So I have come up with a sort of idea…(The Video Diary of Sean O’Connor– Episode #32)

I propose a philosophical concept: “practical clarificationism” and explain (part 1 of 2) -June 12th, 2019; East Windsor, NJ

More about this video diary entry:

*revised writings versus extemporaneous speaking

*revising “Objectivist” philosophy, based on its epistemology (the law of non-contradiction…)

*the problem with complete, absolute, 100% certainty (margin of error)

On Graduating College (Sean O’Connor’s Public Comment video diary vlog– episode #8)


-From an F in Math in fifth grade to a 3.98 GPA and a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Studies at 33 years old… my views on education have evolved significantly-

LISTEN TO THE PUBLIC COMMENT PODCAST

The philosopher and writer Michel de Montaigne– whose work I had the opportunity to study in college– continues to influence and inspire me. I revere his contribution to the development of the “personal essay” and the written treatment of individual subjects from the perspective of reflection on experience with/connection to such subjects. In this context one can learn about the person in particular, the human soul in general, the topic, in a conversation as opposed to a lecture or pure argument. And in the case of essays such as the sort Montaigne wrote, there’s the freedom to digress, in his case, in and out of history, philosophy, politics, et cetera.

I think of Montaigne now, as I contemplate my extemporaneous, thinking-out- loud- as- I- go approach to vlogging and podcasting, and as I touch on the subject of graduating college, from the perspective of someone who once received an F in fifth grade and dropped out of college multiple times to someone who fell in love with academia, graduated with a  3.98 GPA and was granted the privilege to speak at his college graduation. That is to say, there is, among the ironies, the irony that while I possess some “academically” derived thoughts on my academic experiences—I mean, based on scholarly articles, and university research from which I could merely synthesize that sea of research—I could not speak with accuracy if I detached from my personal connection to this subject.

To graduate at 33 as opposed to 22 years old, at points in my reflection, brings sadness and regrets because sometimes it can seem like all this does is confirm some notion of myself as slow compared to my smarter peers. Yet I don’t think that way about those who are my age or my elders who earn their college degrees later than is “conventional.” That would be to do what Ayn Rand referred to as “context dropping.” As one former professor of mine once said, “you never know where you are in someone else’s narrative.” She was actually citing a former professor of hers. Moreover, what is the problem with not going right to college or never going? College simply offers an array of specific opportunities to receive specific sets of knowledge. Seemingly countless resources of knowledge exist beyond the college setting. What matters is not whether one attends a university or not but rather the question of what one seeks to learn and what one aspires to achieve with that knowledge. (This is not to say that I downplay the incredible value, especially of community, that various types of schools, whether university, college or trade school, can offer. I think too much autodidacticism might lead to isolation and a kind of anti-social philosophy; at least this turned out to be the case in my experience).

Central to the context behind my academic struggles was mental illness (depression an anxiety specifically) combined with incorrect and poorly defined, fundamental philosophical principles. Even when I possessed a scientific epistemology, I didn’t think about how it applied to much more than science. I had no real sense of values. Not because my family failed to instill them but because I wasn’t taught, in high school, any kind of serious intellectual presentation of theories of values and ethics. How much of a difference would that have made? How much difference would consistent mental/psychological check-ups have made? I don’t believe in torturing myself with “what if’s” but I do like gaining an understanding of context behind how events transpire. That is something I gained from the many history courses I took.

So, with psychological and philosophical reasons for detaching from “school” from elementary school through my first few years of college, I retreated to the arts. In my childhood, horror stories, movies, writing, and acting were my refuge.

As inclined to the arts as I may have been, with very few exceptions, I treated my artistic endeavors with profound narcissism. That is to say, the concentration I put into writing, passionate though I may have been in some sense, I feared any kind of real feedback and thus, while I always hoped for people to praise whatever poem or performance I shared with them, really, alas, I didn’t think about it as constructive feedback to help me produce anything meaningfully consequential. It was largely my escape from academic standards at play.       

By my sophomore year of college—when I attended Florida Gulf Coast University—I experienced further ironies. While convinced of my incompetence and lacking “belief” in knowledge, I was nonetheless engaged in philosophizing and extracurricular study of poets who interested me, including Kerouac, Ginsberg, Dylan, Morrison, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Ovid, Sappho, Shelley, Lennon—all the ones I considered the “rebels” of poetry. Even after I dropped out (then returned, then dropped out again, then returned, then dropped out again…), I remained avid as a reader, and persistent in my desire to be something of an intellectual artist or an artistic intellectual, delving into Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, William James, John Dewey, Dostoevsky, Napoleon Hill and eventually Ayn Rand.

My Ayn Rand phase with even more ironic yet because I became an “objectivist” who now believed in “knowledge” staunchly so, and spent all my free time reading non-fiction books, yet I still maintained my “anti-academia” perspective. This newfound objectivism, alas, failed to facilitate my eradication of the frustrating poverty and tedium of cashiering, even when it led to my first run for political office. As I thought more and more about my life logically it occurred to me I ought to return to college and there I saw, gradually, the pile of contradictions that made up my puritanical sort of “objectivism” (I call myself, for a lack of better words thus far, a “clarificationist” because I believe we can strive for objectivity and gain ever greater clarity but never quite get a point of absolutism or pure objectivity). Likewise, I saw the flaws with my libertarianism as I took courses on poverty, Native Americans, women and the law, the Holocaust/Nazi Germany, the U.S. judicial system, et cetera, and learned how leaving people “free” to exploit and abuse leads to exploitation and abuse. Not in every case, but often enough that it remains rampant today.

I thought, as my college education reached its final chapter, that an MFA in Creative Writing was in my future. This seemed to me the ultimate way I could build a community of greater person- to -person understanding, empathy, intellectual freedom or free thought (which is what Creative Writing came to mean to me as a concept) (I mean, as a “creative writer” and professor of the subject) and even though I’ve been offered an opportunity to study at graduate school, the last five months out of college have thrust me into deeper questions about the meaning of practicality, contributing the world, making money, finding a place in these revolutionary times, and making the most of the college education I received.

Akhtar’s and Dostoevsky’s Examinations of Freedom, Reason and Faith

“There is nothing more seductive for man than the freedom of his conscience, but there is nothing more tormenting either

The Grand Inquisitor (From Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov 254)

 

“…an attempt to liberate the more heartfelt metaphorical version of religious experience from the literalist dogma of the orthodoxy…”

                                    -Ayad Akhtar (From The Essential Ayad Akhtar by Natalie Hulla

of the Cincinnati Play House in the Park)

 

In the essay “How American, How Muslim,” Pulitzer Prize winning writer Ayad Akhtar says one of his inspirations is the late 19th century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky (Akhtar Appendix item 3). In both Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and Akhtar’s American Dervish there are characters with complex views on religion. As complex as their views appear to be, in both novels there are characters who ultimately possess religious faith or lack it. What makes comparing and contrasting these two pieces especially interesting is that despite both authors examining different religions- Dostoevsky examines Christianity, Akhtar examines Islam-, writing in different centuries – Dostoevsky wrote in the 19th, Akhtar in the 21st-,  and in different countries- Dostoevsky in a considerably homogeneous Russia, Aktar in a considerably diverse and pluralistic America- their characters critically examine religion in similar ways. Both novels examine the importance of freedom (intellectual freedom, and the freedom to do what one wants), and the conflicts between reason and faith (for example, ‘can/should one have both reason and faith?’). Although they examine similar things, one notable difference is how each author’s characters define of reason.  In American Dervish an atheist adheres to a notion of non-contradictory thinking and shows how contradictory interpretation of the Quran leads to antisemitism. In The Brothers Karamazov, both a Christian monk named Zosima, and Ivan, a conflicted agnostic, fear that unchecked reason will lead to violence. Moreover, the monk, specifically, views Christ as the only way to save an otherwise rational mind from this violence. In other words, the rational character in American Dervish sees reason as a path to peace and religion as a path to hate, where as for Dostoevsky, reason leads to violence and only religion can bring peace and love.[1]

 

FREEDOM

 

Both Akhtar and Dostoevsky have characters who champion freedom. And in fact, both examine different ways to define the concept. For example, in American Dervish, Naveed is a staunch advocate of freedom- intellectual freedom of thought, as well as freedom to act as he wishes- who believes “Eastern women [are] mentally imprisoned” (Akhtar 160; italics are Akhtar’s). Hayat’s mother says implicitly that he thinks Eastern women are sexually imprisoned too. She says, “What the filthy man really means is that [white, ‘free’ women will] put their mouths anywhere, like animals. So he can put his mouth anywhere. Like an animal. That’s what they want and that’s what they like. It’s disgusting” (Akhtar 160-161; italics are Akhtar’s). A possible interpretation here is that Hayat’s mother, Muneer, is saying white women and Naveed both like oral sex but she does not, and Naveed thinks oral sex is sexually liberating while she thinks it’s “disgusting.” This would certainly explain (but not justify) why Naveed is motivated to sleep with women other than his wife- because he feels by holding herself back sexually she holds him back from experiencing what he wants to experience; to enjoy the freedom he wants to enjoy. If she wants to deny herself sexual freedom, to him, it’s her loss but he will not let it be his. It is important to note that it is not only “Eastern women” Naveed is critical of. It’s the Muslim community more broadly, which according to Naveed consists of “fools” and “sheep” (Akhtar 320).  “You can’t live by the rules others give you…you have to find your own rules,” Naveed tells his son Hayat, who is narrating the novel, when he’s explaining to him why he left a wedding they attended (Akhtar 320). A character in The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan, is similar to Naveed though Ivan takes his belief in freedom to the extreme.[2] The topic of freedom comes up with Ivan because he and his brother Alyosha are having a conversation about “the universal questions” such as “is there a God, is there immoratality?” and ethics (Dostoevsky 234). When Alyosha learns that Ivan does not put his faith in God and Christ he asks Ivan if this means Ivan thinks, in terms of ethics, that people should be free to do whatever they want (Dostoevsky 263). “The formula, ‘everything is permitted,’ I will not renounce,” Ivan tells Alyosha (Dostoevsky 263). In both cases, these characters conceptualize freedom as an individual thinking and doing whatever it is he or she wants (though both characters have thresholds at which point things seem cruel which make them squeamish. Naveed cannot stand anti-Semitism [Akhtar 207] or the oppression of women [Akhtar 321]. Ivan cannot bear the “cruelty” of people [Dostoevsky 238]). What readers comparing these two novels may find interesting is that Naveed’s belief in freedom seems more meaningful- that is to say, there are clear, explicit, palpable things Naveed wants as a result of his freedom: namely sex and independence. With Ivan, freedom at its core does not seem to be what he actually desires. Instead it merely happens to be that the ethical justification for freedom is a consequence to the fact that he cannot say with certainty that God exists. In other words, Naveed thinks about freedom in a very personal and psychological sense, whereas for Ivan it is simply an impersonal, detached, philosophical deduction that there is no source from which it can be proven that there are things people should or should not be able to do.[3]

In both novels there is an entirely different conceptualization of freedom posited as well: spiritual freedom which characters in both novels appear to perceive as being based, at least in significant part, on humility. In American Dervish, Mina tells a story of a Dervish, which Mina says is “someone who gives up everything for Allah” (Akhtar 191). She does not call this, explicitly, “spiritual freedom.” She actually refers to it as “true humility” (Akhtar 103) and oneness (Akhtar 104). When we compare the Dervish she speaks of to the Christian monk, Zosima, in The Brothers Karamazov we see a striking similarity. The Monk, says

Obedience, fasting, and prayer are laughed at yet they alone constitute the way to real freedom: I cut away my superfluous and unnecessary needs, through obedience I humble and chasten my vain and proud will, and thereby, with God’s help, attain freedom of spirit, and with that, spiritual rejoicing (Dostoevsky 314; italics mine).

Also striking is the fact that both the Dervish and the Monk find connections between humility and nature. Of the Dervish, Mina says

“He realized he was no better, no worse than the ground itself, the ground that takes the discarded orange peels of the world. In fact, he realized he was the same as that ground, the same as those peels, as those men, as everything else.”

Compare this with Dostoevsky’s monk: “Man, do not exalt yourself above the animals: they are sinless” (Dostoevsky 319). This notion of spiritual freedom then seems to include even a freedom from sense of individuality, distinctiveness and uniqueness for the Dervish and the Monk see people as no different than orange peels and animals. It could be argued that both therefore deny the exceptionalism of human beings and are, ultimately, pessimists who can only experience spirituality via self denial. This is actually important because we see self-denial explicitly and viscerally in American Dervish. In fact, it is Mina- the one who tells us about the self-denying Dervish- who denies herself in the story. Instead of marrying the man she loves and exploring her sense of self and purpose she marries an abusive man she was pressured by family to marry and says it is “an expression of Allah’s will” (Akhtar 343) which in fact “she regretted” (Akhtar 348). Ultimately then, it could be argued that Akhtar portrays “spiritual freedom” through “self denial” as a negative and harmful thing. But compare this to Dostoevsky! In the case of Zosima the monk, what are the consequences of his self denial? When Zosima does not resist his desires (we are speaking of the time before he becomes a monk and discovers self denial), he is driven, in a rage, to take out his anger over the fact that someone else has won the affections of a girl he fancies on his servant who he beats so brutally that the servant bleeds (Dostoevsky 297). Zosima discovers this was wrong; he says “this is what a man can be brought to” (Dostoevsky 298). Instead of engaging in a dual with the man who won the affections of the woman he is fond of, he surrenders to the man saying he can shoot him if he wants but Zosima will not shoot at him (Dostoevsky 298). The point here is that in Dostoevsky’s novel self-denial leads to noble acts. But again, in Akhtar’s, it leads to harm.

There is a third notion of freedom the two novels examine: freedom from faith, or put another way, freedom attained as a result of no longer having faith. Again we see a contras with the two authors; this aforementioned kind of freedom being depicted in a positive light by one author, and negative by the other. In American Dervish Hayat eventually comes to describe losing his faith as a positive and liberating experience (as a young teenager Hayat is a devout, Quran-reading-and-memorizing Muslim) where as in The Brother’s Karamazov Ivan, who concedes God may exist, rejects this possible God and God’s world more broadly and for him this rejection isn’t a pleasurable experience, it’s simply necessary on ethical grounds. I shall elaborate.

In the prologue to American Dervish, Hayat tells us that “to lose your faith” is “So freeing. It’s the most freeing thing that’s ever happened to me” (Akhtar 10-11). Hayat does not fully explain the nature of his lost faith nor of this liberation however it is quite possible that the freedom he feels is a kind of inner-peace after rejecting his notion of Islam and the damage which Islam did to his family and especially Mina. Moreover it is possible he feels free of guilt too We know that when he sees her “two months before she die[s]” (Akhtar 337) he “had been giving up on Islam little by little for years, and…now there was barely anything left” (Akhtar 341). After he brings this up to Mina, asking what her “suffering” had “to do with finding God” she said “Even the pain… is an expression of Allah’s will” he never once hints with the slightest subtlety or implication that she has changed his mind (Akhtar 342-343). When we see two months later he loses his faith, and cites no other significant experience associated with his faith it is quite reasonable to posit indeed this faith is lost because he sees that virtually every example of Muslim faith has brought with it unreasonable, unacceptable suffering which was tolerated as a result of that faith.

In The Brothers Karamazov Ivan has a somewhat similar experience however his qualm is spelt out for us, and it is not mere religion that troubles him, or even Christianity. It is God and reality. For Ivan, if a God exists, God is evil for God has created a world of suffering, and Heaven, according to Ivan, does not make up for that suffering, thus he will have nothing to do with Christianity, even if there is a God (Dostoevsky 245). As he puts it, “I’d rather remain with my unrequited suffering and unquenched indignation, even if I am wrong…it is not that don’t accept God, Alyosha, I just most respectfully return him the ticket” (Dostoevsky 245). In what sense then is Ivan free? He is free,  at least thinks he is, of a certain kind of guilt[4]; he feels free in the sense that while God may keep reality as it is, and while God may think He makes up for the awfulness of life with Heaven for the good believers and Hell for evil non-believers, Ivan will not give it his moral sanction-  for he says: “it is my duty, if only as an honest man” to maintain his rejection of this (Dostoevsky 245). He is rebelling (“Rebellion” is in fact the title of the chapter. Strangely enough yet true to his sort of contradictory, paradoxical way, he says “One cannot live by rebellion, and I want to live” [Dostoevsky 245]) and saying God’s system is unacceptable to him, even hell for evil non-believers and heaven for the innocent is not enough. Speaking specifically about those who torture children he says “what can hell set right here, if these ones have already been tormented?” (Dostoevsky 245). Both Ivan and Hayat can be viewed as rebels here but they are rebelling against different things; Ivan is rebelling against reality[5] where as Hayat is merely rebelling first against his father when he deeply embraces Islam  and later against segments of the Pakistani community that his family sometimes associates with when he rejects Islam. He is also rebelling against the pain which these Muslims inflict on themselves, Jews, women, et cetera, as a result of their strict Quranic interpretations.

 

REASON VERSUS FAITH

 

What’s especially interesting about Ivan is that it is not reason which makes him agnostic and resentful of the universe and potentially God if there is one (at least, it is not reason according to him). Reason, or what Ivan in this instance, calls “logic” is something, first of all, left undefined, and secondly, loveless, or insufficient in terms of providing people with a capacity for love. “Sticky spring leaves, the blue sky- I love the, that’s all! Such things you love not with your mind, not with logic, but with your insides, your guts” (Dostoevsky 230). A little later Ivan says “reason hedges and hides. Reason is a scoundrel” (Dostoevsky 236). A possible interpretation, if we compare the two aforementioned quotes, is that Ivan perceives reason as a detached, over intellectualized, cold mental operation with no room for emotional experience, or sympathy. If reason “hides” it is perhaps more exactly, “feeling/emotion” which it hides, remaining cloaked only in detatched factual deductions.[6]

In American Dervish we get another interpretation of reason and that comes from Sonny Buledi- a Pakistani friend of Naveed’s who is an atheist. Sonny’s version of rationality is non-contradictory thinking. We learn this when he debates Quranic interpretations among fellow Pakistanis. Specifically they’re debating whether an interpretation has anti-Semitic implications.

“C’mon, man!” Sonny exploded. “God condemns them [Jews] in verse sixty-one, which    you choose to underline, and then follows it with accepting them in the next?! That’s an outright contradiction and unless you can explain it, it renders both versus utterly meaningless…” (Akhtar 131)

It would follow- if we apply Sonny’s epistemological standard- that Sonny is probably an atheist because as he sees it, there is no proof or logical deduction which can verify that a God exists.

But something else is interesting about Sonny’s rationality. It doesn’t only lead to atheism. It also leads to peacefulness and tolerance. Sonny’s rationality leads to a justification for Chatha’s anti-Semitism (which Chatha claims is based on the Quran) to be discredited and rejected. It is extremely noteworthy that in Akhtar’s novel, it is the rational atheist (or agnostics, or the spiritually ambiguous/open-minded) who reject(s) hatred and it is the religious characters who have hate in their hearts (whether it be outward hate for others, such as the anti-Semitic Chatha, or even Hayat when he goes through such a phase as a pedantic, literalist Muslim,  or what appears to be self-hatred in the case of Mina and Muneer who deny themselves of better lives where they could be less oppressed).

However, in The Brothers Karamazov, reason is associated with violence and is conceptualized as something that is of limited use for people. This relationship is really rather complex and is articulated by several different characters in different ways. For the sake of succinctness and focusing exclusively on the ultimate essence of this idea I shall bring up only the example of sentiment expressed by Zosima, the Monk. Zosima says:

These, following science, want to make a just order for themselves by reason alone, but with Christ now, not as before, and they have already proclaimed there is no crime, there is no sin. And in their own terms, that is correct: for if you have no God, what crime is there to speak of? In Europe the people are rising up against the rich with force, and popular leaders everywhere are leading them to bloodshed and teaching them that their wrath is righteous. But ‘their wrath is accursed, for it is cruel’[7]  (Dostoevsky 315)

Zosima assumes that rational thinking cannot lead people to goodness.[8]  Why does he think this? He says earlier of science (of which reason and logic are a part) that it consists only of “that which is subject to the senses” (Dostoevsky 313). Clearly than Zosima assumes ethics have no basis in “the senses” or that which can be abstracted from them; in other words, we see that classic notion of original sin inherent in Monk’s assumptions, i.e., Zosima thinks people are inherently bad and can only be saved by God and God’s standards- standards which could only even be first discovered by a God.

The deeper discovery we can make as readers then is that Dostoevsky and Akhtar appear to be at very opposite ends of the spectrum, not only when it comes to their views on reason, but of human nature itself, for there is nothing implied by Sonny, Hayat or anyone espousing rationality in American Diverish, that suggests they think humanity is inherently depraved. For Dostoevsky, religion saves humanity from its depraved self. For Akhtar, reason saves humanity from religion!  

While reason in the two novels is interpreted by the characters differently, religious faith is viewed quite similarly, even in the face of suffering. Hayat questions Mina’s faith at the end of the novel, when she is in the hospital (Akhtar 342).  He thinks “all these Sufis tales [are nothing] but fictions she’s using to shed a redeeming glow on a life scored with pain, pain I caused her, pain Sunil caused her, and that she should have sought not simply to bear, but escape” (Akhtar 342; italics are his). To her he says, “What did the suffering she had gone through over the past eight years at her  husband’s hands- and for that matter the suffering she was experiencing now, as she lay dying- what did any of this have to do with finding God?” (Akhtar 342). She answers: “this is how the divine is choosing to express Himself through me…everything, everything, is an expression of Allah’s will. It is all His glory. Even the pain…That is the real truth about life” (Akhtar 343). In other words, Mina herself, according to her thinking, is irrelevant. Mina does not even exist as Mina in her mind. She exists as a manifestation of God. So whatever God throws at her, including pain and dying, God throws at her. Mina’s submission to God is a dramatization of that haunting cliché that is so often sighed, “it is what it is.” And this for her is not just perfectly okay, but good and wonderful. As Hayat describes her as she is nearing her death in the hospital: “Her eyes sparked when she saw us. However sick she appeared, she looked no less alive” (Akhtar 338) (It is only in that light that we can really understand the significance of the final page of Akhtar’s novel when he feels inexplicable gratitude which he can finally discern, saying he “finally” is able to hear what he is grateful for: “my heart, silently murmuring its steady beat” [352]. Hayat acknowledges the fact that he has a self).

We see a very similar sentiment articulated by the monk- a sentiment the monk learns from his brother. Like Mina, Zosima’s brother is close to death and aware of it. In speaking of natural beauty, his brother says “there was so much of God’s glory around me: birds, trees, meadows, sky, and I alone lived in shame, I alone dishonored everything, and did not notice the beauty and glory of it all” (Dostoevsky 289) As Zosima is about to die before his visitors to whom he has given his final talk,  everyone notes how despite the pain he appears to be in, he is “still looking at them with a smile…bowed down with his face to the ground, stretched out his arms and, as if in joyful ecstasy, kissing the earth and praying…quietly and joyfully gave up his soul to God” (Dostoevsky 324). Both Zosima and Mina face death and pain and find spiritual satisfaction in surrendering to God. Despite the element of self-denial inherent in both Zosima’s and Mina’s surrender there is one positive thing: in their final moments, God, or their idea of a supposed God can provide comfort. Say what one might about all the various aspects of elements of religions, we see at least that belief in a God can be comforting when one is confronted with one’s mortality. Religion, as depicted by both authors, has at least something to offer.

There are two wider takeaways we can gain from comparing and contrasting the examination of religion in these two novels. First,  it is interesting that pain plays such a strong role in the characters of both novels as it pertains to their attitudes on religion, and implicitly on their views of human nature (are we inherently bad? Are we capable of being good? Do we need a God to be good?). This is not to say we learn anything universal about the experience of pain.  Rather, it has to do more with how each unique individual processes pain. In the case of the non-religious in both novels, it is specifically that pain that motivates them to rid themselves of their faith (Sonny, who seems to be an atheist most fundamentally as a result of drier, detached rationality, is an exception). Ivan, for example, is in so much pain he can barely deal with reality so he rejects God even if God exists. Hayat sees the pain that religion has caused him, his family, Mina, and Nathan. On the other hand, the believers in God see pain as almost superficial when compared to the glory of God. That or they are so humble and self-denying that it would be a betrayal of their values to deeply sulk or curse God. Spiritual characters on the verge of death in both novels (Mina and Zosima) both find tremendous pleasure and peace despite their pain.  A second takeaway is that just as each person processes pain differently, each person has different definitions for words- sometimes even multiple definitions- perhaps not even dictionary definitions, or universal definitions, further complicating these kinds of discussions. Most notably, we see different notions of freedom: spiritual freedom versus moral freedom, and the freedom that comes from losing faith. We also see different notions of reason. Dostoevsky’s characters- regardless of their broader theological differences- seem to agree that reason leads to violence yet in Akhtar’s novel, reason is shown to be supreme, even implicitly by the narrator who says, when discussing his loss of faith, that it did not bother him like other Arabs in his class on Islam when his professor suggested there was proof that the Islamic notion of “the Quran as the direct, unchanged, eternal word of God was a fiction” (Akhtar 7-11). His response, when his girlfriend asks him how he feels about the lecture is: “What’s to feel? The truth is the truth” (Aktar 9). By not putting his feelings into the validity or lack-there- of, he is being objective, i.e., he is using reason, and he grows compassionate (when he is no longer a Muslim he is also no longer an anti-Semite)[9] and is doing so in a way which it appears Dostoevsky could not imagine or fathom.

 

Works Cited

 

Akhtar, Ayad. American Dervish. Back Bay Books/ Little, Brown and Company, 2012.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2002

Frank, Joseph. Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time. Princeton University Press, 2010

Hulla, Natalie. “The Essential Ayad Akhtar,” Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, 20 June 2017,

https://cincyplay.com/blog/cinncinati-blog/2017/06/20/the-essential-ayad-akhtar

Trepanier, Lee. “The Politics and Experience of Active Love in the Brother Karamazov,” Voegelinview, 20 January 2017,  https://voegelinview.com/politics-experience-active-love-brothers-karamazov/

 

[1] Both of these novels in my view are exceptionally complex and thus there is more they have in common, and there are more distinct differences however it would require a lengthy amount of time to be so comprehensive.

[2] To be clear, Ivan is complex because he is conflicted, wishy-washy, and contradicts himself. He says “everything is permitted” (Dostoevsky 263)  and yet loathes God’s supposed cruelty (Dostoevsky 235). Likewise, Naveed is all for freedom yet cannot stand how Muslim men oppress women (Akthar 321).

[3] This is not to downplay the philosophical capacity, depth or nature of Naveed. This simply appears to be a manifestation of ,what appears to me, to be a stylistic differences between Akhtar and Dostoevsky: that Dostoevsky’s characters tend to deliver long, theoretical, sometimes even discursive monologues, whereas Akhtar’s characters are much more succinct.

[4] Noteworthy here also is that however free Hayat feels, unlike Ivan, he actually does not feel free of guilt. The same night he says he feels free, he learns that Mina has died, and says “Now that she was gone, how could I ever repair the harm I’d done” (Akhtar 12).

[5] Ivan’s denial of reality suggests psychological trouble far more complex and potentially problematic than Hayat’s disagreement with religious claims. Hayat is making a philosophical, and theological discernment. Ivan, it appears, is struggling to cope with what is for him the malady of existence.

[6] This of course, is a claimed notion of reason, and not necessarily the proper notion. After all, is Ivan not in the act of attempting to reasoning when he is essentially saying what is what and why what is what?

[7] According to the end notes the quite within the quotes comes from Genesis 49:7

[8] One could argue this is hard as a reader to reconcile since if we apply Sonny’s definition of reason (non-contradictory thinking) to Zosima’s application of it, his very act of reasoning is what suggests to him that reason is insufficient for arriving at ethical standards.

[9] And ‘oh, the irony’- it is the all-loving Christian writer Dostoevsky who, throughout his life was an anti-Semite. He once spoke of “Yiddifying” ideas as “third-rate” (Frank 744). Other disturbing examples abound in Joseph Frank’s comprehensive biography.

Personal Essayist and Memoirist Elissa Washuta Combats Stereotypes and Promotes Wellness Via Her Indian Identitity

-My Senior Capstone Essay

A 2008 experiment was conducted to gain a sense of the impact that stereotypes surrounding Native Americans have on Native American children.[1] Considered stereotypes “include[ed] the Cleveland Indian mascot, Disney’s Pocahontas, [specific] negative stereotypes [such as] dropout rates, rates of alcohol abuse, and depression rates.”[2]  The researchers discovered that “exposure to prominent media portrayals led Native American high school and college students to have more negative feelings about their self [i.e., decreased self-esteem] and community [i.e., decreased community worth], and depressed academic future possibilities [i.e., diminished achievement related possible selves].”[3] This suggests that stereotypes are harmful.

One seemingly obvious way to combat stereotypes (which overgeneralize our ideas about a group of people, ethnic or other) is to think of people not first and foremost as members of a group, but as individuals. As the Cowlitz Indian tribe member, personal essayist, Assistant professor of English at the Ohio State University[4] and University of Washington American Indian Studies advisor[5] Elissa Washuta says, “I still see people lock others into the same old, tired, damaging stereotypes of what a representative member of an ethnic group should be. But the massiveness of information out there online makes identity confusion hugely easier for me, and probably for a lot of others as well, because so many people have outlets for their stories that did not exist before. We have the good fortune of learning about individual experiences, which can break up false ideas of monolithic stereotypes.”[6]

Washuta is a compelling individual to contemplate with respect to identity and ethnic identity, not merely because she is an American Indian (both Cascade and Cowlitz)[7], or because she in fact, has a complex ethnic background (she is also a mix of Irish, Scottish, Polish, Ukrainian, German, Dutch, Welsh, and French)[8] but rather, because she is also a personal essayist.

Personal essays are especially unique in literature. As Columbia University professor of Creative Non-Fiction Philip Lopate[9] writes in an extensive collection of personal essays from the first century (A.D.) to the 1990’s written by authors from all over the world, “the personal essay has an open form and a drive toward candor and self disclosure.”[10] Lopate adds that “The unashamed subjectivity of the personal essay makes it less suspect in a mental climate in which people have learned to mistrust the ‘value-free, objective’ claims of scholarship and science.”[11] If by “unashamed subjectivity” Lopate means the freedom to include one’s most intimate and personal feelings, my conjecture would be that it is reasonable to infer from his definition/understanding of the personal essay, that this openness provides a place for a holistic, intimate, deep, qualitative examination which strictly academic sociology, psychology, and ethnic studies may not reach, due to specialized, technical disciplinary vocabulary, strict and delineated research methods, dropped context within statistics, et cetera. Moreover, Lopate’s distinction between “the ‘value-free, objective’ claims of scholarship and science” and the personal essay, seems to suggest his belief that the personal essay can offer a meaningful perspective that “scholarship and science” cannot, adding to a fuller understanding when all perspectives are considered.

In this paper I will argue that through Washuta’s memoir My Body Is A Book of Rules  (which she says can also be viewed “as a series of interlinked essays,”[12]) other personal essays she has published on websites such as the Chronical of Higher Education, Salon, and Buzzfeed, and interviews she has given, the complexity of Native American identity and personal identity more generally, are illustrated. I will show how, in particular, Washuta rejects the notion of quantifying what she often calls her Indianness[13] (in part as an opposition to the blood quantum concept, in part due to psychological harm that quantified Indianness has done to her) and yet still retains a distinct Indianness within her more holistic sense of self (the various aspects of her that make her who she is) that has evolved from a Catholic school girl turned anti-Catholic, to a traumatized rape victim,  to someone suffering from bi-polar disorder, to someone who comes to see herself empowered.  A final element of my thesis is that there is likely a relationship between the retention of her distinct Indianness and her sense of self-empowerment, in part because in sharing her distinctive Indianness, as I quoted Washuta saying in her own words earlier, it combats or attempts to combat stereotypes of Indians.

Rejecting the quantification of Indianness

A so called degree of Indianness was initially a British-North American- colonial concept,[14] not an American Indian one. As anthropologist Gregory R. Campbell[15] and Professor of Anthropology and Native American Studies, Dr. S. Neyooxet Greymorning[16] explain:

“kinship rather than biology was the core component of both societal composition and individual ethnic affiliation. Every indigenous society had sociological mechanisms for the incorporation of individuals and, sometimes, whole groups by adoption, naturalization, or other ethnogenetic processes…most indigenous nations…integrated people from other societies…[including n]umerous Europeans and Africans…without any phenotypic or cultural stigma.”[17]

British colonists in North America, while writing treaties with Native Americans invented a so called “blood quantum” concept which “defined ‘Indian’ in legal terms.[18] In her personal essay “I am Not Pocahontas” Washuta explains the concept of “blood quantum” as:

“the degree of Indian ancestry expressed fractionally, as a consideration when defining their [tribal] membership. Contemporary determinations of blood quantum often look back to base rolls, records of tribal membership, often created by non-Indians. Determinations of blood quantum are made by establishing proximity to the ancestors listed on these rolls.”[19]

Although Washuta does not explicitly say when the word “blood quantum” itself was first used, she does reference what she claims to be the first time American Indians were subjected to “ancestral fractionation,”[20] citing “a 1705 Virginia statute barring a ‘mulatto,’ or ‘the child of an Indian and child, grandchild or great grandchild of a negro’ from holding public office”[21]

This “blood quantum” concept underlying mainstream American notions of Native American ethnicity makes Washuta sensitive to questions about her Indianness. She writes that the question:

“‘How much Indian are you?’, however well-intentioned, implies that alive within me is only a tiny piece of the free, noble Indian that passed on long ago, a remnant from which I am far removed. The questions, individually, are borne from a place of curiosity, but the questions have embedded in a time when blood quantum was used to rob indigenous peoples of rights and, ultimately, lead to our being defined out of existence.”[22]

           

Here Washuta tells us she rejects any limit to how Indian she can be and at least in part rejects it on the grounds of the anti-Indian sentiments (she’s referring to that aspiration “to rob indigenous peoples of rights” and have them “defined out of existence”) she says fuels the concept of degree of Indianness.

The question “how much Indian?” can be problematic for other reasons too, which we learn when Washuta tells us about her personal experiences. In a podcast interview for Montana Public Radio Washuta discusses how upon receiving a “merit scholarship”[23] from the University of Maryland, some people suggested, with resentment, that it was because she was a Native American, not because she deserved it.[24] She told the woman interviewing her that “people in my high school and then in my university gave me a really, really hard time about it. They said some really repulsive things to me and then some more kind of passive aggressive things and I wondered for a long time whether I deserved that money.”[25]  Washuta elaborates on this incident in her essay “How Much Indian Was I?’ My Fellow Students Asked” published by the Chronical of Higher Education in  2013. She said:

“That money never went to white kids, they said, so I must be an undercover genius. I’m not all white, I said. What was my SAT score, they wanted to know. My GPA? Extracurriculars? How much Indian was I? The first thing I learned in college was that white boys don’t care if you’re legitimately Indian if they think you robbed them of $100,000 in scholarship money that they’d earned holding a tuba for countless hours on a high-school football field.”[26]

If Washuta had suffered from having too little self-esteem and was unable to defeat her sense of self-doubt she may not have maintained her perfect GPA,[27] received an MFA in Creative Writing,[28] became a professor[29], and a published author of articles and books. She, however, proved to be resilient.

Washuta’s Distinct Indianness Throughout Her Evolving Sense of Self

 

Washuta’s distinct Indianness must be understood as part of her, not the only thing that defines her. She makes it clear throughout her various writings that she possesses what one interviewer described as “different threads of identity [including] race, gender, sexuality.”[30] In her memoir,[31] Washuta reveals the context that establishes who she is more holistically.

As a child and young teenager she describes herself as a Catholic school girl who “couldn’t fit in”[32] and who, despite being “bookish”[33] and with good grades, cared more about “sex tips from Cosmopolitan” than God and religion.[34]  She shares an interesting episode during Catholic school that reveals somewhat the essence of her awareness as someone who was multiethnic. She says:

“When the nuns found out I was Cowlitz Indian, they offered me Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks, as a spiritual guide. I knew nothing more than that she was holy and that I was to ask her to speak to the Lord on my behalf…I could not pray to Kateri Tekakwitha. She seemed more like one of my Native American Barbies than a saint. With her braids, and ethnically confused features, her prayer card image reminded me enough of myself that I found it impossible to venerate her.”[35]

Washuta does not talk much about her time in high school but said that “Sophomore year…I was the teacher’s pet.”[36]  She says also that “being the only Indian around got lonesome, so I took what I knew from my books and family and draped it in Indian-looking beads.”[37] Reflecting on how her sense of identity began to evolve, particularly while she was in college,  she says:

“It took some time to get the hang of being simultaneously white and Indian. But I had to be something [emphasis is Washuta’s], so I searched for an identity to sink into. Before I knew I was bipolar, and could settle into that, I had rape. It was bloody and violent and it was an injustice of the kind my [Indian] ancestors knew, I used to think.[38]

“For awhile I had to make the rape fit into my life as an Indian. It was nice to have a straight forward, academic explanation to fall back on, one involving a history of violent oppression and subjugation, something about inherited ancestral consciousness, something about how the guy who raped me was English and could trace his ancestry back to the first English settlers. Something I could tell myself so it wasn’t my own malfunction, neurosis, weakness, character flaw, not my own fault.”[39]

 

Washuta’s Distinct Indianness as Self Empowering and Combating Stereotypes of Indians

 

Washuta comes to realize however that she should not make her rape all about race.[40] Furthermore she also does not associate her bipolar disorder with some sort of inherited ancestral trauma. In fact, in reflecting on circumstances surrounding her rape, she writes fictional dialogue between herself, the rapist, and different people within the law enforcement and justice system based on her notions of the television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.[41] A take away here should be that in turning to Law & Order for comfort, as opposed to say, some “traditionally Native American” healing practices, Washuta is stereotype busting, showing that if there is a special way a Native American seeks dealing with rape, she does not even slightly imply it to be her approach to coping. Ultimately, Washuta deals with rape in no particular way other than Washuta’s own unique, personal way.

Washuta takes a similar action when she contemplates her bipolar disorder. She does not write about experiences of engaging in exclusively or distinctly or necessarily Native American therapies or understandings of mental disorder. Washuta does not suggest there are or are not distinct Native American understandings of mental disorder though she acknowledges there is a way some Native Americans cope when dealing with mental aguish and she does not restrict herself from contemplating it.[42] The broader point- a motif of this paper- is exactly the fact that Washuta does not restrict herself at all with respect to how much or how little ethnic influences dictate her approach to one thing or another. In one portion of her memoir, she catalogues an array of psychiatric drugs her psychiatrist had her try to treat her bi-polar disorder- documenting their technical, medical names, and describing their impact on her.[43]   In another section of the memoir she writes an imaginary letter which she pretends is from her college psychiatrist, explaining in very technical, clinical language, details of her bipolar disorder.[44]

In a rather interesting fashion, Washuta also compares her bi-polar experiences to the apparent mental anguish of two celebrities who fascinated her: Kurt Cobain, and Brittney Spears.[45] It should be noted that in this instance she relates here to white Americans, and makes no reference to relating to them for ethnic or racial reasons. To further demonstrate how she is not limited or tied down by a single cultural or ethnic group, or perception of how one should think, she makes a thoughtful remark on the infamous incident when Brittney Spears shaved her head.[46]  “Freudians consider long hair to represent the id and aggression, so they associate cutting long hair with killing sexuality… For many Indian tribes, cutting hair symbolizes a severance from the past, or mourning.”[47] Here she integrates what one might say is a “Western” way of interpreting an event, with a Native American perspective. That she happens to integrate does not make her more or less Native American. It shows one example of how a Native American would interpret events, which again, is consistent with Washuta’s belief that “learning about individual experiences …can break up monolithic stereotypes”[48] about American Indians and thus by implication, stereotypical thinking in general.

Combating stereotypes of Native Americans is important to Washuta. She elaborates on this in an interview when she is asked if she would change how “Native Americans [are] being depicted incorrectly.”[49]   Washuta responds:

“Certainly, I would like to see representations of Native people as complex humans with our own trajectories, differences, and values independent of settler lives and aims. Movies with Native characters usually take place at least 150 years ago, and Native characters appear in support of (or as a threat to) a white character’s goals. In most Hollywood depictions,[50] Native characters get to be brave, noble, savage, lusty, doomed, unintelligent, or bloodthirsty, but they don’t get to have complexity. Most representations of Natives in books and movies are created by non-Natives. I wish that were different. I wish the book-buying and movie-watching public had more interest in Native stories–the ones we tell about ourselves.”[51]

 

The issue of stereotypes is not one to take lightly, nor is the role our culture plays in perpetuating them. As was found by Peter A. Leavitt et al. : “Close examination of the population statistics and media portrayals of Native Americans reveals that they are largely invisible in contemporary American life”[52] To confirm this, the researchers “examined the first 100 image results for each of the terms ‘Native American’ and ‘American Indian’ returning 200 images total from both”[53] Google and Bing, and “found that 95.5% of Google (n = 191) and 99% of Bing (n = 198) images were historical representations. These search results highlight the extent to which media consumers are inundated with a narrow set of historical images of Native Americans.”[54]

One major psychological consideration that Leavitt et al. point out is that research suggests that stereotypes or images of racial/ethnic groups matters; that vulnerable minds associate public/media images of people within their own demographic and see within the range of stereotypical/prototypical images available, the options they may be able to identify with.[55]  Leavitt et al. explain, for example that:

“when groups who experience stereotypes about their academic abilities (e.g., women in math, Black students and intelligence) think about self-relevant role models who demonstrate competence and success, the performance-inhibiting effects of negative stereotypes are diminished. Similarly, reading about or identifying self-relevant role models increases school motivation and belonging.”[56]

Naturally, when this is lacking, psychological benefits may as well. Leavitt et al. further elaborate:

“What self-stereotyping demonstrates is that members of underrepresented groups may be motivated to identify with any available representation simply because one representation is better than no representation (i.e., absolute invisibility). The one representation, no matter how unfavorable or inaccurate, provides answers to the ‘Who am I?’ questions that people are motivated to answer and provides a reference point around which to negotiate one’s identity with others.”[57]

Just how problematic this may or may not be, I would argue, depends on certain other factors. For example, does a person who belongs to an ethnic/racial minority group only imagine him or herself based on stereotypical images of his/her ethnic/racial minority group that he or she is exposed to, or does her/she conceptualize him/herself beyond that very limited scope?

What does ethnic/racial self-consciousness “beyond that very limited scope” of stereotypical images mean? Washuta offers us a good example. As opposed to conceptualizing her Indian self stereotypically, she conceptualizes it in part by gaining an understanding the history of where she comes from.[58] As she writes in her memoir:   “I became increasingly frustrated with the notion of Indianness, feeling so far away from the reservations I so clumsily fictionalized…I thought that if I read more about the history of Native Americans…I would almost get my blood boiling enough to reduce it down to a steaming, potent syrup that would contain some legitimate Indian essence.”[59]  She adds to this later, “The story is in the details, the traumas, the histories, not the titles and labels we apply and try to pass down without context. I’ve been searching for the story, the whole beast, the blessing, the burden.”[60]

It is noteworthy that as interested in the history of her tribes as Washuta is, in her first memoir and the essays she makes available on her website, she does not make much mention of other Native American writers or contemporary thinkers throughout Native American history. One exception is a quote she cites from University of Kansas Professor of law comparing colonization to rape.[61] Colorado College[62] and University of South Dakota[63] Assistant Professor of English Natanya Ann Pulley makes this observation herself. The theme of “Native American identity,” Pulley writes, “ is not…fully developed, which one may take as a sign of a forced theme or perhaps the work of a promising, but first book writer.”[64] Pulley however questions her own criticism saying “I began to question why I, as a reader, think there is a work—one book or essay or line—out there clearly about Native American identity.”[65]

Whether Washuta’s sense of Indian identity is sufficiently explored may be open to debate but she does nonetheless explore it and does so beyond identifying with stereotypes. This kind of racial/ethnic self-consciousness, is believed to be a healthy thing, particularly among racial/ethnic minorities.[66] Researchers Yetter and Foutch write: “although ethnic minority youth tend to experience more stress than the population at large, the extant research suggests that a strong ethnic identity may moderate the effects of stress and strengthen academic and psychosocial functioning.”[67]

In Washuta’s case this appears to be true. The connection she has to her Indianness, which she shares with us in her writing illustrates a display of her affirmed self-esteem.  She writes:

“I do not think I was predestined for brokenness- this world of ours has shown itself to have no sense of order to make such a feat possible- but I’m leaning to talk to the ancestors, listen for answers, stay awake in dreams, and let those loved ones erase the muddy corners of my brain so I might learn all over again how to know anything at all.”[68]

Subsequent to the publication of her memoir Washuta described herself in this new context in an interview as a “self healer.”[69]

Washuta has used the essence of individuality inherent in a- “personal essay”-/memoir not only to combat stereotyping, but to illustrate indeed how “personal” all aspects of identity are, whether ethnic/racial, religious, sexual, career, et cetera, and further, how that ethnic aspect or element of self-identity is (for example, her Indiannness), like self-identity more broadly, complex. Washuta makes it clear that her Indianness is not in anyway to be misconstrued as having a necessarily biological component.[70] When asked in an interview what she considers the “most irritating myth about Natives” she answered “That our identities are based completely in what a DNA test might say about us (bullshit) or in what we present that’s in alignment with something someone saw in [the movie] Thunderheart (bullshit) rather than in our relationships and our roles in our communities.”[71] In light of these themes Washuta addresses it may be well worth the while to ask ourselves every now and then: are we ever stereotyping others without realizing it? Perhaps we are quick to be defensive, but as was pointed out by Leavitt et al, which I mentioned a little earlier[72], we are quite inundated with caricaturized and more historical images of Native Americans, as opposed to real, modern, holistic images. What if our inclinations to think about Native Americans in a certain way have been developing somewhat subconsciously and inaccurately because of what we have and have not been inundated with? What comes to our mind when we stop to think about Native Americans? Do we think about someone like Pocahontas or someone like Elissa Washuta?

END NOTES:

1) Peter A. Leavitt, et al. “’Frozen in Time’: The Impact of Native American Media Representations on Identity and Self-Understanding” Journal of Social Issues 71 no. 1 (March 2015)

2) Ibid., 44

3) Ibid

4) “About Elissa,” Washuta.net, accessed April 29, 2018, http://washuta.net/about-elissa

5) Elissa Washuta, “AIS Adviser Elissa Washuta Reads from My Body Is a Book of Rules on the UW Campus,” February 27, 2015, https://ais.washington.edu/news/2015/02/27/ais-adviser-elissa-washuta-reads-my-body-book-rules-uw-campus

6)“Interview with Elissa Washuta,” Elsewhere Lit, accessed April 7, 2018, http://www.elsewherelit.org/elissa-washuta/

7) Elissa Washuta, My Body Is A Book Of Rules (Pasadena, California, Red Hen Press, 2014) 157

8) Ibid.

9) “About,” Philip Lopate, accessed April 7, 2018, http://philliplopate.com/

10) Philip Lopate, The Art of the Personal Essay (New York, Anchor Books-A Disvison of Random House Inc., 1995) xxiv.

11) Ibid., xliii

12) Interview with Elissa Washuta,” Elsewhere Lit, accessed April 7, 2018, http://www.elsewherelit.org/elissa-washuta/

13)  Brief comment on Washuta’s use of the term “Idnianness.” That this should be addressed was brought to my attention upon reviewing feedback to an earlier draft of this paper. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists “Indianness” as a word but does not define it. (“Indian,” Merriam Webster Dictionary, accessed April 29, 2018, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Indian) The  Oxford Living Dictionary does the same. (“Indianness,” Oxford Living Dictionary, accessed April 20, 2018, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/indianness) To keep from digressing, it seems the point to be made is that this term does not appear to be a widely defined term among prominent dictionaries. Washuta uses the term often in her writings but does not explicitly define it. Upon reviewing a vast body of her work it is my guess that she means, implicitly, Indian identity.

14)  Elissa Washuta, “I Am Not Pocahontas,” The Weeklings, September 4, 2014, http://theweeklings.com/ewashuta/2014/09/04/pocahontas/

15) American Indian Nations (Lanham, New York, Toronto, Plymouth, UK, Altamira Press A Division of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007) 315

16)  Ibid., 317

17) “What’s in a Label? Native American Identity and the Rise of a Tradition of Racism,” American Indian Nations (Lanham, New York, Toronto, Plymouth, UK, Altamira Press A Division of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007) 23

18) Elissa Washuta, “I Am Not Pocahontas,” The Weeklings, September 4, 2014, http://theweeklings.com/ewashuta/2014/09/04/pocahontas/

19) Ibid.

20) Ibid.

21) Ibid., quoted in Paul Spruhan, A Legal History of Blood Quantum in Federal Indian Law to 1935. South Dakota Law Review 51.1: 2006.

22) Ibid.

23) Cherie Newman, “Memoir Reveals Student’s Struggles With Bipolar,” Montana Public Radio, January 12, 2015,  http://mtpr.org/post/memoir-reveals-students-struggles-bipolar

24) Ibid. aprx 5:06-5:32

25) Ibid.

26) Elissa Washuta, “How Much Indian Was I?’ My Fellow Students Asked,” The Chronical of Higher Education, June 9, 2013, https://www.chronicle.com/article/How-Much-Indian-Was-I-My/139639

27)  Ibid.

28)  Ibid.

29) Ibid

30) “Interview with Elissa Washuta,” Elsewhere Lit, accessed April 7, 2018, http://www.elsewherelit.org/elissa-washuta/

31) Elissa Washuta, My Body Is A Book Of Rules (Pasadena, California, Red Hen Press, 2014)

32) Ibid., 16

33) Ibid., 24

34)  Ibid., 16

35) Ibid., 22-23

36) Ibid, 42

37) Ibid., 49

38) Ibid., 178

39) Ibid.

40) Ibid., 179

41) Ibid., 95-114

42) Ibid., 136

43) Ibid., 53-58

44) Ibid., 9-14

45) Ibid., 130-152

46) Ibid., 136

47) Ibid.

48) Interview with Elissa Washuta,” Elsewhere Lit, accessed April 7, 2018, http://www.elsewherelit.org/elissa-washuta/

49) Elizabeth Ogle, “Authors: Stories Behind The Books, Elissa Washuta,” March 10, 2016, http://www.elizabethogle.com/blog/2016/3/elissawashuta

50) In this particular interview Washuta does not give any specific examples of “Hollywood depictions” however, in her essay “I Am Not Pocahontas” she lists several, including but not limited to Dances With Wolves, Last of the Mohicans, Indian in the Cupboard and Pocahontas. One of her criticisms is that “these films relegated Native peoples to the past” (Elissa Washuta, “I Am Not Pocahontas,” The Weeklings, September 4, 2014, http://theweeklings.com/ewashuta/2014/09/04/pocahontas/)

51) Ibid.

52) Peter A. Leavitt, et al. “’Frozen in Time’: The Impact of Native American Media Representations on Identity and Self-Understanding” Journal of Social Issues 71 no. 1 (March 2015) 44.

53) Ibid.

54) Ibid.

55) Ibid., 46

56) Ibid (qtd in)

57) Ibid., 47

58) Elissa Washuta, My Body Is A Book Of Rules (Pasadena, California, Red Hen Press, 2014) 155-156, 170

59) Ibid., 155-156

60) Ibid., 170

61) Elissa Washuta, “Apocalypse Logic, ” The Offing, November 21, 2016, https://theoffingmag.com/insight/apocalypse-logic/

62)  “Natanya Pulley- Assistant Professor,” Colorado College, date accessed: April 29, 2018, https://www.coloradocollege.edu/academics/dept/english/people/profile.html?person=pulley_natanya_ann

63) “Creative Writing Workshop,” University of South Dakota, July 21, 2015, http://calendar.usd.edu/cal/event/eventView.do?b=de&calPath=/public/cals/MainCal&guid=CAL-406ca799-4e43fa52-014e-4549ac9f-00002631demobedework@mysite.edu&recurrenceId=

64) Natanya Pulley, “Natanya Pulley’s Review of My Body Is a Book of Rules,”As/Us, Accessed April 29, 2018, https://asusjournal.org/issue-4/natanya-pulleys-review-of-my-body-is-a-book-of-rules/

65) Ibid.

66) Georgette Yetter, Victoria Foutch, “Investigation of the Structural Invariance of the Ethnic Identity Scale With Native American Youth” Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 19, No. 4, 435-436

67) Ibid., 436

68) Elissa Washuta, My Body Is A Book Of Rules (Pasadena, California, Red Hen Press, 2014) 180

69) Samantha Updegrave, “Rewriting the Rules,” Bitch Media, August 13, 2014, https://www.bitchmedia.org/post/interview-elissa-washuta-body-is-a-book-of-rules-feminism

70) Nichole L. Reber, “Native Voices Won’t Be Silenced,” Electric Literature, November 1, 2016, https://electricliterature.com/native-voices-wont-be-silenced-aede8c2adc6b

71) Ibid.

72) Peter A. Leavitt, et al. “’Frozen in Time’: The Impact of Native American Media Representations on Identity and Self-Understanding” Journal of Social Issues 71 no. 1 (March 2015) 44

Why I Am a Democrat: Response to a Critic Who Calls My Views “Very Unrefined” (a manifesto of sorts)

[My response, my story, my fundamental principles, for the record, part 1 of 2]

[My response, my story, my fundamental principles, for the record, part 2 of 2]

I pay attention to my critics because I value transparency, accountability, and intellectual discussion about challenging issues, especially in the realm of politics because policies directly affect us.

Policies affect whether we are at war or at peace. Policies impact matters of poverty and wealth. Policies determine whether or not our civil rights are protected. They influence the harmony or discord in a diverse, cosmopolitan, pluralistic, democratic society. They can cause great anxiety or great relief. If we are going to talk about policies we should do so with great care.

When one of my critics- Duke Manning, a student of philosophy at Temple University, who is also a bassist- wrote a six paragraph complaint describing his belief that I do not discuss politics with great care, tremendous thought, and synthesis and logical analysis of research, I took issue to it because it could not be further from the truth. You might even note the irony that I spent over three hours articulating my refutation to his comparatively short Facebook comment.

Here is his critique:

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 9.01.01 AM

While Mr. Manning’s critique is inaccurate I must thank him for one thing because it is fair to say that if I am going to advocate staunchly for a set of policies it would be beneficial to all who consider my commentaries on the matter if I were to take extra efforts to clarify with greater intensity, why I think what I think.

With respect to my thinking, Manning suggested to me that I “seem to jump in head first with a thought [I] have without really doing enough research and considering how certain” I am. He adds that I “tend to be the kind of person who gets an idea and runs with it without really investigating it deeply or without considering that you are wrong.”

He cites the fact that in 2013, when I was a member of the Libertarian Party (which I am no longer. Now I am a registered Democrat) and running for the New Jersey Assembly, I advocated establishing a voting poll tax.

He notes that he insisted to me that it was a bad idea and that I disagreed with him. (I didn’t disagree for long however. Within months I came to realize the utter absurdity and injustice of such a policy.) This to him, proves that my “views are very unrefined”  and causes him to “worry that [I] will eventually promote an idea that might harm [my] appearance.”

While it is true that Manning’s description of my intellectual shortcomings in 2013 are accurate, he fails to account for the fact that over the last half of a decade I have first of all disavowed a plethora of false assumptions I used to hold.

Secondly he fails to note that my commentaries are in fact heavily sourced and cite experts with a diversity of perspectives. In fact, in his assault on my intellectual integrity he does not cite a single published commentary of mine.

Instead he relies on statements I made half a decade ago which I in fact disavowed within months of having made those statements as proof of my intellectual laziness and “very unrefined views” today. 

I want to provide you with my refutation of Manning’s characterization and while doing so explain to you in the form of an extemporaneous statement, the story of political evolution, and the fundamental concepts that underline my social democratic political philosophy.

It is my hope that first of all, this will serve as proof that I value and contemplate feedback even when it is negative, even when it is wrong. Secondly, I hope that you will find me transparent- that it does not seem as if my point of view came to me hastily out of some vacuum. Finally, I hope that by having done this you have gotten to know me better.

As always, let me know what you think.

IDEAS THAT KILLED MILLIONS OF PEOPLE

  • HOW THE PHILOSOPHY OF ROMANTICISM CAUSED THE RISE OF HITLER, THE NAZIS, WORLD WAR 2 AND THE HOLOCAUST

How does one lost and lonely, unsuccessful artist named Adolf Hitler become responsible for the sadistic torture and murder of nearly 11 million other human beings? (Schwartz, n.d.) Moreover, how does the population of a country with a rich intellectual, individualistic culture where major industrialization, liberalism and democracy (even inclusive to women at a time when women’s suffrage was a new thing yet to sweep the world) have taken effect, freely and voluntarily give dictatorial powers to a man who openly spewed racist anti semitic comments such as “it was the Aryan alone who founded a superior type of humanity,”(Hitler, Mein Kampf) and “[the Jew] is and remains a parasite…the effect produced by his presence is also like that of the vampire” (Ibid.) and threatened violence on his fellow Germans, saying in a court hearing that “I may assure you that if the Nazi movement’s struggle is successful…there’ll be some heads chopped off…[and] we will fight…with all the means at our disposal, even with those which are illegal from the world’s point of view”(Sax, 1992); how does a country of seemingly intelligent people surrender itself to the psychotic fury and totalitarianism of an openly racist and violent man?

To provide a comprehensive answer to these questions is an extremely complex undertaking, thus many books on the subject have been written. There are many angles and contexts one can investigate to gain hindsight into how Germany was hijacked by Hitler and his Nazis- there are economic factors (Germany suffered hyperinflation and a depression), and political factors (Germany had been defeated in World War One, and so its economy and military were downsized as a result, and Germany was just beginning as a democracy and it was an extremely divided democracy at that) and there are also crucial philosophical factors.

As Dr. Leonard Peikoff wrote in his article “Nazi Politics”: “[Hitler and n]azism triumphed because Germany was ideologically ripe [italics are Peikoff’s throughout], because the intellectual groundwork had been prepared, because the country’s [fundamental- philosophical] ideas- were ready.”

Dr. Peikoff goes on to explain that ideas spread across individual cultures and that the dominant, trending ideas essentially determine the philosophy of most of the people in the country and the basic philosophy of the country, and its government. Throughout The Objectivist Peikoff writes a series of articles on this topic defining and explaining the body of philosophical ideas that primed Germany for Hitler’s Nazi takeover. Of the various philosophical ideas that Dr. Peikoff discusses (pragmatism, dogmatism, collectivism, subjectivism, romanticism et cetera) the one that stands out to me as the most consequential, and responsible for Hitler’s tragic rise is “romanticism”.

In this article I will argue  that the spread of the philosophy of romanticism in Germany from the late 1700’s to the early 1900’s is largely to blame for not only creating the monster that was Hitler and the Nazi movement, but that it was also responsible for creating within a significant portion of the population, a vulnerability and even an openness by default, to Hitler and Nazism.

To Support my argument, I am going to analyze what I believe to be the three elements of romanticism most relevant to Hitler’s rise: the romantic aesthetics, romantic epistemology and education, and romantic ethics, each, not merely as intellectual ideas, but ideas in relation to their manifestations in the history preceding Hitler’s rise.

Before I elaborate on exactly what romanticism is, and discuss its aesthetic, epistemological-educational, and ethical ideas and their impact, I think it must be noted that my assertion that romanticism is to blame for Hitler’s rise is a controversial one.

First of all, among philosophers and historians who do concede that romanticism played a part in the rise of Hitler and Nazism, they disagree on the degree in general, and in relation to other philosophical ideas (also in varying degrees) they also think are to blame.

As I mentioned about Dr. Peikoff, he emphasizes a range of ideas. In fact, more so than any specific idea, Peikoff seems to think the influence of philosopher Immanual Kant  and the idea of collectivism were more to blame than romanticism (which is not fundamentally Kantanian).

In his own words, “It is Kant who made possible the sudden mushrooming of the Platonic collectivism  and statism in the modern world, and especially in Germany,” (Peikoff, Nazi Politics II) even though Peikoff admits that Kant was not actually a statist.

In contrast, Lawrence Birken, argues, quite to the contrary that it was not romanticism that is to blame, but actually what romanticism was an opposition to. He writes that the philosophical problem “was actually a further development of the Enlightenment, a revolutionary Enlightenment which used fanaticism to destroy an older but weakened fanaticism, terror to destroy an older but milder  ‘terror’”. (Birken, 1999)

So then, what, in the most general sense, is this ‘philosophy of romanticism’ that philosophers, historians and commentators are debating about? There is not a consensus here.

Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert contends that there are types of romanticism, and that the romanticism of Germany is a specific “German Romanticism” and that even that can be divided into phases. (2004) For example, she focuses on what she terms “Early German Romanticism” which she defines as a philosophy that opposes the notion that a philosophy can have a basic, primary, fundamental principle, and one that posits that “an introduction to philosophy can only be a critique of earlier philosophy.” (Ibid.)

Dr. Leonard Peikoff agrees that there is a specific “German romanticism” but does not provide terms for different stages of “German Romanticism”. (Nazism Versus Reason) He defines “German romanticism” as “the open revolt against reason and the Enlightenment” that had its “greatest influence- in Germany…and that man’s true source of knowledge….is: feeling- or passion, or intuition, or instinct, or faith, or the subconscious.” (Ibid.)

I believe that Dr. Peikoff’s definition is accurate for as I analyze the romantic aesthetics, epistemology-education and  ethics, the most central theme throughout will be the primacy of “feeling”, especially the feelings of “passion” and “intuition.”

Indeed, I contend that a significant number of the German population, as a result of the spreading romantic philosophy, were quite literally lost in a plague of unchecked passion, and were so enthralled by Hitler’s extreme, out of the ordinary passion, that many had an intuitive feeling that his incredible passion could save them, and so they submitted themselves to him.

ROMANTIC AESTHETICS

I think it is a very important point that, to a considerable degree, romanticism was first developed by philosophers who were contemplating art and poetry in the 1790’s  and, in fact, throughout the so called romantic movement in Germany and even at the onset of the birthing political Nazi movement, the political activism was led by very artistically minded men.  (As many know, Hitler himself was a failed artist).

I say this is important to note because one may not typically think of something as esoteric as art and aesthetics as a catapult for political movements. 

In any event, of romanticism’s origin, Millan-Zaibert tells us that in the 1790’s, “[in the very early stages of [the romantic] movement [the term romantic was used in Friedrich Schlegel’s] literary criticism to denote…subjective [poetry as opposed to] classical poetry [which] was objective…”and then later, in reference to “an appreciation for the subjective elements in art [more broadly], [and] a developing interest in viewing and understanding art in terms of its history.” (2004)  

This romantic aesthetic spread, developed and endured for over a century, and in fact, remained very key to romanticism as such, as well as the beginnings of the Nazi movement.

One very influential German thinker, for example, who wrote the bestselling Rembrandt als Erzieher in 1890 (Author Fritz Stern tell us “in the first two years the book went through thirty-nine editions”) said of art that it was “the highest good, the true source of knowledge and virtue.” (Stern, 1961) However, he added that “great art could spring only from the volk(The Aryan Germanic people as a unified community and state) and that from such art knowledge could be intuitively gained. (Ibid.)

The popularity of this book, according to Stern, which I am willing to grant, indicates that a significant number of Germans either agreed with him or were open to or interested in those key ideas.

The meaning to gain here from this romantic aesthetic is that it made reason an unpopular thing in Germany, and intuition the popular replacement, but also we see an aesthetic idea that embraces racism- most notably a view of Germanic/ Aryan supremacy and the idea that good art is dependent on adhering to that racist tenant. Moreover, art, and this view of art in particular, is posited as a something like a religion- but on what grounds? This leads us to romantic epistemology.

ROMANTIC EPISTEMOLOGY AND EDUCATION 

As romanticism developed and spread as an aesthetic philosophy, so to did the importance of subjectivity- the notion that knowledge (to whatever degree a subjectivist even believes in knowledge) is to be gained by feeling, and especially intuition and not by reason.

One necessary consequence of any given epistemological foundation is going to be the education that the youth of a culture receives. If parents, teachers, and professors agree that knowledge is to be gained one way or another by feeling, then curricula and pedagogy would of course follow suit and indeed it did. As we have seen from the romantic aesthetics, an emphasis was placed on the idea that good art can only come from communion with the volk. This general obsession with the Volk in aesthetics, and in other aspects of philosophy, was called Volkish thought and was a huge element of German education in the 1800’s.

Writes George L. Mosse: “Schools were founded according to Volkish blueprints and principles. In the state schools the ideology infiltrated into the minds of the students through books, curricula and teachers. [And then the teachers and students]…spread the ideas they had picked up.” (1964)

Mosse adds that Volkish ideology in the schools was the rule, not the exception.  (Ibid.) Also, as a result of Volkish ideology in schools, antisemitism began to spread; it was believed that “[Jews] could not be expected to have sufficiently deep or sacred feelings about [the Volk, and the Volk landscapes, the Volk History] to appreciate the message.” (Ibid.) Further, it was believed and propagated that the Jews were too intellectual for German Volkish schools.

Through these romantic Volkish schools, as is evidenced by a new racism, it can further be seen how a romantic ethics can be established and taught.

ROMANTIC ETHICS

Just like romantic aesthetics, and romantic epistemology centered on “feeling”, so too did romantic ethics.

In fact, it is the romantic ethics that are the most dangerous, because it is one’s code of ethics that mandate what essentially one is going to do with one’s life, and how one will treat one’s self and others.

By saying the romantic ethics are most dangerous I mean that perhaps through a subjective epistemology at least a universal compassion is a possible direction, or even, one could intuitively feel that at least sometimes there is a time and place for reason. (For example, it could be argued that American culture of today is pragmatic-existential and allows for degrees of subjectivity, but still concedes a value in science ((which absolutely depends on reason and empiricism)) and maybe even sometimes a degree of rational consideration with respect to treatment of others. Existentialists are by nature supposed to allow tolerance towards others as it posits that everybody can define their own meaning and values.)

Unfortunately, the romantic ethics essentially dictates a worship of feeling- especially of intuition and passion. I alluded to this earlier when I mentioned that art, and romantic aesthetics was viewed somewhat religiously and as superior to science.

Bertrand Russell writes that romantics had a “proneness to emotion…the emotion of sympathy…[which was] direct and violent and quite uniformed by thought.” (1945)  (I contend that this sounds quite a bit like Adolf Hitler. No, I do not mean to say that Hitler was actually sympathetic, but I would argue that he thought he was sympathetic to the cause of the aryan race and providing them living space and making them strong and that that which he believed to by his sympathy was arguably a major motivating factor.)

It is not just an obsession with emotion, and sympathy or perceived sympathy. It is an obsession with passion. Russell adds:

“It is not the psychology of the romantics that is at fault: it is their standard of values. They admire strong passions, of no matter what kind, and whatever may be their social consequences…..most of the strongest passions are destructive- hate and resettlement and jealousy, remorse and despair, outraged pride and the fury of the unjustly oppressed, martial ardor and contempt for slaves and cowards. Hence the type of man encouraged by romanticism…is violent and anti-social, an anarchic rebel or a conquering tyrant.” [Emphasis mine] (Ibid)

Upon reading that assessment of the romanticist’s obsession with passion, I contend that a person with a basic understanding of Hitler cannot help but think of him again, as Hitler was violent, anti-social, and a tyrant.

But were the German people in general violent, anti-social tyrants? Some clearly were because they voted for the Nazis and became Nazis and participated in mass genocide. Other Germans leaned towards the other kind of passion obsessed type that Russell mentioned- the anarchic rebel.

I say that because Germany, when it was the Weimar Republic became a near de-facto anarchy, which Benjamin Sax and Dieter Kuntz describe as a “severe crisis over the distribution of power…which destroyed the parliamentary system in 1930.” (1992)

Another property of the romantic ethics was the idea that one should cultivate a strong personality. As Mosse tells us about romantic-volkish education: “The strong personality was important for the school, not the strongest intelligence.” (1964)

 Robert W. Lougee calls this a “romantic individualism” which “ stressed the uniqueness of individuals, a uniqueness which placed them beyond conformity to any general law or principle” and “Man became a law and measure unto himself” and further yet, “developing one’s own individual nature is a primary objective.”(1959) 

I would make the argument, that here too, we see the manifestation of Hitler, who was obsessed with his personality- so obsessed that he had to be the captivating, charismatic center of attention and of control and his fellow Germans were to idolize him, and never question him. Also, I believe it is true that one could see that in a culture where passion, and a strong personality, and intuition are like moral imperatives, how would one not be vulnerable to Hitler?

After all, Hitler had a strong personality, and he was extremely passionate. For a person who views such concepts as moral imperatives, and sees a man so methodically and extremely practicing them, what vision other than Hitler’s would be able to compete for their- it hurts me to say- love and worship?   

Romanticism is an extremely complex, systemic philosophy. As a philosophy that was perhaps first developed with art in mind, i.e., in the philosophical branch of aesthetics, I believe, it should make one pause for a moment, for how often does one think of theories of art as potential precursors to something like the Holocaust?

In contrast, traditionally, perhaps, at least in western, or American culture, we think of art as the realm of a safe, free self expression, or maybe we think about Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa.  But isn’t even that possibility quite telling of art and art theory- that is- that it has, at least, a kind of political implication.

If a certain kind of art and/or a certain kind of aesthetic becomes popular, perhaps we ought to question what the implications might be. But a subjectivist aesthetic alone, although I think it is at best a bad habit, does not have to mean a subjectivist epistemology- that is to say, perhaps one might think that in the realm of art, one should be subjective, but in matters regarding “what is knowledge?” and “how do I gain knowledge” one could still be an objectivist, or at least partly. The romantic epistemology however, does away with this possibility.

In truth, the romantic epistemology is actually extremely complex if fully examined, as it not only upholds ideas such as ‘knowledge comes from intuition, not reason”, but it further holds complex ideas as to how ones ‘intuition’ can be informed.

In fact, it is so complex that I do not believe it could be fully explained in this specific discussion, however, I would emphasize, as I mentioned earlier, that the romantic epistemology holds that intuitive knowledge comes from a religiosity towards art, and, at least according to the German romanticism, from oneness with the Volk, which thus breeds racism and did breed especially, anti-semitism, and a general culture of basic irrationality, and the German romantic volkish schools truly indoctrinated these bizarre ideas and taught what would become a truly deadly, destructive system of ethics that worshipped extreme emotion, irrational passion, and “strong personality” above intelligence and intellect.

As I have said, it is no wonder, not only that an Adolf Hitler entered the German scene, but moreover, it is also no wonder that enough German people were duped by him and democratically elected him thus enabling him to do away with the democracy he used to gain power and impose his evil tyranny. 

This is important to keep in mind because Manfred Frank claims in his book The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism that the historical connection made between romanticism and Hitler’s Nazi Germany is an “invented” one and a “cliche”, because the Nazis “hated the protagonists of early German Romanticism.” (2004)

 That some Nazis may have hated philosophers who contributed to romanticism for any reason, or that they may have rejected some aspects of various versions of or takes on romanticism is to totally miss the point: that romanticism created, within German culture, enough people with the mentality-  the obsession with irrational art, the obsession with intuition, passion, racism, irrational, whimsical as opposed to intellectual and healthy cultivation of personality (or cultivation of personality for its own sake, as opposed to truly knowing one’s self and cultivating a good self)- that could be easily become or be swayed by Hitler and the Nazis and for any one who discusses this romanticism-nazism relationship and overlooks that and/or tells others to overlook it as “cliche” and “invented” is to literally ignore facts- which is exactly what the romantic epistemology called for, thus, such a person has fallen prey to it.

REFERENCES

1 Terese Pencak Schwartz, “The Holocaust: Non-Jewish Victims” in the Jewish Virtual Library (n.d) http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/NonJewishVictims.html  (accessed July 1st, 2016)

2 Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf  (London, New York, Melbourne: 1939), Kindle edition, chap 11 (Kindle Location 4548)

3 Hitler, Mein Kampf. (Kindle Location 4806-4808)

4 Benjamin Sax, Dieter Kuntz, “The Triumph of National Socialism, 1929-1933” in Inside Hitler’s Germany (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company, 1992) , 108-109

5 Leonard Peikoff, “Nazi Politics” in The Objectivist original ed Ayn Rand (Irvine, Ca, Second Renaissance Inc., 1990) 599

6 Peikoff, “Nazi Politics”, 560

Peikoff, “Nazi Politics II” in The Objectivist, 625

Lawrence Birken, “Prussianism, Nazism and Romanticism in the Thought of Victor Klemperer.” The German Quarterly, Vol. 72 , No. 1 (Winter 1999)  33-43,  http://www.jstor.org/stable/407902 accessed July 2, 2016

9 Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert, “Introduction: What is Early German Romanticism” in The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2004) Adobe Digital Editions, 1

10 Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert, “Introduction” , 11

11 Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert, “Introduction”, 10

12 Peikoff, “Nazism Versus Reason” in The Objectivist, 724-725

13 Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert, “Introduction”, 12

 14 Fritz Stern, “Critic as Failure” in The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study In the Rise of The Germanic Ideology (Berkley, Los Angeles and London: 1961, 1974, 1989) 109

15 Fritz Stern, “Critic as Failure” 98

16 Fritz Stern, “Critic as Failure” 138

17 Fritz Stern, “Critic as Failure” 119

18 George Mosse,  “Education Comes to the Aid.” In The Crisis of German Ideology,

(New York, NY: First Howard Fertig, Inc. 1964, 1998) 152      

19 George Mosse, “Education Comes to the Aid” 154

20 George Mosse, “Education Comes to the Aid” 155

21 George Mosse, “Education Comes to the Aid” 166

22 Bertrand Russell, “The Romantic Movement.”  In The History of Western Philosophy. (New York, NY: A Touchstone Book- Registered Trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1945, 1972.) 675

23 Bertrand Russell, “The Romantic Movement” 681

24 Benjamin Sax, Dieter Kuntz, Inside Hitler’s Germany 13

25 George Mosse, “Education Comes to the Aid” , 161

26 Robert W. Lougee “German Romanticism and Political Thought.” The Review of Politics 21, no. 4 (1959):  http://www.jstor.org/stable/1405644. 638-639

27 Manfred Frank, “On Early German Romanticism as an Essentially Skeptical Movement: The Reinhold- Fitche Connection” in The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2004) Adobe Digital Editions, 25

CBS’ SCOTT PELLEY: “I TRULY, DEEPLY, DO NOT CARE”; “MAYBE IT’S A GENTIC DEFECT”

I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the College Media Association (CMA) Spring National College Media Convention in Times Square, where I got to ask CBS’s Scott Pelley a few questions about freedom and bias.

The CMA describes itself on its website (http://www.collegemedia.org/site/about.html) as “the preeminent source for education and support for professionals and students engaged in creating all forms of student produced media on college and university campuses.”

Also according to the website, it was founded in 1954 and has more than 900 members.

The CMA published a program for the convention and inside that program it says they hold two annual conventions. Every Spring they hold a convention in New York City, and every fall the convention “convenes at varying sites across the country.”

One of the convention’s keynote speakers was CBS’ Evening New’s managing editor, Mr. Scott Pelley.

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Photo by Sean O’Connor 

When I got to question Mr. Pelley I mentioned some specific things that I found to be troubling that prompted me to ask my question: things such as the Washington Post article about former CBS employee Sharyl Attkisson, who resigned due to the network’s alleged liberal bias, and their alleged refusal to air certain stories on the Benghazi scandal (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2014/03/10/sharyl-attkisson-leaves-cbs-news/) , and a commentary in the USA TODAY that day on America’s drastic loss of freedom of the press. (Preserve Freedom Of The Press; Jonathan Turley; 3/13/14).

(It is worth noting that I was later told by an advisor at the convention who once interviewed President Barack Obama, that one should never ask someone in a political position to “comment” on something, because it only gives them the opportunity to dance around the issue. A point well made.)

While Mr. Pelley responded by saying “I will put The CBS Evening News- of which I am managing editor- up against any news organization, broadcast or print, when it comes to coverage of Benghazi”, and that he has been accused of having both a liberal and conservative bias, which in his opinion means he has “nailed” his interviews, he said nothing about whether or not he believed we are losing the freedom of the press.

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Photo by Sean O’Connor 

For Mr. Pelley to fail to point out that the U.S. Justice Department seized phone records of reporters and editors of the Associated Press,and seized records of Fox News phone lines, and that the FCC had planned to monitor news rooms, and grill journalists on how their organizations select news stories, and that these events are problematic, is, on his part, most discouraging, especially because he is a veteran journalist, and was in a room full of people who will become future members of the media industry.

It was also rather inconsistent with the message he began his speech with, as he spoke of how without a free press there is no democracy.

He identified the lack of free press in Syria but failed to mention a single attack on free press here in America. Considering how important the issue theoretically is to him, he should have at least raised questions: Should the government monitor news organizations?

If it does, what is the difference between news that is officially run by the state, and news which is unofficially run by the state?

Why do we call the unofficial state ownership of the press “free press”?

There is something else Mr. Pelley said, in response to another person’s question. Mr. Pelley was asked if he worries about being a tool of the government. He said he did not worry about that and then added “I don’t care whether there’s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House. I don’t care which party is in the leadership, on either side of the house or senate. Maybe it’s a genetic defect that I have of some kind, but I truly, deeply, do not care. My job is to report on what those people do or say and illustrate the contrast between what they do and say.” He said he is neither a conservative or a liberal, and that he just tries to “inflict as much pain on both of them” as he “possibly can, because…that’s what journalists do.”

It is one thing for a reporter to be unbiased in his official report, and another thing for him to have an opinion. Having an opinion does not make a reporter’s report inherently biased. Injecting an opinion into a report and refusing to tell all sides of the story is biased and is essentially what we would refer to as propaganda. I wonder what Mr. Pelley would say in response that.

I also wonder: was Mr. Pelley being honest?

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Photo by Sean O’Connor

Does he just tell us what he thinks we want to hear so we’ll like him and trust him, or does he mean it when he says he “truly, deeply [does] not care” whether America is led by Republicans or Democrats?

While I wish I could speculate that by not caring, he means that he believes both the Republicans and Democrats are corrupt and he himself is an independent, unfortunately his comment that “maybe it is a genetic defect” suggests that he doesn’t think that deeply about it, and instead, considers his apparent political apathy to be just some bizarre and very paradoxical aspect of his personality.

When he said that his job is to “report what those people do and say and illustrate the difference” and that “we [at the CBS Evening News] just try to inflict as much pain on both of them as we possibly can” it comes across as impersonal, detached, and somewhat nihilistic.

What does he mean when he says he tries to “inflict pain”?

Even supposing he is speaking figuratively, it still comes across as arbitrary since he “truly, deeply [does] not care” about who is leading America, causing his projected ideal image of a journalist to look, not like a person with a moral consciousness, but rather a sadomasochist who views an interview as a means of “inflicting pain” on people merely because it is his job to do so.

A journalist should care about the state of the universe. All people should care about everything that is produced, from ideas to food.

As for journalists in particular, it should be their rational consciences that prompt them to ask the questions they ask and report events honestly. No, not all journalists have to broadcast or publish commentaries.

Perhaps some would rather let reporters report, and commentators publish and broadcast their opinions. That is fine. But all people- no matter what job they work- should most certainly analyze the news and have opinions and share them if asked and act on those opinions.

I would have loved to ask Mr. Pelley if he even votes, and why or why not, but unfortunately there wasn’t enough time for me to ask a follow up question.

As I mentioned earlier, the CMA describes itself as “the preeminent source for education and support for professionals and students engaged in creating all forms of student produced media on college and university campuses”. If the association is what it claims to be, then it should be clear to students, that above all things, they should never be politically apathetic like Mr. Pelley, because in doing so, further attempts by the U.S. government to manipulate the media would grow more and more successful, would trickle down to the college media, and reach a point where American media begins to resemble the Syrian media that Mr. Pelley rightfully condemned.