February 20, 2015

Freedom and Professionalization

One appeal of philosophy is that it enables one to reflect on any aspect of life, without external constraints. Want to think about mind, culture, values, art? Go ahead. When doing philosophy you don't have to take other people's ideas for granted, or live under their tyranny. You can reflect for yourself. Start afresh. Be your own person. Call this the freedom of philosophy (Freedom, for short).

For a long time I wanted to be a philosophy professor because I assumed that it was the best way to have the freedom of philosophy. If I was a non-academic, wouldn't I have to make myself fit into the norms of society, be trapped within social constraints and pressures? I looked at my family, most of whom were non-academics, and looked at them with a kind of pity that they had to do what their bosses wanted them to do, had to move like sheep within the social structures, and had to define themselves by already preexisting roles and identities. I wanted to avoid that. Where could I get the freedom to just think and become whoever I wanted to be? Like many people, I fell in love with philosophy because it seemed to provide that freedom. I wanted that more, for the rest of my life. So I wanted to be a philosophy professor. Call this the protection of academic philosophy (Protection).

As a graduate student and a professor I started to realize that academic philosophy has lots of problems. Lots of ways in which it needs to improve in order to become even a nominally fair institution to all of its members. I also started to feel that part of what made things worse is that there was no shared sense in academia about how academic philosophers should act, what norms they should all follow. It seemed to be a free for all, where anyone for the most part can do, or atleast try to do, anything, as long as they have tenure. This very freedom seemed to be an obstacle for creating meaningful change in the profession. Perhaps I want the profession to be a certain way; well, somebody else doesn't. What then? Nothing seemed to follow. All there would be were fraught department meetings or repressed agressions, but outwardly no confrontation was possible. For confrontation presupposed that there were some norms that apply to all of us, and that we are bound by them. And people wanted to protect their own freedom too much to adhere to such shared norms. So I started to care more about having such shared norms, as a way to make progress in changing the profession. Call this the internal push for professionalization (Internal Push).

As a professor I also started to realize that academic philosophy is a part of broader academic forces, and that in particular, the overall commercialization of higher education in America. Academia overall was becoming a big business, and in order to survive, it had to fit into the broader capitalist, economic forces in the society. So as a professor I had to go to meetings explaining the value of what I do, or the value of the humanities in general. And even when the value was taken for granted, I had to become a salesperson for the college so that the college can get some funding to pursue the humanities. As a professor a lot of my time was taken up with being a bureaucrat. I was grading papers which were for the most part versions of the same paper over and over again. I had to apply for funding in order to make an economic contribution to the college. I had to publish, even if I didn't want to or the topics weren't what I wanted to work on, so that I could stay in the race. At times I felt that my academic job was not that different from the jobs of my non-academic family and friends. Call this the external push for professionalization (External Push).

How are these four ideas related to each other? This question gets to the heart of some of the issues in academic philosophy right now.

There is an obvious tension between Protection and Internal and External Push. Protection pulls away from professionalization, since it aims for the fantasy that an academic is basically given some money to think and there are ideally no rules of any kind thrust on her. In contrast, Internal Push and External Push are forcing professionalization onto academic philosophy, and so in the process endangering Protection. According to External Push, an academic job is no different than any other job, and so academics have to follow "company" guidelines just like anyone working in a non-academic, office job. This raises the fear that Protection is being eroded from outside academia. According to Internal Push, an academic must be held to the same workplace norms as anywhere else, and so things like sexual harassment or poor working conditions for adjuncts must be addressed and remedied by putting in place profession wide norms. Though certainly necessary, Internal Push raises the fear that Protection is being eroded from within academic philosophy.

I think this explains why academic philosophy has such a glacial pace of change. Most academic philosophers I have known certainly believe in gender equality and the plight of philosophers struggling to make a living. The issue is how to implement such changes without losing Protection. This is evident in the fact that even if you get a bunch of tenured academic philosophers in a room to discuss these topics, there is nothing in principle binding them to each other. There isn't already a background sense that there are some norms by which the people in the room are bound, that is, norms that they have to follow as academic philosophers. If a tenured professor says, "Look, I think feminists are making too big a deal. I don't see the problem," in principle there is nothing one can point to and say that he is violating this norm that he is already committed to as an academic. This is where offices are easier: there are the bosses, and if the bosses think certain guidelines have to hold, then that applies to everyone in the office. But are there any bosses in academia in that sense? Protection is meant to uphold the ideal that academia will be free of such bosses. A consequence is that the very protection which is meant for intellectual freedom can also end up being used to protect outdated or pernicious habits.

So here are three possible approaches:

A) Conservative: In order to hold on to Protection, any form of professionalization has to be resisted, be it the internal push or the external push. On this view, the plight of women, minorities, adjunts and so on might be unfortunate, but creating norms applicable to everyone is too extreme. It is a form of tyranny which will dissolve Protection, and so academic freedom will disappear, rendering an academic position a job like any other.

B) Moderate: In order to hold on to Protection, the profession has to make an internal push. For if academic philosophy is seen as too hostile to women, etc., then Protection will disappear anyway. On this view, academic philosophers should resist External Push, but strive for Internal Push.

C) Radical: Protection has to go because it is no longer viable in the current economic climate. As long as academic philosophy tries to only legislate themselves (that is, only do Internal Push), it will face the same problem as Churchs. For the very sense that academic philosophy is somehow special and not like other non-academic jobs will perpetuate the patterns of abuse and privilege endemic to academic philosophy. The only way to undercut these patterns of privilege is to recognize that an academic job is at bottom just another job. So both Internal Push and External Push have to be embraced (which is not to say one has to agree with the administrators ideas of what External Push must look like).

I think academics who embrace radicalism are a very small minority; or, at any rate, I haven't seen it defended publically too much. Much of the public discussion about academic philosophy is between conservatives and moderates. The philosophy blogosphere, for example, is rife with tensions and arguments between these two views.

I believe that ultimately the conservative and the moderate are fighting a losing battle. In time, maybe a decade or two or 50 years from now, I think complete professionalization will be the state of affairs in academia. Conservatives and moderates are hoping that academia can still offer the kind of Protection it had in the last couple of centuries; where they differ is in how to retain that Protection. But fundamentally Protection is itself an economic fact, since it is about being given money to simply think and do whatever the academic deems of interest to her. And I think this economic basis of Protection is what will make it disappear in the coming decades.

Is this a sad thing? In a way, yes. I remember when I wanted to be a professor how important Protection seemed to me. What I didn't want was to be like all the people, "the sheep", who had to get up and go to work and had to live by the rules of society. I wanted freedom from all that, the kind of freedom philosophy seemed to give, and for that Protection seemed essential.

But, in another way, it is not sad at all. Because Protection doesn't really give Freedom anyway. This is where I changed my mind from when I was an academic. Philosophy can give one freedom from external constraints. But this is the kind of freedom which one has to earn through exercising philosophy on oneself and so transforming oneself. It is not to be gained by having an institutional structure give protection so that one can gain institutional freedom. The Freedom worth having can be had whether one is in academia or outside academia, irrespective of what one's job is, how much knowledge one has or how many degrees one has gained.

This is why ultimately academic philosophy is going to be fully professionalized, from within and from without. For the idea at the heart of academic philosophy, that Freedom is to be obtained through Protection, already accepts the base premise that Protection is fundamentally a professional advantage. It is what an academic gains in virtue of the job she has. But nothing comes for free. In order to have such advantage through the job one has, one has to fit into the society one is a part of; and in a society like ours which sees every job as just a profession, it is only a matter of time before being an academic will also seem like just another job.

In the long run this is a good thing. For it distinguishes Freedom from Protection, and makes possible the view that the freedom gained through philosophy (the kind of freedom sought by Socrates, Marcus Aurelius and Boethius, as well as Lao Tzu, Aurobindo and Simone Weil) is not the same as academic freedom at all, but is something much grander and more beautiful. A kind of freedom which in fact every person can have, and so for which Protection in the academic, institutional sense is not needed.

16 comments:

  1. "there was no shared sense in academia about how academic philosophers should act, what norms they should all follow"

    I can imagine how it might seem this way to someone who was already very sympathetic to the existing norms. However, my own impression is totally different. It's very clear to me that philosophy and the wider university institution is totally hostile to anyone who seriously questions feminism, for example -- let alone someone who flatly denies any of its central assumptions or values. Even for someone with tenure, it would be a massive risk to take this position, regardless of how careful or thoughtful or philosophical the person's defence of it might be. For people not already well-established in the profession it could ruin your career before it even begins. (Notice that nowadays many ads specifically list adherence to feminism and other "values" of the progressive left in their description of the job.)

    Thus, you imagine a "conservative" who objects that feminists are "making too big a deal". Maybe such a person will still be tolerated in many departments. But if he (or she) keeps saying stuff like this, and arguing for it aggressively, it won't be long before others start accusing him (or her) of misogyny, oppression, etc. The discussion will definitely not be a free and respectful exchange of ideas. And certainly if someone were to publicly state a more "conservative" position -- i.e., a real rightist position, not someone who wants to "conserve" the leftist status quo of the last few decades -- that person will almost certainly not be getting jobs or interviews. Imagine someone arguing in public that feminism is fundamentally false, or that it's a dishonest and intellectually bankrupt political movement, etc. Claims that are actually pretty easy to substantiate (and certainly no harder to substantiate than the claims of "feminist epistemology" or "care ethics" or whatnot). That person would be blacklisted.

    Anyway, for this reason it seems to me you're overlooking a possible position here. It's easy to overlook because anyone who takes this position is not going to be a member of our profession. Call it the "conservative radical" position, or maybe the "reactionary" position. The conservative radical rejects Protection and Freedom as fantasies (at least insofar as these are values that are supposed to obtain within academic institutions). Like the "radical", she accepts both "internal push" and "external push". But she disagrees with the "radical" about the proper nature or content of these pushes. So, for example, the conservative radical thinks that feminism and multiculturalism and other such leftist ideals are irrational and evil; she thinks philosophy should have other, totally different ideals, and that these leftist ideals should be institutionally opposed and marginalized (in the same way that rightist ideals are presently opposed and marginalized). Finally, the conservative radical might (or should) oppose the existing content of "external push" -- efficiency, markets, etc. For she may (should) recognize that the present "external" and "internal" pushes are not really opposed, that they are just two sides of the same coin. (Notice that corporate America does not seem to have any problem with feminism, and has in fact been instrumental in disseminating its ideals during the whole time that feminism has existed as a mainstream phenomenon.)

    No doubt there are other possible positions. I mention conservative radicalism because I like it better than any of your three, and because it's truly alien to the existing institutional system. To the extent that we take for granted something like your three options, we are still working within a very narrowly defined ("professional", technocratic, leftist) world-view.

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    1. N, As usual, a very thought-provoking comment. As you no doubt can guess, I disagree about the value of feminism, multiculturalism, etc, which I think are great. I agree though that conservative radicalism, as you define it, is an option in logical space, and that while both of us might embrace radicalism, you embrace a conservative version, while I embrace a liberal version. I also agree that while in current academic philosophy liberal radicalism is a small minority, in my experience as well conservative radicalism is extremely hard to even state without being made to seem as if one is a bad person. I wish that weren't so, since in principle we should distinguish conservative radicalism from bigotry or misogyny, though how to keep them apart in practice is a difficult issue.

      As I see it, one big mistake in much academic philosophy is the assumption that academic philosophy should somehow be a "neutral" space, where all logically possible positions get at least in theory equal voice and treatment. I think there is no such neutrality to be found. At bottom, academic philosophy, as any institution, is about the people who comprise it, not about abstract positions in logical space, and as people the needs and issues of philosophy they would think through are bound to be different. This assumption of neutrality leads to a fair amount of frustration, and bad philosophy. For example, some feminists seem to claim that if one is against feminist philosophy, then one is just part of the problem, as if the opponent is morally backward. Why does this kind of move take place? It's because they are trying to retain the appearance of neutrality in the profession: they don't want to treat anti-feminism as an option they want to debate seriously, and yet they want to say that in academic phil any philosophical issue can be debated, and so they render anti-feminism into a non-philosophical, moral failing. This strikes me as unfortunate, because it ends being another version of policing the boundaries of what counts as philosophy and what doesn't. I would argue instead to give the assumption of neutrality. Every philosopher has to take some things for granted so that they can pursue the projects they find interesting. As someone interested in feminism (though I don't know much of it), I wouldn't be up for debating endlessly whether feminism is right before pursuing feminist projects and building different edifices based on those assumptions.

      If one gives up the assumption of neutrality, that doesn't mean there can't be philosophical disagreement in a robust way, as if then all there is are warring sides. Instead, I think it just then highlights what is in fact the case: that robust philosophical disagreement is possible only when we acknowledge that the two sides have very different starting points, but are willing to see if they can find traction. Better to do it this way than, as on the neutrality model, to assume that everyone can agree on some robust notion of philosophy which is content-neutral; I think that just leads to using a false sense of universality to control the debate. Some feminist and multi-culture advocates are as guilty of this as some white, male, or Indian, Brahman, male patriarchial figures.

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    2. I think you are also right that conservative radicalism is not getting much traction in academic philosophy because it doesn't have much traction in academia more generally. I don't know how to make that better, and I admit it is not something I spend much time thinking about, since it seems that a conservative radical position doesn't allow me the chance to articulate the questions and projects I find more interesting. I could try to justify this using words like oppression or white domination, etc., but none of that strikes me as right. Because the tide is changing, or has changed in academia a while back. In order for me to pursue the projects I find interesting some people's culture, including some white culture and philosophy. is going to be affected or marginalized; there is no avoiding that. I am not a liberal in the sense that I don't think there is a magical netural viewpoint which preserves all cultures; that is a fantasy and the sooner that is given up, the sooner we can get on with having the difficult conversations that are necessary to live together.

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  2. "conservative radicalism is extremely hard to even state without being made to seem as if one is a bad person."

    I take it you're saying here that if one does try to state that kind of position, others will try to _make_ you seem to be "a bad person". If that's what you mean, I agree. One reason is that, as you go on to say, the left that controls the universities (and the media, and the government) is trying to reconcile their supposed openness to rational debate with their actual exercise of power -- over less powerful people many of whom would be far more sympathetic to the conservative position if they were exposed to it. So the solution is to pretend that there are no conservative positions, that rightists are just evil or insane "haters" who want to oppress others, etc. But then, given that this is the situation in universities (and in the media, and in popular culture) how can it be that there really are no institutional norms in academia? Again, I suggest that it only seems that way to philosophers because they themselves are so thoroughly indoctrinated that they can't even distinguish between "being a good person" and believing in feminism, multiculturalism, etc. In reality, there are some very strict norms; anyone who violates these norms is purged from the university system -- which is then taken to indicate that the right has no ideas, that rightists just hate and hurt people, etc.

    The left -- especially the academic left -- is profoundly dishonest. Back when it was less powerful, it was happy to appeal to notions of universality and neutrality; we were supposed to listen to leftist arguments that most people found repulsive and crazy on the grounds that every point of view should be considered philosophically. But once it attained power, the left began to systematically dismantle those notions of neutrality: exposing people to right wing ideas was too dangerous, too harmful or too oppressive. The process happens in microcosms, epicycles. (Example: Just a few years back, gay marriage was an interesting idea that deserved to be considered, even though most people think it's a terrible, insane idea; by now anyone in a university has to be very careful in suggesting that we "consider" traditionalist views of marriage.) The left will say (and perhaps believe) anything that serves to increase their power in the moment.

    "I wish that weren't so, since in principle we should distinguish conservative radicalism from bigotry or misogyny, though how to keep them apart in practice is a difficult issue."

    But do you think this is a special problem for conservatives, or conservative radicals? Whatever feminism might be in the abstract, the reality is that many prominent feminists openly express hate and disdain for men. Feminism tends to portray men as an evil oppressor class, denies or downplays the real harms and injustices that men experience. Feminists seek to deny men jobs and opportunities (usually on very dubious grounds). They blame men or patriarchy for all kinds of bad things but -- as far as I know -- they never give men credit for their immense contributions. Could this not be seen as an expression of hatred ("misandry") or bigotry? Any kind of radicalism organized around categories such as race or sex is in danger of falling into bigotry and hate. But it seems to me that this is a far more serious and real danger for the radical left -- which has won pretty much every battle for the last 60 years -- than for the radical right -- which does not even exist, which is barely even legal now in most western nations.

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  3. "it seems that a conservative radical position doesn't allow me the chance to articulate the questions and projects I find more interesting"

    That could be true, but it depends what the conservative radical position is. There are many options here (just as there are many kinds of leftism or liberalism). The kind of conservatism or rightism that I would prefer might actually be more congenial to _some_ of your interests than leftism or liberalism. For instance, in a broadly rightist perspective we aren't so constrained by the Enlightenment ideas that bother you. There is more room (I think) for valuing specific cultural and religious traditions on their own terms, taking them seriously as unique ways of being or insights into reality (among other things). More room for the organic and particular, as we talked about in that other thread, and more room for trying to understand the organic and particular as it actually is. Whereas the left tends to be forced into viewing these as "equal" inter-changeable units in the multi-cult. (And when cultural reality doesn't fit with these leftist preconceptions, the left then tends to fall into one of its two reality-denying modes -- theories of noble savagery, on the one hand, or just plain savagery, on the other.)

    "I wouldn't be up for debating endlessly whether feminism is right before pursuing feminist projects and building different edifices based on those assumptions"

    No, we don't have to endlessly debate things. But what about _debating_ those fundamental assumptions just a _little_ bit before destroying important institutions and ways of being? It does not seem to me that feminists have ever made any serious attempt to defend some of the most basic assumptions of feminism. They don't have too, because for decades now feminism has been an entrenched system of power. For example: feminists complaints about "representation" and "systemic discrimination" and the like are not reasonable unless it is (at least) reasonable for us to believe something like the following claim: "Were it not for the influence of arbitrary or irrational or unjust social factors, people of both sexes would tend to be 'represented' roughly equally in pretty much all walks of life, professions, etc." In other words, we would have to have (at least) some pretty good reason for thinking that the relevant natural aptitudes, interests, priorities and desires of the sexes tend to be roughly equal. So far as I know, no one has ever offered a shred of real evidence for that theory. They haven't even done much to seriously engage with the evidence to the contrary. I'm sure you would find it worrisome if people wanted to "build different edifices" based on the assumption that whites are naturally better than non-whites, or that European civilization is just better than all the rest. You would think (rightly) that they have some responsibility to at least _seriously try_ to determine whether those assumptions are true. But I don't think that feminists or multiculturalists, or other leftists have really tested their assumptions at all; in reality, they just came to hold power, and now they need those assumptions to justify the power they already have. God help us if they're wrong.

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    1. N, When I said there are no institutional norms in academia, I meant no explicit norms that everyone in academia can agree on. This is not to deny there aren't particularly powerful groups and certain kinds of group-think. I agree with much that you say, except I don't think the left is dishonest or that feminists portray men as evil.

      I agree that in academic philosophy, academia generally, the media, entertainment, etc. there is a big liberal bias, and there is no neutral space for debate. But this doesn't mean the left has all the power. I think we are in a space where the power in the general culture is 50-50 between conservatives and liberals, where they have power in different domains. Yes, conservatives rightly feel they are demonized in academia, media, etc. At the same time, many liberals also rightly feel they are demonized in churchs, or as communists, etc. My point is that in academic philosophy, as in the culture at large, there is a general standstill of real rational debate, and just a lot of distrust and anger. I think academic philosophy is going to get worse along these lines, and it will reflect more and more the kind of politicized partisanship characteristic of the general culture. This is not happening because either the left or the right are somehow horrible. It is happening because there is a _deep tension_ within American and European culture itself. There is no pristine white culture, that is being attacked by women or minorities: white males deeply disagree among themselves, and have been at least since the Protestant reformation and then the Enlightenment.

      I am very sympathetic to the idea that just as the Enlightenment ideals are running rough shod over ethic cultures, so too those ideals are contributing to the loss of lots of White, European cultures. As a brown person, I have no interest in saying that Indian culture should be preserved, and European culture can go to hell. As I see it, isolationism is not an option for protecting the cultures; it is not realistic. And the main going story of how people can live together - Enlightenment secularism - is not working. So we need to come up with another alternative. This is the most pressing issue, and what I care about the most. I don't care that academic philosophy jobs in the coming decades are going to go to feminists and minorities, and that process is not fair to other people in the discipline. Things go in stages, and that is the stage academic philosophy is in now; its time has come. There is going to be a stampede in this direction, and yes, traditional white culture is going to get run over to some extent. I am not worried because it will still be plenty representated, though perhaps not in the way it was in the past. Exactly how much evidence and argument is being given a tricky issue, since there is no neutral sense of justification independent of people's interests. You say "no one has offered a shred of evidence"; I don't know what to do with this, since you seem to offer it like a factual statement (like saying it is not raining outside), but the difficulty is that there is no such vantage point we have right now. What is happening is that there is an uprising of a lot of people wanting to think in a new way, in a way that represents them. One can try to argue that energy is irrational or doesn't care about justice, but this seems to again presuppose that there is some neutral sense of justice that binds everyone.

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    2. I am interested to understand how the conservative radical position can help me articulate what I care about. It seems the other way to me, that the liberal radical position might help you. I am understanding the position you are defending as saying that academic philosophy and the culture at large should somehow be governed by white culture, since that is on your view the culture of America. If I am misunderstanding you, please let me know. But if I understand the view, I don't see why I should sign onto that. But here is a reason you might want to sign onto the liberal radical view. Because it is only by appreciating how the Enlightenment view distorts ethic cultures that it will be possible to see that it is also distorting white culture. In this way, I think the white, European culture can only be saved alongside saving other cultures; they are all going to stand or fall together, because they are all being replaced by the monolithic Enlightenment culture, which confuses the monolithicness with universality.

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    3. Hi Bharath,
      This is a good discussion. Thank you. There are now so many themes we're arguing about that I don't think I can address all of them adequately.

      1) I don't think I'd characterize my own position as the view that "white culture" should govern philosophy or society at large. Certainly I don't think that any feature of any culture that biologically white people come up with should for that reason alone be authoritative! But I do think that whites should be racially conscious, if only because under present political conditions they are targeted for dispossession as a race. There are other important forms of community and solidarity, and there are lots of conflicts between whites (as you mention). Under the present system, racial consciousness and solidarity is encouraged for all groups other than non-Jewish whites, whose only permissible identity is defined by guilt and shame. I think that has to change. But I'm not even sure, for example, that I want America to exist. America is a diseased empire; feminism and multiculturalism are symptoms.

      2) You're right that there is no neutral basis from which we can proceed. That can be a deep philosophical and cultural problem. But I don't think it's a problem that comes up w.r.t. my point about the lack of rational debate over feminism. Assuming only canons of evidence or rationality that feminists or leftists accept, it is very easy to show that their assumptions about human nature are unreasonable -- not self-evident or properly basic, not founded on any good scientific evidence or philosophical argument, open to serious empirical and conceptual objections, etc.

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  4. 3) It seems to me that you have a tendency to describe Leftist institutions and forces as if these things just happened naturally or inevitably, and so now we just have to accept it all and work from there: "The tide is changing", "that is the stage academic philosophy is in now, it's time has come", etc. The tide has changed _only_ because a small minority of powerful people has deliberately worked to create this kind of system over many decades. It was not natural or inevitable, and it can be changed at any time. In any case, even if there really were some kind of irresistible agent-less historical process at work here, that would not be a reason to _accept_ the resulting culture if (as I am claiming) we have good reasons to regard it as bad, corrupting, dangerous, etc.

    4) You say that you "don't care" that white people or men will be denied jobs or opportunities, that our culture is being "run over" (and it's going to get worse). I can't argue with a feeling, of course, but consider what you're dismissing here. For millions of people like me, Leftism means in practice that we can't support our families. My kids (some of them girls) suffer because of affirmative action. Their kids will probably face _very_ serious oppression and suffering. Leftism means we can't feel safe in our communities, can't have real communities or nations, can't practice our religions freely or publicly express our political convictions... Are you sure that's something that a philosopher or a decent person should dismiss as being simply unimportant? You say you would like to have "discussions" to figure out new ways of living together, etc. That is obviously not a realistic goal if you go into the discussion telling people like me that our most vital interests are just not important to you.

    4) I can't agree that Left and Right have roughly equal power. There is, to be sure, a dumb and mentally castrated Right -- Rush Limbaugh, George Bush, or whatever. These people don't stand for much of anything: corporate interests, on the one hand, and abstract principles borrowed from the Left. Think of any important issue. With a tiny handful of exceptions, every mainstream political party or institution (whether "conservative" or "liberal") now holds a position that would have been considered Leftist (or "liberal") in the recent past. The culture has not moved to the Right on anything. (The one exception, arguably, is on economics; but then the Left that rules is not the old class-warrior Left; they don't _want_ to disrupt the economic system; it's the base of their power.)

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  5. N, I didn't mean to say I don't care about the millions of people being affected by policies of the Left. I apologize if I suggested otherwise. What I meant was: I can't care about it as a reason to pursue a conservative view, since that doesn't address the issues that millions of people like me care about. I also didn't meant to say anything was inevitable. Nor that white culture should be basically one of shame or guilt. I completely agree no one should have to live that way.

    There are so many issues here. So let me focus it onto one issue. Consider three families or communities occupying the same physical location: (a) a conservative white family who feels academia isn't addressing their needs, (b) a white liberal family who feels comfortable in academia, and who think liberalism is the way to bring all races together, (c) a brown family who feels that neither academia nor the broader culture in addressing their needs. Do you think there is any way for these three families to live together in such a way as to share deep modes of life and culture? If so, how? If not, what is the alternative? I ask this question because it seems to me that the way forward to take all three families' lives into account is to provide a pluralistic view which is an alternative to the liberal view. I am for that alternate pluralistic view, and I am trying to working towards it. From previous exchanges, you seem to think that is impossible. If so, I am curious what you think are the prospects for these three families to live together.

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  6. Your question is a good way of distilling things. I don't know whether it's possible for the As, Bs and Cs to "share deep modes of life and culture". I didn't mean to suggest that it's impossible in earlier discussions -- only to object to a specific conception of how that might come about. It would seem that each of the three are going to have some things in common, but also that each family is going to be at odds with each of the others in some pretty important ways. For example, the Bs probably think that "bringing all the races together" means eliminating or devaluing things that are very important to both As and Bs. I can imagine a society where they live together fairly peacefully and harmoniously (although I don't think our actual society is like that) but that's not the same as sharing deep modes of life and culture. If there is a non-liberal or non-Enlightenment form of pluralism that somehow enables that kind of shared life and culture, I guess I would support that. But I'm not sure what it would be -- though I'm certainly curious to hear more from you about what it could be in your view.

    One alternative would be to drop the assumption that people who differ in all these very important ways -- race or ethnicity or nationality, language or culture or religion, politics or ethics -- should have to share a culture or society or country. Maybe the formation of a shared way of life or culture is possible here, but maybe we should wait and see whether a more gradual and organic convergence could produce it -- instead of first throwing everyone together in western countries and then hoping that we can invent some workable shared culture after the fact. I'm not especially happy with that alternative, but given that the secular-Enlightenment form of "social objectivity" seems to be just as useless here as some more explicitly Eurocentric or Christian basis for society, peaceful separateness might be the best thing possible for now.

    If I imagine a future where As, Bs and Cs all have to change a fair bit, it seems there could be a new form of "social objectivity" that would work better. My hunch is that this would have to take the form of a new religion. This new religion would have to somehow accommodate or integrate the really important organic/particular stuff within the different cultures and ways of life that make up a pluralistic society; it would have to explain how all of these are fundamentally good and true, and why it is good for them to co-exist. That seems unlikely for now, though. One big obstacle to it is that the Cs and others like them (i) don't realize that they are living inside a false religion and (ii) that false religion makes it very difficult for people to even seriously _try_ to figure out the basic religious and existential problems that we have to deal with. I wish I had something more concrete to offer. Like you, I feel I'm just trying to work my way towards a position on these things. (One thing we might agree on here is that a less Eurocentric form of philosophy, in particular, could be useful; ironically, opening philosophy to non-European sources and traditions could help white Europeans to reconnect with their own cultural origins and identity in a healthier and more moral way; that in turn might help to bring cultures into a more authentic and respectful dialogue... Of course that's just a very vague hope...)

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    1. N, I pretty much agree. As As, Bs and Cs are right now, they can't live harmoniously together; we are seeing that everyday on news and our cities. Which is why liberal, Enlightenment secularism has such a grip, because it seems to many to be the only way to live together. But this is a false hope in the long run.

      Liberal secularism is a project of separating race and religion from culture, with the aim of creating a culture which is free of the troublesome elements of race and religion. This is what liberal minorities like Amartya Sen or Anthony Appiah are working towards. As well as the many people who are, and will be, "integrating", say, Indian philosophy with Western philosophy, where this is really a process of separating out any religious elements from Indian philosophy; kind of like what is done with Aquinas, Berkeley, Kant. etc. in the West. The Indian philosophy that will be presented in classrooms as the authentic thing will be the Indian philosophy which has been "purified" by the liberal secularism process as fit for a secular society, where the very fact of this reinterpretation will be covered over and denied. This might work with upper class intelligensia, but its going to run into trouble as minorities gain more of their voice.

      For most minorities, religion and culture and inseparable. The liberal secularist, white or black or brown, thinks that if only everyone left their religion behind, or at least rendered it private, then we can live peacefully. But this is exactly what most minorities are not going to accept: asking them to leave their religion behind is imposing from on high, and they are going to resist this. When this happens, we will be able to see that the white conservatives haven't been crazy or bigoted, but that they too have been voicing the same connection between religion and culture that minorities will be highlighting as well. But then, at this point, what hope can there be? As the connection between religion and culture is highlighted, how can people live together? I doubt at that point separatism will be even an option, as our lives will be too deeply intertwined.

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    2. The only hope at that point will be to see that a shared culture is possible by seeing that a way of integrating different religions and atheism is possible. Today's religion or culture, which might seem so well-defined, was nothing but a fringe movement in the past which tried to bring together different previous religions and cultures. There is nothing bizarre about integrating religions; it is what has been happening all along human history. We are now in need of the next version of this kind of integration. This is what I am interested in. And it won't do to simply provide some arguments for why religions should be integrated or some abstract reasoning about what such integration might look like. One has to delve deep into the religious/spiritual consciousness, and from that space live into a space of deep religious integration: this is fundamentally a matter of living that integration, and then the theory of it will come out naturally as a result. A person has to go into the spiritual desert to find the new grounding for oneself and the society. As I never learnt how to do this is in academia, given its generally a-spiritual mode, this is what I will be learning and opening myself to.

      Here understanding the mind and finding ways of living together are united. Liberal secularism has an impoverished, almost childish and simplistic view of religion. Soon this is what is going to make minorities rebel against such secularism. At the same time, it is also what makes such secularism fail to understand the human mind. For historically religion, or spirituality in a broader sense, is at the root of the human mind, and as long as liberal secularists fail to understand religion, they won't understand the deeper roots of the mind, and so will have to content themselves with uninformative, but psuedo-scientific sounding claims like that the mind is the brain. I believe that in this way liberal secularism is not only an obstacle to sustainable peace, but that it is also an obstacle to properly understanding ourselves naturalistically.

      Showing all this is not simply a matter of giving arguments. I could do that till I am blue in the face, and it will be helpful to some extent, but it won't move the deeper underlying forces. Instead, I have to embrace what I don't know, learn the practices I didn't learn in my education, and change my consciousness as best as I can.

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  7. Wow. I guess we agree then! There is a need to integrate religions, yes. I didn't mean that it can't be done. It seems to me clear that it has to be done: we can't live without religion, and the one that rules our society for now is not working at all. I didn't mean to be skeptical about that possibility. But it might be very hard, and even impossible given how things are -- again, one key problem is that the false religion of liberalism and Enlightenment is not understood as a religion at all, but simply as a direct awareness of reality. (How all false religions and ideologies are experienced.) So it's hard even to get most people in this society to understand that their problem is at bottom religious, spiritual, theological -- that there's no escape from this problem, that their attempt to escape from it is just making things worse... But yes, that's what we need. And I'm also very concerned with figuring out how to take steps in that direction in my own life, outside of academic philosophy -- finding new ways of living, a new kind of consciousness.

    My only question is what you mean by "understanding ourselves naturalistically". I suspect "naturalism" is not a useful term. But my sense is that a _correct_ understanding of ourselves and our society and our world is super-natural, i.e., has a super-natural dimension or basis. What does "naturalism" mean to you?

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    1. Yes, definitely. What is needed is a synthesis of religions (and atheism) so that there are new ways of living, and new forms of consciousness.

      I meant "naturalistically" as in what can unite the differing religions and can integrate them in a way which doesn't privilege just any one of them. This doesn't mean reducing them to nature understood in a mechanistic sense, but rather to see how the different religions are different reflections of our reality as human being - our human nature in some sense. Call this "our shared nature".

      This sense of nature is compatible with the idea, which perhaps you are highlighting, that in another sense we are super-natural beings, and that a correct understanding of the world has to reflect this. I understand "super-natural" here in this way: as the overcoming of our current habits and practices which we feel to be natural, as in what is second nature to us, and within which we are also trapped. Call this "overcoming our deepest habits", so that we are going beyond what feels natural to us now.

      These two ideas are linked in that our shared nature is to overcome our deepest habits. We are creatures who are always living into our transcendence, into new habits which push us beyond our old habits. Religion, as well as wisdom atheism such as that of March Aurelius or Nietzsche, at their best help us to realize this push to transcend our own current deepest habits, the ones beyond which we can't quite see, but which we sense a possibility beyond them nonetheless. The aim of religion and philosophy in the deep sense is to help us fully embrace this dimly seen, but vivdly felt and needed future possibility into which we can live. It is to not simply to talk about this, or to explain it, but to awaken us to that possibility and so restructure our sense of ourselves into something bigger and grander than what we were able to understand before. Transforming ourselves and understanding ourselves are essentially connected, though in rigidified structures of religion or liberal secularism this connection is lost, as if just understanding ourselves in the set, already determined categories is enough.

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    2. After reading this conversation, I have a couple of thoughts. (I'm not N.)

      (1) This is an uncommonly interesting back-and-forth, one that I wish happened more often in philosophy departments. I say this as a conservative, southern, white, orthodox Christian. I think you two have clearly identified the issues I am trying to come to terms with as a grad student in philosophy.

      (2) Your solution strikes me as totally unpalatable. I want my children, my grandchildren, and their children to share my religion. I think you'll find many religious people feel the same way. So you'll likely alienate potential allies by pushing for a new religion that is supposed to synthesize alien cultures into a coherent whole. We don't just want social stability (though of course we want that too). I want to serve my God, and I want my family to serve Him too.

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