Some students at Providence College today occupied the Provost's Office protesting the blog writings of one of the professors at PC. The professor, Anthony Esolen, has written some blog posts for Crisis magazine in which he laments cultural diversity and defends "the Truth of the Catholic Church."
I am addressing this issue in this blog for two reasons: first, because tolerance is the foundation of discovering the truth and, second, because one needs to show how intolerable views that are simply wrong, as Tony Esolen's are, ought to be treated--that is, logically and passionately.
In 1965, Herbert Marcuse contributed an essay to the volume "A Critique of Pure Tolerance," in which he argues that the Left ought not tolerate various views, especially fascist views. His argument is that the administered society represses the reasoning powers of citizens. Further, as Alex Callinicos notes, Marcuse does not trust in the ability of everyday citizens to think for themselves.
Alasdair MacIntyre's response is critical: either we trust in people's thinking ability or we end up being totalitarian like Stalin, who imposed a particular regime upon people. Grounded in Marxian theory, MacIntyre emphasizes Marx's point that the revolution must be brought about by the proletariat.
Our good friend, Paulo Freire, stresses the same point. A revolution that is imposed by leaders on the people does not liberate. Rather, it recreates the forms of oppression.
Liberation requires tolerance, tolerance based in trust. Further, to eliminate someone from debate, to prevent them from engaging in conversation, is to, not only silence them, but to silence ourselves. J. S. Mill has the best insight on this point: none of us have the whole truth, and even those who believe mostly false things have some element of the truth. Esolen should appreciate this point because it comes from St. Augustine.
Of course, in denouncing cultural diversity, Tony Esolen is merely trying to silence others. He does so by pretending that others have nothing valuable to share with us that the "West" does not already have, by contending that TRUTH comes from the Roman Catholic Church and cannot be doubted, and by various slights of hand, shadows, and mirrors. And might I add, very, very bad theology.
Let's take one example of Esolen's reasoning:
That is, supposing that the people of a tribe in the interior of Brazil are compelled to accept cultural diversity for its own sake, rather than merely adopting and adapting this or that beneficent feature of another culture (something that people have always done), will that not mean that their own culture must eventually vanish, or be reduced to the superficialities of food and dress?
Any one who has studied indigenous people know that the problem they face is exactly the opposite of what Esolen presents. Esolen believes the problem for them is cultural diversity. In fact, the fear is that someone will ask them to "adapt this or that beneficent feature from another culture": oil, for instance, or agriculture, which would destroy their way of life. Cultural diversity means trying to understand the values of the other culture and learn from them what truth they have.
Is not that same call for diversity, when Catholics are doing the calling, a surrender of the Church to a political movement which is, for all its talk, a push for homogeneity, so that all the world will look not like the many-cultured Church, but rather like the monotone non-culture of western cities that have lost their faith in the transcendent and unifying God?
Here, we see once more a confusion, really a twisting of words. For Esolen, diversity means surrender to homogeneity.
One should be mindful of this mind trick: it's exactly the same kind of mind trick that politicians pull--or try to pull--over people all the time. "We are pro-life," but we won't fund health care for pregnant women or provide food for babies. "We are pro-choice," but we won't address the fundamental inequality that makes women think they have to get an abortion.
I worked at a Roman Catholic seminary for seven years, and one of the marvelous things about it was its celebration of cultural diversity. We all joined with the Hispanic community to celebrate our Lady of Guadalupe, not white-washed "universally," but as Hispanic people celebrate it. Diversity leads exactly to that.
See, the reason Esolen is able to use mind-tricks is because he fails to define his terms. He wants to use them this way and that way so as to confuse the reader to his real purposes.
Thus, when Esolen writes the following, he is merely trying to "white-wash" China.
Granted that God redeems not only individuals but peoples, so that, for example, China in the arms of the Church will be more truly China than she was before, does not this diversity presuppose the distinction of cultures one from another?
The Church can only make China more truly China if it first accepts China. Esolen's argument is the reverse: only by accepting the Church does China become truly a distinct culture.
But to be more logical, I expect the students--as well as the editors and readers of Crisis--to be able to pick out such oxymoronic sentences as the following:
It remains to be seen how far they will go towards dismantling the most culturally diverse program at Providence College, our program in the Development of Western Civilization.
How can something be culturally diverse if in fact what it is teaching is one culture viz., Western Culture?
Socrates did not tell the Athenians not to listen to other people. Rather, he said, question them. And then he went around and he showed them how to question the cultural guardians of the day.
An education from Providence College should--and does, from the evidence I've seen, including student occupations of administrative offices--prepare students to question just as Socrates did. For that, we must have tolerance, because without it, it is much too easy for one to become totalitarian in the name of "truth" and "diversity."
The clock has turned--is it for the last time? Will we see the big D make a comeback from his last gaff?
I don't know. My suspicion is not, which means my prediction of over a year ago--that Trump would win the nomination, and that if it is Trump versus Clinton, Trump will win--is wrong.
But what did it take to get my prediction wrong? Oh, I know, Hillary has been ahead in the polls for a month now, blah, blah, effing blah. Polls don't mean squat--or are you going to finally tell me that all those polls showing Bernie ahead in states that Clinton won were true, and that, oh boy, yes we do need to go back and look at what happened there?
I thought not.
Sorry for my tone. But really, what do you expect when I still have people telling me that I have to vote for one neo-liberal, pro-war candidate so that the other neo-liberal, pro-fasicist candidate doesn't win? It shouldn't be happiness and cherry-pie. We're not at the Derby.
The tide seems to have turned against Trump just at the moment that Clinton desperately needed it too. Oh, you haven't read about the contents of her speech to Wall Street? You haven't heard how she said she has a private self and a public self? You know, the thing I've been warning about for the last four months, ever since it was clear she was trying to show a sunny side to the Bernie supporters?
Yes, I'm quite peeved that we have to choose between two different kinds of fascists, and my left-leaning friends refuse to recognize that, in fact, Hillary is two-faced and will go back on her word to Bernie.
But that isn't the real problem. The real problem is this: when she does, when she keeps fracking and giving out to the big banks, what happens in the next election? The Republicans will do their darndest to undermine her at every point and will have a nice pie-in-the-face for millennial voters with all of her back turning. Where will the country go then?
Oh, yes, I'm being quite pessimistic about the whole thing. Or is it realistic? This blog, my life, my philosophy, is all based on pointing out the corruption in the US--and Western "democracy" in general--and saying that we have to find a better way. And that means abandoning the two parties that dominate the system right now.
In the mean time, go back and laugh with Hillary as Trump continues to bury himself and the Republican party. The best thing that can happen right now is a unified, democratic controlled government... under Bernie. The worst, well, aside from a Donald victory, might be a unified, democratic controlled government under Clinton.
Neoliberalism for the win.
And, my dear readers, I hope you understand that I really, deeply, truly wish that I am wrong.
"The Cheyennes do not break their word," One-Eye replied. "If they should do so, I would not care to live longer."
What would it be like to live with this faith in one's people?
What would it be like if the two people running as Republican and Democratic nominees spoke like this?
What would this world be like if the US honored the treaties they made with the Cheyenne? The Lakota? Any group of American Indians?
I want no peace till the Indians suffer more"
Chief Black Kettle honored the treaties he made with the white man, with the representatives of the Great Father, the POTUS. For his faith in the Great Father, he had to live under the rule of Chivington who, not only attacked Indians he had said he was at peace with and said he would never attack, but oversaw the mutilation of those people killed--the cutting off of men's and women's genitals which his soldiers used to carry gun powder or war as trophies.
Black Kettle wanted nothing but to live a peaceful life. He was gunned down by Chivington's men as he tried to save his people from slaughter.
The Plains Indians knew they could not win a war with the US. They simply wanted to live in peace and to protect their way of life. When Red Cloud visited Washington, he said he knew some day the Lakota would have to turn to being farmers, but not yet. Give them time. They still had plenty of buffalo yet.
To the Indians, it seemed that these Europeans hated everything in nature--the living forests and their birds and beasts, the grassy glades, the water, the soil, and the air itself."
We like to think that it was the gold that drove the US government to break these treaties. But it was more than gold. It was land, the best form of property. We cannot separate the treatment of the American Indians from the treatment of the land by European-Americans.
Maybe it isn't hate--though it seems like it. Maybe it's just that they loved gold so much they could not see the land, or the Indian.
Pray with me to the Great Spirit today.
We are nearing the end of National Midwifery Week, so I want to leave you with something positive, something to continue motivating you to ask questions for your own care.
Midwifery is, not simply good health care, better for the mother and child and family, better for the community, but it is pro-woman. I've alluded to this before: the first role of the midwife is to help the mother trust herself and trust the natural process. The first role of the midwife is to empower others.
What we see in the US system is quite different. The system is based on fear: a fear of death ultimate, but that manifests as a fear of litigation and a fear of loss of control. Watch videos of women delivering and you will hear guttural--beautiful--noises coming from them. They are able to let go. Yet, we fear when to let our bodies go so often in this controlled society. We fear being too fat or too thin. We fear being sued because we have no control over the situation, so we try to tighten the screw. But like any normal screw, over-tightening leads to stripping the screw of its natural form, making it incapable of functioning. So we discard it.
The primary virtue--to be a little philosophical--of the midwife is trust. In the basis of that trust, she is able to help the laboring mother listen to her body, to trust what the body is telling her. Some times, the body tells her that it needs some medical help. That empowers the mother to exercise her agency, by listening to and trusting her body. She can make a decision grounded, not in fear, but in love and honesty.
I don't mean to romanticize the labor and birth. It's painful. Nor do I intend to demean any one who desires to numb the pain through an epidural. Rather, I'm simply inviting people to consider other possibilities. Possibilities grounded in the empowerment of women and of families. I've talked about the dominance of science in our country and asking ourselves where science and technology fit in human life. That is all I am doing here: at what point does technology and medicine in the birthing room support human life and at what point does it detract? A midwife is one of the best, if not the best, guide in helping to answer that question.
My interest in midwifery stems from the social justice issues around it. For me, as most of my readers know, social justice ties directly to community. Midwives, unlike obstetricians and other medical professionals, are more inclined to help build community.
Thus, in the movie "Why not home," several of the midwives commented on their role in building community. "We should help build communities around birth because that makes families stronger."
In the US, our culture is built on death--how could it not be when it is founded on the genocide of First Nation Peoples? How could it not be when it arose at the same time as the industrial revolution which often requires the death of community, the death of individuals, and the death of the land?
We need to change. As mindfulness and Buddhist teachings tell us, we do not have to keep on going the same way we have been. We can, instead, look at our past and realize what we would like to change about it, and move forward with that change. Beginning with a change in the status of midwifery in the US is a crucial first step in this change. Just because doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies have fought over dollars in the birthing room does not mean that we need to continue to let this happen.
I invite you, not just to accept what I write here as fact, but to question. Question your doctors and hospitals about their high infant and maternal mortality. Question why the increase in C-sections continues when it coincides with a higher maternal mortality. Look at the studies, not just the ones done in the US, but those done in the world. Look at the Frontier Nursing Service which provided midwifery services in Appalachia--some of our poorest country--for 20 years without an infant death, compared the the growing obstetric practice.
And remember that I am not advocating that we stop all technology and all hospital or obstetric led birth. Rather, I am asking us to do what most needs to be done: to integrate our science with a life-affirming way of life.
Continuing my reflections on National Midwifery Week in the US, we might ask, why our midwives so prevalent in other countries and not in the US? What is the difference?
The movie, "Why Not Home?" brings out some of these issues. As a young country, midwifery was a practice of immigrants--whether of black slaves and free blacks after the Civil War or of the many waves of immigrants coming over from Europe. At the same time, the medical field began to grow--and of course, many of the innovations came from the US or were quickly adopted by the US. In Europe, Africa, and Asia, in contrast, midwifery had roots as deep as human life--it's the second oldest profession as midwives like to say. Thus, midwives were firmly established in the culture as part of the culture.
Thus, in the US, when doctors began to compete for dollars, they could easily target midwives as "dirty, ignorant immigrants." Sound familiar? In our country, midwifery serves as a clear window through which to see many injustices perpetrated and written in law in the US. Thus, because of other poor health outcomes, white men were able to colonize the birthing room.
In addition, pregnancy came to be seen as a pathology.
Some pieces of the puzzle that the movie left out but that played pivotal roles:
First, the role of the media. Women's magazines and health magazines helped to wage a campaign against the dirty immigrant midwives.
Second, the role of pain relief, which began in England with Twilight Sleep, a narcotic that knocked a woman unconscious during labor. Obviously, as one of the persons in the movie said, "it's hard work, it hurts." Yet, she ends this statement with the proclamation, "and you can do it." The medical field instead says, we can do it with drugs and technology.
Third, hospitals realized that if people are born in the hospital, then they have created a life-long customer. Hospital beds are expensive, and if they can keep them filled, get people used to coming into the hospital by making it natural from birth, they would fill those expensive beds and their coffers would over-flow.
Fourth, we need to recognize the role of class in this situation. At the turn of the 20th century, having a baby in the hospital with a scientifically trained male doctor was a mark of distinction. Those who could afford it did. (At the same time, the Frontier Nursing Service watched over births throughout Appalachia and had a 0 rate of infant mortality--they lost no one.) Now, of course, the reverse is true. It is a mark of class, or the affluent, to birth at home.
Because, insurance will not cover a home birth and will not usually cover a midwife birth. So you need the $4k it takes to cover the birth from your own pockets.
Yes, that's right: the insurance companies would rather pay anywhere from $11k--$28k per birth than $4k. The question why is an important sociological one to look at.
Because of these various factors, a midwife attending birth is less than 10% in the US, while it nears 100% in the UK. On top of which, we spend more money with worse outcomes.
It's time to change that. If you are of child-bearing age or know someone who is, contact your local midwife group and at least have a conversation with them.
Last night, I had to wonderful opportunity to participate in a panel on the movie "Why not home?" by Jessica Moore at the Sarah Doyle Women's Center at Brown University.
The movie is simply wonderful, showing the beauty of homebirth while discussing--in a most balanced way--the issues involved. If you have the opportunity, please attend one of the screenings around the country. I am thinking of attending the one at Brookline in order to meet the film maker.
In the US, we spend more on birth than any other industrialized nation ($111million), while suffering worse outcomes. For example, the C-section rate has increased to 32% in the US over the last 12 years, while maternal mortality has increased--more mothers dying from birth. Further, our infant mortality rate has fared poorly compared to other countries--deaths have decreased only 13% in the US while they have decreased by 23% in other industrialized countries.
One other interesting point from the movie: the main study used in the US to discriminate against homebirth refused to include the major study from the Netherlands. Thus, the Netherlands' study involved 500,000 homebirths, while the US study involved only 50,000.
As I stated last night, when we deny people information, when we limit people's choices, when we refuse to share information with others, we dehumanize them. In the US, our medical field and the media dehumanize women and children every day, every year, killing many and making many others suffer. I ask you to inform yourself and your loved ones and all you know about the facts around birth, midwifery, and family life to make the best decision for you.
The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.
Yesterday, I wrote on love and politics. This post continues the thoughts begun there.
For at least half of the human population, politics involves living in a city. For David Harvey, radical politics and the revolution begin with claiming a right to the city. Harvey nicely details how the structure of the city serves to distribute resources, and in our current times, to distribute resources from the poor to the rich. Thus, he calls, rightly, for a transformation of the city. He wants us to have "the freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves."
After I wrote yesterday, i was thinking about what it would mean for us to restructure the city on the principle of love. Actually, my thought was more pessimistic--it was a question: can we live in cities if the basis of our politics is love? Yesterday, I was more willing to answer this question negatively.
The reason I wanted to answer the question negatively in part derives from what I am teaching and how my students react to it. So, for example, in "Western Civ," we've talked about the right to property as a right for each person to own enough land to raise food for one's self. How does one construct a city around this principle, is the challenge my students offered? I'm tempted to say that perhaps we cannot, or certainly cannot on the same scale we do now. So what does that answer mean for living in a city and for Harvey's brand of political revolution?
One thing it does not mean is that we adopt a Rousseau-ian politics that sees civilization as negative and demeaning and living in the state of nature as best for developing human virtue and flourishing. I think that this divide is the threat that leads to a view like Huxley's Brave New World, with its noble savage.
Another reason I was wanting to answer the question in the negative is my visit to Findhorn. Findhorn, from what I saw, is a community of people living through integration with the land. It's not a city, more of a village. And I wonder given the beauty and love I experienced there whether that is our human destiny. Again, if it is, what does that mean for radical politics, for Harvey's political revolution?
I invite you, my dear readers, to offer your own visions of what a city built on love might look like, or whether you think such an experience is possible?
I've had a lot to think about since the beginning of this month with my trip to Findhorn and participating in the "Healthy Birth, Healthy Earth" conference there. You've seen many of these thoughts on my blog--about birth and community, about love, about a new vocabulary, about social transformation. Really, I've had so much to say, so few words to say it with, and so little time.
One thing I keep returning to is love and community. I've been reading Hannah Arendt's The Promise of Politics, and she makes a total critique of the history of political thought stemming from Plato. According to Arendt, politics for Plato and since has centered on setting aside a space of freedom for philosophers to philosophize. Each thinker managed this space in his or her own way, but it always involved a separation.
She may be right.
The reason I mention her though is because she has helped me contextualize the history of political philosophy in a different light. I see a strange and unfortunate contrast between Plato's Symposium--which is a discourse on love--and his Republic--a dialogue about justice. If Arendt is right, then the Republic sets aside space for symposia. However, this separation distances love from politics. Strangely, still, Aristotle makes friendship the foundation of good politics, and friends are united in love. Yet, this foundation isn't carried through in his discussion of justice or equality. In fact, the discussion of friendship occurs at the end of the Politics.
What happens if we instead put love at the beginning of politics?
To answer that question, we need a better account of love than what we have. I wonder that the philosophers seemed to have abandoned love and given it over the religion from Plato till the late 19th century. Why is love a theological virtue rather than the premiere civic virtue?
These questions lead us back to the idea of healing thy birth and healing thy earth and to the question of birth and community. Birth, I think, has always been about reproducing society; love is secondary at best. Yet, if we embrace a conscious conception approach to birth, then we also must embrace a conscious conception approach to society. I don't think any of these ideas are utopian in any false sense. They are the first steps to realizing what we can accomplish as a species. Consider, for example, if in Marx we understood labor, not as work, but as a woman giving birth. How does that change in perspective help us to rethink the whole tradition of political thought from Plato?
I'm sorry if this post seems to ramble. It's a beginning.
I want to reflect for a moment on a post from Graham Meltzer about transforming the world and the role of community.
No less than the role of community in the evolution of our species. Yes, I do see a link there! So this post is not about Findhorn directly, but about community life in general and its contribution to the making of a better world through the humane welcoming of babies and raising of children.
How do we change the world is perhaps the fundamental question of both Christianity and of Marxist philosophy, in many ways a Christian heresy. The big attempts at change were never really attempts at all in the Marxist sense--the USSR, China, Cuba, all began from different principles. The vanguard ideology was never something Marx fully embraced, certainly not in the way that we have seen it instantiated. Yet, that leaves us with the question, whence transformation?
What Graham points out is what must be obvious and what we ignore, especially in Western philosophical circles: it begins with children and how we raise children. Robin Grille's research demonstrates this point on a socio-psychological level.
Perhaps then, it might only take a few generations of our kids repeatedly enjoying a humane and loving welcome into community for peace, harmony and resilience to become the norm.
I'm always at pain with my students to remind them what children are really like when they are young. My students repeat what they hear in society: human beings are selfish, children are self-centered. Having raised three beautiful, wonderful human beings, I know, of course, that they can be, that every person must go through some stage of self-centeredness.
Yet, when they are young, a child is the first to come to someone who is hurt and offer a hug. A child is the first, when she is secured in her life, to offer to share.
What Rousseau got right, and what Marx emphasized is that society conditions people to act in certain ways. The communities we have, at least in modern liberal democracies today, emphasize selfish tendencies.
But one community at a time, built around healthy birth and a healthy relationship to the earth, provides an opportunity to raise children with different values.
My philosophical mission has always been grounded in this search for a new world. I'm not saying I am perfect, that I was a perfect parent, or that I know all the answers. What I am saying is that I have been searching for the philosophical foundations for this new way of being, this new way of life. I believe wholeheartedly with Paulo Freire that change without reflection is no change at all.
Intentional communities, like Findhorn, are intention--ed. And they are local. We cannot just take Findhorn and transplant it in Rhode Island. But we might be able to discover the principles which support the building of such communities. Science fiction is one way to discover these principles. Philosophy is another. But to paraphrase Thomas Aquinas, these are but straw if we do not put them into practice.
Jeffery L. Nicholas (Ph.D philosophy, University of Kentucky) is an associate professor at Providence College and an international scholar on ethics and politics. He serves as research associate for the Center for Aristotelian Studies in Ethics and Politics at London Metropolitan University and a foreign research associate at Universidad Sergio Arboleda in Bogotá Colombia. Dr. Nicholas is co-founder of and executive secretary for the International Society for MacIntyrean Enquiry. He is the author of Reason, Tradition, and the Good: MacIntyre's Tradition Constituted Reason and Frankfurt School Critical Theory (UNDP 2012), as well as numerous articles. Dr. Nicholas writes on midwifery and birth, the common good, friendship and community, practical reason, and Native American philosophy. He aims to develop a philosophy of integral humanism that synthesizes the philosophical traditions of Alasdair MacIntyre, Frankfurt School Critical Theory, and Feminist Care Ethics.