Beginning August 13, philosophers from around the globe will gather in Beijing at the World Congress of Philosophy. Organized every five years by the International Federation of Philosophical Societies (FISP), the congress addresses pressing philosophical issues. This year’s theme, “Learning to be Human” discusses the intricacies of humanity. Topics to be addressed include education, the environment, social learning, and governmental policy. The list below features articles that hit on some of the key subjects expected to be addressed.
Philosophy scholar and guest blogger, Thomas White, speaks to the Trump Phenomenon and the dangers of Moral Evil as the ‘Privatized Self.’
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
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.
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Antipode might be a radical journal of geography, but here we offer some lessons from recent history to help understand the current “crisis”. Arguably, such research is badly needed at a time when the UK’s prime minister speaks of a “swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean” and his foreign secretary worries publicly about “marauding” immigrants…
“Policing the Desert: The IOM in Libya Beyond War and Peace” (2015) focuses on an NGO, the International Organization for Migration, that aided displaced sub-Saharan migrants to return to their countries of origin in the wake of the Arab Spring, NATO military intervention, and the fall of Gaddafi in 2011. It analyses the role of non-governmental humanitarian intervention in European “surveillance, spatial control and management of mobility”, that is, the role of unaccountable international organisations in implementing state policy on the governance of personae non gratae, “unwelcome people”, before they reach “our” national borders.
“Riding Routes and Itinerant Borders: Autonomy of Migration and Border Externalization” (2015) also investigates European states “restructuring their border regimes by externalizing migration management to non-EU countries”.This exploration of contemporary migration control policies–the “off-shoring of borders”–shifts our gaze from the places that loom large in the mainstream media, such as checkpoints and camps, across space, enabling us to see practices of state “reterritorialization”. The paper develops a set of concepts for understanding these practices that should prove to be invaluable.
Bringing it all back home, as it were, “Asylum and the Post-Political: Domopolitics, Depoliticisation and Acts of Citizenship” (2014) looks at the governance of asylum seekers in the UK, dissecting practices of classification and distribution for “securing, managing and ordering” the nation. Asylum seeking has become a “problem”–as if it were a “threat” to the nation from which it needs to be secured. The dominant discourse in the UK isn’t about rights and justice but, rather, policing and regulation; it’s about risk management and the procedures ordering immigrants.
In a similar vein, “Neoliberalizing Border Management in Finland and Schengen” (2013) presents research on the “neoliberalization” of border control, tracing the development of rationalities and technologies reducing migration governance to a matter of procedure (enabling/constraining mobility, dealing with “threats”) rather than politics. And like the first two papers, it draws our attention to European policies of “pre-emption and border enforcement at a distance”–something too often overlooked, perhaps, in much of the current debate.
“State Responses and Migrant Experiences with Human Smuggling: A Reality Check” (2013) charts changing narratives of migration in the media, political dialogue and policy documents. The causes of migration have been placed beyond the pale; we might say that emphasis is now on routes rather than roots, on the fees and boats of “criminal” smugglers rather than the criminal regimes from which so many need protection. Rather than people seeking protection from terror, the smuggled are represented as a threat to be dealt with. Voice is given to them here, though, with interviews uncovering something of the experience of being smuggled and seeking asylum today.
This guest post from Antipode has been published as a part of our continued conversation on Migration and the current Syrian Refugee Crisis.
The erection of new barbed wire fences on the Hungary – Serbia frontier, the re-appearance of border guards asking for papers on cross-border trains into Germany, and the heated exchanges between European leaders on the issue of how to respond to the influx to the EU of hundreds of thousands of people in recent weeks are all signals that the contemporary state has not adapted well to the new mobilities of the current era.
In a globalised world, population mobility is multi-causal demanding sensitised policies differentiating economic migrants, international student mobility, refugees with internationally recognised rights, asylum seekers fleeing hostilities and many other kinds of mover. Mobility researchers have long shown that these different categories are interlinked and far from unproblematic, yet recognition of the different drivers of mobility seems scarcely to enter the rhetoric of many state leaders whose political interests lie elsewhere.
Most European politicians, while no doubt well informed by the academic community, have their eye on the large proportion of their electorates who cling to the view of space and place as fixed assets and of boundaries as defendable lines which need to be re-inforced to exclude the ‘other’ from the resources of the state. And as has been the case throughout much of history, most of those who are mobile face powerful resistance from interest groups who feel threatened by the external forces driving change. Unlike in the past, however, those who are mobile have access to new networks empowering them to achieve their ambitions. It is not only the transnational corporations of the 21st century that have overcome the nation state’s ability to harvest taxes from economic flows, but it also the smartphone-holding transnational networks of the world’s mobile populations who have the capacity and flexibility to outwit the lumbering indecision of a weakened system of state governance. Transnational communities now have the capacity to quickly circumvent the outdated barbwire defences of the state, simply moving to other frontiers and new entry routes, and informed minute by minute by transnational community members on both sides of the boundary line about how to re-position themselves.
Mobility is “here to stay”. Researchers have long-shown that migration is only a small part of the much wider set of mobilities pervading contemporary society. In virtually every walk of life global mobility has been increasing. For example the search for world class educational credentials has seen an ever rising number of students moving abroad to study. And like so many other mobile people, these educationally-linked moves are seldom permanent in intention. Short-term objectives of studying in another country have been shown to be part of life-mobility aspirations with study in one place being a trampoline to onward or return movement in order to achieve life objectives that have been mapped out against a perceived world of opportunity. In this tweeting internet age, young people from around the world are now informed of the trajectories offered by transnational living. The mobility revolution of the 21st century is here to stay. It is here to stay not only in the sense of many transient movers becoming more settled citizens (Platts-Fowler et al, 2015), but in the sense of mobility culture being an enduring feature of our increasingly diverse, globally inter-connected society (Johnston et al 2015).
There is no sustainable way for states to go back to impermeable closed frontiers and immobile governance structures relying on detention of illegal migrants and repatriation for those that have got beyond the barbed wire frontier. Despite this, detention practices seem to continually be expanding, even although research has shown that it harms people (Lietart et al, 2015) and does not deter irregular migrants (Silverman et al, 2012). Equally, countries like Albania in the 1980s learned that it is impossible to sustain closed borders for any length simply by banning emigration and policing exit points. In 2015 governments of major destination countries may gain legitimacy amongst elements of their electorates by talking tough on immigration and organising media events to publicise the latest enforcement measures to detain illegal migrants, but attempting to hermetically seal frontiers to all human mobility is impractical in the modern state. In neo-liberal economies flows of international students help finance the higher education sector, international tourism is a key part of the economic system and international business travel is central to the functioning of global capitalism. In this context it is not only hypocritical to legislate against human mobilities generated by dire military conflicts and humanitarian crises, but it is also utterly futile. Managed migration policies of course remain an important goal in social democracies seeking to offer good governance, but more important is the need to develop state policies to manage ‘mobility’, with its much more diverse drivers and actors. Attention needs to focus for example on how to develop policies for transnational social protection schemes for mobile families (Faist et al, 2015) and how to persuade long-term residents that population mobility is a healthy part of global systems of exchange. States that succeed will prosper since mobility is here to stay. Those that fail and simply seek to close frontiers and detain illegal migrants will appear in the history books as the King Canutes of our age.
This post has been contributed by Population, Space and Placeas a part of our segment on Migration and the current Syrian Refugee Crisis.
Here is our last post on follow-up questions from our round-table discussion. Be on the lookout for more posts to continue the conversation.
The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) has long focused on the psychological burden associated with the stigmatization of homosexuality and, in articles over the past decade, explored the roots of public opposition to marriage equality; examined the rights and responsibilities of gay parents; and critiqued the “psychological” arguments that are typically put forward regarding gay rights.
In “Social Advocacy for Equal Marriage: The Politics of ‘Rights’ and the Psychology of ‘Mental Health’,” (Analyses of Social Issues of Public Policy, December 2004), Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson argue against the discipline’s dominant narrative regarding homosexuality, with its focus on social stigmatization and the mental health damage or deficit that such stigmatization imposes. They argued instead for a discourse of rights, which “asserts universally applicable principles of equality, justice, freedom, and dignity.” The psychological approach, by contrast, seemed fundamentally “antithetical to the conceptual framework of human rights, as a basis for social justice.”
In “The Rights and Responsibilities of Gay and Lesbian Parents: Legal Developments, Psychological Research, and Policy Implications,” (Social Issues and Policy Review, December 2008), Jared Chamberlain, Monica Miller, and Brian Bornstein enrich the discussion about how courts should deal with gay parents who chose to end their relationship. They argue that children benefit from having continued contact with two parents—even if in gay relationships there may be a biological connection to only one of the parents—and that the children’s well-being is unaffected by their parents’ sexual orientation. The same “best interest” standard that prevails among heterosexual parents in determining child custody should prevail among gay parents, with visitation rights allocated accordingly. A review of the literature reveals that children of lesbian parents showed no differences in terms of “psychological development and family functioning,” exhibited similar levels of self-esteem, and experienced similar gender identity formation processes. They concluded by urging psychologists:
to continue to conduct and publicize the results of research on children of same-sex parents, especially in new areas such as dissolution of the same sex-relationship; they can conduct research comparing families with lesbian gay and heterosexual parents; and they can evaluate children in custodial disputes that result from the breakup of same-sex relationships in the same manner that they work with the children in heterosexual divorce cases.
In “Anti-Equality Marriage Amendments and Sexual Stigma,” (Journal of Social Issues, No. 2, 2011) Gregory Herek summarizes the stigma-based analysis of anti-equality marriage laws and campaigns. He discusses how being denied the legal right to marry because of one’s orientation constitutes an instance of stigma; and being subject to political campaigns promoting anti-equality marriage amendments are a source of heightened stress for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. The personal and political are interrelated: The initial enactment and continuing existence of anti-equality marriage laws depend on the continuing salience of such attitudes among the voting public. He closes by asking two questions: How the process of coming out and discussing one’s sexual orientation impacts one’s friends, relatives, and acquaintances; and second, how and why some heterosexual friends and family chose to become allies in the struggle for marriage equality and related structural stigma and prejudice.
Finally, Melanie Duncan and Markus Kemmelmeier focus on what attitudes fuel opposition to same-sex marriage, in their article “Attitudes Toward Same-Sex Marriage: An Essentialist Approach.” They argue that the negative same-sex marriage (SSM) attitudes are the result of essentialist thinking about marriage—that is, thinking that categorizes marriage as universal, unique, invariant, and not the result of human agency. In fact, “essentialist” attitudes about marriage were a more potent predictor of negative SSM even than essentialist conceptions of homosexuality. In that respect, marriage is often conceptualized as if it predated or had an existence independent of the society in which it is practiced; marriage is viewed by opponents of SSM as if it had an “objective” reality, whose essence is formally enshrined. These attitudes are revealed in studies probing essentialist beliefs about homosexuality and essentialist beliefs about marriage: “Although opponents of SSM may be likely to harbor prejudices against homosexuals, their opposition to SSM seems to be more critically motivated by their essentialist perspective on marriage itself.”
We encourage you to share your thoughts and comments on this post below. If you’re interested on reading scholarly content, made free this month only to support the continuation of conversations surrounding the LGBT Community, read here.
For more from SPSSI, visit Wiley Online Library. There you’ll find a free sample issue, content alerts, and a host of psychology articles.
From Plato on, philosophy has had an uneasy relationship with expressive arts such as narrative, poetry, drama, music, painting, and now film. If philosophy today can learn from science, can it learn from the arts as well– or even instead? If so, what can it learn?
Does expressive art access truths, particularly ethical truths, that cannot be expressed any other way? If it does, what can ethicists and other philosophers say about these truths? If it does not, what differentiates expressive from merely decorative art?
Some philosophers insist with Wittgenstein that “whatever can be said at all can be said clearly”. In that case, are artistic uses of language such as metaphor and imagery just “colour”, as Frege called it – just ways of dressing up thoughts that philosophers, by contrast, should consider in their plainest possible form?