Sunday, June 29, 2008

"There is no house that is not a mausoleum": Reflections on Benjamin and Latino Workplace Death in America

Les Black has a haunting article on the memorial to Walter Benjamin, one of the members of the first generation of the Frankfurt School, who took his own life in 1940. Benjamin was escaping the Nazis and hoped to leave Vichy France and then on to the United States to join the other exiled members of the Frankfurt School such as Adorno. However, he was denied exit by the Spanish Border guards. He decided to kill himself rather than fall into Nazi hands.

On the memorial is inscribed a line by Benjamin: "It is more arduous to honour the nameless than the renowed."

Black takes inspiration from this passage to reflect on the contemporary tragedy of the beach just beyond the memorial. There, the bodies of African immigrants, trying to make their way into the European Union on makeshift rafts and boats, wash up almost weekly. Since 1993, almost 8,800 people have died trying to enter Europe, many of them from Africa.

Black concludes: "This vision of what Europe is turns away from the dark bodies being washed up on the beaches of Puerto Rosario and the faces behind the fence at Melilla. The enthusiastic proponents of a resurgent Europe, not excluding poets and thinkers, would do well to remember those words carved on Walter Benjamin's grave: "There is no document of civilisation that is not a document of barbarism." There is no beach that is not also a graveyard."

This makes me think of a recent government report that shows that Latinos, being the fastest growing part of the American workforce, are also the ones that die as a result of workplace injury more often than other ethnic groups. The causes of these deaths tend to be highway accidents, falling from high places, or being struck by objects (indicating that many Latinos are working in construction and are falling off buildings or being hit by machinery or flying materials).

Not only is most of the food on our tables being handled by Latinos (and largely Mexicans), but most of the new homes and buildings we inhabit or work in were built by Latinos.

Perhaps the memorial we should raise for all the anonymous Latinos who die this way in America should bear this inscription: "There is no house that is not also a mausoleum."

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Top 10 Global Intellectuals

As per Dennis's request, here are the top 10 public intellectuals of the world, according to Foreign Policy magazine:

1). Fethullah Gulen (Turkey)

2) Muhammad Yunus (Bangladesh--winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace prize!)

3) Yusuf Al-Qaradawi (Egypt)

4) Orhan Pamuk (Turkey--winnter of the 2006 Nobel prize in Literature!)

5) Aitzaz Ahsan (Pakistan)

6) Amr Khaled (Egypt)

7) Abdolkarim Soursh (Iran--"widely considered one of the world's premier Islamic philosophers")

8) Tariq Ramadan (currently in Switzerland, but considered to be another top Islamic philosopher)

9) Mahmood Mamdani (Uganda)

10) Shirin Ebadi (Iran--winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace prize!)

The first American shows up at No. 11--Noam Chomsky.

And the top write in candidate: Philosophy major Stephen Colbert!

Time to brush up on my Soursh and Ramadan!

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Is Philosophy Engaged Enough?

From The Philosopher's Magazine: Several prominent philosophers comment on whether or not philosophers have responded well enough to major events of the day such as global climate change or terrorism post-9/11.

Not surprisingly, there is no consensus on whether philosophy has a responsibility to respond to such worldly concerns.

This response seems typical from the establishment types:

Jerry Fodor:
I suppose so; though I don’t think that responding to such issues is plausibly a philosophical responsibility. Has Art History responded adequately to the post-9/11 world? Why should philosophy be different?

As usual, MacIntyre has some wise things to say about the state of the profession:

Alasdair MacIntyre:
Academic philosophers are by and large no more competent at making political choices than other relatively well to do, comfortable, professionalised, middle class people. That is to say, not very competent. The question is: Who is paying the costs of climate change, post-9/11 conflicts, and globalisation? The answer is, as usual: those least able to pay them. Philosophers, including myself, have not focussed sufficiently on this issue, one that brings out the continuing relevance of Marx.

But Nussbaum, as always, seems the most informed:

Martha Nussbaum:
I think that there is a lot more work to be done! On issues connected to the entitlements of animals there has been some good work, and it is exciting to see the menu of theoretical options being expanded (especially by Christine Korsgaard’s recent Tanner Lectures). On the environment more generally, there is certainly a need for more good work. Issues of global justice have begun to receive the attention they deserve, and the nation-based paradigms with which we have all been operating have begun to be challenged, but there is a long way to go. I think that doing good work in the areas you name requires extensive empirical knowledge, and therefore partnerships with other disciplines such as economics, law, and history. Philosophers have not always formed such partnerships. However, I believe that the profession is now much more receptive to such empirically-informed work than it was in the recent past. I would like to see more first-rate philosophers turning to the topic of global justice, so that we would simply have more strong alternatives on our menu. Philosophy advances by argument and contestation, and we need more powerful worked-out theories of different types.


Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin (1937-2008) Philosopher? (At least a Buddhist, no?)

Luckily, Blogspot doesn't have to follow rules about the Seven Filthy words, which Carlin made so infamous, and later made their way up to the Supreme Court in the case of Federal Communications Commission v Pacifica Foundation:

"At some point there leading into the '90s, I divorced myself from any stake in the human adventure or the American adventure. That sounds kind of pompous so let me just break that down. What I decided was that I didn't give a fuck about what happens on this planet to these people. I mean, I see the nice things in people, I see the good things, but I also see what a depraved, sick species we are, the only species that kills its own for personal gain.
I'll go back to square one on this: We squandered a lot of gifts. Human beings were given a lot of great gifts. We were given the ability to reason, this extra-large brain, walking erect, having binocular vision and the opposable thumb, and all of these things, and we had such promise, but we squandered it on goods and superstition. We gave ourselves over to the high priests and the traders, and they are the ones we allow to control us. I think that's a huge mistake and it's disappointing to me. Now, the corollary is, America was given great gifts, this ideal form of government, this most improved form of self-government that has ever come along up until that time, and we squandered it. And once again, on the same two things: gizmos and toys and gadgets -- goods, property, possessions -- and also this country is far too religious for its own good.

So at some point, I drifted away from feeling any allegiance. Abraham Maslow the psychologist once said, "The fully realized man does not identify with the local group." Boy, when I read that, I said, that's me. I don't identify with city, state, government, religion, association, county, organization or species, even. And what I realized was that this feeling of alienation from all that gave me a kind of emotional detachment that was very valuable artistically. To be able to look at things and not give a fuck. To not have a rooting interest in the outcome. I don't really care what happens in this country. I'll be honest with you. I don't give a fuck what happens. I don't give a fuck what happens to this earth, because it's all temporal and it's all bullshit."
Thanks to Theresa!

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"They all look alike to a person not a Jap"*: The Legacy of Korematsu at OSU

*Justice Hugo Black, author of the opinion in Korematsu, on the fears many white Americans had about Japanese American citizens during World War II.

This past weekend, Oregon State had its annual commencement ceremony. What was unusual about this year was that OSU decided to correct a massive historical injustice. Forty-two former students of Japanese descent, who had been forced to an internment camp after the federal order in 1942, were given honorary degrees in place of the ones they were not allowed to complete. (You can read the OSU press release here. I'm proud to say that I know one of the students, Andy Kiyuna, who got this process started. Though I can't take any credit for inspiring him to get this underway. From what I understand, that honor goes to my colleague, Lani Roberts)

The internment camps were justified by the Supreme Court in the 1944 case of Korematsu--a case that is widely reviled. Over 100,000 American citizens were stripped of their civil liberties and their dignity by the government's decision. What is even more shocking is that the government supressed evidence that could have been used by the Supreme Court to rule against the executive order.

In Korematsu, the court essentially said that the internment camps were justifed because military leaders had testified to their need for national security purposes. They said that there was evidence of "disloyalty" among Japanese American citizens that suggested that sabotage was possible along the West Coast. As it turns out, the Justice Department had reviewed many different intelligence reports and found the military reports to be unsubstantiated. In fact, the Justice Department told the Solicitor General, Charles Fahey, that he ought to present these intelligence reports in his argument before the court. He ignored these requests and, instead, testfied that everything in the military reports (that the Japanese Americans along the West Coast were not to be trusted because there was good evidence of conspiracy and treachery among them) was accurate. The Supreme Court then deferred to the military leaders and cited their report in the legal opinion.

And we are still picking up the pieces of this injustice here in Oregon...

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Archie Tells it Like It is (For Galen B.)

One of the frequent conversation partners here, Galen, is graduating this year and going off to grad school, where he will no doubt become an amazing and accomplished philosopher.

I spent a whole term trying to convice him that Archie comics contained valuable wisdom and he should attempt a fusion of horizons with them.

I hope he still sends me postcards when he's rich and famous.