellectuals from there who spoke with common language clarity – Barzun would not be among them. He was a Snob with a capital S. (I confess to the confirmation bias; I was and am influenced by my dad on this issue).
I though Gustav’s points were absolutely right on, and if he wrote them in a Barzunian kind of language, well I’ll forgive him that – I thought his meaning was clear enough.
But let me make it more real. My ex-wife is a black woman. She was raised by a mother and a father – both still alive today. I still see her every other month, and am in touch with both her parents annually. She speaks with them more frequently.
Her father fought in the Korean War, and tells the story of when he, along with other black soldiers, was told to sleep in the mud so the white soldiers could sleep on the few wooden pallets they had. That’s just ONE minor story of many, many he and his wife have told on occasion (they don’t waste their time talking about such things, so it’s a tip of the iceberg thing).
Now, you talk about your dad and his influence on you as being very present, very real; so do I. So does my ex-wife. And HER dad is still alive, very real to her.
My point is this tradition of violence and racism and oppression isn’t some abstract thing that happened in history books. My son was able to speak with my grandmother – born in 1900 – about what it was like for her to meet Civil War veterans. What makes you think black people don’t speak with their elders who witnessed, first-hand, lynchings, well into the 20th century. That’s some real for you.
When you decry Gustav for sounding overly theoretical, well, he may have chosen language that sounds abstract, but the subject matter is real, real, real. And it’s very worrisome that, just as with modern day Germans, there is a real danger of forgetting how real the Nazis were, so we find large chunks of white America today who are willing to dismiss the effects of the past on the present and argue they JUST DON’T MATTER.
Well as you and I have argued, the past shouldn’t be allowed to be an excuse. But it is equally folly to claim it’s irrelevant as an explanation.
Slavery itself is only a few decades older than the Nazis, and we had two and a half CENTURIES of slavery before that. Black people in the US were enslaved for more time than they’ve been free. History is not that old at all. It’s like Faulkner said, “the past isn’t dead – it isn’t even the past.”
As my ex-father in law puts it, with some humor, “I’m not free – I’m loose.”
One simply cannot read Barzun’s last book on Wetsern culture and believe him an ass. I assume you haven’t read it—I won’t tell you to because it’s a lot longer than the book you made me order from Amazon the other day, but you would be very impressed by it. He may well have been an ass in person, but he was a mighty wise ass.
Well, I’m sure you’re right about his book. And I probably should read it, too. I confess to a complete bias based on his persona, you’re right, one can be an ass and still be wise. Well, highly educated and thoughtful anyway; I’m very careful with the word ‘wise.’
All true, but cultures change, and they also matter. To say that modern day racial behavior in the US is controlled by 17th and 18th century world attitudes–all based on distance, bias and ignorance, as well as economics–is like dropping a stink bomb in the room and blaring an air horn. It makes coherent discussion of the real issues impossible.
And Faukner was drunk when he wrote that.
“Faulkner was drunk when he wrote that.”
I’m intrigued. Did he often write drunk? I presume at some point he was sober enough to approve the published edition of Requiem for a Nun, the work in question.
More to the point, drunk or not, it’s one of his most-quoted lines, suggesting it “clicks” with people. What was your meaning? Or were you just being clever (which I grant you it was indeed).
I was kidding. But Faulkner was pretty much an out-of-control binge alcoholic: he was badly burned by a radiator when he passed out during a binge in New York City. I don’t know if any of his writings and quotes occurred while drunk or drinking. Presumably some of our great literary drunks—Hemingway, O’Neill, Hellman, Chandler, Poe, Capote, Dylan Thomas, Mailer, Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams, Joyce—actually, I can only read Joyce when I’m drunk— and the many others—produced some quality output while under the influence. Faulkner reportedly didn’t do much writing while he was drunk.
I forgot to add, good on you for saying, “In some sense, I owe you an apology.” That, and what you said after, took it out of the acrimonious zone and made it a positive encounter.
Hey, I’m not such a bad guy sometimes…
Thanks, Jack. You’re a braver, more patient man than I.
Thanks Jack for your thoughtful post. It has parts that can be responded to and that allow more than just a defensive parry.
“…contribute it in a way that isn’t just interesting to you, but that also has a chance of clarifying a complex ethical scenario and pointing the way to action.”
Every part of what I wrote initially, and all of my ideas and thinking, including my present areas of research, however wide they may be, have much more than ‘a chance’ of shining light into complex ethical scenarios. I have learned, as I assume many of us have, to beware of the attempts that are made to ‘shut down’ a line of conversation, a line of analysis, when one is conversing in forums and in a group setting (the blog setting is different and also new for me). If you have gotten push-back from me it is because 1) I assert that all of my thinking, even provisional thinking, or exploratory thinking, is relevant to the general conversation. 2) That my various posts on your blog have been respectful, well thought-out, and germane to my processes of considering how ideas function among people and in people, and how ideas are determining how they construct the world we live in. I reject totally your overt and your more subtle insinuations that I fail in these areas. But, I will agree with you that the whole mass of ideas that have come out would need to be brought down into relationship with the present conflicted issues. That is my only area of agreement with you.
“I am not attacking the writer when I criticize the writing, or the writer’s mode of analysis.”
I tend to see real discourse between people—the prospect of real conversation that maintains civil forms and also inter-personal connectedness (friendliness, good-will) as being pretty rare, at least in the domain of communication about hot issues, the issues that seem to have the most meaning for people. I see, time and again, the possibility of conversation get ‘shut down’ by what I describe as bad behaviour. In my view, we need to open up to all kinds of different views and opinions, but very importantly need to find a way to circumvent the ‘censor’ that limits or edits conversational depth and width. Since you know that I reject your superficial ‘analysis’ of the ideas I made a good-faith effort to bring out, you may guess that I am a little suspicious of your good-will. You have flip-flopped in these last few posts.
None of this has much importance to me. The ideas that I am involved in thinking about are relevant and if I may say so they are useful and contribute positively to conversation. If you decide that you don’t like what I say or think, and even how I write—it is your blog. Send me an email and I will disappear forever.
“Intellectuals and scholars have a lot to contribute to public thought, but they have an ethical obligation to do so in a way that isn’t self-indulgent, uses language and concepts that have practical application, and not to give the field a bad name.”
Any person with some established common sense would agree with you. But there continues in it the same line of insinuation. There is something rhetorically underhanded in it, Jack, and a self-respecting person will call you on it.
Even if I am not a perfect writer, or do not succeed in writing in a way that you adore, I reject ‘self-indulgence’ as a label for myself or my efforts.
I understand that your blog and your general effort is geared to practical ethics, and this is the reason why I am here and interested in learning all that I can, and can and do make an effort to tailor my thoughts to the topic of practical ethics, the intellectual and philosophical—the interpretive effort to make sense of things—does and will always branch toward other fields and other considerations. ‘Practical application’ would play very well in America where people are generally only concerned for very practical things. But there is a wider world. It is not ‘abstruse’ nor ‘self-indulgent’ nor does it deal in ‘balderdash’ or ‘clap-trap’ (though there surely is a good deal of nonsense—but one man’s nonsense is sometimes another man’s great-sense). I have seen conversations shut down not because of obscurity of language or writing style but because certain folks were just not interested in having an open conversation, of allowing certain points-of-view. It happens all the time.
So, because the ideas that interest me have substance and integrity, and I have integrity that your recent cheap shots cannot effect (please excuse me speaking this directly to you in this way) my thinking and the communication of what is important to me, there is no way that I could give ‘the field’ a bad name.
“Nothing whatsoever to do with practical ethics.”
I would say that it has very much to do with practical ethics. But I would say too that there would need to be more effort to bring it down into direct relationship. So, lamentably, I reject again your insinuation of irrelevance. One seems to require, speaking to you, a defensive posture. One spends more time resisting your characterisations than in discussing any specific point.
All that I write and think and all that I am doing in the world of ideas has—very much—a relationship with practical ethics (and morality).
“And yes, Marxist ideas have a lot to do, as it always had, as bad theories always do and always will, with what’s “going on.” That doesn’t mean that it makes any sense to included them in the discussion.”
I disagree 100%. And it is not possible to go over 100%. It is critical in considering the present, and very much in the context of the Black liberation movement (there is no way to separate the recent turmoil from this issue, overall), to bring out in the open some of the Marxian ideation that weaves through it. It can be referred to, though, and not expounded on. This is likely not the place for that.
“In some sense, I owe you an apology. I know you wrote a carefully constructed and thought out comment, and I know I was disrespectful to it. To some extent, you are taking the brunt of a philosophical objection that goes beyond you, to the reason the blog exists, and the reason I moved from the fields of political science to law to ethics.”
Your area of interest, your thrust, and especially your move from one discipline to another, and your desire to clarify and bring light to ethics … seems to me excellent. I have gained a good deal even in the short time I have been here.
I am not related to your previous problem, nor am I your philosophical problem nor do I represent obscuration in the world of ideas, in academia, or anything else you have issues with. Got it? I reject the insinuation. Any self-respecting and honest person would do the same. Or do you desire that I agree with your analysis even when I don’t?
You pushed me, Jack, and you got some push-back. Don’t blame me for that. It is one small blip. It often happens in forum-dynamics (I have no experience with blogs) that responding to a challenge will get you into worse trouble. I have responded carefully to each point—each unfounded and indefensible accusation—you have made. I hope, and I assume, that you can take it.
I initially wrote a post in this thread which, in my understanding, speaks to a core issue at play. True, it was an expansive group of ideas. Any specific element might have been discussed. You moved the conversation into a different area, and for your own reasons. It would have been much more interesting to discuss those ideas.
Count me in the eye glazing crowd. I am interested in doing and saying what is fair to people involved and right by the combination of my inherited moral code with a few tweaks for areas where it lagged behind… or the Golden Rule as a short-hand. I believe there are heroes that lead us directly or persuade us to do better than we have before.
I also believe the most persuasive and educational ways to encourage that change is to write clearly and concisely that speaks to your audience. Many of the people who MOST need persuasion read at a high-school level or less. When you want to condemn and persuade people to move away from some long-term beliefs and behaviors, you must write to the reading skill of your audience and keep them interested in what you say. Think like Lincoln’s Gettysburg address or Hemingway to speak clearly and briefly to your audience. Dr King’s “I have a dream” speech is shorter than many blog posts with a message. Mr Marshall usually stays to 4 lively screens or so, long enough to make a point but not too long. Longer posts online start repeating or miss relevant points of what they are objecting ot, like ‘better’ ways attempted over the last fifty years have not improved advancement or relations.
Like many things this blog covers, there are sometimes fair points on both sides, but making my eyes glaze makes me move on to see if the next commenter can speak interestingly and concisely. I had to skip most of this post today. Sorry, Jack.
“Here we have the formidable fact of our times, described without any concealment of the brutality of its features.”
—Ortega y Gasset, ‘La rebelión de las masas’
This morning as I was trying to engage myself with readings in quite different areas, my mind kept returning to this thread and also to the blog. As Providence would have it the comment by MarieDowd speaks to some things that have been in my mind. In my own case, it certainly touches on (excuse the ironical reference) ‘the utility’ of continuing to post here. One invests in a forum and it is best to make a choice as to whether one’s ‘investment’ is worthwhile, both for oneself and to those who will be subject to reading you.
MarieDowd wrote: “I am interested in doing and saying what is fair to people involved and right by the combination of my inherited moral code with a few tweaks for areas where it lagged behind… or the Golden Rule as a short-hand. I believe there are heroes that lead us directly or persuade us to do better than we have before.”
This is an intensely problematic statement. (My effort is always to be able to arrive at an inner stance, a sort of fearlessness I guess you could say, and I mean this especially in the context of conversation with my own people, Americans, to say exactly what I think, and why.) So, I would say that functioning in the moral and ethical arena strictly on the basis of ‘inherited moral code’ (with tweaks) is a fine idea in many ways, and is noble, but is (IMO) nowhere near thorough enough as a base for an ethical platform nor for moral action in the world.
If what I say is true it pushes against your statement—and I mean this not in a personal sense but rather impersonally and philosophically—and asks for, and proposes it necessary, a more demanding analysis of the foundations on which our ethics and morals are established.
That conversation will involve some difficulty and may cause ‘the eyes to gloss over’.
“I also believe the most persuasive and educational ways to encourage that change is to write clearly and concisely that speaks to your audience.”
As a continuation of what I wrote just above, a couple of things:
It would be relatively simple to repeat, to mimic, to rewrite and to re-present almost as *memes* are repeated and then circulate, like VD, some rather loose ideas about what ethical practice is, or what moral action is good and desirable, and I assume one could polish one’s communication so that it could be easily read by one’s target audience: a semi-educated 12th grader. There is an aspect of speech (speech: all that is communicated)(as Richard Weaver has written) which is ‘sermonic’. I have taken that to mean that in all communication we are communicating a wider stance of our view-structure. But if our view-structure is essentially limited, or if we are deliberately editing-down our speech to communicate with a lower denominator, or if we are that lower denominator, I say the following:
We are engaging unthinkingly in a dangerous and destructive activity, and one that is (IMO) working to undermine our Republic. I am not only being dramatic.
I assert the following: It is essential in the sort of democracy we have, and with the unprecedented resources our culture and civilisation has given to us, not to gear knowledge down to a common denominator, nor to ask that knowledge be geared down to the lower denominator, but to insist that the lower denominator rise up, through will, perseverance and application, to apprehend higher forms of knowledge.
No one should EVER ask that the difficulties of gaining knowledge, nor of knowing, be simplified, reduced, or edited for a dumbed-down population. I say that we likely see, in our culture now, precisely this sort of pandering that occurs in so many different areas, not only the so-called ‘intellectual world’. You have described, essentially, the ‘business model’.
Populism is a very dangerous thing when it has to do with the higher forms of human knowledge. Men and women spend LIFETIMES dedicating themselves to deepening understanding within their disciplines, they make an extraordinary sacrifice, they give-over their lives, literally, to push into the arena of knowing. To say, effectively, ‘I won’t examine this material because it is just too difficult for me’ and then to ask ‘Don’t you have a simplified version?’ and ‘Can’t you make this easier for me?’ is, IMO, the beginning of destructive activity. It undermines true intellect through incapacity to see and recognise what is there of value.
I cannot be more adamant in taking this stand and defending it.
This IS applicable to this present conversation, to Jacks’ recent attack and the terms of his discourse on that subject, and the questions raised:
For example: How serious are we about gaining knowledge? How willing are we to understand how and on what are ethical systems constructed? How willing are we to examine our own ‘received ideas’? To what degree are we willing to do some work to gain better and more nuanced understandings of ourselves and what is around us?
Both MLK and Lincoln were dangerous populists, each in their own way, and each in their own way did tremendous harm to the Republic, despite popular opinion and patriotic formulations which the unthinking are forced, essentially, to accept. That is not ALL there is to the story, of course, but it is an aspect that can be explored.
Additionally, and strictly in terms of literature (yet this does hinge into the essentially ultra-modern themes we are broaching, in one way or another, and to the ‘practical’ and ‘utilitarian’ platform generally), Hemingway is not to be seen as one who has really advanced ‘literature’ nor literacy (in its higher sense). He is a newspaperman who had tremendous success with some worthy literature. He is emblematic of an literary artist gaining a wide reading audience. But there is NO difficulty in him. One receives what he offers in pre-digested spoonfuls. There is also very little intellect (in the truer sense of the word, which of course requires definition). But don’t be mistaken: I like and admire some of his stories, and recognise his influence.
(Nabokov wrote of Hem: “As to Hemingway, I read him for the first time in the early ‘forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it.”)
I return, dismally I admit, to the thought that I have had recently in relation to this admirable Blog, and the experience I have had on Forums directed principally to Americans (I am sad to say), that honest, difficult, demanding, and intellectual (as it should be defined) conversation is becoming nearly impossible. How can you converse with people who have so little preparation? And who have no DESIRE to prepare themselves? Who demand that you de-prepare yourself to then communicate with a person who has closed their mind anyway! That’s a recipe in absurdity … and futility.
(Pleased read what I write dispassionately. I believe in objectivism and to a degree impersonalism in the communication of ideas).
The American’s mind is gripped with PC notions. He looks out on a world and has NO SKILLS to be able to interpret what is there. He can only think within limited and pre-ordained (‘pre-justified’) channels, and any deviance from established parameters of thought causes him to freeze up and to wilt away in fear and anxiety from the difficult … but then (mark this) to then lash out in anger against what asks MORE of him. To strike, to harm, to ‘shut down’ conversation as I say.
To understand some part of this my rather biting ‘critique’ I suggest Ortega y Gasset’s ‘Revolt of the Masses’. Here is a quote pulled off of Wiki:
“As they say in the United States: ‘to be different is to be indecent.’ The mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select. Anybody who is not like everybody, who does not think like everybody, runs the risk of being eliminated. And it is clear, of course, that this ‘everybody’ is not ‘everybody.’ ‘Everybody’ was normally the complex unity of the mass and the divergent, specialised minorities. Nowadays, ‘everybody’ is the mass alone. Here we have the formidable fact of our times, described without any concealment of the brutality of its features.”
Gustav, this is really interesting. (It’s been many decades since I even HEARD anyone cite Ortega y Gasset – thanks for the fresh air).
I realize your point is ultimately about communication on blogs and in particular this one, but I do want to add support to your more general observation about the banality, the least-common-denominator driver, and the PC-component of most modern American dialogue. If anything, I think you under-stated the corrosive effects of it.
I see it in business all the time, and I tend to deal largely with more “upper management” or highly-“educated” part of the business world. And what I see is atrocious. I consider inability to spell a marker for deeper issues. Those include an inability to structure arguments; a ‘shiny-object-syndrome’ that limits attention to sound-bites; a deference to fad and fashion, and so forth.
Heaven knows there’s a lot of reasons for it: apps, social media, impersonality of public dialogue, the Kardashian syndrome, the dumbing down of colleges to compete for dummy-feed-fodder, a generation of parents who indiscriminately praised their kids and coddled them, making excuses for them – the list can go on.
In application to blogs in general, and this one in particular – my guess is that there’s limited appetite here for the more theoretical exploration of ethics, and more a focus on application. I’m not saying that’s good or bad, it’s just an “is” thing (and in some ways, that focus actually does come from a traditional american strength, the emphasis on pragmatism, still evident years after Tocqueville).
But I will say one thing: I could not agree more with your challenge to challenge upward, to resist the dumbing-down of ideas that comes with PC, simplification, one-liners, put-downs and glib answers. That’s not easy, given the breezy format of blogs and commentaries, but – there are blogs which frequently have learned dialogues – including, occasionally, this one.
My own suggestion is that we all strive to take more of a civil, collaborative view. It’s so tempting to be snide, glib, putting down others. And I’ll plead guilty too. Yet I’m continually surprised by the “wisdom” I find in someone who only a day before I had thought of as being hopelessly moronic.
In case anyone thinks being “civil” is too PC, may I suggest we’re a long way from falling into that trap.
Charles, many thanks for your interesting post. It quite literally brightened my day.
You wrote: “My own suggestion is that we all strive to take more of a civil, collaborative view. It’s so tempting to be snide, glib, putting down others.”
This problem fascinates me. I have come to understand that—speaking in terms of causation—in many concrete and real ways we have been set in motion by the cataclysmic events of the Civil War/War Between the States. What this means, in fact, is that we are still, substantially in my view, at war with ourselves. We are people who live with interior battles raging constantly. I notice that we seek out opponents, and that we keep alive the old wars, or the old wars still live in us, and that this is a really big and important part of who we are.
I mentioned Ortega y Gasset who brings sharp critique to some of the down-side aspects of American culture. Another side of it, and far more optimistic, is written about by Robert Bellah (‘The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in Time of Trial’).
Poor me, strung in between with no place to lay my head. Desiring to collaborate, destroying the possibility as my thoughts concretise. This seems to me ‘the problem’ in a nutshell.
I think that’s an outsider’s misreading of Americans, Gustav. As a group, they are, and will always be, iconoclasts. The PC effort is pushed by a minority as a way to control this—it’s not working, and won’t work. The world also is insulted by the US tendency to ignore it. That’s a US strength as well as a weakness. Thus when Bernie Sanders ludicrously says that his goal is to make the US more like Scandanavia, the typical American knows this is nonsense, and the US does not aspire to be like Scandanavia, with the trade-offs that would require. That’s not a knock on Scandanaivia. Being different is part of what makes the US the US. Those who are bothered by that difference, and in this category I include the President, are out of sync with US culture and history.
I don’t know why you want to equate avoiding jargon with dumbing down. Clear writing and speaking is not dumbing down. Scholar-ese, in contrast, is too often either intentional obfuscation of facile and cliched observations by making them sound more impressive than they are, or, what is more often the case, a mediocre mind using excessive education to fake erudition and wisdom. ( I am not referring to you, my friend.) Yes, a lot of people mistake vocabulary and even obscure expression for intelligence. Those of us who have engaged in the world of academia know better: there are lots and lots of frauds out there, using advanced degrees as a substitute for illumination. The extraordinary insight into human nature communicated to middle and lower classes by the plays of Shakespeare, for example, is a beacon for the rest of us.
Nobody had more insight than Will….doing my pre-production dramaturgy on King Lear, I told my wife that the play proved that aliens have visited the Earth–nobody human could be that smart. But it is his ability to communicate clearly—a bit less clear to us than Elizabethans, it’s true—that proves that complex ideas can and should be made understandable without “dumbing them down.”
Also, a lot—Most?—of academic writing is just bad writing, and philosophers/ethicists are among the worst. I was lucky enough to be taught literary criticism by a student of critic/philosopher A.I. Richards, who was as clear as he was elegant, eloquent and perceptive. I have a career because ethics has been rendered so impenetrable by its interpreters and analysts that it is the opera or ballet of life tools…most people are turned off before they can turn on..and that’s a big problem. As I end up saying at virtually every seminar I teach, ethics isn’t boring; ethics is fascinating. Ethicists are boring; the people who write about the topic are boring. Well, since ethics is crucial, we have a duty not to be boring, and that means being clear to all.
“I don’t know why you want to equate avoiding jargon with dumbing down. Clear writing and speaking is not dumbing down. Scholar-ese, in contrast, is too often either intentional obfuscation of facile and cliched observations by making them sound more impressive than they are, or, what is more often the case, a mediocre mind using excessive education to fake erudition and wisdom.”
I agree with this. I was going to say that I admire the writing of Richard Livingstone, W.R. Inge, and W. Macneile Dixon. It always seems to be the older school and mostly the English writers I most admire.
My comments on dumbing-down (a sort of mean way to express it, I admit, but it has some truth) were directed in a sense toward the ‘invisible enemies’ I am battling in my own mind and spirit in the long and never-ending process of coming to terms with myself, my upbringing, and the world I find myself in. I am an American BTW yet I live outside of the US in Colombia. I think you noticed an ‘outsider’s perspective’ and this will help to explain. I am out, indeed, looking back in. (And I have my spell checker set on English spelling in solidarity with the school of Cambridge Platonism) …
My writing is generally pretty clear, I hope. I do understand that when my syntax complicates itself, and I stack to many ideas on top of each other in an attempt to aphorise, that I sometimes render myself difficult to read. And just in case there is any doubt: I relish and thrive on criticism. Critique is Divine in my book.
I forgot that you have an interest and involvement in theatre. My interest in Shakespeare (my reading is not great) led me to Tillyard (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._M._W._Tillyard) and then toward Medieval metaphysics where much of my interests hover. I am especially interested in the transition between that ‘World’ and the one into which we gleelessly sail. I have a theoretical bent but I am making efforts to concretise my ideas. I am reading, on and off, Edger Brightman’s ‘Moral Laws’ (old school stuff I reckon?) and it is this interest in ethics which brought me to your site. I will promise efforts to engage practically, but it is hard for me to separate praxis from theory.
“The extraordinary insight into human nature communicated to middle and lower classes by the plays of Shakespeare, for example, is a beacon for the rest of us.”
I would venture to comment that if he succeeded in communicating to those unschooled audiences, it was because he dealt in symbols and configurations of events, and also metaphysical notions, that were known to those folks because … they were steeped in that understanding of reality which that metaphysic described.
We live in a VERY different world now … No one makes any sense to anyone … and shared language … becomes gibberish.
Earl of Gloster (blind):
‘The trick of that voice I do well remember.
Is’t not the king? … Oh let me kiss that hand.
King Lear (mad):
‘Let me wipe it first; it smells of mortality.’
Interesting perspective on this in today’s NYTimes
What Black Moms Know http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/03/opinion/sunday/what-black-moms-know.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share
Child Abuse/Neglect; Is Baltimore Mom Toya Graham Perpetuating Poverty & Prejudice?
Edward A. Flynn, Milwaukee’s chief of police, “These communities need police. And they need police not just to be present, but to be active in seeking out criminals.”
In his 2015 Grammy award winning Rap Performance titled “I”, Kendrick Lamar writes, “I’ve been dealing with depression ever since an adolescent.”
In the meantime, who is addressing why many people living in poor American communities are depressed, often venting their anger and frustrations by harming their peaceful neighbors?
Has anyone asked Baltimore resident and “Mom of The Year” Toya Graham if she believes she is partly responsible for the recurring cycle of poverty that harms so many children, including her son Michael who she observed committing a depraved act against peaceful people trying to protect the community from other abused or neglected children?
Will Baltimore mother Toya Graham and the hundreds of moms much like her who I met while providing police services to a Rap Hip Hop influenced Brooklyn, NY community, realize she was young and immature for acting irresponsibly and building a family of six depressed children who have to struggle, instead of having one or two relatively happy, peaceful kids she could more easily provide for, school and supervise?
Does Ms. Graham realize she is complicit in adding to the pain and poverty many Americans of all ages suffer?
Rejecting reality, Toya Graham informs CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “At no time is my son a thug.”
I understand a mother’s desire to protect her child as well as her rep as a good mom, though after this remark, how can anything Ms. Graham offers be viewed as truthful?