Saturday, November 05, 2016

Cornel West Nails America's Electoral Catastrophe

The headline in the Boston Globe says it all: "Spiritual Blackout in America: Election 2016."

THE MOST FRIGHTENING feature of the civic melancholia in present-day America is the relative collapse of integrity, honesty, and decency — an undeniable spiritual blackout of grand proportions. The sad spectacle of the presidential election is no surprise. Rather, the neofascist catastrophe called Donald Trump and the neoliberal disaster named Hillary Clinton are predictable symbols of our spiritual blackout.

...In short, the rule of Big Money and its attendant culture of cupidity and mendacity have led to our grand moment of spiritual blackout. The founder of Western philosophy, Plato, foresaw this scenario. In “The Republic” — history’s most profound critique of democratic regimes — Plato argues that democracies produce citizens of unruly passion and pervasive ignorance, manipulated by greedy elites and mendacious politicians. The result is tyranny — the rule of a strong man driven by appetites, corruption, and secrecy. There is no doubt that Trump meets this description more so than Clinton. Yet neoliberals like Clinton bear some responsibility for the anger and anguish of Trump’s followers — especially those white male working and middle-class citizens who have been devastated by neoliberal economic policies of deregulation, NAFTA, and Wall Street protection. The vicious xenophobia toward women, Mexicans, the disabled, gays, Muslims, Jews, and blacks are the sole fault of the Trump campaign. Yet the rule of Big Money in capitalist USA downplays the catastrophic effects of global warming, of poverty, and of drones killing innocent people — all the common ground of Trump and Clinton.

For over a century, the best response to Plato’s critique of democracy has been John Dewey’s claim that precious and fragile democratic experiments must put a premium on democratic statecraft (public accountability, protection of rights and liberties, as well as personal responsibility, embedded in a fair rule of law) and especially on democratic soulcraft (integrity, empathy, and a mature sense of history). For Plato, democratic regimes collapse owing to the slavish souls of citizens driven by hedonism and narcissism, mendacity and venality. Dewey replies that this kind of spiritual blackout can be overcome by robust democratic education and courageous exemplars grounded in the spread of critical intelligence, moral compassion, and historical humility. The 2016 election presents a dangerous question as to whether Dewey’s challenge to Plato’s critique can be met.

Yet Clinton is not a strong agent for Dewey’s response. There is no doubt that if she becomes the first woman president of the United States — though I prefer Jill Stein, of the Green Party — Clinton will be smart, even brilliant, in office. But like her predecessor, Barack Obama, she promotes the same neoliberal policies that increase inequality and racial polarization that will produce the next Trump. More important, she embraces Trump-like figures abroad, be they in Saudi Arabia, Honduras, Israel, or Syria — figures of ugly xenophobia and militaristic policies. The same self-righteous neoliberal soulcraft of smartness, dollars, and bombs lands us even deeper in our spiritual blackout. Instead we need a democratic soulcraft of wisdom, justice, and peace — the dreams of courageous freedom fighters like Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Joshua Heschel, Edward Said, and Dorothy Day. These dreams now lie dormant at this bleak moment, but spiritual and democratic awakenings are afoot among the ripe ones, especially those in the younger generation.


Anonymous said...

I almost went; yada yada yada until i read..

Dewey replies that this kind of spiritual blackout can be overcome by robust democratic education and courageous exemplars

A solution perhaps, but a hard one to convince Billy Bob and his like around the world who skip grade ten.
Education and continuing education is perhaps the most important tool we have to correct our collective wrongs.
Won't be easy but must be done; regardless of our oversensitive teacher Unions and the influence of industry on our Universities.


The Mound of Sound said...

I wrote a piece recently, TrailBlazer, in which I quoted General Stan McChrystal and US Navy Admiral Fallon as both observing that political illiteracy threatens America from within.

Anonymous said...

The Guardian had a similar article some months back.
Political illiteracy is widely acknowledged.
I have wondered if a political studies class should be a prerequisite for graduating high school or would it open another can of worms?

This link is another interesting take on the USA, which I am sure did not go unseen by yourself.


Pamela Mac Neil said...

Cornel West is talking about the moral and intellectual collapse of the US. This is the country that our government has tied our foreign policy wagon to. Does this mean that Trudeau and his party support the moral decay and intellectual bankruptcy that are leading to the fall of The American Empire.

As an Empire the US has been a miserable failure. Even with their military might they lost many wars like Vietnam and Iraq. All it took in Somalia was dragging a dead American soldier through the streets for the US to leave.

Illiteracy, extreme poverty, non-stop violence, rage,constant lying from political officials, the plundering of American wealth by the 1%,the obedient, mindless lying MSM, police murdering of unarmed blacks,their governments creation of a police state, the bigotry, the racism, the hatred,trillions of dollars in debt, ideas replaced by scripture and this just describes the US domestically because they have also replicated this same misery to other countries like Libya.

Yes "the city on the hill" is self destructing. The question is who else will they take with them?

Anonymous said...
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The Mound of Sound said...

Anon, it seems you just showed up here to pick a fight and replay your two points that you repeat endlessly. If you have nothing to contribute, and you don't, then adios.

The Mound of Sound said...

The US is certainly in a rapidly accelerating decline, Pamela, but perhaps it's premature to call it self-destructing. It cannot go on much longer as it is but that doesn't rule out the prospect that wiser heads may intercede to put it on a new direction, for better or worse.

The status quo is over for all of us. We enjoyed something of a hiatus for three or four decades marked with relative prosperity and ease. The problem is it continued long enough for us to consider it "normal." We never managed to stabilize our society as the "Steady State" proponents advocate. More simply begat a desire for more yet. Our economies demanded growth, ever more production and consumption, which partly accounts for why there has been no blowback, social or political, to premature obsolescence of the products we're sold. Everything has to fail to make way for that next purchase.

There are too many seismic forces at play now in our world and, collectively, they're beyond the ability of governments to respond. As Thomas Homer-Dixon argues in "The Upside of Down," it's our choice of whether to implement a calibrated but survivable decline or simply endure societal collapse. If we are to salvage something worthwhile it will require that we adopt new modes of organization - social, political, economic, industrial, even geo-political. Neoliberalism is our modern virus. It's up to us to decide if we'll survive it.

Anonymous said...
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The Mound of Sound said...

Before you so eagerly endorse the "collapse" option you should look at the historical examples and see what almost inevitably befalls the masses. It's bloody awful for the rank and file. The privileged fare much better.

Pamela Mac Neil said...

Thx. for responding Mound. I do not see "wiser heads" interceding. The power elite would never let them in.I'm reading a book right now called "Battling Wall Street" The Kennedy Presidency by Donald Gibson. I have been amazed at how powerful the corporate and Wall Street elites were even in 1960.

These elites have built such a neoliberal, imperial, financial infrastructure of which they control, I can't see them conceding any control. There are many intelligent people on alternative media, but the really intelligent ones like John Ralston Saul are few and far between and it is the John Ralston Saul's whose ideas we need to hear.

Yes we read his books and listen to his lectures, but will he be asked to be a
philosophical/political advisor to any government? How about the government of his home country, Canada? John Ralston Saul is fundamentally a philosopher, which means he is a man of ideas conceptually acquired, who takes knowledge seriously.

The world is controlled by men and women who acquire the earths bounty through war, plunder and domination. Have you ever seen so many wars, including overt wars happening at one time, as we see today? Canada who blindly follows US foreign policy also creates its own imperial foreign policy such as in Africa, Haiti and Brazil.

We as Canadians have conceded power to a group of imperial wanna be's posing as our government. Who are we? How did we let neoliberalism and power take over our governments?

Most people don't seem to care. Learning and knowledge stopped when they finished University and some before then. Every civilization rests on philosophic ideas.Destroy those ideas, replace them with scripture and what are you left with, The United States of America. A country whose idea of a philosopher is Tony Robbins, a motivational writer and speaker,a man who is considered Highly intelligent.Or the many, many preachers who are good at teaching you as a sinner to hate yourself but love your non-existent God and please send money if you want that miracle to happen.

Except for the physical sciences, we are leaving the world of knowledge. Where knowledge is not valued, thugs rule wearing $5000.00 suits.

We need to once again resurrect the process of human thought.A noble venture indeed. It's how we have survived, It's what got us out of the cave, it's what created fire and every other human achievement from using nano technology to direct the chemotherapy to the cancer cell and only to the cancer cell to exploring the endless reaches of space.

The whole of Western culture from its beginning in ancient greece to the destruction of the US and the west today whose very democracies came from those knowledge pursuing Greeks.

Violence rules today and when violence rules civilizations die.Wiser heads will not prevail Mound, I wish they would, but I can't think of who they would be. I see a new dark age coming and I see Totalitarian Theocracy ruling America.

I've learned alot from you and continue to do so and for that I am very grateful, but I disagree with you. The United States is self-destructing and that makes it an even more, very desperate, dangerous country

Anonymous said...

Mound, you have said that they are too many humans for the planet...

And if you look at your children & grandchildren, they will not be doing better than you. There is very little job security...
Institutions seem set up for the rich.

We have the rich and the working poor - the masses are not enlightened and are turning into slaves. There is little illusion of freedom and much less of privacy.

Pamela's vision is rather spot on.

The Mound of Sound said...

Pamela, I can't argue about your prediction. If it's right, however, that means chaos and sooner than later. The thing with chaos is that it can play out in many ways, most of them bad to downright horrific.

Dr Purva Pius said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pamela Mac Neil said...

I have also been getting emails like the above one, Dr. Purvus pius. I'm not sure what's up.

The Mound of Sound said...

I assume it's mischief-making trolls, the flaccid Anon who has been visiting my blog lately. I suppose I'll have to change my commenting configuration.