Even more troubling, though, is the way the Land Acknowledgement Statement imposes decidedly Western, capitalist notions of ownership and property upon Native Americans, who, in many tribes, viewed their relationship with the land in ways that starkly contrast our attitudes today. Around 1885, Crowfoot (Chief of the Blackfeet) explained that “We cannot sell the lives of men and animals; therefore, we cannot sell this land. It was put here for us by the Great Spirit and we cannot sell it because it does not belong to us” (emphasis added).
Massasoit Sachem (leader of the Wampanoag confederacy) is reputed to have asked “What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all.” Similar quotations from other tribes are not difficult to find. Although these ideas were not shared by all tribes, this ambivalence toward private property and a symbiotic relationship with the land are two of the characteristics that academics often cite as proof that the Native Americans’ ethical sensibilities were superior to that of the Euro-Americans, then and now.
Thus, by “acknowledging” the native claims to a piece of land and implying that these claims supersede and negate the claim that modern local and federal governments make upon the territory, the Land Acknowledgement Statements erase the very particularities of Native American cultures that these academics purport to honor and preserve. In short, the non-Native academics speak on behalf of the people whose dignity they claim to uphold: by appropriating the right of those people to speak, they inadvertently inflict the very sort of cultural violence that they profess to abhor. If, as Massasoit said, anything that modern Americans call “property” is “for the use of all,” why, exactly, should anyone be obligated to apologize for using it? The Land Acknowledgement Statements thus rewrite the Native American ethos by defining it in terms of the same values and attitudes that animated the systematic destruction of tribal life by the colonial powers.
On the other hand, Land Acknowledgement Statements create a concerning problem within Western constitutional law. Consider, for example, that the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits the seizure of property from American citizens without warrant. This constitutional protection only extends to legally owned property and, crucially, not stolen property. With every new Land Acknowledgement Statement, an institution reiterates and normalizes the idea that it has no lawful right to maintain that land and, should the right circumstances arise, may find it seized from them unreasonably though legally and without constitutional protection. Notice that Land Acknowledgement Statements therefore carry the profoundly subversive potential to undermine the Fourth Amendment without repealing it and without changing a single word in it. This presents a glaring danger.
The lessons here are twofold. Recall that the primary purpose of these statements is not to do justice to the victims of historical oppression but rather to signify one’s affinity for the performative rituals of academic wokeness. The first lesson, then, is that the intellectual elite who fetishize the tragic stories of marginalized groups in America are less interested in redressing those sufferings than they are using them to maintain their membership in an elite group that is far removed from the plight of the “Other” (as they might say).
At first blush, Frege’s subject matter – the nature of propositions, their truth values, and logic as the science concerned with the study of these – couldn’t be further removed from political philosophy. But Frege was something of a Platonist, and as Plato knew well, metaphysics has political implications, not least when it is not directly concerned with politics at all. For there can be no sound political order that does not recognize something non-political existing beyond it, by reference to which it can be judged.
In “The Thought,” Frege reminds us that truth and the laws of logic are timeless and discovered rather than made – that, though they are grasped by time-bound human minds and conveyed through contingent human languages, they are independent of both. Lacking an essential connection to any particular human mind, they constitute neutral territory on which all minds can meet. The lesson is basic, but depressingly needed at a time when it seems there is almost nothing that is not becoming politicized, and where ideas are evaluated in terms of the motives, party affiliation, race, sex, or other irrelevant circumstances of the person presenting them, rather than by reference to disinterested criteria of truth and logical argumentation.
Jake and Phil are joined by Geoff Shullenberg of Outsider Theory to discuss Herbert Marcuse's "Repressive Tolerance" and Franz Kafka's "The Judgement".
Dostoevsky’s characters astonish by their complexity. Their unpredictable but believable behavior reminds us of experiences beyond the reach of “scientific” theories. We appreciate that people, far from maximizing their own advantage, sometimes deliberately make victims of themselves in order, for example, to feel morally superior. In The Brothers Karamazov (1880), Father Zosima observes that it can be very pleasant to take offense, and Fyodor Pavlovich replies that it can even be positively distinguished.
In fact, people harm themselves for many reasons. They tear at their own wounds and derive a peculiar pleasure from doing so. They deliberately humiliate themselves. To their own surprise, they experience impulses stemming from resentments long suppressed and, as a result, create scandalous scenes or commit horrible crimes. Freud particularly appreciated Dostoevsky’s exploration of the dynamics of guilt. But neither Freud nor most Western readers have grasped that Dostoevsky intended his descriptions of human complexity to convey political lessons. If people are so surprising, so “undefined and mysterious,” then social engineers are bound to cause more harm than good.
The narrator of The House of the Dead describes how prisoners sometimes, for no apparent reason, suddenly do something highly self-destructive. They may attack a guard, even though the punishment—running a gauntlet of thousands of blows—usually proves fatal. Why? The answer is that the essence of humanness lies in the possibility of surprise. The behavior of material objects can be fully explained by natural laws, and for materialists the same is true of people, if not yet, then in the near future. But people are not just material objects, and will do anything, no matter how self-destructive, to prove they are not.
For Snead, American public bioethics already does have an anthropology, one it pretends not to have: expressive individualism. Drawing upon a host of twentieth-century social theorists — Robert Bellah, Charles Taylor, Alasdair MacIntyre and Michael Sandel — Snead tries to make less familiar expressive individualism’s account of what it means to be human, allowing us to see it afresh as what it really is: one historically contingent vision among others.
At the heart of expressive individualism is the unencumbered self, the atomized individual, shorn of social ties, long on rights but short on duties, always operating at the height of his or her cognitive powers. One’s flourishing consists “in the expression of one’s innermost identity through freely choosing and configuring life in accordance with his or her own distinctive core intuitions, feelings, and preferences.” By privileging the will, this anthropology is forgetful of the body. By extension, it is forgetful of the “lived realities of vulnerability, mutual dependence, and finitude.”
Snead’s sketch of expressive individualism is good and necessary, but it is when he turns detective, when he sets out to unearth where that atomistic anthropology is at work in American case law, that the book really comes into its own. Most of the book is structured around this work, with one chapter showing how this anthropology manifests in court rulings on abortion, one chapter on assisted reproduction, and one chapter on end-of-life questions such as assisted suicide and when to carry out life-saving measures.
A more nuanced view would suggest that the problem originates in how the current elite made its money: largely in either finance or Silicon Valley. Indeed, Farrell suggests as much, lamenting the financialization of the economy and tax policies that allow the rich to keep an increasingly large share of their income (though Farrell notably does not explore issues outside of tax policy, such as the link between monetary policy and the inflation of financial asset values). These industries typically don’t have to deal with large, working-class labor forces, and physical capital investments in specific localities are of relatively little importance to their business models.
For these and other reasons, in contemporary American society the working class and the elite no longer mix. Mid-twentieth-century America was much less class-segregated; people used to mix at church or through the other “little platoons” of civil society, like the Rotary Club or the Lions Club. In most parts of America today, however, those days are gone. As a number of prominent studies have observed, contemporary American society is increasingly isolated and segmented, the social capital that used to bind communities together is depleted, and the population is atomized even within their respective social classes.26 Without any real cross-class social interaction, the rich are less likely to develop a sense of empathy toward the middle and working classes. It is possible that they simply do not understand these people.
Our current elite’s lack of true community also explains, in part, their default posture in favor of globalism: they are placeless. History and geography mean much less to them than they do to the Wyoming rancher whose family has lived on and worked the same tract of land for four generations. Many of the wealthy profiled by Farrell are the products of elite enclaves in “global cities” on the East or West Coasts; in Jackson Hole they seem to be searching for some lost sense of community, but in a haphazard way.
The elite aren’t just disconnected from the working class, community, and geography; they are disconnected from tradition. Elites interviewed by Farrell often expressed a sort of pantheism—or even neopaganism—seeking “spirituality” in the mountains as an ersatz substitute for traditional religious belief.27 One woman profiled expressed the vague and noncommittal faith of her class: “I think religion here is probably more like ‘I’m going to go climb a mountain today, that’s my religion, spirituality, we come here for that.’ You know, to each his own.”28 Similarly, a wealthy medical executive from the East Coast, who says he had previously lacked faith altogether, claims to have become more religious in the Tetons and to have found a new house of worship: “my cathedral is the mountains.”29
This religious devotion to the natural world colors how Jackson Hole’s residents view their time and money—and where they spend it. Elites routinely confessed to Farrell a sense of guilt over the wealth they have accumulated and the long hours they have spent in their careers. To make recompense, they speak of “giving back”—but to nature, rather than to God or neighbor. They give back to the earth on their own terms: by spending time in the outdoors, or being involved in environmental nonprofits.
Traditionally, Confucianism taught that harmony in society required the maintenance of the “five relationships,” and that realizing the moral nature of mankind, following the Dao, meant acting well in the roles dictated by those relationships: between friend and friend, elder brother and younger brother, husband and wife, parent and child, ruler and ruled. Bell and Wang’s book provides an updated version of the five relations, showing how modern hierarchies can be justified through a generous interpretation of Confucian morality. They defend just hierarchies among intimates and members of a household, among citizens, among states, among animal species, and between human beings and machines. They engage critically with those in the West who use egalitarian premises to advocate the abolition of traditional households and to defend large-scale electoral democracy, global governance, equal rights for animals and children, and political systems that allow large private corporations to control powerful technologies. A China reformed along Confucian lines, a China that rejected its totalitarian/Legalist past, a China led by humane, well-educated, and public-spirited individuals with unencumbered power, would be able to reject all these Western pathologies.
Among conservatives in the West the most controversial part of this program is likely to be the proposal for a “vertical political hierarchy,” first advocated in Bell’s well-known 2015 book The China Model.12 The proposal resolves the traditional tension or opposition between meritocracy and democracy by establishing democratic institutions only at the local, municipal level. At higher levels of government—provincial and national—rule is meritocratic. Entry to and political rank within the meritocratic hierarchy should be determined by performance on civil service examinations and a proven track record of effective and compassionate government in the interests of the whole community.
The sticky issue here for political Confucians has always been legitimacy. Bell and Wang argue that one-man, one-vote democratic elections, taken in the West to be the gold standard of legitimacy, are an inadequate basis for legitimacy in the case of a large, powerful state rooted in an ancient civilization. Even with universal suffrage, democratic voters do not, for instance, represent well the interests of past and future generations—for example, when the current electorate destroys the cultural heritage left to us by our ancestors or saddles future generations with unpayable debts. Democratic electors, focused on their own present interests, also have difficulty recognizing the moral claims of resident aliens and foreign peoples who may be affected by the decisions of their states. Not all democratic political values can apply to large states run meritocratically. Transparency, for example. Bell and Wang argue that secrecy in certain functions of government—particularly the selection of officials—is legitimate. A number of Confucian political theorists have recently argued that an autocratic command structure in a state—a decision-making process that ultimately rests on the will of a single person—is always in practice restrained by informal “constitutional” limits on a ruler’s power, and rightly so. The Confucian tradition of imperial China is rich in debates about precisely this issue. Bell and Wang argue that practices can be adopted, or in some cases already exist, that limit the corrupt exercise of arbitrary power. A “first among equals” ethic of power at the highest levels, a system of recommendation that holds the patron responsible for the failures of his clients, the practice of regular consultation with the people via local democratic assemblies, and, above all, widespread education in Confucian values such as compassionate care for the people—all these means, taken together, can make an autocratic state humane and attract the love and loyalty of its citizens.
Reader, I know what you’re thinking. This must be cherry picked from the pages of that scandal-ridden anarchist magazine. (It is actually a straightforward summary of a popular article.) Let’s look at what other proponents of abolishing the family have to say in their own words. “We know that the nuclear private household is where the overwhelming majority of abuse can happen. And then there’s the whole question of what it is for: training us up to be workers, training us to be inhabitants of a binary-gendered and racially stratified system, training us not to be queer,” says Sophie Lewis. For her among the most important steps is to “denaturalize the mother-child bond… the idea that babies belong to anyone — the idea that the product of gestational labor gets transferred as property to a set of people.” Children — excuse me, the “products of labor” — being attached to the women who gave birth to them and being raised by them along with their fathers? Whoever thought of such a ridiculous idea.
Lewis’s notion that “children should belong to no one but themselves” seems like a particularly dark and troubling road to go down. Every sexual taboo imaginable has disappeared in recent years with the sole exception of that which surrounds pedophilia. The only thing that keeps it intact is the sacrosanct notion that children cannot make decisions for themselves. “Liberating” children from their parents, legally, morally, and culturally, would break the very last and final line of defense the besieged family has left.
Lewis goes on to offer more practical advice. “States should immediately meet gestational workers’ [i.e., pregnant women’s] demands for more control over their obstetrics, higher pay, and the right to remain involved, if they wish, with client families,” she says, and “implement a sense that it is normal for us to think about babies as made by many people.” Lewis claims to draw upon the influence of black feminists. “Family doesn’t mean what it means in the bourgeois settler imaginary [sic] when you’re talking about black life.”
In the Eighties, the wealth gap that opened up between the educated and less educated due to offshoring and the decline in opportunities for the working class is considered one of the primary causes of family break-ups by sociologists such as Andrew Cherlin, the author of Love’s Labour Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class Family in America. While the working-class family suffered under these economic conditions, family stability increased among the educated. This disparity has in turn exacerbated the wealth gap further. The many demonstrable positive benefits of growing up with two parents are among the many evils of the past from which the working class and the less educated appear to have been liberated.
An abundance of research tells us that the negative effects of family break-ups include emotional and behavioural problems for children, the increased likelihood of mental illness (including depression) later in life, receiving less education, earning less money, holding fewer assets, an increased chance of getting divorced in turn. Children in such situations receive less affection from either parent. They are likelier to trust neither and to have similar feelings toward their future spouses, to be less optimistic about their own marriages, to have a more negative view of people in general. They are forty times more likely to be physically or sexually abused and fifty times more likely to be killed by the step-parents or male partners who are not their fathers. Most, indeed all of these things are absent in many traditional families, but the general statistical trends are undeniable. These are the actual results of the policies that are being pushed by those unlikely ever to experience them upon those who have been lucky enough to have avoided them so far.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor