Kierkegaard at 200

by Gordon Marino, New York Times, May 3, 2013

Northfield, Minnesota

THE intellectual immortal Soren Kierkegaard turns 200 on Sunday. The lyrical Danish philosopher is widely regarded as the father of existentialism, a philosophical and literary movement that emphasizes the category of the individual and meditates on such gauzy questions as, Is there a meaning to life?

Not surprisingly, existentialism hit its zenith after humanity got a good look at itself in the mirror of the Holocaust, but then memories faded and economies boomed and existentialism began to seem a little overwrought.

Still, throughout the ups and downs of the scholarly market, the intellectual world has remained bullish on Kierkegaard, in part because the Dane, unlike other members of the Socrates guild, always addressed what human beings are really up against in themselves, namely, anxiety, depression, despair and the flow of time.

There are at least a dozen scholarly fests going on around the globe to celebrate Kierkegaard’s bicentennial, and here at the Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College we are expecting over 100 international participants at our birthday bash.

In his youth, Kierkegaard earned the nickname “gaflen,” or “the fork,” for his ability to discern the weaknesses in other people and to stick it to them. All his writing life, Kierkegaard wielded his red-hot stylus to stick it to bourgeois Christendom. His life was a meditation on what it means to have faith.

Although Kierkegaard never used the exact phrase, “the leap of faith,” those words have become his shibboleth. A Lutheran raised in a pietistic environment, Kierkegaard insisted that there was no being born into the fold; no easy passage, no clattering up a series of syllogisms to faith. For Kierkegaard, faith involved a collision with the understanding and a radical choice, or to use the terms of his singular best seller, life and faith demands an “Either/Or.” Believe or don’t believe, but don’t imagine you can have it both ways. As the mostly empty pews attest, much of Europe has taken Kierkegaard up on his challenge.

But Kierkegaard was more than a Luther of his Lutheran tradition; his writings bristle with insights about culture and humanity that can be redeemed in the currency of secularism.

For instance, Kierkegaard flourished at the inception of mass media. Daily and weekly journals and newspapers were just beginning to circulate widely. As though he could feel Facebook and Twitter coming down the line, he anticipated a time when communication would become instantaneous, but no one would have anything to say; or again, a time when everyone was obsessed with finding their voice but without much substance or “inwardness” behind their eruptions and blogposts.

In one of his books Kierkegaard moans, “The present age is an age of publicity, the age of miscellaneous announcements: Nothing happens but still there is instant publicity.” In the end, Kierkegaard was concerned about the power of the press to foment and form public opinion and in the process relieve of us of the need to think matters through on our own.

Over a 17-year span, Kierkegaard published a score of books and compiled thousand of pages of journal entries. Like Nietzsche and other geniuses who were more than less immolated by the fiery force of their own ideas, Kierkegaard sacrificed his body to dance out the riches of his thoughts. Self-conscious of his own preternatural powers, he wrote, “Geniuses are like thunderstorms. They go against the wind, terrify people, cleanse the air.”

Of course, we have all known hours of inspiration, but to live with the Muse on one’s shoulders year after year is to be able to abide close to the borders of what must sometimes feel like madness. Not an easy task.

Just to pluck a couple of plums from the sprawling tree of Kierkegaard’s extraordinary oeuvre: He was not what we would term an ethicist. He did not devote his energies to trying to find a rational basis for ethics, nor was he occupied with teasing out moral puzzles. And yet, he has something very significant to say about ethics.

According to Kierkegaard, it is not more knowledge or skills of analysis that is required to lead dutiful lives. If knowledge were the issue, then ethics would be a kind of talent. Some people would be born moral geniuses and others moral dolts. And yet so far as he and Kant were concerned, when it comes to good and evil we are all on an equal footing.

Contrary to the ethics industry that is thrumming today, Kierkegaard believed that the prime task is to hold on to what we know, to refrain from pulling the wool over our own eyes because we aren’t keen on the sacrifices that doing the right thing is likely to require. As Kierkegaard put it, when we find ourselves in a moral pinch we don’t just take the easy way out. Instead, he writes, “Willing allows some time to elapse, an interim called: We shall look at it tomorrow.”

And by the day after tomorrow, we usually decide that the right way was, after all, the easy way. And so the gadfly of Copenhagen concludes, “And this is how perhaps the great majority of men live: They work gradually at eclipsing their ethical and ethical-religious comprehension, which would lead them out into decisions and conclusions that their lower nature does not much care for.”

There are epiphanies in every nook and cranny of Kierkegaard’s authorship, but paradoxically enough, from the beginning to the end, the man who seemed to know just about everything, was gently emphatic: “The majority of men … live and die under the impression that life is simply a matter of understanding more and more, and that if it were granted to them to live longer, that life would continue to be one long continuous growth in understanding. How many of them ever experience the maturity of discovering that there comes a critical moment where everything is reversed, after which the point becomes to understand more and more that there is something which cannot be understood.”

And what might it mean to understand that there is something of vital importance in life that cannot be understood? With the indirection of a Zen master, our Birthday Boy helps us unlock this and other koans that strike to the marrow of the question of what it means to be a human being.

Gordon Marino is a professor of philosophy and the director of the Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College. His most recent book  “The Quotable Kierkegaard” will be published in the fall.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/04/opinion/global/Kierkegaard-at-200.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

The Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights: A Transcription

The Preamble to The Bill of Rights

Congress of the United States
begun and held at the City of New-York, on
Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.

THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.

RESOLVED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all, or any of which Articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution; viz.

ARTICLES in addition to, and Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original Constitution.

Note: The following text is a transcription of the first ten amendments to the Constitution in their original form. These amendments were ratified December 15, 1791, and form what is known as the “Bill of Rights.”

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

 

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

 

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

 

Amendment VII

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

 

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

 

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

 

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

 

Note: The capitalization and punctuation in this version is from the enrolled original of the Joint Resolution of Congress proposing the Bill of Rights, which is on permanent display in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.

 

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html

 

During the debates on the adoption of the Constitution, its opponents repeatedly charged that the Constitution as drafted would open the way to tyranny by the central government. Fresh in their minds was the memory of the British violation of civil rights before and during the Revolution. They demanded a “bill of rights” that would spell out the immunities of individual citizens. Several state conventions in their formal ratification of the Constitution asked for such amendments; others ratified the Constitution with the understanding that the amendments would be offered.

On September 25, 1789, the First Congress of the United States therefore proposed to the state legislatures 12 amendments to the Constitution that met arguments most frequently advanced against it. The first two proposed amendments, which concerned the number of constituents for each Representative and the compensation of Congressmen, were not ratified. Articles 3 to 12, however, ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures, constitute the first 10 amendments of the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights.

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights.html

The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

Column 1
Georgia:
Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
George Walton

Column 2
North Carolina:
William Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn
South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Arthur Middleton

Column 3
Massachusetts:
John Hancock
Maryland:
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia:
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

Column 4
Pennsylvania:
Robert Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Franklin
John Morton
George Clymer
James Smith
George Taylor
James Wilson
George Ross
Delaware:
Caesar Rodney
George Read
Thomas McKean

Column 5
New York:
William Floyd
Philip Livingston
Francis Lewis
Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
Richard Stockton
John Witherspoon
Francis Hopkinson
John Hart
Abraham Clark

Column 6
New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett
William Whipple
Massachusetts:
Samuel Adams
John Adams
Robert Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins
William Ellery
Connecticut:
Roger Sherman
Samuel Huntington
William Williams
Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
Matthew Thornton

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charte

Our Dumb Democracy: Why the Untied States of Stupid Still Reins Supreem

by John Atcheson, January 22, 2013 by Common Dreams

Excerpt

…we are still faced with ultra-rightwing terrorists threatening to hold the US economy hostage to a set of demands that the majority of Americans disagree with. These are the same loonies who deny global warming…Want to know how our political discourse got so mind-numbingly stupid? Well, we can start with this little fact:  The press is so enamored with “balance” that they’ll treat even the most ignorant, shallow, fatuous movement – a [Tea Party] movement composed of the selfish, the self-obsessed, the angry, the bigoted, and the blissfully ignorant – as if it were a serious movement….At one time this kind of foolishness would have been laughed off the national stage. Now it dominates one of our major political parties, thanks to the media’s embrace of balance and false equivalence and the Democrats’ silent complicity…today’s political discourse is so thoroughly littered with “conventional wisdom” without an iota of wisdom...our media has replaced truth, accuracy and reality with balance, false equivalency, and stenography and Democrats have been silent co-conspirators. Why?  Because the press is a wholly owned subsidiary of corporations, and too many Democrats feed at the corporate trough. And that’s not funny, but it is stupid.

Full text

Astoundingly, Mr. Obama – the supreme pragmatist and compromiser – gave an inaugural address that was as strong a defense of progressivism as we have seen in thirty years. Yet it will take more than words to make a difference.  As the echoes of his speech fade, we are still faced with ultra-rightwing terrorists threatening to hold the US economy hostage to a set of demands that the majority of Americans disagree with.

These are the same loonies who deny global warming; the same ones who set up a museum showing prehistoric humans walking with dinosaurs; the same ones who think the answer to gun violence is more guns; the same ones who voted against relief for victims of Sandy … the same ones who want to shove ultrasound instruments into women’s vaginas and tell people who they can and cannot marry while simultaneously shouting to the rooftops about freedom and values.

Yeah. Their freedoms, their beliefs and their values, please.  All others step to the back of the bus, or consult Leviticus.  You know, that font of ancient wisdom that tells us when and how to stone our neighbor’s daughter.

Want to know how our political discourse got so mind-numbingly stupid? 

Well, we can start with this little fact:  The press is so enamored with “balance” that they’ll treat even the most ignorant, shallow, fatuous movement – a movement composed of the selfish, the self-obsessed, the angry, the bigoted, and the blissfully ignorant – as if it were a serious movement. 

Consider the following signs seen at Tea Party protests.

There’s the now infamous: “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.”

Or this gem:  “Don’t steal from Medicare to Support Socialized Medicine.”

Or this: “Get a Brain.  Morans [sic].”

Or this:  “Obama Half Breed Muslin” – or maybe cotton or linen?

Or this: “We came unarmed.  This time.”

Or this:  “Stop Illeagles.”  Yup, gotta hate it when eagles get ill.

There’s absolutely no shortage of these tributes to stupidity – the list could go on and on.

At one time this kind of foolishness would have been laughed off the national stage.

Now it dominates one of our major political parties, thanks to the media’s embrace of balance and false equivalence and the Democrats’ silent complicity.

It might be time for a whole new set of “imponderables”.

Imponderables are questions or statements that by their nature expose something that doesn’t make sense. At their best, they’re mildly amusing and instructive. For example, why does Hawaii have an Interstate Highway system? or Why isn’t “phonetic” spelled the way it sounds? or Why do psychics have to ask you for your name?

Yes, today’s political discourse is so thoroughly littered with “conventional wisdom” without an iota of wisdom, that there should be a new category – political imponderables. Here are a few examples:

National “Defense: If the US was spending more than the next 16 countries combined on defense prior to 911, why did we need to create the Department of Homeland Security to defend ourselves?

Shouldn’t the Defense Department be called the Department of Offense?

Why isn’t every citizen asking why we have tens of thousands of troops scattered around the world to fight the cold war, nearly 25 years after it ended.

If Citizens United is about Free Speech, why does it cost so much? Republicans and plutocrats are set to spend far more than $1 billion on the presidential race.

Why did Obama call the Patriot Act shoddy and dangerous then essentially continue Bush’s assault on the Bill of Rights?

Climate Change: Why did candidate Obama call climate change an epochal man-made threat to the planet, while President Obama virtually ignored it his entire first term.

Why do states which are experiencing the worst climate-related disasters elect Republican governors and congressional representatives who deny its existence?

Deficit Duplicity: Why are Republicans once again threatening to shut down government over extending the debt ceiling, after voting for the Ryan’s first budget, which required multiple and astronomical increases in the debt ceiling until the year 2062?

If Republicans really hate deficits, why did the last three Republican Presidents run up more than 66% of the nation’s cumulative deficit  – more than all other Presidents combined?  And why didn’t rank and file Republicans utter a peep against it when they did?

Deregulation, Trickle Down Redux, or Fool me once, shame on you … If thirty years of policies featuring deregulation, tax cuts for the rich and starve the beast policies resulted in the economic crash in 2008 – the worst since the Great Depression, which was also preceded by laissez-faire policies – how can more of the same be the solution?

Small Government that Isn’t: If Republicans like small government, why does it always grow  when they’re in office?

Why does the press mindlessly repeat conservative fear mongers’ debt warnings even as the deficit is disappearing?

There’s no shortage of political imponderables.  Given the absurdity of our political process and the media’s malfeasance, our national well of stupidity is deep and wide.

The answer to all these questions is simple – these absurdities exist, because our media has replaced truth, accuracy and reality with balance, false equivalency, and stenography and Democrats have been silent co-conspirators.

Why?  Because the press is a wholly owned subsidiary of corporations, and too many Democrats feed at the corporate trough.

And that’s not funny, but it is stupid.

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/01/22

 


Obama Inaugural’s Liberal Definition of Rights

By Michael Kinsley, Washington Monthly, January 22, 2013

Excerpt

President Barack Obama’s on Monday made — or tried to make — two different points, both concerning the definition of “rights.”…both are parts of a solidly liberal vision of society and government…First, Obama added a chapter on gay rights to the official story of America as a continuing experiment in expanding freedom..This almost offhand reference by the president to a 1969 gay-rights riot as part of the grand procession of American equality and civil rights is itself a milestone…

The president’s second fascinating gloss on the concept of rights has to do with negative and positive rights. In the U.S., when we think of rights, we think mainly of negative rights: rights against the government. The Bill of Rights is largely a list of things the government may not do to you…There is another view of “rights” that sees them in positive terms, as obligations of society to all its citizens. The right to education, to food, to a job, to health care, and so on. These are the kind of rights that engage Obama.

“We the people,” he said today, “still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.”…So Obama does have a vision — articulated pretty clearly if not explicitly in his speech today. Society, through its proxy, the government, should provide the individual with a higher level of protection from hardship and catastrophe than it does now…

Full text

President Barack Obama’s on Monday made — or tried to make — two different points, both concerning the definition of “rights.” Although couched in the kind of president-ese appropriate to such an occasion, both goals were easy to spot, and both are parts of a solidly liberal vision of society and government.

People have been looking for the real Barack Obama — principled (maybe dangerously principled) progressive or deeply (maybe disappointingly) moderate compromiser? This speech makes the answer clear.

First, Obama added a chapter on gay rights to the official story of America as a continuing experiment in expanding freedom: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” Women’s rights, blacks’ rights, gays’ rights. From now on that’s our story, and we’re sticking with it.

This almost offhand reference by the president to a 1969 gay-rights riot as part of the grand procession of American equality and civil rights is itself a milestone. From now on, the boilerplate Fourth of July rhetoric of all politicians, or at least all Democratic politicians, will cite “black or white, men or women, Christian or Jewish or Muslim, gay or straight,” and they will leave out the last pairing at their peril. (A genuine contribution of George W. Bush’s presidency was adding Muslims to the roll-call of American pluralism. One now says, “our churches, synagogues, and mosques.” Following Obama, one will refer to “our gay brothers and sisters” who deserve to be “treated like anyone else under the law.”)

Positive Rights

The president’s second fascinating gloss on the concept of rights has to do with negative and positive rights. In the U.S., when we think of rights, we think mainly of negative rights: rights against the government. The Bill of Rights is largely a list of things the government may not do to you. It may not prevent you from having your say, or praying to your own God, or living unbothered in your own house. It may not discriminate against you on account of race, religion, and so on. But it has no positive duty to feed or house you.

There is another view of “rights” that sees them in positive terms, as obligations of society to all its citizens. The right to education, to food, to a job, to health care, and so on. These are the kind of rights that engage Obama.

“We the people,” he said today, “still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.” Like the other kind of rights, these rights can exist in theory for years or centuries without being realized in practice. That’s one reason that the struggle is never-ending.

Of course, being a politician, Obama claims that his vision of society is uniquely American. His critics, by contrast, have tried to nail him as a European intellectual (two fighting words). In truth, his vision of a properly run society is closer to the European model than, say, Representative Paul Ryan’s. But voters seem to prefer Obama’s. Or at least the voters were given the opportunity for the Ryan model and turned it down.

Obama said: “A modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.” And, “A great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”

Who disagrees with that? Yet our particular great nation is letting its railroads and highways rot and does only a mediocre job of protecting people from life’s worst hazards.

Central Philosophy

Perhaps we now know why Obama took up health-care reform at the beginning of his first term, even though there was other stuff (i.e. the financial crisis) going on, and his advisers (the ones on his payroll and those in the news media) were saying, put it off. Decent health care for everybody isn’t just a nice thing to have. It’s central to Obama’s philosophy of government.

So Obama does have a vision — articulated pretty clearly if not explicitly in his speech today. Society, through its proxy, the government, should provide the individual with a higher level of protection from hardship and catastrophe than it does now. Government should also invest in public goods such as highways and education, which will also grease the wheels of commerce. Even global warming and the deficit get shoehorned into the framework of problems the government must deal with so individuals can be free to live their lives as they choose.

The president said, “This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience.” It has? If so, it sure caught me napping. I think we are fairly untested, and it’s hard to share the president’s optimism. But he gets paid to be optimistic.

Full text

President Barack Obama’s on Monday made — or tried to make — two different points, both concerning the definition of “rights.” Although couched in the kind of president-ese appropriate to such an occasion, both goals were easy to spot, and both are parts of a solidly liberal vision of society and government.

People have been looking for the real Barack Obama — principled (maybe dangerously principled) progressive or deeply (maybe disappointingly) moderate compromiser? This speech makes the answer clear.

First, Obama added a chapter on gay rights to the official story of America as a continuing experiment in expanding freedom: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” Women’s rights, blacks’ rights, gays’ rights. From now on that’s our story, and we’re sticking with it.

This almost offhand reference by the president to a 1969 gay-rights riot as part of the grand procession of American equality and civil rights is itself a milestone. From now on, the boilerplate Fourth of July rhetoric of all politicians, or at least all Democratic politicians, will cite “black or white, men or women, Christian or Jewish or Muslim, gay or straight,” and they will leave out the last pairing at their peril. (A genuine contribution of George W. Bush’s presidency was adding Muslims to the roll-call of American pluralism. One now says, “our churches, synagogues, and mosques.” Following Obama, one will refer to “our gay brothers and sisters” who deserve to be “treated like anyone else under the law.”)

Positive Rights

The president’s second fascinating gloss on the concept of rights has to do with negative and positive rights. In the U.S., when we think of rights, we think mainly of negative rights: rights against the government. The Bill of Rights is largely a list of things the government may not do to you. It may not prevent you from having your say, or praying to your own God, or living unbothered in your own house. It may not discriminate against you on account of race, religion, and so on. But it has no positive duty to feed or house you.

There is another view of “rights” that sees them in positive terms, as obligations of society to all its citizens. The right to education, to food, to a job, to health care, and so on. These are the kind of rights that engage Obama.

“We the people,” he said today, “still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.” Like the other kind of rights, these rights can exist in theory for years or centuries without being realized in practice. That’s one reason that the struggle is never-ending.

Of course, being a politician, Obama claims that his vision of society is uniquely American. His critics, by contrast, have tried to nail him as a European intellectual (two fighting words). In truth, his vision of a properly run society is closer to the European model than, say, Representative Paul Ryan’s. But voters seem to prefer Obama’s. Or at least the voters were given the opportunity for the Ryan model and turned it down.

Obama said: “A modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.” And, “A great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”

Who disagrees with that? Yet our particular great nation is letting its railroads and highways rot and does only a mediocre job of protecting people from life’s worst hazards.

Central Philosophy

Perhaps we now know why Obama took up health-care reform at the beginning of his first term, even though there was other stuff (i.e. the financial crisis) going on, and his advisers (the ones on his payroll and those in the news media) were saying, put it off. Decent health care for everybody isn’t just a nice thing to have. It’s central to Obama’s philosophy of government.

So Obama does have a vision — articulated pretty clearly if not explicitly in his speech today. Society, through its proxy, the government, should provide the individual with a higher level of protection from hardship and catastrophe than it does now. Government should also invest in public goods such as highways and education, which will also grease the wheels of commerce. Even global warming and the deficit get shoehorned into the framework of problems the government must deal with so individuals can be free to live their lives as they choose.

The president said, “This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience.” It has? If so, it sure caught me napping. I think we are fairly untested, and it’s hard to share the president’s optimism. But he gets paid to be optimistic.

President Barack Obama’s on Monday made — or tried to make — two different points, both concerning the definition of “rights.” Although couched in the kind of president-ese appropriate to such an occasion, both goals were easy to spot, and both are parts of a solidly liberal vision of society and government.

People have been looking for the real Barack Obama — principled (maybe dangerously principled) progressive or deeply (maybe disappointingly) moderate compromiser? This speech makes the answer clear.

First, Obama added a chapter on gay rights to the official story of America as a continuing experiment in expanding freedom: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” Women’s rights, blacks’ rights, gays’ rights. From now on that’s our story, and we’re sticking with it.

This almost offhand reference by the president to a 1969 gay-rights riot as part of the grand procession of American equality and civil rights is itself a milestone. From now on, the boilerplate Fourth of July rhetoric of all politicians, or at least all Democratic politicians, will cite “black or white, men or women, Christian or Jewish or Muslim, gay or straight,” and they will leave out the last pairing at their peril. (A genuine contribution of George W. Bush’s presidency was adding Muslims to the roll-call of American pluralism. One now says, “our churches, synagogues, and mosques.” Following Obama, one will refer to “our gay brothers and sisters” who deserve to be “treated like anyone else under the law.”)

Positive Rights

The president’s second fascinating gloss on the concept of rights has to do with negative and positive rights. In the U.S., when we think of rights, we think mainly of negative rights: rights against the government. The Bill of Rights is largely a list of things the government may not do to you. It may not prevent you from having your say, or praying to your own God, or living unbothered in your own house. It may not discriminate against you on account of race, religion, and so on. But it has no positive duty to feed or house you.

There is another view of “rights” that sees them in positive terms, as obligations of society to all its citizens. The right to education, to food, to a job, to health care, and so on. These are the kind of rights that engage Obama.

“We the people,” he said today, “still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.” Like the other kind of rights, these rights can exist in theory for years or centuries without being realized in practice. That’s one reason that the struggle is never-ending.

Of course, being a politician, Obama claims that his vision of society is uniquely American. His critics, by contrast, have tried to nail him as a European intellectual (two fighting words). In truth, his vision of a properly run society is closer to the European model than, say, Representative Paul Ryan’s. But voters seem to prefer Obama’s. Or at least the voters were given the opportunity for the Ryan model and turned it down.

Obama said: “A modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.” And, “A great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”

Who disagrees with that? Yet our particular great nation is letting its railroads and highways rot and does only a mediocre job of protecting people from life’s worst hazards.

Central Philosophy

Perhaps we now know why Obama took up health-care reform at the beginning of his first term, even though there was other stuff (i.e. the financial crisis) going on, and his advisers (the ones on his payroll and those in the news media) were saying, put it off. Decent health care for everybody isn’t just a nice thing to have. It’s central to Obama’s philosophy of government.

So Obama does have a vision — articulated pretty clearly if not explicitly in his speech today. Society, through its proxy, the government, should provide the individual with a higher level of protection from hardship and catastrophe than it does now. Government should also invest in public goods such as highways and education, which will also grease the wheels of commerce. Even global warming and the deficit get shoehorned into the framework of problems the government must deal with so individuals can be free to live their lives as they choose.

The president said, “This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience.” It has? If so, it sure caught me napping. I think we are fairly untested, and it’s hard to share the president’s optimism. But he gets paid to be optimistic.

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/ten-miles-square/2013/01/obama_inaugurals_liberal_defin_1042537.php

A Time for ‘Sublime Madness’

Published on Monday, January 21, 2013 by TruthDig.com by Chris Hedges

Excerpt

The planet we have assaulted will convulse with fury. The senseless greed of limitless capitalist expansion will implode the global economy. The decimation of civil liberties, carried out in the name of fighting terror, will shackle us to an interconnected security and surveillance state that stretches from Moscow to Istanbul to New York. To endure what lies ahead we will have to harness the human imagination…It is the imagination that makes possible transcendence…“Ultimately, the artist and the revolutionary function as they function, and pay whatever dues they must pay behind it because they are both possessed by a vision, and they do not so much follow this vision as find themselves driven by it,” wrote James Baldwin. “Otherwise, they could never endure, much less embrace, the lives they are compelled to lead.”

Full text

The planet we have assaulted will convulse with fury. The senseless greed of limitless capitalist expansion will implode the global economy. The decimation of civil liberties, carried out in the name of fighting terror, will shackle us to an interconnected security and surveillance state that stretches from Moscow to Istanbul to New York. To endure what lies ahead we will have to harness the human imagination. It was the human imagination that permitted African-Americans during slavery and the Jim Crow era to transcend their physical condition. It was the human imagination that sustained Sitting Bull and Black Elk as their land was seized and their cultures were broken. And it was the human imagination that allowed the survivors in the Nazi death camps to retain the power of the sacred.

It is the imagination that makes possible transcendence. Chants, work songs, spirituals, the blues, poetry, dance and art converged under slavery to nourish and sustain this imagination. These were the forces that, as Ralph Ellison wrote, “we had in place of freedom.” The oppressed would be the first—for they know their fate—to admit that on a rational level such a notion is absurd, but they also know that it is only through the imagination that they survive. Jewish inmates in Auschwitz reportedly put God on trial for the Holocaust and then condemned God to death. A rabbi stood after the verdict to lead the evening prayers.

African-Americans and Native Americans, for centuries, had little control over their destinies. Forces of bigotry and violence kept them subjugated by whites. Suffering, for the oppressed, was tangible. Death was a constant companion. And it was only their imagination, as William Faulkner noted at the end of “The Sound and the Fury,” that permitted them—unlike the novel’s white Compson family—to “endure.”

The theologian James H. Cone captures this in his masterpiece “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” Cone says that for oppressed blacks the cross was a “paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last.” Cone continues:

That God could “make a way out of no way” in Jesus’ cross was truly absurd to the intellect, yet profoundly real in the souls of black folk. Enslaved blacks who first heard the gospel message seized on the power of the cross. Christ crucified manifested God’s loving and liberating presence in the contradictions of black life—that transcendent presence in the lives of black Christians that empowered them to believe that ultimately, in God’s eschatological future, they would not be defeated by the “troubles of this world,” no matter how great and painful their suffering. Believing this paradox, this absurd claim of faith, was only possible in humility and repentance. There was no place for the proud and the mighty, for people who think that God called them to rule over others. The cross was God’s critique of power—white power—with powerless love, snatching victory out of defeat.

Reinhold Niebuhr, as Cone points out in his book, labeled this capacity to defy the forces of repression “a sublime madness in the soul.” Niebuhr wrote that “nothing but madness will do battle with malignant power and ‘spiritual wickedness in high places.’ ” This sublime madness, as Niebuhr understood, is dangerous, but it is vital. Without it, “truth is obscured.” And Niebuhr also knew that traditional liberalism was a useless force in moments of extremity. Liberalism, Niebuhr said, “lacks the spirit of enthusiasm, not to say fanaticism, which is so necessary to move the world out of its beaten tracks. It is too intellectual and too little emotional to be an efficient force in history.”

Niebuhr’s “sublime madness” permits the rest of us to view the possibilities of a world otherwise seen only by the visionary, the artist and the madman. And it permits us to fight for these possibilities. The prophets in the Hebrew Bible had this sublime madness. The words of the Hebrew prophets, as Abraham Heschel wrote, were “a scream in the night. While the world is at ease and asleep, the prophet feels the blast from heaven.”

Primo Levi in his memoir “Survival in Auschwitz” tells of teaching Italian to another inmate, Jean Samuel, in exchange for lessons in French. Levi recites to Samuel from memory Canto XXVI of Dante’s “The Inferno.” It is the story of Ulysses’ final voyage.

“He has received the message,” Levi writes, “he has felt that it has to do with him, that it has to do with all men who toil, and with us in particular.” Levi goes on. “It is vitally necessary and urgent that he listen, that he understand … before it is too late; tomorrow he or I might be dead, or we might never see each other again.”

The poet Leon Staff wrote from the Warsaw ghetto: “Even more than bread we now need poetry, in a time when it seems that it is not needed at all.”

It is only those who can retreat into the imagination, and through their imagination can minister to the suffering of those around them, who uncover the physical and psychological strength to resist.

“… [T]he people noticed that Crazy Horse was queerer than ever,” Black Elk said in remembering the final days of the wars against the Indians. He went on to say of the great Sioux warrior: “He hardly ever stayed in the camp. People would find him out alone in the cold, and they would ask him to come home with them. He would not come, but sometimes he would tell the people what to do. People wondered if he ate anything at all. Once my father found him out alone like that, and he said to my father: ‘Uncle, you have noticed me the way I act. But do not worry; there are caves and holes for me to live in, and out here the spirits may help me. I am making plans for the good of my people.’ ”

Homer, Dante, Beethoven, Melville, Dostoevsky, Proust, Joyce, W.H. Auden, Emily Dickinson and James Baldwin, along with artists such as the sculptor David Smith, the photographer Diane Arbus and the blues musician Charley Patton, all had it. It is the sublime madness that lets one sing, as bluesman Ishman Bracey did in Hinds County, Miss., “I’ve been down so long, Lawd, down don’t worry me.” And yet in the mists of the imagination also lies the certainty of divine justice:

I feel my hell a-risin’, a-risin’ every day;
I feel my hell a-risin’, a-risin’ every day;
Someday it’ll burst this levee and wash the whole wide world away.

Shakespeare’s greatest heroes and heroines—Prospero, Anthony, Juliet, Viola, Rosalind, Hamlet, Cordelia and Lear—all have this sublime madness. As Theseus says in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”:

Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.

“Ultimately, the artist and the revolutionary function as they function, and pay whatever dues they must pay behind it because they are both possessed by a vision, and they do not so much follow this vision as find themselves driven by it,” wrote James Baldwin. “Otherwise, they could never endure, much less embrace, the lives they are compelled to lead.”

© 2012 TruthDig.com

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/01/21-1

How to Live Without Irony

By CHRISTY WAMPOLE,  New Yok Times, November 17, 2012

If irony is the ethos of our age – and it is – then the hipster is our archetype of ironic living.

The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. He studies relentlessly, foraging for what has yet to be found by the mainstream. He is a walking citation; his clothes refer to much more than themselves. He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things.

He is an easy target for mockery. However, scoffing at the hipster is only a diluted form of his own affliction. He is merely a symptom and the most extreme manifestation of ironic living. For many Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s – members of Generation Y, or Millennials – particularly middle-class Caucasians, irony is the primary mode with which daily life is dealt. One need only dwell in public space, virtual or concrete, to see how pervasive this phenomenon has become. Advertising, politics, fashion, television: almost every category of contemporary reality exhibits this will to irony.

Take, for example, an ad that calls itself an ad, makes fun of its own format, and attempts to lure its target market to laugh at and with it. It pre-emptively acknowledges its own failure to accomplish anything meaningful. No attack can be set against it, as it has already conquered itself. The ironic frame functions as a shield against criticism. The same goes for ironic living. Irony is the most self-defensive mode, as it allows a person to dodge responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic and otherwise. To live ironically is to hide in public. It is flagrantly indirect, a form of subterfuge, which means etymologically to “secretly flee” (subter + fuge). Somehow, directness has become unbearable to us.

How did this happen? It stems in part from the belief that this generation has little to offer in terms of culture, that everything has already been done, or that serious commitment to any belief will eventually be subsumed by an opposing belief, rendering the first laughable at best and contemptible at worst. This kind of defensive living works as a pre-emptive surrender and takes the form of reaction rather than action.

Life in the Internet age has undoubtedly helped a certain ironic sensibility to flourish. An ethos can be disseminated quickly and widely through this medium. Our incapacity to deal with the things at hand is evident in our use of, and increasing reliance on, digital technology. Prioritizing what is remote over what is immediate, the virtual over the actual, we are absorbed in the public and private sphere by the little devices that take us elsewhere.

Furthermore, the nostalgia cycles have become so short that we even try to inject the present moment with sentimentality, for example, by using certain digital filters to “pre-wash” photos with an aura of historicity. Nostalgia needs time. One cannot accelerate meaningful remembrance.

While we have gained some skill sets (multitasking, technological savvy), other skills have suffered: the art of conversation, the art of looking at people, the art of being seen, the art of being present. Our conduct is no longer governed by subtlety, finesse, grace and attention, all qualities more esteemed in earlier decades. Inwardness and narcissism now hold sway.

Born in 1977, at the tail end of Generation X, I came of age in the 1990s, a decade that, bracketed neatly by two architectural crumblings – of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Twin Towers in 2001 – now seems relatively irony-free. The grunge movement was serious in its aesthetics and its attitude, with a combative stance against authority, which the punk movement had also embraced. In my perhaps over-nostalgic memory, feminism reached an unprecedented peak, environmentalist concerns gained widespread attention, questions of race were more openly addressed: all of these stirrings contained within them the same electricity and euphoria touching generations that witness a centennial or millennial changeover.

But Y2K came and went without disaster. We were hopeful throughout the ’90s, but hope is such a vulnerable emotion; we needed a self-defense mechanism, for every generation has one. For Gen Xers, it was a kind of diligent apathy. We actively did not care. Our archetype was the slacker who slouched through life in plaid flannel, alone in his room, misunderstood. And when we were bored with not caring, we were vaguely angry and melancholic, eating anti-depressants like they were candy.

FROM this vantage, the ironic clique appears simply too comfortable, too brainlessly compliant. Ironic living is a first-world problem. For the relatively well educated and financially secure, irony functions as a kind of credit card you never have to pay back. In other words, the hipster can frivolously invest in sham social capital without ever paying back one sincere dime. He doesn’t own anything he possesses.

Obviously, hipsters (male or female) produce a distinct irritation in me, one that until recently I could not explain. They provoke me, I realized, because they are, despite the distance from which I observe them, an amplified version of me.

I, too, exhibit ironic tendencies. For example, I find it difficult to give sincere gifts. Instead, I often give what in the past would have been accepted only at a White Elephant gift exchange: a kitschy painting from a thrift store, a coffee mug with flashy images of “Texas, the Lone Star State,” plastic Mexican wrestler figures. Good for a chuckle in the moment, but worth little in the long term. Something about the responsibility of choosing a personal, meaningful gift for a friend feels too intimate, too momentous. I somehow cannot bear the thought of a friend disliking a gift I’d chosen with sincerity. The simple act of noticing my self-defensive behavior has made me think deeply about how potentially toxic ironic posturing could be.

First, it signals a deep aversion to risk. As a function of fear and pre-emptive shame, ironic living bespeaks cultural numbness, resignation and defeat. If life has become merely a clutter of kitsch objects, an endless series of sarcastic jokes and pop references, a competition to see who can care the least (or, at minimum, a performance of such a competition), it seems we’ve made a collective misstep. Could this be the cause of our emptiness and existential malaise? Or a symptom?

Throughout history, irony has served useful purposes, like providing a rhetorical outlet for unspoken societal tensions. But our contemporary ironic mode is somehow deeper; it has leaked from the realm of rhetoric into life itself. This ironic ethos can lead to a vacuity and vapidity of the individual and collective psyche. Historically, vacuums eventually have been filled by something – more often than not, a hazardous something. Fundamentalists are never ironists; dictators are never ironists; people who move things in the political landscape, regardless of the sides they choose, are never ironists.

Where can we find other examples of nonironic living? What does it look like? Nonironic models include very young children, elderly people, deeply religious people, people with severe mental or physical disabilities, people who have suffered, and those from economically or politically challenged places where seriousness is the governing state of mind. My friend Robert Pogue Harrison put it this way in a recent conversation: “Wherever the real imposes itself, it tends to dissipate the fogs of irony.”

Observe a 4-year-old child going through her daily life. You will not find the slightest bit of irony in her behavior. She has not, so to speak, taken on the veil of irony. She likes what she likes and declares it without dissimulation. She is not particularly conscious of the scrutiny of others. She does not hide behind indirect language. The most pure nonironic models in life, however, are to be found in nature: animals and plants are exempt from irony, which exists only where the human dwells.

What would it take to overcome the cultural pull of irony? Moving away from the ironic involves saying what you mean, meaning what you say and considering seriousness and forthrightness as expressive possibilities, despite the inherent risks. It means undertaking the cultivation of sincerity, humility and self-effacement, and demoting the frivolous and the kitschy on our collective scale of values. It might also consist of an honest self-inventory.

Here is a start: Look around your living space. Do you surround yourself with things you really like or things you like only because they are absurd? Listen to your own speech. Ask yourself: Do I communicate primarily through inside jokes and pop culture references? What percentage of my speech is meaningful? How much hyperbolic language do I use? Do I feign indifference? Look at your clothes. What parts of your wardrobe could be described as costume-like, derivative or reminiscent of some specific style archetype (the secretary, the hobo, the flapper, yourself as a child)? In other words, do your clothes refer to something else or only to themselves? Do you attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or ugly? In other words, is your style an anti-style? The most important question: How would it feel to change yourself quietly, offline, without public display, from within?

Attempts to banish irony have come and gone in past decades. The loosely defined New Sincerity movements in the arts that have sprouted since the 1980s positioned themselves as responses to postmodern cynicism, detachment and meta-referentiality. (New Sincerity has recently been associated with the writing of David Foster Wallace, the films of Wes Anderson and the music of Cat Power.) But these attempts failed to stick, as evidenced by the new age of Deep Irony.

What will future generations make of this rampant sarcasm and unapologetic cultivation of silliness? Will we be satisfied to leave an archive filled with video clips of people doing stupid things? Is an ironic legacy even a legacy at all?

The ironic life is certainly a provisional answer to the problems of too much comfort, too much history and too many choices, but it is my firm conviction that this mode of living is not viable and conceals within it many social and political risks. For such a large segment of the population to forfeit its civic voice through the pattern of negation I’ve described is to siphon energy from the cultural reserves of the community at large. People may choose to continue hiding behind the ironic mantle, but this choice equals a surrender to commercial and political entities more than happy to act as parents for a self-infantilizing citizenry. So rather than scoffing at the hipster – a favorite hobby, especially of hipsters – determine whether the ashes of irony have settled on you as well. It takes little effort to dust them away.

Christy Wampole is an assistant professor of French at Princeton University. Her research focuses primarily on 20th- and 21st-century French and Italian literature and thought.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/17/how-to-live-without-irony/?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121118

Moral Politics

“All politics is moral.” George Lakoff

“All of the various fields of human inquiry — theology and philosophy and morality and psychology meet rather beautifully in politics. And sometimes I wonder if politics isn’t exactly that, it’s the taking of all the sort of great ineffable and trying to make them have some meaning in the actually historical moment on earth in which we live.” Tony Kushner – writer of “Lincoln” interview with Bill Moyers

We live in an anti-political moment, when many people — young people especially — think politics is a low, nasty, corrupt and usually fruitless business. It’s much nobler to do community service or just avoid all that putrid noise…. you can do more good in politics than in any other sphere…Politics is noble because it involves personal compromise for the public good…politics is the best place to develop the highest virtuesWhy We Love Politics By DAVID BROOKS, New York Times, November 22, 2012

The Spiritual Crisis Underlying American Politics By John Amodeo, PsychCentral.com, October 14, 2013

The Bible Paradox by Big Think Editors, October 20, 2013 – Excerpt – Nearly 80 percent of all Americans think the Bible is either literally true or is the inspired word of God. And yet, most Americans have no idea what is actually in the Bible…so we have the paradoxical situation in which we as a culture “have invested the words of this book with amazing authority even when we don’t know what these words are and what they mean.” So says Joel Baden, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Yale Divinity School…“The Bible has effectively ceased to become a text,” Baden argues, but instead has become a symbol of power and authority “that is undergirded by the relatively uninformed faith commitments of the majority of the American public. To speak in the name of the Bible is to claim a piece of that authority.” And this is a power that can be abused, and often is…Our religious traditions have taught us to read the Bible this way. Since we are conditioned to search the Bible for one meaning, we have lost the ability to be careful readers…if we are to continue to invest as much authority in the Bible as we do, Baden says, we — as serious readers of the text — cannot pretend that the Bible is a single, clear statement of belief. Rather, “it is a jumble of beliefs…This text that our culture holds most sacred is a living reminder that human interaction is founded on dialogue and not monologue — the inclusion of differences, not their exclusion.

Why the Government Shutdown Is Unbiblical by Jim Wallis, Sojourners, posted on Huffingtonpost.com, Oct 3, 2013 — the poorest and most vulnerable who are always hurt the most in a crisis like this…that is our job in politics — to talk about what happens to themThe biblical purpose of government is to protect from evil and to promote the good.That vision of “common good” is what we have lost, and there is nothing more important in our public life than to find it again…To be opposed to government per se, especially when that opposition serves the ultimate power of other wealthy and powerful interests, is simply not a biblical position. Transparency, accountability, and service are the ethics of good government. “Of the people, by the people, and for the people” is still a good measure and goal of civil authority…

America Is Not a Christian Nation and Never Has Been: Why Is the Right Obsessed With Pushing a Revisionist History? By Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet, October 16, 2013 

A Religious Legacy, With Its Leftward Tilt, Is Reconsidered By JENNIFER SCHUESSLER, New York Times, July 23, 2013

Religion challenges left and right By E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, August 4 

Religious progressives hold stronger appeal among Millennials By Robby Jones, Washington Post, July 18, 2013 The Washington Post Company

Six challenges for organizing a progressive religious movement By Robert P. Jones, Washington Post, August 2, 2013

Why Progressives Can’t Ignore Religion by Mike Lux, Alter­Net, Febru­ary 27, 2012  ..Wall or no wall, politics and religion have always been inextricably intertwined, and we won’t win until we recognize and deal with that fact…

LGBT Advocates Need Public Progressive Faith

Why Few Americans View Climate Change as a Moral Problemby Ezra Markowitz, BigThink.com, June 15, 2012 – . The moral judgment system—the set of cognitive, emotional, social and motivational mechanisms responsible for producing our perceptions of right and wrong—has been receiving a lot of attention recently, only some of it good. A slew of best-selling books, dozens of exciting new research findings, and a host of current events have converged to produce a rapidly growing interest in the role that moral judgment and intuition play in shaping everything from the effects of “green” products on ethical decision-making to growing political polarization…If climate advocates and communicators want people to perceive climate change as a moral imperative—and they should given that our moral intuitions are powerful motivators of action—then they’ll need to develop creative, evidence-based ways of confronting the challenges discussed above.…

Another Word on “God and the Twenty-First Century” by Michael Benedikt, Tikkun, March 5, 2011 – It is no longer necessary to invoke the name of God to explain or promote compassionate action. Today we understand we have evolved that capacity…what are commandments? Ways of bringing goodness to life through actions, through deeds…These are the words of three champions of monotheism [Judaism, Christianity, Islam]…But what should followers of these theist traditions think of the good practiced by nonbelievers — people who would say it’s quite unnecessary, and even counterproductive, to bring “God” into ordinary morality, who would offer that morality can and should be understood from an entirely scientific, evolutionary, and historical point of view thus: the capacity for empathy, fairness, and altruism is wired into human beings and even other higher mammals from birth, thanks to millions of generations of reproduction-with-variation under the constraints of natural selection. Similarly, the laws of civility — from the Eightfold Way and the Ten Commandments to the Magna Carta, the Geneva Convention, and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights — are the culturally transmitted legacy of thousands of years of human social evolution overlaid upon older, natural reproductive-selective processes. Whereas laws of civility may once have needed the rhetorical force of God-talk to establish themselves, today they can be embraced rationally in the service of peace and prosperity.

The Faithful Budget 

Why the Great Religious Realignment is a Great Secular Opportunity 

Seven Deadly American Sins

The Cry for Democratic Moral Leadership and Effective Communication by George Lakoff, Truthout.org, September 2, 2010  - ..Morality is behind everything in politics – and progressives and conservatives have different moral systems….America is, and has always been, fundamentally about Americans caring about each other and acting responsibly on that care. Empathy…is the basis of our form of government. Responsibility is both personal and social…Argue for your values. Frame all issues in terms of your value…

Obama’s ‘God talk’ was highlight of his convention acceptance speech

Do We Need Faith to Believe in Progress? by Andrew Cohen, 21st Century Living, April 20, 2012

Prophetic Politics: Charting A Healthy Role For Religion In Public Life By Robert Jensen, Countercurrents.org, February 3, 2012 – A review of Walter Brueggemann, The Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipatory Word (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012).

We need a new Social Gospel: the moral imperative of collective bargaining by Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Washington Post – On Faith, February 23, 2011

What Does the Morality of Americans Have to Do With Immigration in America? by Katherine Fennelly, Professor, University of Minnesota. HuffingtonPost.com, July 9, 2010

Philosophy of Religion by Richard Taylor, Philosophy Now, 2004