White Supremacists, Charlottesville, and the Philosophy Classroom


Racist violence has been a defining feature of the United States since its creation. One risk of focusing on highly visible instances of racist violence, such as the “Unite the Right” rally by white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend, is to make it seem more exceptional and more recognizable—and more alien to ordinary American life—than it actually is.

Nonetheless, such events can serve as entry points for discussions of larger issues, and as fall semesters begin at colleges and universities in the United States over the next month, professors will no doubt be discussing the rally in their courses.

How should philosophy professors teach about and make use of the rally?

Part of philosophy’s distinctive value is exposing the unstated assumptions that contribute to people’s beliefs and attitudes. One avenue for philosophical inquiry, then, would be to take the stated beliefs of the white supremacists and see what propositions would have to be true in order for their beliefs to be justified. Doing that could involve figuring out what questions those propositions are supposed to be answers to, and then seeing how their preferred answers fare in comparison to others, or seeing what would need to be true in order for those questions to be well formed. And so on.

For example, one thing the marchers chanted was “you will not replace us.” I have no doubt that a philosophically sophisticated and wide-ranging course could be built around unpacking that one slogan.

Suggestions for ideas, materials, and methods that might help with teaching about the rally and its attendant issues in such a way are welcome. Also welcome are  suggestions for alternative approaches to the subject.

I understand that the way of approaching the topic that I mentioned above may seem too detached and clinical for covering evil and dangerous actions, like the Charlottesville rally. In its defense, I’d say that it: (a) draws on philosophy’s distinctive strengths and shows the power of philosophical inquiry, (b) is appropriately interdisciplinary insofar as assessing the answers to some of the questions will involve pointing to empirical work in other disciplines, (c) may avoid the appearance (to one’s students) of “unjustified” political “bias” (note the scare quotes, please), and (d) can of course be used in conjunction with other approaches to the subject.

I also happen to think that when it comes to showing just how stupid and wrong-headed these white supremacists are, this method would be devastatingly effective, but that judgment may be a product of bias — that is, a bias in favor of the value of philosophical inquiry.

In addition to the query about teaching, I’d like to ask for links to writings by philosophers on the Charlottesville rally. You can mention them in the comments or email them to me and I will add them to the list, below. (Owing to professional travel and personal commitments over the past week I’ve been spending considerably less time in front of the computer, so I’m sure there is stuff I’m missing.)

Links to work by philosophers on the Charlottesville white supremacist / white nationalist / neo-Nazi march (will be updated as new links come in):


Some related previous posts at DN: Diversifying Your Syllabus Made EasierPhilosophy and the Racial “Epistemic Horizon”Anglo-American Philosophy: “A Site of White Supremacy”Cosmopolitan Racism, Trump, and PhilosophyPolice Shootings of Blacks in the U.S.; What Can Philosophers Do or Say in Response?The Best Philosophy Articles on Race and Gender.


Are these goons coming to your campus? This video will give you an informative and scary preview.

 

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Eric Schliesser
Eric Schliesser
3 years ago

Thank you for your link to my piece (which is really punditry), Justin.
For the underlying issues you raise, I found Jacob T. Levy’s older piece, “Safe spaces, academic freedom, and the university as a complex association” very useful. It addresses many issues with a deep sensitivity about what our educational mission might be in the context of freedom of speech and freedom of association:
It’s been the starting point for a number of my own lengthier Digressions and also helped me cope with being threatened as I engaged in public philosophy.Report

Dan Weiskopf
3 years ago

I don’t think that analyzing the chants and slogans of white supremacist mobs as if they were philosophical propositions meant to be accepted or rejected on their reasoned merits is a productive approach to take, either politically or in the classroom. However, for those who want to discuss these issues in their historical and ideological context, I suggest starting with the Charlottesville Syllabus, put together by a coalition of graduate students at UVA:

https://medium.com/@UVAGSC/the-charlottesville-syllabus-9e01573419d0

It contains information on how norms of civility enable white supremacist discourse to flourish, gentrification and the destruction of the black business community, the history and function of monuments to the Confederacy, debates over reparations, the entanglement of universities with profits from slavery, and the local history of the eugenics movement. These lead in obvious ways to any number of philosophical topics worth discussing.
Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Dan Weiskopf
3 years ago

Has it been established that “norms of civility enable white supremacist discourse to flourish”?Report

jbr
jbr
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
3 years ago

I suppose that depends on what your view is of Popper’s “paradox of intolerance” and whether it justifies not tolerating the intolerant. Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  Dan Weiskopf
3 years ago

What is a “norm of civility”? That Schmidt article was not particularly illuminating. Is not assaulting white supremacists a “norm of civility”? Is thinking they should have a right to speak and associate in public spaces a “norm of civility”? Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Dan Weiskopf
3 years ago

Strikes me as a pretty useless document, from the standpoint of a philosophy course.

And if by “norms of civility,” one is referring to the prerequisites for discourse in a liberal society, then yes, it comes with a cost — people will have to hear a lot of things they don’t like — and it is absolutely worth it. To repeat what I said below, while you are trying to suppress the speech of others just remember … when they are in power, they will suppress yours. Better that we all agree that speech should not be suppressed (with all the relevant exceptions that are well rehearsed in the literature on liberalism) and put majority-proof institutions in place to ensure that it is not, which is what our First Amendment essentially is.

Fortunately, the courts have continued to understand the deep wisdom of this and have resisted efforts to erode it.Report

Rochelle DuFord
Rochelle DuFord
3 years ago

I think it is important to note, here, that there is unclarity about whether the ‘marchers’ were chanting “You will not replace us.” It’s been reported that they were, in fact or in addition, chanting “Jews will not replace us.” This is a distinctly different type of chant–an obviously anti-Semitic one–while someone *could* construct a course around this chant, it is a distinctly different kind of course. There is, though, to be sure, a wide variety of philosophy done on ‘The Jewish Question’ and anti-Semitism. Report

Matt
Reply to  Rochelle DuFord
3 years ago

If you watch enough of the video (I watched enough that I thought I’d puke, frankly) you’ll see that both “you will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace use” are chanted. Unless the very same people (you can tell it’s the same people) somehow managed to gain some sort of extreme South Philly Italian American accent (where “you” starts to sound like “yous”) in a mere manner of seconds, it’s pretty clear that both are chanted. Do watch this. There’s really no doubt, and people should not pretend like there is. Report

Rochelle DuFord
Rochelle DuFord
Reply to  Matt
3 years ago

Since I posted my comment, I did see footage where they switch back and forth between the two. I wasn’t intending to signify that I doubted that they had been chanting “Jews will not replace us,” only that I had read conflicting reports and didn’t know which to believe (or to believe both). Report

Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

Philosophically, it seems to me that the primary value of this sort of terrible event is similar to that of the famous neo-Nazi march through Skokie, Ill. It provides a real opportunity to discuss what is required in order to have a liberal society, which is what the US was designed to be. Part of that discussion will be to what extent repugnant speech must be protected, the lines between repugnant speech and “fighting words” and other things along those lines. I would expect that such a discussion would draw heavily from Mill’s “On Liberty,” among other sources.

Other lines of discussion strike me as far less interesting/productive/apropos. Using Nazis and Klansmen and other atavistic hooligans to discuss epistemology strikes me as absurd and completely unproductive, for example. And driving cars into groups of people or beating people with sticks are so obviously unacceptable that I don’t see what fruitfully is going to come out of a philosophical discussion of them.

I suppose that one could use such incidents to criticize or attack liberalism and the idea of civil liberties themselves, as I suspect this one will. In my view, that would be — and is — tremendously unfortunate. Like Democracy is to political systems, liberalism is the worst political philosophy, except for all the others. *Especially* those belonging to marginalized and oppressed groups should defend it. If the ever regrettable Trump presidency has taught us anything it’s this: while you are trying to suppress the speech of those you find repugnant, just remember this … one day, they may be the ones in power, and then it is *your* speech that will be suppressed.

My view then is that philosophically speaking — and I am only talking philosophically here — these sorts of extreme, terrible events provide us with an opportunity to discuss what liberal society demands and where its limits lie. Beyond that, philosophically, I don’t see much else. But given how important this is — especially, now, when liberalism sorely needs reaffirming — it is more than enoughReport

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

One thing to remember here, in response to the kind of issues Daniel Kaufmann is raising, is that European nations are generally rather less protective of the free speech of fascist extremists than the US is (for example Germany has holocaust denial laws, Nazi symbols bans), and yet it’s not clear this has been a slippery slope to wider speech restrictions, nor that it has caused these societies to become particularly illiberal overall. Of course, you can define ‘liberal’ so that it includes the idea of no speech restrictions whatsoever, but it’s not clear how useful that definition is, if societies that restrict Nazi speech somewhat can otherwise be extraordinarily similar to the societies that count as ‘liberal’ by the new strict definition.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  David Mathers
3 years ago

It’s hardly a new strict definition. It goes back at least to JS MillReport

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

Nonetheless, some of the most liberal societies in the world fail it. Report

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

And I didn’t see the definition was new, merely strict.

I mean there is I suppose I agree with you, a reasonable case for holding that Germany is less liberal than the US insofar as it has somewhat more restrictions on the expression of Nazi ideas, because speech restrictions are inherently illiberal. But then, that just raises the question of whether, in order to have the undoubted benefits of a very high overall level of liberalism you need to be maximally liberal in every respect. And it appears not, from the evidence. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  David Mathers
3 years ago

This is not the sort of thing that can be determined by evidence, as it ultimately is normative. And no, I would not prefer the continental version of liberalism to the Anglo-American one.Report

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

Well, whether it can be determined by evidence, and whether empirical evidence is relevant at all, depends on why we like liberalism.
If we like your version of very strong liberalism about free speech and expression for it’s own sake *and* are prepared to make absolutely any sacrifice to preserve it, then sure, any possible empirical evidence is irrelevant (except insofar as the person defending this sort of absolutism is making claims about further negative consequences of not having such super strong free speech and expression norms.) But if we like ultra liberal for ultimately consequentialist reasons, then empirical evidence is super-relevant. And even if we think there is a value *in itself* to the sort of total free expressions that inconsistent with say banning the display of swastika’s, empirical evidence is still about likely effects of doing/not doing so, is still relevant if we think that that intrinsic value can still be weighed against other things, and sometimes traded off. On the latter sort of in the middle view, which I guess a lot of people will hold, evidence about the further consequences of various speech norms doesn’t single-handedly determine what laws to have-since we also have to take into account the intrinsic value of having totally free expression, but consequences of different free speech regimes do *partially* determine what laws we should have. Report

Andrew Sepielli
3 years ago

I think it’d be helpful to reflect on whether/how nihilism in its various forms provides fertile soil for the growth of racist and other hateful movements.Report

Mateo
Mateo
Reply to  Andrew Sepielli
3 years ago

Or maybe reflect on whether/how moralistic dogmatism in its various forms provides fertile soil for the growth of racist and other hateful movements. It certainly seems a more likely explanation of the phenomena than moral nihilism. Report

Andrew Sepielli
Reply to  Mateo
3 years ago

What’s “moralistic dogmatism”?Report

Andrew Sepielli
Reply to  Andrew Sepielli
3 years ago

I should say that by “nihilism in all its various forms”, I meant to include more than just what meta-ethicists call “moral nihilism”.Report

dmf
dmf
Reply to  Andrew Sepielli
3 years ago

why? seems like these folks are rather suffering from excessive/exclusive certainty, a kind of surplus of meaning not a lack of meaning.Report

Jon
Jon
3 years ago

Rather than use it to pillory racism–which is low-hanging fruit–how about using it to ask more challenging questions, mostly none of which has been asked by the media. For example:

1. What are the limits of free speech in a liberal society? Why don’t we ban hate speech (both jurisprudentially and normatively)?
2. What is nationalism (i.e., the strongest view, not the caricature)? How do contemporary formulations differ from past?

It’s just too easy to say “this is too easy”; try to find something to substantively engage.Report

apr
apr
3 years ago

Agreed that the speech issue is interesting—in several ways. One is whether this case is really akin to Nazis in Skokie. The city tried to move the march to a place that had more room (and hence easier to separate factions from each other and from the rest of town), but courts overturned. This raises issues of “time, place, and manner” speech restrictions. It also raises issues of incitement, clear and present danger, and others. So, not just about whether odious speech should be protected, but just what protection actually means.

And if we look closer, there’s more going on. One concerns privacy and doxxing—“outing” marchers (sometimes falsely—Arkansas engineering faculty), and the ability of employers to fire people for political activity (Top Dog guy). See Elizabeth Anderson’s Tanner lecture book.

Another is state monopoly on violence. One of the particularly noteworthy things about Saturday was the presence of militia members—who were ostensibly there to be “neutral peacekeepers” but were in many cases associated with right-wing (but not explicitly white supremacist) causes. This creates a problem for policing/peace-keeping.

Yet another concerns other forms of private power—e.g., GoDaddy booting Stromfront off its hosting platform. Yet another is intellectual property—use of Chicago Blackhawks logo by white supremacist groups.

Or how about definitions of terrorism and legitimate responses to it (vis a vis the murder or the march with clubs, shields, helmets or the militias).

I mean, you don’t need something as momentous as Charlottesville to discuss any of these issues, but it’s a nice way to open up and motivate questions that often seem abstract. We all can agree that Nazis are bad, and that running people down is bad. But other issues that Charlottesville raises are important, difficult, and philosophically rich.
Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  apr
3 years ago

Some of these strike me as particularly good. Especially the points re: firing employees, doxing, which raise all sorts of interesting questions. Great suggestions!Report

Jon
Jon
Reply to  apr
3 years ago

That’s a great post, really good issues you identify.Report

Alan White
Alan White
3 years ago

In light of Trump’s rambling and racist “press conference” today (8/15), exactly what philosophical subtleties should we emphasize to our students? Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Alan White
3 years ago

That democracy works in mysterious ways?Report

Alan White
Alan White
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

Hah! Indeed Dan. But the fact that this thread moves off onto discussions about stuff that will have near zero effect on the truly horrible present trajectory of this country is telling about the failure of our profession to see that the real powers of this world–mostly money of course–crush any potential effect these academic debates might have. Unless and until philosophy finds ways to engage these real powers it will only find itself the laughable ventriloquist dummy sounding out “the voice of reason”.Report

beauvoir's baby
beauvoir's baby
Reply to  Alan White
3 years ago

Why should sounding out “the voice of reason” make philosophy “the laughable ventriloquist dummy”? What do you expect “the voice of reason” to do? Surely it is under the purview of “the voice of reason” to discuss the strategic limits of speech and possible measures like protest, civil disobedience and non violent direct action? Surely, in taking such measures, we would want to do so with the guidance of “the voice of reason”?Report

Alan White
Alan White
Reply to  beauvoir's baby
3 years ago

Ideally, of course I agree–we’re not on different sides bb–why else would I have spent the last 39 years in philosophy classrooms on the teaching side of the desk after 7 years just on its other side?

My point was, and is, about the tendency to take our professional commitments and teaching strategies as having a significant impact on a society that is at once immense, undereducated even by many of those with BAs in tow, dragged in wildly different directions by vast socio-economic forces of marketing, commercialism, and purely financial profiteering that are’t exactly tracked well by even the best economist rational efforts to analyze them, with of course philosophy as a profession largely disrespected by large swaths of the present political demography. My point is about self-deception in the relative importance of what we can presently do. It ain’t much as far as the classroom is concerned, particularly as philosophy classes increasingly are cut and programs are closed. I’m retiring soon as a tenured full professor–I’ll be replaced by a 1/2 time lecturer. Is philosophy worth doing nonetheless? I guess the course of my own life says I think so. But no flea should think it can do more than make the dog scratch–it can’t make the tail wag. Not until some alchemy transforms us from the Socratic gadfly/flea into a doggie treat. We’re better off not just doing what we’ve been doing as talked about here on this thread, but being more politically aggressive in our private lives and the use of what resources we have to push for reasonable and positive change in appreciating the role of education in a vital and progressive society.Report

apr
apr
Reply to  Alan White
3 years ago

I take it, Alan W., you’re referring to my post as stuff “that will have near zero effect on the truly horrible present trajectory of this country….” Fair enough. But of course what you say is true about lots of philosophy (and teaching generally), so I guess the concern is that using something as momentous as Charlottesville and increasing virulence (visibility, aggressiveness…) of white supremacy to talk about, say, free speech or doxxing or private employer power or IP, etc. is a weird dynamic—trivializing the big issues by going after philosophically subtle ones. That’s an important issue, and I think your criticism is apt (I won’t cop to it being an example professional failure, though—the topics I brought up have to do with a course that’s specifically about technology and information).

One thing might be to discuss what the bigger issues are—you mention economic power, for example. So one might discuss wealth and income distribution, and consider the ways the president’s use of race and race-baiting in a way that distracts from economic (and other) agendas, such as gutting EPA and State Dept, ignoring DOJ consent decrees in Ferguson, Baltimore, Chicago, elsewhere, reversing net neutrality, failing to enforce antitrust laws, aiming at tax “reform.” One might also use Charlottesville to discuss just what white supremacy is and how it works (these are controversial and philosophically interesting). You could have students read some of the complicity literature, or how fragile liberal states are. Maybe discuss what the basic requirements of a liberal democracy are and whether we are moving away from those now.
Report

Alan White
Alan White
Reply to  apr
3 years ago

FWIW apr, I really was not referring to your post at all. But thank you for your charitable reading nonetheless.Report

Gordon
Gordon
3 years ago

My $.02: http://www.newappsblog.com/2017/08/radical-white-terrorism.html

fwiw, I think pedagogically the free speech question is an important one, though I didn’t dwell on it much in my post. But I think the fact that the racists showed up with militias and weaponry marks a pretty sharp divide between this case and the one in Skokie. Here, the goal wasn’t just to speak, it was to deprive others of their right to speak (I link to a post in Slate on that)

An interesting case in this regard is the one where the Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law establishing a protester-free “buffer zone” around abortion clinics. Some of the same questions about the line between speech and coercion came up there, too.
For the case summary: http://www.scotusblog.com/2014/06/court-strikes-down-abortion-clinic-buffer-zone-in-plain-english/
Judge Posner gets it right (3rd case he discusses): http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_breakfast_table/features/2014/scotus_roundup/scotus_end_of_term_remembering_town_of_greece_and_more_on_cellphones_buffer.html

Report

Bharath Vallabha
3 years ago

If only there were links between white supremacy/fascism and famous philosophers in the 20th century… Oh wait, of course there are. In fact, in one sense, this is THE issue underlying much of 20th century philosophy. It doesn’t take much to connect philosophy to what happened in Charlottesville. It requires only teaching the broader lived context and worldviews of the great philosophers of the last century.

Don’t teach Carnap and Heidegger as just disagreeing about metaphysics, but make explicit why that disagreement mattered so much to them as people. Same with Cassier and Heidegger. And how Gadamar, Foucault, Derrida, Dreyfus, etc. sought to take insights from Heidegger, while rejecting Heidegger’s Nazism. A main question that moves much of this tradition: How to be critical of the Enlightenment without falling into fascism?

This question was as well a main disagreement between Russell’s scientific, global rationalism and, as Russell’s saw it, Wittgenstein’s mystical, communitarian tendencies. Not that Russell thought Wittgenstein was prone of fascism. But Russell was concerned that Wittgenstein’s work, esp the later work, was not a strong enough intellectual defense against the bigoted tribalism humans are prone to. And Wittgenstein thought that Russell’s “scientism” and false univeralism was a false ideal. And a similar issue in America regarding Dewey and Quinean versions of pragmatism, and Carnap’s influence on Quine.

This is one obvious way the caricatures of Russell and the logical positivists as dehumanizing philosophy and making it beholden to science are so wrong. Russell, Carnap, et al were deeply involved in politics, and for them philosophy, politics and human well being were as connected as they were for Dewey or Sartre. For the love of God, please free teaching these thinkers from the rut of focusing only on “On Denoting” or “Empiricism, Semantics, Ontology” and bring to life their holistic philosophical worldviews and the links between their philosophies and their lives.

And this is without even talking about philosophers in colonial and post-colonial countries and their attempts to deal with white supremacy.Report

Rochelle DuFord
Rochelle DuFord
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
3 years ago

This post is great–it lays out a lot of very productive approaches to 20th century philosophy.

But, to my mind, it leaves out some of the most notable examples of folks doing this work: the Frankfurt School. There is even a chapter of the Dialectic of Enlightenment titled, “Elements of Anti-Semitism: Limits of Enlightenment.” There is also the section of Adorno’s Negative Dialectics where he loses it over Heidegger’s Metaphysics: Part 1, The Relation to Ontology. He also wrote “Jargon of Authenticity”: a pages long polemic against Heidegger’s metaphysics. Adorno also wrote (like, a lot) about how contemporary, to him, positivists were liable to fascism and fascist thinking (his metaphysics basically demands this position).

Marcuse also takes up issue with what he calls ‘linguistic’ philosophy in One Dimensional Man (what many people interpret to mean positivists in general and for him represented for him by Austin and Wittgenstein) as covering over the actual existence of social problems like racism. Adorno and Marcuse had a lengthy exchange about whether ‘left fascism’ is possible. Habermas took up this mantle and used the term ‘left-fascism’ to distance the Frankfurt School from student movements in Germany.

Eric Fromm wrote Escape from Freedom–an entire book about the origins of fascism. One could also teach Husserl, along with Heidegger’s “On the Essence of Truth” and Horkheimer’s “On the Problem of Truth”–a clear way of getting at what Horkheimer saw as the connection between truth, social conditions, and the scientific method. Ultimately, Horkheimer here concludes that some epistemologies are intimately interconnected with ‘reactionary’ politics.

This tradition is generally disregarded in the context of a broader look at 20th century philosophy…but it need not be. Adorno criticized Robert Pippin, Habermas had lengthy exchanges with a number of analytic philosophers (or at the very least, relies on their claims in some ways). In addition to the more broad connections that I’ve drawn above. Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
3 years ago

Absolutely re the Frankfurt school. This is what is so bizarre about the idea that limits of free speech or issues in political philosophy, etc. are the main link between philosophy and fascism. There is another, more immediate link: most great philosophers of the 20th century had a personal connection to the threat of fascism, and, as with Heidegger, to fascism itself. And these personal connections were a big part of their philosophical worldviews.

Husserl, Cassier, Heidegger, Adorno, Carnap, Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Quine, Dewey – this is like a case of six degrees of seperation. These circles interconnected with each other, and they were responding to similar socio-politica-cultural conditions of fascism, communism, capitalism. The disagreements they had mattered, and the disagreements could be so personal, because their written philosophical work were part of their broader disagreements in their worldviews. Those broader disagreements – which broke the relations between Husserl and Heidegger, or strained the relation between Russell and Wittgenstein, or between Sarte and Merleau-Ponty, etc. – is where the real gold is. Like when me and my family member disagree about Trump, that is what these philosophers disagreeing with each other was, except the great philosophers were doing it at a much deeper and more profound level. And they articulated their philosophies, and wrote their books, to justify their side in these disagreements.

Great philosophers are ahead of their time, marking the contours of thought society is struggling with. If 20th century philosophers are great, it’s because their real, lived philosophical disagreements were tracking the main fissures in our society. Those fissures aren’t mainly about reference or the private language argument, but about differences in how these thinkers lived their lives and responded to world historical events like WWI, the Russian revolution, the rise of Nazism, and so on. Ignore this and focus instead on compartmentalized “topics” to be covered in syllabi, and most public will rightly keep on ignoring academic philosophy.Report

beauvoir's baby
beauvoir's baby
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
3 years ago

Bharath, I loved the sweep and depth of your post. So inspirational. Thanks for posting.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
3 years ago

Thanks.

I suspect the most interesting and socially relevant philosophy conversations in academia are happening not (1) in the classroom or (2) in talks people are giving, but (3) in the robust, emotionally charged exchanges philosophers have behind the scenes (before/after faculty meetings, at bars, at coffee shops, in closed facebook discussions, with a sense of who is aligned with what group, what the different alliances are, etc.). In (1) and (2), the philosopher has to speak with a faux-neutrality, as if emotions, alliances, in-group/out-groups, power dynamics don’t exist. In (3), this vaneer can be set aside, and one can speak more freely combining intellectual ideas and one’s lived situation.

What I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall of most of these (3) type conversations! Not because I want to be a voyeur, but because those conversations are so intellectually potent and vibrant. As a non-academic, I have no access to (3). The closest I get is some controversial posts on one or another blog once in a while. If academics can find a way to make (3) type conversations public, many in the public would be hooked. And those (3) type conversations will help us – academics and non-academics alike – discuss together in a deeper and more healing way things like what happened in Charlottsville. It is never going to happen in the context of (1) and (2) type conversations.

Academics, if you want to help and lead, you need to step out of the comfort zone of (1) and (2), and share publically your passions, difficulties and composure with which you have (3) type conversations. It would be amazing and inspiring.Report

Daniel Restrepo
3 years ago

I apologize in advance for the long post.

I think Charlottesville could be a great resource to begin to raise some really important philosophical questions. Some of those points were made above like free speech, employee rights, and privacy rights. I would sharpen our definition of free speech because I think people tend to have a very loose definition of free speech. We should take seriously what it means to infringe upon that right. Are PayPal, Patreon and GoDaddy.com infringing on the free speech when they do not allow them use of their platforms, are counter-protesters infringing on free speech rights, etc.? I think for many people these are not obvious answers. As far as employee rights, I think there might be legitimate questions on the flipside: could someone accuse a person who went to Charlottesville to march with white supremacists of making the workplace a hostile environment? As for doxxing, this is an interesting question but as I understand the term it applies to outing someone who uses the anonymity of the internet. Being at a public event with journalists is a good way of forgoing anonymity. Of course, publicly mistaking a person who didn’t go for someone who did is a serious problem.

As to the points about not taking the slogans of white supremacists seriously, I understand this but I think it misses a golden opportunity to think hard about some basic assumptions that are not the exclusive property of white supremacy. For example, white supremacists want to do away with affirmative action because they think it is a bias against them. Not everyone who wants to do away with affirmative action is a white supremacist, but it is a core policy goal that white supremacists have and it is very relevant now because of the leaked justice department memo about suing schools for racial bias against white applicants. If someone goes this route, I suggest considering whether legacy admissions are biased as well.

Another core belief to consider is the notorious 14 words. Someone mentioned nationalism and it might worth tying nationalism to concerns of “white genocide.” This is a good time to tie this to both traditional accounts of a mythical state like in Plato’s Republic (remember, they’re chanting blood and soil) and contemporary human rights problems like ethnic cleansing as they relate to the formation and policing of nation-states. It is also a golden opportunity to tie this concern to the various aspects of Trump’s immigration policy: the border wall, the ICE ramp up, the Muslim ban, proposed limitations of legal immigration, etc.

Regarding more traditional problems of race, without going for low-hanging fruit we should ask whether or not the police and media response to the initial protests are instances of white privilege. Compare the police response here to that of Ferguson. At Ferguson, police came with military weapons and equipment to a protest that was against police violence; at Charlottesville the 3 percenters outgunned the police. As for the media portrayal, I haven’t seen anyone call Charlottesville a riot even though many people were injured (not just by the car attack) and property was destroyed. This is not how protests at Ferguson and Baltimore have been portrayed.

Other race questions could be about a color-blind society and the problems of the non-ideal political reality, what is our commitment towards racial egalitarianism, the demand of assimilation, the creation of whiteness, and questions concerning segregation. The last one in particular resonates with the famous Lee Atwater quote about changing the tone of political rhetoric from using the n-word to talking more abstractly about ending busing and supporting states’ rights. For this you could use Jason Stanley’s very readable and insightful book on propaganda to talk about democracy and demagoguery.

If you want to have more traditional discussions about virtues, one question that comes to mind is what is political courage. Is denouncing Nazis or hatred really courageous or the baseline expectation for political figures? What of those who denounce the president but vote for his agenda that might achieve some white supremacist policy goals?

Lastly, there’s something to be said about the creation of mythic history. It’s worth asking why there are confederate statues, why they popped up especially during the civil rights period, and whether we really are erasing history by removing them.

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ajkreider
ajkreider
3 years ago

One could use this as an opportunity to blend metaphysics and metaethics – by discussing “cause shopping” (or perhaps, “distal responsibility”? – I’m sure there’s an extant phrase already). It seems that when attempting to lay blame for such events, people search the causal history for a cause that suits their rhetorical and political interests. So for example, who is responsible for the murder – the murderer. No, it’s the neo-nazi protesters. No, it’s the antifa crowd that egged them on. No, it is Trump who has blood on his hands for setting the wrong tone. No, it’s the vilification of white men by the left that gave us Trump. The point is that there’s an opportunity to discuss causation and it’s role in assessing responsibility.

This seems a ubiquitous phenomenon, btw. Who is (ultimately) responsible for the deaths of the Dallas cops. The shooter? BLM anti-cop rhetoric? The centuries of oppression of blacks? All of the above? Japan got what they deserved because of Pearl Harbor. But wait, they only did that because of the U.S. blockade. One can scarcely get started on a conversation about Pinochet (or contemporary Venezuela for that matter), without hearing about an “American-led coup” – despite very minimal, if shameful, U.S. involvement. And how many contemporary U.S. military involvements are “justified” by “they caused us to do it” – (“but, that was our chickens coming home to roost” , ad infinitum . . . )Report

philosopherofthefuture
philosopherofthefuture
3 years ago

This could be a good opportunity in applied ethics and political philosophy courses to debate the topic of hate speech laws. Report

D.C.
D.C.
3 years ago

“One risk of focusing on highly visible instances of racist violence, such as the “Unite the Right” rally by white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend, is to make it seem more exceptional and more recognizable—and more alien to ordinary American life—than it actually is.”

Is this necessarily a “risk” to be avoided? Telling the average, covertly racist white Trump voter that they are similar to neonazis and the alt-right will turn them towards the latter two, not away. A lot of behavior is driven by cognitive dissonance; for most people, you can’t convince them that they’re villains. Report