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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Schopenhauer – interview with the author

We recently sat down with Robert Wicks author of Schopenhauer. In this interview, Bob tells us about his abiding interest in this enigmatic and outcast figure, and along the way covers such diverse topics as Hinduism, Zen, Afghanistan and anchovy-and-onion pizzas. Enjoy!

Hi Bob. So, why did you decide to write Schopenhauer?

Well, I can’t say that I ever had the idea to write a book on Schopenhauer.  I’ve been teaching a class here in Auckland called “Schopenhauer and Nietzsche” for awhile now, and the book materialized by itself over time.  It just happened, really.  When I was putting the manuscript together, though, I did have an idea about who the ideal audience might be.  So this is who I wrote the book “for,” one could say.  It was for those who are on the edge, who live in the so-called “real world” Continue reading “Schopenhauer – interview with the author”

Free Nietzsche Virtual Issue

The European Journal of Philosophy is delighted to bring you this Virtual Issue on the theme of Nietzsche. Please click on the articles below to read for free, along with the introduction by Robert Pippin from the University of Chicago.

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.Introduction, Robert Pippin

Section One: Nietzsche and First Philosophy
Nietzsche’s Positivism, Nadeem J.Z. Hussein
Nietzsche’s Post-Positivism, Maudmarie Clark and David Dudrick
Nietzsche on Truth Illusion and Redemption, R. Lanier Anderson
Nietzsche’s Theory of Mind, Paul Katsafanas
Nietzsche and Amor Fati, Beatrice Han-Pile
Nietzsche’s Metaethics, Brian Leiter

Section Two: Nietzsche and the Philosophical Tradition
Nietzsche’s Critiques: The Kantian Foundations of His Thought, R. Kevin Hill
Nietzsche and the Transcendental Tradition, Tsarina Doyle
Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Death and Salvation, Julian Young
Nietzsche’s Illustration of the Art of Exegesis, Christopher Janaway

Section Three: Genealogy and Morality
Nietzsche, Revaluation and the Turn to Genealogy, David Owen
Nietzsche and Genealogy, Raymond Geuss
Nietzsche and Morality, Raymond Geuss
Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology, Bernard Williams
The Second Treatise in the Genealogy of Morals: Nietzsche on the Origin of Bad Conscience, Mathias Risse
Nietzsche on Freedom, Robert Guay

Section Four: Nietzsche and Art
Nietzsche’s Metaphysics in The Birth of Tragedy, Beatrice Han-Pile
Nietzsche on Art and Freedom, Aaron Ridley
The Genealogy of Aesthetics, Dabney Townsend

New Found Faith in Science

Newton by William Blake: Have scientists really turned their back on religion?

Atheists, look away now; scientists are not on your side. Or at least not as much as one might expect, according to recent evidence. In a study conducted by professor Elaine Howard Ecklund of Rice University, Texas, 1700 scientist were surveyed, along with 275 who were interviewed, as to their religious persuasion. Around 50% were admittedly religious in the traditional sense, and a further 20% were “spiritual” in a nonsectarian way. While religion amongst scientists is shown to be less prevalent in comparison to the population of the nation the data was collected in (the USA), this remains a surprising result. Continue reading “New Found Faith in Science”

Can philosophy be dangerous?

Philosophy at its most benign is the search for clarity (although many would contest that assertion, I’m sure). Philosophy at its most proactive is a method of attempting to convince readers that a certain walk of life is right or wrong (and again, I concede, this is quite debatable). However can philosophy ever be dangerous? Certainly political philosophies, whether from the right or left, can be dangerous as anyone who has lived under an oppressive political regime would be able to testify.

But what of other forms of philosophy, such as moral philosophy? Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844 – 1900), love him or loath him (I for one am not a huge fan), is often cited as one of the great modern philosophers, credited with such concepts as the will to power, the death of god, master-slave morality and his often cited and more often misinterpreted concept of the Übermensch. Along with his title as one of the great modern philosophers I believe he can be gifted the title of one of the Continue reading “Can philosophy be dangerous?”

If a lion could tweet…

…would we understand what he has to say? We could not, says Wittgenstein, to take liberties with one of his most (in)famous Witt-icisms. The question, however, might more rightly be put: if Wittgenstein could Tweet…? Well, now, we have the possibility of finding out. Yes, that’s right. Wittgenstein has opened a Twitter account.

OK, so that may not be wholly true (tweeting from beyond the grave isn’t the done thing just yet, even this close to halloween). But nevertheless, a new account has recently sprung to life, providing updates as if from the mouth of Wittgenstein. Continue reading “If a lion could tweet…”

Tragic atheism, why?

Over the last month I’ve seen a bunch of posts debating religious belief similar to this from Damon Linker:

Rather than explore the complex and daunting existential challenges involved in attempting to live a life without God, the new atheists rudely insist, usually without argument, that atheism is a glorious, unambiguous benefit to mankind both individually and collectively. There are no disappointments recorded in the pages of their books, no struggles or sense of loss… The studied insouciance of the new atheists can come to seem almost comically superficial and unserious.

I’m totally in the dark about why Linker thinks a loss of faith should be accompanied by a permanent sense of loss.

When a kid learns there’s no Santa Claus, there usually is a sense of loss:  it’s sad to find out that there’s no benevolent toy-maker.

But this sense of loss is short-lived. It doesn’t take long to realize that Christmas is pretty awesome, even without Santa. You get time off work, you give and get presents, you spend time with family and splurge on food.  Before long, you realize that Santa has nothing to do with what’s great about Christmas– and he never did.

A Santa-believing analog of Linker would say: “Those who claim to embrace happily a Santa-less Christmas have failed to grapple with the true horror of Santa-less-ness. I can respect those who don’t believe in Santa. I just can’t respect those who aren’t made permanently gloomy by their non-belief.”  This is a silly thing to say!  All the good stuff about Christmas is still there.

Related articles:

Hume on Miracles
By James E. Taylor, Westmont College (June 2007)
Philosophy Compass