I am standing in a classroom in a maximum security prison. It is the first class of the semester. I am facing 20 students. They have spent years, sometimes decades, incarcerated. They come from some of the poorest cities and communities in the country. Most of them are people of color. During the next four months they will study political philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, Niccolò Machiavelli, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx and John Locke, those often dismissed as anachronistic by the cultural left. It is not that the criticisms leveled against these philosophers are incorrect. They were blinded by their prejudices, as we are blinded by our prejudices. They had a habit of elevating their own cultures above others.
A century ago on Nov. 18, 1922, Marcel Proust died. He worked feverishly in his final hours on his masterpiece, À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, In Search of Lost Time. His 4,000 page novel is one of the most remarkable works of literature of the 20th century. During the war in Bosnia, I plowed my way through its seven volumes populated with 400 characters not as an escape from the war, for the specter of death and the twilight of an expiring society haunts Proust’s work, but as a way to reflect on the disintegration around me. Proust, like all great writers, gave me the words to describe aspects of the human condition I knew instinctively but had trouble articulating. Proust understood the conflicting ways we perceive reality and come to our own peculiar self-serving truths. He illuminated human folly with its illusions, ambiguities, and contradictions.
By Nicolas Allen and Hernán Ouviña for NACLA - Buenos Aires commemorated the 80th anniversary of Antonio Gramsci’s passing on April 27, 1937, with a week of lectures and cultural events paying homage to the Italian revolutionary. The proceedings, which will continue into the following months, had an air of veneration customarily reserved for independence leaders like Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín. Indeed, few intellectual figures have proven as important as Gramsci in addressing questions of power and state formation in the Latin American context. To borrow the title of Peter Thomas’s 2013 study, Argentina and Latin America have been living their own “Gramscian moment” for the last half century. How, and why, has Gramsci’s thinking remained so relevant in Latin America? History provides several clues—among them the fact that the first non-Italian edition of his Quaderni del Carcere(Prison Notebooks) was published in Spanish in Buenos Aires in 1950. The Quaderni presented a reinvention of traditional Marxism, taking national history as its central point of reference. Before Gramsci, Latin American communist parties largely ignored the specificity of national and regional histories, deferring to the Communist International’s (Comintern) interpretation of history
By Matthew Vernon Whalan for Counter Punch - The extreme shift to the right in American politics probably started most rapidly under Reagan, and has only increased under democratic and republican control alike. This rapid dance to the far right is poised to end only with civilization itself. Its opposition must be ready to last just as long. Obama is probably the most “liberal” president of the post-Reagan era, which makes it useful to see how fast even his administration has marched to the right, indeed, in many areas as fast and hard as Bush II. Under Obama, the U.S. has implemented a record number of oil and gas rigs, given an ominous 1 trillion dollar upgrade to the nuclear arsenal...
By John Lawrence for Grassroots Economic Organizing - ”Happiness is political,” is the opening line of Kaswan’s provocative book on William Thompson’s theory on the social nature of happiness and its ramification for organizing a just society. Kaswan introduces the reader to Thompson (1775-1833) as “perhaps the paradigmatic case of a traitor to his class.” Thompson was the only son of a wealthy merchant in Cork, Ireland; however as a political theorist, he developed ideas of the Enlightenment in a liberatory direction, calling for the elimination of subordination in all its manifestations.
By Chris Hedges in Truth Dig - Those whose lives pay homage to the sacred are considered by many in the modern world to be eccentrics and cranks. On the other hand, those who live disconnected from the sources of life, who neither fear nor honor nor understand the power of nature, who place their faith in human technology and human power, are celebrated and rewarded with power as they propel the planet and the species toward extinction. The natural world, if we do not radically reconfigure our relationships with each other and the ecosystem, will soon teach us a severe lesson about unbridled hubris. “The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization, and, above all, by the ‘disenchantment of the world,’ ” Max Weber wrote. “Precisely the ultimate and most sublime values have retreated from public life either into the transcendental realm of mystic life or into the brotherliness of direct and personal human relations.” This strange confluence, where those who hike to the peak and those who ride in cars and trains meet in uneasy silence, is emblematic of the clash of cultures that threatens to doom the planet and the human species. One group knows and respects the power of nature, is able to feel its majesty and is aware of our insignificance and smallness before the cosmos.
An honor, a joy to be here. I feel I want to dance, but I won’t do it, I’ll focus instead on what we were asked to do. I shall talk about critical thought and explain how to kill the hydra of capitalism. That’s what it’s about: we talk of the hydra not to frighten ourselves, but to think about how to defeat it. The myth of the hydra had a happy end and we too must reach a happy end. By critical thought I understand not thought of catastrophe but the thought that seeks hope in a world where it seems that it no longer exists. Critical thought is the thought that opens that which is closed, that shakes that which is fixed. Critical thought is the attempt to understand the storm and more than that: it is understanding that at the center of the storm is something that opens paths towards other worlds.
“If we leave questioning the models children have been taught until later in life, it could be too late," warns Professor Angie Hobbs. "That is why we need to start teaching philosophy in primary school.” By this the professor means that children should be taught from a young age that there are other ways of seeing the world to the one they are exposed to by their family and social circle. It's a pertinent and timely point to make, especially considering the current debate around the risk of 'radicalisation' facing young people. Hobbs is currently the only professor of public understanding of philosophy in the world. She believes that just one philosophy class a week could benefit children’s intellectual and social development. Her department at the University of Sheffield – along with organisations such as The Philosophy Foundation – are currently pioneering the teaching of ancient Greek philosophy in UK primary schools.
We hear and talk a lot today about building new systems to replace our broken one. “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” This statement, attributed to the brilliant inventor Buckminster Fuller, is often invoked. Many tend to understand this passage as an invitation to place oneself outside of the reality or system they are set to transform, working on the idea or innovation that will change things ‘in one piece’: the killer innovation, model or system, whether technical or ideological – a controllable one preferably – that will save the world or at least a portion of it by providing a viable alternative to opt into, thus opting out of the previous. And so we find, as alternative to the ‘Grand Soir’, visions of the future where man will have domesticated the challenges of nature and society – or which will provide means for a few to physically flee the existing reality (to better protect their own commons?). Along with revolutionaries on barricades, or utopian designs of perfectly ordered societies, one can easily imagine hubristic heroes – billionaires on a mission – unilaterally deploying geo-engineering solutions, once climate change becomes ‘reality’ – or leaving on spaceships to reach less crowded and resource rich galaxies. Hollywood abounds with such anticipations. All are not science fiction. Projects such as colonizing Mars to conquest new resources, or setting up whole mobile cities on oceans outside of the perimeter of any sovereign jurisdiction, are being designed and funded. But how about the legions who don’t or won’t have the power and means (resources, skills, courage, opportunity, etc.) to opt into the new, or out of the old?
Nothing is more offensive to our innate sense of justice than the continuing freedom of known financial criminals - financier fraudsters who used money as a weapon to commit well-documented crimes, stealing homes and jobs and life-savings from our parents, our friends, our comrades and neighbors. Blankfein et al are jetting around free as birds... and getting richer each fiscal quarter. Meanwhile we fear our piling up bills, pull our hair and wonder aloud, "Why haven't the guilty bankers been arrested? Why has not a single corporate megabank been put on trial? Why is Goldman Sachs still alive?" only to be reminded that our current system is unwilling, unable and unequipped to dispense justice on mega-banks. If the regulators and the police and the courts and the President won't bring justice, then we the people must, right? But how? By what right do "we, the people" have to take the law into our own hands? By what authority can we go out and handcuff the CEOs, put Chase on trial and pass a fair sentence? How do we step outside the established law and use vigilante justice while still being confident that what we are doing is righteous and just?