Trump and Moral Evil

Philosophy scholar and guest blogger, Thomas White, speaks to the Trump Phenomenon and the dangers of Moral Evil as the ‘Privatized Self.’

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This screenshot what taken from Donald Trump’s official Twitter account

 

I popped open my laptop after breakfast to catch up with the latest news. To no surprise, Donald Trump’s face was plastered all over Internet. This time Trump had posted a picture on social media, eating tacos from Trump Tower, wishing everyone a Happy Cinco de Mayo, and exclaiming that he loved “the Hispanics.” Seriously? How could someone so blatantly insensitive be a legitimate candidate for the office of the President of the United States?

Suppressing an overwhelming urge to post a nasty, personal comment on some website about this picture, I instead surfed over to a poetry site where I reread these profound lines from that most philosophical poet, T.S. Eliot, one of my favorites:

   

We are the hollow men/ We are the stuffed men/ Leaning together/ Headpiece filled with straw.  

    Alas! / Our dried voices, when/ We whisper together/ Are quiet and meaningless

Vowing to resist the mindless tide of angry Trump-related polemics, which has swamped any effort to restore even the most minimal rationality to the American political conversation, I decided to act appropriately (rationally), and begin this calm philosophical study of Donald Trump: What is his relationship to knowledge and language? What is the nature of his mind? What is his relationship to other persons qua moral agents?

Eliot’s verse certainly goes a long way to answering these questions: Trump is a Hollow Man, whose mind is filled with nothing but “meaningless”, dead clutter –no poetry, no wit, no knowledge, and no empathy for other persons. This taco stunt revealed not only his ignorance about Spanish culture—Spain and Latin America have a varied ,often European, non-Mexican cuisine—but a   blatant willingness to crudely stereotype others that has become his trademark— a failure of empathy, or emotional intelligence. Trump helps us answer the fascinating philosophical riddle posed by Eliot’s opening lines: a mind can be “hollow” yet “stuffed”– that is filled with emptiness (lack of moral feelings, absence of knowledge etc.). Donald Trump is the abyss Nietzsche warned us against.

The one apparent trait described in  Eliot’s profile of Hollow Men—they speak in “quiet” ”dried”  voices like the elderly—that Trump does not seem to fit actually is appropriate. His trademark bellicose, bullying style masks his hollowness. George Orwell in 1984 captured the emptiness of this demagogic mind. The Orwellian dystopian state mixes political rallies filled with rage and bullying directed at crude political stereotypes, with a political language –Newspeak—that  has been emptied  of any references to “freedom” or “human rights.” (Significantly, Trump never refers to the language in the Declaration of Independence, or any other key historical document that defends freedom, though he has advocated torture, which is Big Brother’s standard operating procedure).

When I mull over of all of these traits, as well as that cringe-worthy, taco-related photo-op, I think immediately of another philosophical concept: Solipsism.

British philosopher, A.E. Taylor defined Solipsism as the doctrine in “which I have no certain knowledge of any existence except my own, everything else being a mere state or modification of myself.”

Though philosophers long ago refuted this theory—how can I communicate the theory of Solipsism to other minds if the latter are problematic?—“Solipsism” actually serves another important goal, namely as a conceptual framework useful to profile the emerging privatization of the self as a culturally, politically, and socially significant trend.  What a  privatized self/ solipsistic self  is was described nicely in this blog about Donald Trump posted on Huffington Post—though the author does not use those terms:

[Donald Trump is an] “emptiness [filled] with a sound and fury meant to gratify his needs in the here and now,” … “others exist only as an extension of himself.”… [His] “behavior… “reflects the hollowness within… the humanity of others [being] of no concern.”

In this taco photo-op Trump is immersed only in his own consciousness; the independent humanity of his ‘Hispanic’ audience is problematic. In other words: a portrait of unsullied solipsism.

These are exactly the representative traits that I profile in my CrossCurrents essay as generally emblematic of the privatized Hollow Men, who lack empathy with the suffering of others, while dominating them for their own personal gratification and private ends. As I observe in this essay, such selves occupy every level of contemporary society. Donald Trump is not unique.


About the Author

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Thomas White is an independent scholar, who has published essays, poetry and fiction , both in print and online journals, in Canada, United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. White is also the founder of the Takoma Park (MD) Socrates Cafe discussion group, facilitating from 2008 to 2013. He loves the Socratic adventure, and specializes in demonstrating the perennial relevance of philosophy to every aspect of  the human condition.

Enjoy White’s CrossCurrents article, The Hollow Men: Moral Evil as ‘Privatized Self’ freely through June 30.



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World Philosophy Day

World Philosophy Day2012 marks the tenth anniversary of World Philosophy Day, an all-day event sponsored by UNESCO with international, national and local events centered around the theme of “Future Generations.”

According to UNESCO, this year’s theme is particularly timely, as “global concern for sustainable development has given increased pertinence to the interests and moral standing of future generations.

These questions are profoundly philosophical. They concern communication between beings who cannot talk to one another; identities, as extended in time and space; the scope and power of the moral imagination; and of course the ethical issue of responsibility.”

Also, check out the online event that we ran last year as part of World Philosophy Day; a series of five leading-edge opinion pieces exploring the theme ‘The Future of Philosophy’, from Robert Stern, Vincent Hendricks, Tim Mulgan, Matti Eklund and Luciano Floridi.

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Click to buyRon Duska

We recently had a chance to chat with Ronald Duska who recently retired from The American College.  Ron is currently an adjunct at the American College, as well as an adjunct at St. Joseph’s University, and principal of Duska Business Ethics Consulting. Along with Brenda Shay Duska (Del Pizzo & Associates, USA) and Julie Anne Ragatz (The American College Center for Ethics in Financial Services, USA), Ron is author of Accounting Ethics, recently published in a second edition. The book deals with, among other things, the recent financial crises, the nature of corruption and greed, and the responsibility that accountants should feel for the general public. Given the financial meltdown of 2008, and the new challenges to GAAP from IFERS and Mark to Market accounting, a new edition, that went beyond the concerns created by the Enron and Arthur Anderson collapse and the passage of Sarbanes/Oxley, of the early years of the millennium, seemed essential.

Philosopher’s Eye: Why did you decide to write Accounting Ethics?

Ron Duska: It was in response to a request of the series editors, particularly Michael Hoffman who, knowing my interest in business ethics and the fact that my wife was a CPA, thought it might be a project of interest to me.

PE: What’s the central concern of the book, and why is it important?

RD: The central concern of the book is to analyse what the societal purpose of accounting is Continue reading “Interview: Accounting Ethics”

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HAL9000: A ready and easy way to become immortal.

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Retreating glacier.

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Climate change is now scientific mainstream. Scientists from any discipline with any amount of credibility who still refuse to believe that the Earth’s temperature is increasing and humans are the cause of it are few and far between. The Earth’s temperature is increasing and there is only one explanation which succeeds over reasonable doubt (abductive reasoning would be very useful here. We should be able to apply inference to the best explanation and close the chapter). Continue reading “Climate change and wilful misunderstandings.”

GM Food and it’s Ethical Problems

The thought of genetically modified food, for most people, automatically produces feelings of revulsion, perhaps in some people, even visions of mutated carrots with wings and potatoes with three eyes. Fear of GM food is something which seems to be fairly ingrained in popular consciousness, but peoples reasoning for why they feel this way about GM food is often murky and confused.

Given this fear of GM food, it will be with some trepidation to many people that it has been suggested by the governments chief scientist, Sir John Beddington, that human survival may depend on the cultivation of genetically engineered crops, given the prospect of high food prices, slower food production and a general trend of increase in world population. Continue reading “GM Food and it’s Ethical Problems”