On Ayn Rand, Senator Kamala Harris, etc… (Sean O’Connor’s Public Comment Video Diary Vlog– Episode #25)

I am utterly in love with the experience of thought. It’s like one can grasp any aspect of the universe one wants to touch and make sense of it, or integrate it with some other aspect….thus…keeping records of thoughts for me helps me pay homage to my love for them. But also, I believe that keeping records of thoughts is akin to tracing pieces of a soul…akin to aiding in the effort of expanding awareness of one another beyond the conventional depths.

TRANSCRIPT:

For the first time in… I actually don’t know how many years—maybe as many as half a decade (?)– I’m taking a look at Ayn Rand’s diaries.

Why?

Since my artistic interest here developed into keeping a video diary, and since I appreciate Ayn Rand’s epistemological clarifications of Aristotle’s laws of identity and non-contradiction, and her talks on objectivity and “Objectivism,” I thought I could at least find some insight or common ground with her, even-though ethics and politics…there Ayn Rand I essentially go our separate ways…Ayn Rand’s being an egoist, and myself…believing in what I call an ethical principle of compassion, which, requires caring about both one’s self, and others– not as an act of self-sacrificial or altruism;(ironically I think it is in one’s self interest to care about helping others, lest the society one lives in should crumble into a rather miserable ethos).

One thing I like about what Ayn Rand writes in the December of 1935 (when she’s only roughly 31….just two years younger than I am now) she is identifying her purposes for what would become The Fountainhead.

This leads me to wonder if I’m doing a good enough job defining my own purposes.

To review and perhaps clarify (?) first and foremost: I am utterly in love with the experience of thought. It’s like one can grasp any aspect of the universe one wants to touch and make sense of it, or integrate it with some other aspect….thus…keeping records of thoughts for me helps me pay homage to my love for them. But also, I believe that keeping records of thoughts is akin to tracing pieces of a soul…akin to aiding in the effort of expanding awareness of one another beyond the conventional depths.

(One reason I love YouTube so much more than Twitter is that someone can post a vlog that is really as long as they feel like, you can gaze into his or her eyes and see the expressions on his or her face as he or she bears his or her soul to you… very little is more precious to me than this.)

There is also my love for preserving time…and essentially traveling time in a way… one reason why I am willing to share with you old videos of myself…despite feeling actually depressed by re-watching them; they bring up awful memories and a lot of shame and humiliation. It is… nonetheless, life preserved…kept…tangible…time travel of sorts again as I was saying.

Anyway, I don’t want to get too caught up with my refrain of purpose though in the context of pointing out what I read from Ayn Rand it seemed appropriate to me.

Whenever I think of Ayn Rand I think also of my Grandfather. When I was…roughly 13 and told him I was an atheist he encouraged me to read The Fountainhead and talked about how Ayn Rand was an interesting atheistic philosopher. He said sometimes that she was his favorite philosopher.

I’ve been waiting for the right time to begin talking to you about Ayn Rand more…a woman who changed my world so fundamentally and so powerfully that I suspect the impact will last most of my life.

To be sure….I can’t tell you everything in a single entry because it’s a complex and extraordinarily long-winded topic…and I think Ayn Rand is complex to discuss because her epistemological ideas are so different than her political ones.

Its like she’s two different people. Objective and then idealistic.

I barely recall the first time I read Ayn Rand…The Fountainhead… I was 23 and a half. Living in Chesterfield, NJ. All I took from the novel… initially was the value–which I already possessed, I thought– of not shying away from one’s individuality, not being afraid to be “different” and challenge [like the novel’s protagonist Howard Roark] the conventions of the masses [Toohey, et al]. That was nothing new to me though… so on a first reading it was essentially Ayn Rand preaching to the choir.

[see 17:41- 20:34 in the video here to get a sense of what I was like at 23 years old in Chesterfield.]

The seocnd reading a year later was quite different. I had just recently turned 25 (or was just about to. I don’t have my dates exact here) and had just thrown out my second novel and quit my brief ustream.tv/YouTube vlogging phase, and was reading Ulysses by James Joyce, which was just too hard at the time for me to read or appreciate.

The problem I had with Joyce was that I would spend hours just looking up words because he went out of his way at times to use words that were obscure and archaic. I can in hindsight appreciate the artistry of that effort. Maybe I’d enjoy his writing more today. But at the time it was not resonating with me. I don’t know what it was I felt I needed to read or expose myself to intellectually then that Joyce just wasn’t offering but I felt myself in a tremendous rut.

I don’t know how many of you know the story but I confided in my wife about the rut and…noting (because she always knows me so well) that I value individualism, she suggested I re-read The Fountainhead and that maybe I’d find some inspiration from it. It felt like I was reading it for the first time. I saw “individualism” in a new light…not as an obvious self-esteem thing but rather…as a philosophical idea deeply in contrast to what she called “collectivism.”

I mean, I hadn’t thought of the philosophical debate before…I hadn’t thought of individualism as a theme to delve into because prior to this…again…the value of individualism… to me… was just a given.

Why did I need to therefore plunge into something which seemed so obvious?

It was also the case, as I recall it now, that, having failed to sell my self-published book, and noting that Ayn Rand managed to write best sellers, perhaps I could learn something from her. How had she managed to be a philosopher who could also make a lot of money?

That was when I decided I needed to delve into her and see if I could figure out her secret.

In exploring the writings about her and things she wrote herself, I was exposed to the notion of money as private property…something you work for that… when taxed… is taken from you… despite your right to that money.

I lacked a nuanced way to contemplate the concept of taxation then but I was thinking for the first time about rights and function of government on the one hand, and delving also into Ayn Rand’s more “esoteric” writings on knowledge, logic, conceptualization and such. I was, for the first time, gaining an understanding of knowledge… as possible! (My prior subjectivst epistemology is a loaded discussion. Let us just say for now I refused to accept any absolute, unchanging sense of “reality.”)

So key aspects of fundamental philosophical consciousness were developing within me directly as a result of exploring and contemplating Ayn Rand. That summer especially, I spent every second I could, when not working at the grocery store, studying my Ayn Rand books. I borrowed someone’s copy of Atlas Shrugged and took that novel on, taking notes and writing responses to ideas and such. I want to cite just a few lines from this novel that remain today central to my thinking :

She writes the axiom:

existence exists….something exists which one perceives and that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of percieving that which exists.

A is A. A thing is itself… the law of identity….a leaf cannoty be a stone at the same time…”

And she defines reason as

the faculty that percieves, idenifies, and integrates the material provided by [one’s] senses

the art of non-contradictory identification [adding that] A contradiction cannot exist

(see pp 929-930)

Say what one will about where Ayn Rand unfortunately deviates from there but… the importance of embracing these fundamental metaphysical and epistemological principles, in my view seems like something that one just can’t overstate. It is the basis of science, journalism and truth…of constructive thought.

Still…oh the irony of how Ayn Rand made this tremendous contribution philosophy yet…alas…beyond that, fails to apply her own ideas of non-contradiction.

As opposed to being an Objectivist I think she is more like an idealist…I think she sees ideologies in there pure forms, and sees them only in their pure forms, and I believe Ayn Rand has this view of humans as sort of naturally prone to extreme rationality and thus…in the case of say…a  libertarian political system, where people are given immense freedom…they abuse it…slavery, exploitation, et cetera.

I’ll have more to say about Ayn Rand in the future but I will stick to bringing her up only as is appropriate to where my thoughts are in a given point in time, as opposed to writing some massive thing about her.

***

Two Friends of mine and I yesterday debated some of the candidates in the Democratic Presidential primary election. We spoke specifically about Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. My friend criticized Kamala Harris for changing her views on prostitution.

At one point, he says, she apparently supported legalization and then flaked out. A New York Times article published…conveniently…just today….reports Sen. Harris as on the record in support of decriminalizing prostitution, citing an undated Facebook interview from The Root.

She did also say at a CNN Town Hall event on April 23, that she is in favor of decriminalizing prostitution. Strangely, Reason magazine characterizes what she says as not decriminalization.

Literally putting words in her mouth and misrepresenting her, Elizabeth Nolan Brown writes:

Harris still thinks paying for sex should be a crime, she just wants to classify all female sex workers as victims so as to avoid arresting them.

Disturbingly…in my opinion…. Brown completely ignores Sen. Harris’s point that pimps trafficking minors should be prosecuted. Sen. Harris did not say “paying for sex should be a crime.” I’m not sure why Brown says this. Harris says

we should not be criminalizing women who are engaged in consensual opportunities for employment

My other friend made a comment saying that Kamala Harris flip-flopped on healthcare. I am not sure where he got this information from but it is inaccurate.

Conservative and Libertarian sites widely reported that Kamla Harris said she wanted to eliminate private health insurance plans and then changed her mind. That’s not what she said though. She listed complaints about how private plans tend to harm people and said “let’s eliminate all that” but she never said “let’s eliminate private health insurance.”

It is really haunting how people put words in one another’s mouths. One more reason why I feel so passionate about keeping this video diary…it seems as if many in the media get away with not really listening and that people seem to believe it regardless of what the record actually is.

The first friend I was telling you about….this fellow also criticized Elizabeth Warren for being so adamant about the need to impeach president Trump. This friend emphasized that a year ago when the two of us were passionately pro impeaching president Trump, Senator Warren was not. He thinks she is merely an opportunist who, now running for president thinking she can score political points, says she wants to see the president impeached.

My friend contrasted her to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, saying Pelosi is is more measured. But I disagree. I think Pelosi may be trying to appear measured but comes across as tepid and a slave to re election anxiety.

(By the way…news just recently broke around 10 am this morning…from The Hill and The New York Times:  that Sen. Warren is calling for making it clear that a president can be indicted. This by the way, makes sense, and I am impressed by Sen. Warren saying what absolutely must be said with respect to where policy must go!)

But back to impeachment…my friend views Pelosi’s cautiousness as politically smart…that by leaving the option open but not committing to it quite, she is rallying support so to speak without alienating independents and moderate or uncertain Democrats who will be turned off by rushed impeachment. But Sen. Warren says over and over again that… essentially… some things matter more than “politics” and I agree!

What my friend fears is that if rushed impeachment hurts Democrats that could lead to the GOP’s taking back power and abolishing Obamacare and other healthcare protections. I do understand feeling protective of healthcare policy but I think if every policy position is excessively based on gauges of public support or constituents giving up their support then what conscience does one have? How safe would our healthcare be in such a world then?

My name is Sean O’Connor and I thank you for checking out my video diary vlog. I call it “Public Comment” to underscore the value of commenting on one’s most valued thoughts publicly, of soul-sharing. Though I like to think wide and deep in our increasingly specialization -and -niche oriented international society the three most basic subjects my diary tends to focus on focus on include politics, culture and self. Though my approach is philosophical, political and intellectual, I’m also emotional and artistic. I’m a registered Democrat and thus lean liberal but I don’t bind myself to any political party. I’m 33, live in New Jersey with my wife, recently graduated William Paterson University with a BA in Liberal Studies, and currently work as a writing tutor for Mercer County Community College. Please enjoy my videos, subscribe if you want to follow along, and join the conversation in the comments sections.

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On my Atheism Phase, “Universally Speaking,” As Anthony Kiedis Puts It (Sean O’Connor’s Public Comment video diary vlog– episode #18)

I dismiss entirely a notion I believe is in part upheld based on postmodern type grounds that confine people to little groups of their own values which have nothing to do with groups beyond theirs… (even if so called intellectuals want to think themselves the only people who can intellectualize in a meaningful way)– I mean…this is not directed to so called “intellectuals” though I admit there are grounds to describe my tone as “intellectual” or “esoteric”

TRANSCRIPT:

Hey ‘y’all! (Yes, yes, my fondness of the expression “‘y’all,” despite my coastal, NJ/NY Metropolitan intellectual “Yankee” ((?)) upbringing and cultural practices ((?)) manners of putting things ((?)) continues to grow)

I understand, based on viewer feedback that I might want to try not speaking so slow. Why do I do it? Can I blame my poetry phases? My acting phases? I don’t know. I do like the weight of a word.

Anyway, I want to ask you: do you identify with any particular religion?

I mean, when “push comes to shove” as they say (Yes, I love to say “as they say” and I love those little sayings “they” say— of course…who is they? Some mysterious crowd of people in our minds?) …

I mean, when faced with your sense of mortality or your contemplations on the subject of life in a general way…you know…that very wide angled panoramic view of our births, our childhoods, teenage years, young adulthood (ah…channeling Walt Whitman’s genius poem “Eidolons” here?) the intense desire for sex and whether or not you believe in the depth of romantic relationships, and whether or not you believe in monogamy, marriage, parenthood, sense of purpose, sense of meaning….the meaning of the work you do and the money you make, spend, save, how much you do or do not care about how what you do impacts your health, what you make of social life, whether you want friends, what those friendships are supposed to be like in your mind, how you handle disagreements, when you think about what care about, what some of us might refer to as your “values” or “priorities” or “interests”– when you feel sad and reflect…do you in that context call yourself an Atheist, a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, a Sikh, a Buddhist? (Just to name a few “religions” or “ideological identities” of the many possibilities).

To what extend have you, within the greatest depths of your convictions, justified, on the granular level, those kinds of religious, ideological, philosophical beliefs you have?

I remember the first ideological/philosophical/religious thought I ever had.

Now, I don’t know where I first heard of the concept of a “God” but I remember at roughly three years old, I asked my grandmother if God was a boy or a girl and my grandma said: “God is whatever you want it to be.”

That is one of the earliest memories I have in general and perhaps closest to the vertabtim of any of my early childhood memories.

I don’t know when it occurred to me that my father’s side of the family was theoretically “Christian” and my mother’s “Jewish,” but I remember when a dear friend of mine asked me what my religion was. I was not older than 13 when that happened and first I joked and said I was Jatholic because all I knew was that there was contradictory religions professed in my complex family with mother, father, stepfather and stepmother all possessing very unique ideological notions.

My dear friend pressed me to really think about what in fact I identified with regarding religion.

I got to thinking about “Santa Clause” which I knew was a lie by then (or a fun, make-believe idea perhaps we want to call it?)

I got to thinking about scientific concepts such as empiricism (terribly ironic too because I failed Math class and didn’t care at all about science…yet science reined supreme in my mind regardless of my interest in it)

No. I did not know the word “empiricism” or if I did, I don’t remember knowing  or using it then. But it did appear to me…whatever God could theoretically be, it is beyond empirical reach…and absent any legitimate scientific proof as far as I could understand, atheism seemed a perfectly fair mentality to me.

And I thought….the God idea is exceptionally comforting…and I thought…interesting that someone would claim to be the son of a God with no proof and people just believe it…and just believe these heaven and hell ideas. And they have the pretentiousness to tell you that God is something you just have to be primed to “feel” and have “faith” in and if you can’t there is something wrong with you.

I became a full fledged atheist and yet my best friend at the time was what he called a “Seventh Day Adventist Christian.”

Our deepening ideological differences, as opposed to creating some kind of crack in our friendship, appeared to give it tremendous strength. I cannot begin to tell you how many countless hours this individual and I spent debating, from every angle we could, the question of why one should or should not believe a God exists.

And moreover, how should people regard a text such as the Bible?

And…what would the implications of these things be? For example, from certain Seventh Day Adventist Christian perspectives I was exposed to, various aspects of sexuality were regarded as sin.

No sex before marriage.

No masturbating.

No lust.

That always troubled me as much as the notion of a God. I thought the notion that a person should not masturbate or explore his or her sexuality was one of the most absurd notions one could possibly come up with.

And there was music many of these kinds of Christians were not supposed to listen to, and ideas of women as subservient that some of these Christians possessed, and a perplexing fixation on Republican politicians…

Other questions that were raised… from the perspective of many who believe in God– I came to learn from this friend of mine-. For example: since God absolutely existed, they thought, truth in general was an absolute thing.

So this was all an introduction for me to the questions of “philosophy” and ethics.

I wonder…if it were not for this brilliant person…this deep, intellectual, philosophical thinker I was so lucky to meet, whether I would have delved so deeply into those topics so many people I know refer to as intellectual or philosophical.

Beyond the scope of the atheism versus Christianity debate I had with this person and then others as I began to develop my own beliefs….and whatever questions arose in this realm…I never thought about concepts such as “philosophy” or “intellectualism.”

I didn’t even…as a teenager, know the meaning of “philosophy” and ironic as this may seem, anyone who, at that time, might have thought themselves “intellectual” was probably somehow — I don’t know how I arrived at this conclusion– detached from life in a more visceral sense.

Because I was an “artist.”

I wasn’t troubled by (or in fact in possession of the confidence to contemplate) notions some might consider “esoteric.”

I want to digress briefly on this concept of the esotertic here.

I am very opposed to a real niche type approach to communication—that is to say, I try to the best of my ability to speak to you in as universal a way…as universal a perspective as I can.

And what do I mean by that? By Universal?

I mean…I don’t view myself as talking exclusively to “intellectuals”  or “artists” or “academics” or “YouTubers” or “Facebookers” or “millennials” or my contemporaries…I mean…for all we know…someway and somehow, this video file will reach an alien life form that can somehow….decipher it.

My point is this…I dismiss entirely a notion I believe is in part upheld based on postmodern type grounds that confine people to little groups of their own values which have nothing to do with groups beyond theirs… (even if so called intellectuals want to think themselves the only people who can intellectualize in a meaningful way)– I mean…this is not directed to so called “intellectuals” though I admit there are grounds to describe my tone as “intellectual” or “esoteric”

((Oh, that reminds me of another “conviction” I had growing up as a kid and a teenager…I didn’t believe in cliques….didn’t want to belong to, confine myself to, or identify with a clique…I didn’t want to be a “jock” or a “nerd:” or a “dork” or a “geek” or a “stoner” or a “goth” or a “punk” or an “emo” or a “band geek” or a “theater geek” or a “bad kid” or any type of group-oriented identifying thing… (though naturally I was an atheist in a purely objective and descriptive sense).

This actually contributed to chronic loneliness as everyone around me seemed to gravitate towards a particular crowd and even when I did gravitate this way or that way I never felt bound to or married to my gravitation.

Getting back to my point here… I’m not targeting anyone IN PARTICULAR here.

What’s that line by Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chilly Peppers?

“Universally Speaking I win in the long run”

And this chain of particular thoughts is to be continued because it’s complex and who doesn’t love a good “to be continued?”

LOL as I love to say. Talk to you tomorrow


Public Comment is a personal journal vlog where I share my free thoughts on politics, culture, and self.

Please feel free to share your thoughts with me at sean.publiccomment@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter at 
https://twitter.com/sopubliccomment 

A Better World? Who’s Gonna Care? (Sean O’Connor’s Public Comment video diary vlog– episode #17)

…suddenly it occurred to you that in fact, if you look at it from this other perspective, you could make more money doing x, reach more people doing y, keep your soul doing z, et cetera…

TRANSCRIPT:

To what can I attribute the confusion over the decades plaguing me with respect to matters of career?

So many things happen to interest me.

In the broadest sense, I suppose we could perhaps characterize my condition as culture transfixion syndrome? (My father– who was a psychologist– actually hypothesized sometimes that I suffered from ADD. Ironically now I’m the opposite of the ADD type– I enjoy hyper focus to the point that the slightest distraction irritates me like nails on a chalkboard– even innocent things like a text message alert from my cellphone while I’m reading and taking notes on the news.)

Anyway, my point is that in my utter fascination with life and culture, naturally–I hope you’d grant– I like envisioning cultural improvements: better movies, better politics, better literature, better philosophical principles. How does one pick from that lot when one wants, in the broadest sense, to conceptualize what it might mean to help and do one’s part in advancing us towards “a better world?”

Yes, since I was a kid I’ve had lofty ambitions though in those days perhaps those ambitions were… more egotistical?

Marred by my sense of utter and complete incompetence, I suppose the perfect elixir was the dream that one day I might be the opposite.

You know…day in and day out envying like mad hell the people you think look so much better than you, who are so much smarter than you, who come from so much more money than you— of course you might, in this context, dream of something that feels better. I think even when I used to want to be president of the United States— at least the first time I believed I wanted to do that– in part I just wanted to believe I really could achieve it! When you have the bizarre notion that everyone around you is just inherently better than you…if you have a certain kind of defense mechanism you want to think you could be as good…maybe even sometimes you want to think…I could be better…to feel like you are better…or best! Have you ever “been there and done that?” Wished for the feeling of true excellence? The kind that wins you praise, money, sense of power?

But at some point– I can’t say exactly when– I began to change and care more about…just wanting to prove to myself I could acquire and develop a basic sense of competence and critical thinking ability.

One reason I’ve always been so shy is because I knew at least that I didn’t really know how to think about things critically– how to process, for example, the latest news that…oh…for example…if we were to apply this to today’s news…that Google said to hell with Huawei! And what that means..

. (I say, Go Google Go! Right on! God bless China and all but I’m not for enriching those who imprison critics and Uighur Muslims just for being critics and Uighur Muslims. And I think Google demonstrates some sense of integrity– even if in theory it is good PR to suspend business with Huawei and the protest isn’t entirely genuine– Google didn’t HAVE to make any kind of stand. There’s plenty I don’t know about Google but I know I respect that they’re not afraid to make Huawei think!)

Anyway, my point is that just a few years ago I would not have had the courage to even contemplate technological news because I lacked the confidence.

And so now…to get…psychological with you…it would seem…my sense of ambition is transforming…focusing less on maybe…subconscious (?) needs to believe I can grow more valuable than I believed I was — and now…more on …very…direct…interests.

Is “direct” the right word?

I’m interested in thought in a very cut and dry sense…personal thoughts on navigating through life, interpreting and processing the surrounding culture, and acting ethically, thinking logically, talking “straight” as some may put it…straight as in straight forward, not heterosexual…though I am heterosexual but I have nothing but love and support for the LGBTQ movement, sexual liberation, and all of that.

I should tell you, the career aspiration confusion though…it was more complicated than that.

(Hey…if you want to know the value of an English degree or a few literature courses…it’s understanding in a visceral way, beyond the psychology “research” papers, the complexity of human nature…I think we are rather rarely so 1, 2, 3, or 4 etc dimensional.)

Even when I’ve been at my most belligerent and condescending, would you believe me if I insisted to you that I had good intentions?

Really, even if my thinking has suffered severely from extreme irrationality and subjectivity, I’ve usually had good intentions and usually have desired deeply to do my part in making this a “better world.” Even in my acting days, as a young teenager…for example, I played an Auschwitz survivor, and wrote the one-man- movie about him, and the goal was to raise awareness about the importance of never forgetting the Holocaust.

I also played a cocaine addict. I didn’t write that movie but took the role seriously because I believed in raising drug addiction awareness.

Even in my love for the Bee Gees by the way…their music is about romantic love…as opposed to anger, hatred, utter depression and despondency…

So…you get these lofty hopes for the world in your mind and you wonder—well I don’t know if you do…but I have…I wondered…what is the best way for me to make this a better world based on my understanding of what a better world might be!?!

And the little things can mess it up. For example, at times I’ve not wanted to be a poet SIMPLY because I know very few people care about poetry and therefore my efforts could be in vein.

At times I’ve not wanted to write political commentaries because…unless I have a column…who is gonna care. It’s not like the New York Times is gonna publish my Facebook note. It’s not like my opinion holds so much weight. So…when your ambitions are intense and for awhile your convinced of a particular strategy by which to express your ethical hopes only to find that some bit of information suggests…seemingly credibly to you— that your strategy and your plan is ultimately useless…that no one will care…(isn’t that the worst one…feeling no one will call in the massive din of competing voices?) or that suddenly it occurred to you that in fact, if you look at it from this other perspective, you could make more money doing x, reach more people doing y, keep your soul doing z, et cetera? Could I get an amen on this one folks?

Have a great day in the meantime and I shall chat with you tomorrow.

Public Comment is a personal journal vlog where I share my free thoughts on politics, culture, and self.

Please feel free to share your thoughts with me at sean.publiccomment@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter at 
https://twitter.com/sopubliccomment 


On Finding My Dream Job Because YOLO (Sean O’Connor’s Public Comment video diary vlog– episode #16)

How does one determine one’s dream job and why does it matter?

TRANSCRIPT:

Good day, folks! (Yes, I’m playing with my opening line today. Usually it’s just “greetings ladies and gentlemen!” but I want to embrace experimentation)

But moving on: What do you want to be when you grow up?

This question, and my variety of answers through the years (I’m 33 years old now…does that count as “grown up?” Sometimes I think not working one’s “dream job,” or not earning a desirable wage are things that can make one feel less “grown up,” “adult,” “empowered to practice responsible adulthood,” et cetera, as the “grown ups” talk about property taxes they pay on the homes they own, the expenses related to bringing up their children, et cetera. This is all worked in to my confused notion of equating landing your dream job with growing up).

One of the privileges that I believe Americans and other Western countries, along with the wealthier factions of other nations, get to enjoy is aiming for that  “dream job”— conceptualizing such a thing—what is my dream job?

As the strangeness of our still relatively new internet economy continues to shake up the old order of things, that seemed to endure… approximately from after  World War 2, and into the early part of the first decade of the 2000’s, and as a millennial in this changing marketplace, the notion of a job worth putting all of my effort towards capturing has boggled my mind a bit.

For example, intellectually speaking, since I tend to think about and approach questions in what I think is an academic way, I thought seeking a job in academia was entirely logical for me.

With over two years of experience as a writing tutor “under my belt” (as they say) and a lovely 3.98 GPA, graduate academia seemed like simply a natural progression of what I’ve already been doing.

But academia’s prospects, as I’ve scoured Indeed.com and Glassdoor.com, and as I’ve heard insiders speak out on the budgetary bleakness of prospects even for those armed with a PhD under their belts, and as the revolutionary abundance of information and resources for digital productivity available on the internet seem only on the uptick, I’m not sure, as a long term investment, that the depths of academia seem so wise—at least, not for me.

I’ve been troubled over the question of where I’m supposed to look for a “job,” how exactly I’m supposed to look, et cetera.

Obviously, I could render my college education, which I poured my very life and soul into – perhaps to excess?—utterly useless and just dive back into some easy retail position where I won’t make so much money, unless I rise on up into management, but that simply doesn’t interest me.

Ha!

This reminds me of something someone recently said to me: “you young people” he said, “have to be happy” — as opposed to just finding work.

But why not?

YOLO, as they say.

(Do they still say that?)

I do not want to waste my life negating and denying the depths of my soul engaged in activities that mean only a simple means to an end.

If there is a God, which I speculate there is, what an insult to IT, (I don’t call God a he or a she as I think God is neither quite a person or an advocate of sexism) to simply ignore one’s potential, one’s soul, one’s dreams!

Okay then, so what the hell do I want to do with myself?

Perhaps you’ve heard this story of mine. By the time I was 10 years old I thought I wanted to be an actor, screenwriter, movie producer. In the years that followed I idolized Meryl Streep, John  Travolta and Tom Hanks—among other actors. When I was about 13, In the depths of my John Travolta craze ,I fell in love with the unique and romantic style of their Bee Gees and the music they produced for Saturday Night Fever.

(I asked a handful of my coworkers if they had seen it. Most had not. It reminded me of middle school days and how I felt very, very alone in my love for the Bee Gees. Everyone else was into Brittney Spears and Eminem. I could not relate to either. )

But I wanted to do what the Bee Gees did: write songs.

That became my new dream. Of course, I could not sing or play a musical instrument, so I’d just have to be a poet.

Upon my entrance to college, I juggled desires to write novels and poems, and in a fit of cockiness and naivete I dropped out, thinking some how I could “make it” as a poet. And then I wanted to be a philosopher (though  not one who got a university degree). And then I wanted to be a politician. And then I wanted to be a documentarian. And then I wanted to be a political commentator. And then I wanted to do this. And then I wanted to do that.

My point is this: I’ve contemplated so many possible jobs and through the years, struggled to “stick to one.”

Of course…some of you might be able to relate as we now live in what is for some considered a “gig economy.”

Unless you’re relatively young and have a job in the STEM fields, you may likely be forced to learn how to juggle and integrate a number of jobs just to pay your bills. In this context, the swirl of job prospect confusion worth injecting a deep personal investment in seems understandable.

Anyway, so goes the story and context of my contemplations regarding “dream job” over the last few decades.

What about now? Now I have a bachelor’s degree. What do I do? What do I want to do? What do I really want? (And what SHOULD I do?)

Do you think I am a narcissist if I say THIS, HERE, is what I want to do? (Well, people buy Charles Bukowski books…he wrote this way, but he glamorized his misogyny and alcoholism, so I have to believe this could be [ or ought to be] more marketable than that, as I strive to project a more constructive world view…Identifying what I think, and sharing it all in that context?

Talking to you about my thoughts.

I realize not everyone can be what some call a “YouTube Star.”

I’ve plunged myself into research on the question of how vlogs and blogs manage to become widely shared. Some tips WordPress rather ambiguously suggests: be “interesting, important and/or funny.”

Of course what does that mean?

By the way…I’m not funny.

I cannot be funny. I don’t know how.

I may have told you this before but it seems to be a genetic defect. Anytime I make someone laugh it seems to have been pure accident. Moreover, and perhaps this explains it…I don’t really enjoy trying to be funny. Not that I don’t enjoy those who do. It’s a pleasure working with, and socializing with such people. But it’s simply not me.

I have a “serious” disposition. (Maybe we can blame my father? He used to say, when he took my picture, “don’t smile” in a dark, quiet, ominous voice.).

To be clear, it is not as though I’m depressed or depressing or melancholy or incapable of smiling. In fact, I tend to be in a good mood most of the time.

So what do I mean by “serious” anyway? Less so than serious, I suppose, overall I simply just tend not to joke a lot.  More so then…a lack of joking than extreme impersonal “seriousness.” That, and I always tend to be in the depths of my psychological and philosophical evaluations of things—do I agree with workplace policy? If not, that tends to annoy me and I try and conceptualize a better policy.

For example, at the community college where I work: how do they decide how newly admitted students will be placed into their first English or Math classes or if such coursework ought to be required? This is a loaded discussion in itself so I won’t digress, but I have my opinions, and my opinions seize me like air seizes my lungs. (Or should I say, like my lungs seize air).

So perhaps more so than serious, I am extremely “opinionated” and passionate about my opinions. (The opinion page is my favorite page in the newspaper, and for awhile I was an opinion page editor for the College VOICE, so I suppose that much adds up).

Then with respect to the question of what job out there I desire…first and foremost, I want a job where my opinions count.

One of the most miserable aspects of working retail is that my opinions counted for nothing. (In fact I felt as if I counted for nothing since I was paid severely little…I think a whole 10.50 an hour in my prime with a random and inconsistent number of hours per week?)

For example, the customer, they tell you, is always right.

That is far from true. Sometimes the customer is right and sometimes the customer is wrong.

Not that I fail, by the way, to appreciate doing all one can to make one’s customer happy. I do believe in exceptional customer service.

But not at the expense of being insulted, being treated as a robot, not being worth a “hello, how are you” and just turning into a receptacle for the customer’s anxiety to get out of the store as quick as possible and lodge their sometimes irrational complaints at you, maybe because a coupon was expired for example, but they demanded it to be honored anyway.

Meanwhile…they’re on their cellphones treating you as if indeed, you are literally just a transactional machine. I tried to articulate my beliefs in a set up where cashiers could preserve a bit more dignity but…I will give you a perfect example of how little management cared.

A man who used to work for this one place I cashiered, his name was Bob— may he rest in peace now— he was an older man, I think close to his eighties if not already in his eighties, and had given decades of his life to this grocery store company and Bob had some ideas on how the store might improve its operations.

So he wrote it all out in an 8 page letter—that is what he told me—and gave it to the man who owned the stores. The man never so much as acknowledged reading it or even receiving it.

If at all possible, I do not EVER want to work for such an arrogant, disinterested company ever again.

Opinions, if they are backed by facts and logic, ought to at least count for something such as basic respect.

I’m not saying I’d rather be on the streets. We do what we must in this life. But to the degree which we can identify and strive for what we most deeply want— I’m stating as much for the record!

The WordPress article also says to be “important.”

I’m not sure I know how to be important— at least not in your eyes, though I do know at least what’s “important” to me, and in fact, I try to treat that which I view as important with “the utmost importance.” (I’ll give forms of that word a rest now. Ha ha. As I try to be slightly funny. I didn’t say I would succeed but I give myself credit for trying)

That’s why I try to read and take notes on the news every morning. What, of consequence, is occurring in the world? Even when things don’t appear to affect me directly—take the abortion question for example, as I am not a woman and thank God and knock on wood but my wife and I don’t appear to be embedded in a scenario right now where we have to address the question—it affects the society I live in, and I believe the well-being of society impacts the well-being of the individual, even if it is beyond the scope of his or her recognition…unless you choose to be totally oblivious…which by the way… I’ve done before…

I don’t mean to suggest that not having an x amount of knowledge on the news necessarily means someone is oblivious.

That would be unreasonably and rudely presumptuous. Though I would say, getting back to this YOLO issue….

If you only live once, will you make the most of your look at the world…at the universe…will you see it with as much depth and understanding as you can, or will you…cheapen your experience?

Thus, you see, I find a relationship between importance and richness of life experience even if I have not quite figured out how to make myself important and enriching to others, or how to show that I could.

On Republicans for Impeaching Trump & Soft (Sean O’Connor’s Public Comment video diary vlog–episode #14)


THE TRANSCRIPT:

Greetings ladies and gentlemen. Today I want to talk to you briefly about the stability of the Republican obsession with subservience of sorts to Trump, the blessing and curse –I’m being slightly rhetorical and hyperbolic here– of freedom of productivity, and my slow but steady development of thoughts on crafting and aesthetics of the vlog…as both a means of effective, meaningful communication and as an artistic medium

 Republican Congressman from Michigan, Justin Amash, and Fox New’s Chris Wallace recently offered a slight iota of new criticism aimed at Trump from Republicans and the Conservative Media, which I find at least a little uplifting, though by no means  am I deluding myself with notions that this means there’s a significant crack in the egg, so to speak.

Yesterday, Representative Amash Tweeted:

Here are my principal conclusions:

1. Attorney General Barr has deliberately misrepresented Mueller’s report. 2. President Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct. 3. Partisanship has eroded our system of checks and balances. 4. Few members of Congress have read the report.

He tweeted quite a bit…he also said:

Impeachment, which is a special form of indictment, does not even require probable cause that a crime (e.g., obstruction of justice) has been committed; it simply requires a finding that an official has engaged in careless, abusive, corrupt, or otherwise dishonorable conduct.

And, regarding the actions of attorney General William Barr,  Fox News Journalist Chris Wallace said on television last Friday :

“he clearly is protecting this president and advocating his point of view on a lot of these issues.”

He also conceded that :

“I think there are other lawyers who would say…he certainly was not forthcoming [to congress] about what he knew about Mueller’s opinion”  

I wouldn’t quite characterize Wallace’s attempt at objectivity a victory for holding Attorney General Barr, or President Trump accountable, however, I believe we must note that Fox News — the Trump train propaganda machine— doesn’t…as far as I know… pressure or require its so called journalists to entertain the notion that Barr is putting his strange and perplexing public relations protection of President Trump above honesty and justice. (By the way, do any of you have a theory on the story with Attorney General Barr? What does he GET out of working as another one of Trump’s sycophants? I wonder– but don’t have grounds to quite suppose– if Trump has some kind of blackmail on people like Barr, Giuliani, Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham– people who so strikingly changed their anti-Trump tune).

What are we to make of the perplexing reluctance of Republicans and Conservatives to stand up to President Trump with respect to…virtually anything? Are we witnessing not just the cliche political corruption but true moral corruption, a swath of politicians, lobbyists, and pundits who have chosen to switch off their consciences as we find ourselves with direct evidence of president Trump’s obstruction of justice, violation of the constitution’s emoluments clause, cruelty towards political asylum seekers  (some of whom are children or babies) and expressed admiration for tyrants?

The psychology and their supposed pragmatics behind it truly arouse my curiosity.

You may note I’m producing these vlogs a little differently now. Now, I write down what I want to say, even if I improvise or omit  additional comments here or there. You may also note that there is no podcast accompanying this vlog. I’ve been inspired most of all by Chris Hayes of MSNBC, who has his show at 8 PM five days a week, a weekly podcast, and the occasional article. I like that pace so I’m adapting a similar approach.

(By the way, I highly recommend Hayes’ New York Times article “The First Presidential Impeachment” about the book “The Impeachers” which is about the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, back in 1868. Typically, commentators refer to Watergate when contemplating the prospects of a Trump impeachment, but I’ve been saying for months to consider the Andre Johnson impeachment because I believe this may be one of the greatest examples of a president who appears to contrast the majority or plurality ethos of the country he or she is supposedly “leading”)

The question of how to approach this new world of digital media self expression fascinates and excites me, but also confuses me. It’s a luxurious confusion though. That is to say, even though i get frustrated over questions like how often to vlog or podcast or post something on twitter or Instagram, i’m privileged to probe THESE questions as opposed to, “how am I going to afford dinner tonight?”  

The complexities of freedom is a topic that has occupied my contemplation for over a decade now.

In the miserable summer of 2007,(I say that summer was miserable because it was the summer of my near homelessness in Tampa, where thanks to the charity of the man who owned the hostel I stayed in, I had a place to live and food to eat)– this was when, for the first time in my life, it seemed that we possess so called “free will.” (As to the question of whether or not I still think we do, I call myself a “soft determinist”– I think we experience what feels like choice; that is to say, our minds inherently contemplate and land on an option…and our inclinations and knowledge would count as  factors with respect to that “choice”– the “choice” as an action occurs I believe, in our minds– but can we fight the deeper, more fundamental genetics, biology and physics involved? I don’t think so)

But my point is that my awareness of some sense of free will, which first came to me twelve years ago now, has always complicated my approach to “free productivity” — by that I mean…with a full sense of creative autonomy, whether it is a question of “what do I want to be when I grow up?” or, now that I’ve decided what kind of “art work,” “product” or “service providing business” I want to produce, and now that I’ve found the confidence to do it my way as opposed to being told how to do it, how do I determine certain creative specifics? For example, take this vlog— how long should it be? How often should it be done?

Two things I tried to keep in mind the most: how those I most admire approach these things— I mentioned Chris Hayes before—, and of course, CONTEXT. This is something that totally slipped my mind over the last two weeks. For example, it should have been obvious to me that videos require more concentration…more mental energy– so perhaps the hour long camera in my face vlog concept turns out to be irrational…my stepfather did describe these as “long winded”– they were too much so…i apologize; if I want to go on for longer I think that is more ideal for podcasts as they allow for more listening flexibility–

I can’t get over how exciting this vlogging concept is to me and the question of what it means to me to make the most of it. I see various elements to it. I see it as a sort of open, public, video journal, I see it as talking to “the world”– or the universe (assuming this is preserved and in the future people can watch this from their smart phones on a terraformed mars or on some space station ), I also see it as something quite similar to the personal essay. In that sense, additionally there is something artistic about this. So I took the advice— I forget which site I read it on, or which vlog I heard about this in– and tried to be mindful of my background, to show you something more than just plain white, that adds to the context or depth of my “personality.” I’m curios though, do ya’ll prefer a plain white background, or something which exudes more personality?  Please let me know. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

Public Comment is a personal journal vlog and podcast where I share my free thoughts on politics, culture, and self.

Please feel free to share your thoughts with me at sean.publiccomment@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter at 
https://twitter.com/sopubliccomment 


On marketing (part 1: anxiety), free thought (part 2), and free trade

Listen to the podcast

or watch the video

My incompetence thus far in self marketing, the development of my understanding in the value of free thought, and a look at the debate over free trade and protectionism in the realm of trade policy.

IN THIS EPISODE:

When it comes to self marketing (as opposed to political marketing, or marketing for an employer), anxiety and a complicated array of thoughts, at times, stifle me.

I have a fear of annoying people with my requests for their time, feedback, money and/or endorsement, most of all because I understand many of us are quite busy and bombarded with other people asking for our time, feedback, money and endorsements.

Also, I often think of how money can corrupt.

Money doesn’t talk, it swears

obscenity, who really cares?

Propaganda, all is phony…

-Bob Dylan

I wonder: am I corrupted, in my self-marketing by an unreasonable desire for money, attention, praise, undeserved self advancement, narcissism, et cetera? (I certainly believe in my early twenties I suffered from slight narcissistic tendencies, though as a defense mechanism since I suffered from severe anxiety, depression, and self esteem challenges. That is to say, I desired undeserved praise, attention, and introspected just for the sake of gaining awareness of my own thoughts as existing things, not for the sake of understanding and vetting them!).

I also think of other examples where money seems to blatantly corrupt individuals, companies, corporations, politicians, et cetera—(Weapon producers/dealers, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, oil/energy companies).

Those insecurities aside, obviously we need resources to live and also it is reasonable to stand up for the products/services we believe in, whether we are advocate consumers, or involved in the product(s)/service(s) ourselves. After all, why should something one offers, when it is of value, linger in vain?

That, I believe, would be unethical.

So I tie my sense of self marketing to the moral convictions motivating those aspects of myself I “market.”

So what do I say then, is the moral marketability of my shared “free thoughts?”

Frankly, I question how much genuinely “free” thought is truly “out there” when you consider not just profit concerns/ popularity concerns and how that could inject bias into shared thoughts but also how people (I have done it myself. Example: when I was obsessed with Ayn Rand) can slip into dogmas. Even postmodernism can become a dogmatic blinder, as opposed to mere healthy skepticism and independence.

On a separate note, I want to initiate a conversation about trade policy.

There are two articles I recommend. One by the Economist and one by Foreign Policy. The latter addresses the politics versus the economics of free trade, as well as policy options with respect to how we might want to deal with the inevitable harm to certain job holders that free trade results in: Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) which serves like compensation specifically for those adversely affected.

Tell me what you think. Email me at sean.publiccomment@gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter at
https://twitter.com/sopubliccomment

Public Comment is a video diary styled vlog and personal journal podcast where I share my free thoughts on politics, culture, and self.

On Acquainting Myself With Technology, Determining What’s Interesting, and Friendship (Sean O’Connor’s Public Comment video diary vlog–episode #10)


I suffer from extreme ignorance with respect to all things STEM so this new phase of learning about computer and internet technology– specifically dealing with live and recorded audio and video files– is challenging. Still, I find it fascinating and relevant to culture awareness and literacy. If only that was enough to keep all my treasured friendships afloat.
LISTEN TO THE PUBLIC COMMENT PODCAST

So since I can’t afford the best equipment just yet, and since I lack any kind of support staff some of the technological aspects of my presentation, alas, suffers. At some point in life one must, if one suffers from degrees of perfectionism, come to terms with the fact that one simply cannot do it all. I read about this earlier today on a website that is new to me: fastcompany.com– a technology news site of sorts, it seems. “Make peace with incomplete knowledge” is what the article suggested.

I’m working on it!

One of my struggles, which you may have heard me mention earlier, is that I get so flustered trying to research everything I want to learn, trying to pay attention to as many aspects of the world around us as I can, trying to be what some may refer to as a “well-rounded person.” (Political news, entertainment news, podcasts, radio, art work, history books, social media, business news, technology news, blogs and vlogs, et cetera….) I accept and I am in the process of making peace with the fact that nobody can be perfectly well-rounded. (I mean, I get it…nobody can be perfect at anything. But still, one wants aims, standards, et cetera, right?)

Focusing on politics, culture and introspection as may three main topics of interest help me find a sense of balance. That may seem counter intuitive, especially with respect to culture. Isn’t culture such an endless thing? Yes. But if I think in terms of getting a look today at just one, or just a few key aspects of the culture, and other aspects tomorrow, then that helps relax me. (As opposed to saying: an article on psychology for ten minutes, then another ten minutes on real estate, on but then what about technology news?…If I just think…pieces of culture…I have a topic and I can free think based from that center).

If you know me or if you take even a quick look at my website, the depth of my interest in politics is pretty blatant and substantive, but what about my love for introspection?

I see introspection, I think, on two levels– the private, and that which I consider with sharing. How does one decide what to keep private and what not to keep private? A friend of mine said there is really nothing one must keep private, though context of course, he said, does matter. Why talk about say, issues relating to what happens in the bathroom if it’s arbitrary?

I love having friends, but it brings me tremendous chagrin to think of friendships that either I have lost, or that seem as though I have lost. I hate to think I played any role in the destruction of friendships and relationships I’ve been a part of but I aspire at least to preserve those relationships I’m blessed with today, and hope to revive lost relationships some time in the future.

On Failure, Free Thought, and Time (Sean O’Connor’s Public Comment video diary vlog–episode #9)

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Between my failed attempt turn my self-published book, my three failed runs for political office, and my failed pursuit of a teaching assistantship position as a graduate school student I’ve had enough failure to feel like I’m an expert on the topic. But, like Elon Musk, I refuse to be defined by my failures, so today I imagined myself as the Montaigne of the personal vlog, digressing from topic to topic as I pleased, from failure to time, thinking of Hootie and the Blowfish, when they sing: “Time, why you punish me?”

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.

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.

A BRIEF ON THE SUPERIORITY OF NATURAL LAW

-An evaluation of the major theories of jurisprudence, with an explanation as to why the ‘natural law’ theory is the best one

naturallaw
John Locke. Philosopher & Advocate of “Natural Law”. IMAGE VIA SIR GODFREY KNELLER VIA https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Godfrey_Kneller_-_Portrait_of_John_Locke_(Hermitage).jpg

(Note: I originally stated in this post that I wanted to be a philosophy professor. That is no longer the case. I want to concentrate on advancing a Social Democratic agenda via activism and commentary.)

 

All questions pertaining to politics and law, in my view, are a result of one question that is so consequential that its answers can cause genocide, or protect the freedom of individuals so that they may thrive.

The question is: “what should people be allowed to do, and not allowed to do?”

Answers to this fundamental question give us political philosophies and theories of jurisprudence. As someone who aspires to be a philosophy professor, and has run for political office three times, I have had much to say about political philosophy, and yet little about that branch of philosophy called jurisprudence.

Now I shall for the first time say a bit on the topic. In my opinion, the “natural law” theory is the superior theory of jurisprudence, and is so because it is based on reason (a word with many different definitions. For the purposes of this paper, when I refer to reason, I refer to non-contradiction) and morality.

That being said, there are some valid criticisms of other aspects of the theory, in particular, the assertion by some, that natural law is necessarily based on a God, and also, the fact is, some proponents of natural law theory have misapplied it.

Before I elaborate further, I shall be clear about exactly what natural law theory is said to be. In an academic outline on the term “natural law theory,” where it is also referred to as “classical naturalism,” it is defined as “a group of theories that contend, in a variety of ways, that law is to be identified by reference to moral or ethical (as well as formal) criteria of identification.” (Principe, 1)

I think it is worth adding that most proponents of classical naturalism- including Grotius, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and John Finnis (Banks, O’Brien, p. 82) (as well as Locke, even if merely by implication) to name just some- believe that inherent to the discovery of morality and natural law is the application of reason.

The standard of reason that is upheld by so many ‘natural law’ theorists is, in my opinion, its most important and fundamental element, for, as I view it, everything in life should be and absolutely can be approached via reason. (As Aristotle would say, A is A, i.e., a thing is itself, therefore A cannot be B, or C, or D, ad infinitum, i.e., a thing cannot be both itself and not itself.)

In my view, the very proof for this lay in the fact that it is empirically verified when one sees, or hears, or even feels with his or her skin, the letter “A,” and not any other letter, and thus, no other standard of knowledge should be used, as it would be incorrect, irrational, illogical, contradictory.

This is an epistemological idea, however, that every other major theory of jurisprudence introduced by Banks and O’Brien in their textbook on the American Judicial System, refuses to accept, either by a most obvious and fundamental misapplication of reason, or the complete disbelief that reason is the correct standard, or even a possible one.

For example, consider what I believe to be the profound irony and most basic contradiction of legal positivism.

We are told that according to legal positivism, “law is empirically discovered by reason,” yet on the other hand, we are told that law is “free from moral judgements about what the law should be.” (Banks, O’Brien, p. 85)

But a person cannot be both rational and legally amoral.

In fact there is no such thing as legal amorality.

That which one calls “moral” is how one thinks he should fundamentally treat himself and others, or put another way, what is a right action, and what is a wrong action.

For example, in my view of morality, right actions are ones that a person takes in order to thrive, which means he or she must take care of him or herself first, out of self-compassion, and should, further, do for others, out of compassion for them, whatever he or she is best equipped to do, when he or she can.

I call this the “morality” or “ethics” of “compassion.”

This necessitates political action- specifically, the protection of individual liberty, with safety-nets, to protect the integrity of individual liberty, i.e., protection against a laissez faire state where the utterly immoral people exploit the highly virtuous ones.

But all moral views necessitate political/legal action. Quite literally, a legal view that claims morality should be kept out of law merely confesses that one thinks implicitly that it is moral for the law to allow and prohibit particular actions, but, at least as I see it, either they do not recognize the implication or they are being dishonest.

 

At least legal positivism claimed to be rational. American Realism, according to the outline referenced earlier, is fundamentally skeptical, and “play[s] down the role of established rules (or the ‘law in books’) to discover other factors that contributed towards a judicial decision in order to discover the ‘law in action.’” (Principe, 2)

Moreover, American Realism claims to discover “what is empirically and pragmatically ‘realistic’ about judging” based on “sociological and psychological factors.” (Banks, O’Brien, p. 95) The empirical and the pragmatic and sociological and the psychological however, apparently have nothing to do, fundamentally with reason, only skepticism, which simply means chronic uncertainty.

To be fair to American Realism, at least it can be argued that empiricism could suggest probable guesses based on consistently observed things; at least it makes some kind of appeal to a notion of a more likely truth versus a less likely one, and/or maybe there is a truth, however not graspable by people.

At least then there is a sort of reaching for a semblance of logic. The theory of “critical legal studies” however, claims to “destroy the notion that there is one single ‘truth,’ and that by disclosing the all pervasive power structures and hierarchies in the law and legal system, a multitude of other possibilities will be revealed, all equally valid.” (Principle, p. 2)

If analyzed we see that the claim that there is no single truth is a contradiction in terms. Taken at its word, we must somehow accept it as singularly true that there is no single truth (that A is B, that a thing is not itself) when we are told that there is no single truth.

That is like saying I am not a cat but I am a cat.

That being said, I do concede that this theory of “critical legal studies” has at least one logical concern (although I guess adherents would not describe it as logical in my sense of the term)-  “all pervasive power structures and hierarchies in the law and legal system” should always be scrutinized because application to logic is not automatic and guaranteed, even when the application is referred to as logical, and it has resulted at times in racist, classist, elitist actions. Similarly of feminist legal studies: chauvinism and misogyny can be problems within the legal system and elsewhere which is irrational and immoral which is why I would argue that an honest and consistent application to basic natural law theory would treat all fairly.

Although I have touched on the moral element of natural law briefly already, I believe it deserves more attention. It is one thing to say that it logically follows that morality must dictate law, but it would sell natural law theory short not to also mention in a bit more detail the nature of just how, in my interpretation, consistent and logical natural law theory would inject morality into law, and contrast that with how others might interpret the role of morality in natural law.

Nowhere in the texts I considered upon doing my research does it explicitly say that Natural law theory necessarily posits that all moral principles must be codified into law. In contrast, if we consider how natural law is the basis for “individual natural rights” such as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Banks, O’Brien, p. 83) it follows that it is a right thing to do, i.e., a  moral action that the law be made to permit and prohibit certain things- specifically to permit freedoms, and to prohibit violations of freedom.

That does not mean however, that an action which might be immoral, say prostitution, should therefore be illegal.

The moral claim is that the law should protect freedom, i.e., self determination, and thus prohibit coercion; only immoral acts which are coercive in nature require legal prohibition.

Adherents to natural law, throughout history, unfortunately, have not always understood this, despite it being the very meaning of their premise.

For example, in my view, it is a totally misguided idea of morality, based on a totally erroneous reasoning, how, “the Court appealed to natural law principles in asserting that blacks were not citizens entitled to constitutional rights in Dred Scott v Sanford (1857) [and] [i]n Bradwell v Illinois (1873), [when] the Court ruled that women could not practice law because it was ‘in the nature of things’ for them to remain relegated to the ‘domestic sphere as that which properly belongs to the domain and functions of womanhood’ [and further, how] [m]ore recently Justice Clarence Thomas cited natural law and the Deceleration of Independence in criticizing the rationale in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the landmark case ending racial discrimination in public schools.” (Banks, O’Brien, p. 84)

Those are completely irrational moral claims that do not represent a proper application to natural law, but rather, forms of statism, altruism, collectivism, racism, chauvinism, and misogyny.

Although it is my opinion that classical naturalism, in its most general and popular sense – being explicitly based on the application of reason and morality- is the superior theory of jurisprudence, that is not to say the theory is perfect.

For example, many of the proponents of classical naturalism ascribe, with certainty, that its ultimate basis is in a God. As Banks and O’Brien write, “Natural Law is thought of in divine terms as God’s law.” (p. 81) Now, it very well may be, as I personally speculate, that a God does exist and that all truth is God’s creation, however, if so, it’s yet to be proven. Logic only tells us that there is no proof that a God does not exist but that nevertheless, one could. But a “could” does not justify a “does” and thus those classical naturalists who assert with certainty that a God does exist and that natural law is to be thought of as God’s law are, in my view, being hasty.

Briefly, on other theories of jurisprudence I have deemed inferior compared to classical naturalism, they at least have fair points regarding aspects of law they are critiquing- for example, American Realism, although “skeptical” at least leads us to question that which is asserted as moral-legal fact, and at least Critical Legal Studies dares to question the sometimes corrupting roles of power and higher status within the legal system- where economic status or race or sexual orientation, et cetera, is sometimes a factor when they should never be, and at least feminist legal studies dares to call out where the judiciary has unfairly treated women.

If classical naturalism could be revised and stripped of its contradictions, and if the mistaken applications of it could be made clear, I believe we would have a theory of jurisprudence which would be as perfect and logical as Aristotle’s laws of identity, and non-contradiction.

REFERENCES
Banks, C.P, O’Brian. D.M. (2016) The Judicial Process [Adobe Digital Editions] Retrieved from https://play.google.com/books
Principe, M. (2016) The American Judicial System POL226 Outline #2 Classical & Contemporary Theories of Jurisprudence. William Paterson University  

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.