VI BDS and the University

Cultural Anthropology, BDS and the University


Howard Adelman

Jonathan David Haidt is a Professor of Ethical Leadership and a social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business; he specializes in the psychology of morality. In a dialogue about his concern with how communities bind together and, in that binding, also close their minds, he “began to see the social sciences as tribal moral communities, becoming ever more committed to social justice, and ever less hospitable to dissenting views.” He claimed that universities have developed into a monoculture. “Anthropology and sociology are the worst — those fields seem to be really hostile and rejecting toward people who aren’t devoted to social justice.”
Anthropology is a very activist field. They fight for the rights of oppressed people, as they see it. My field, social psychology, has some activism in it, but it’s not the dominant strain. Most of us, we really are thinking all day long about what control condition wasn’t run. My field really is oriented towards research. Now a lot of us are doing research on racism and prejudice. It’s the biggest single area of the field. But I’ve never felt that social psychology is first and foremost about changing the world, rather than understanding it. So my field is certainly still fixable. I think that if we can just get some more viewpoint diversity in it, it will solve the bias problem.

As Jonathan replied, “They’re so devoted to social justice, and they have accepted the rule that you can never, ever blame victims, so if a group of victims makes demands [however ill-conceived], you cannot argue back. You must accept the demands.” “Anthro is completely lost. I mean, it’s really militant activists. They’ve taken the first step towards censoring Israel. They’re not going to have anything to do with Israeli scholars any more. So it’s now – it’s the seventh victim group.” In addition to African-Americans, women, the LGBT community, as well as Latinos, Native Americans and people with disabilities, the seventh group does not consist of the Israelis ostracized, but Muslims. These seven groups, whatever empathy they deserve – and most deserve a great deal – become immune to criticism and occupy a protected status. Further, under the concept of “intersectionality,” each group is strengthened in the blindmindedness in dealing with it by seeing the oppression of each as a manifestation of a singular larger evil force.

When values other than truth become primary in universities, when truth gets thrown under the bus in favour of perceived social justice, the university has lost its way. “What has happened is the normalization of bad ideas, thanks mostly to identity politics.” I personally first experienced this years ago in a union meeting of our faculty at York University. I was shocked to hear faculty shout abuse and shut up an esteemed colleague who was raising questions about a proposal to give the union authority to call a strike. He was not even disagreeing, just asking a question. And he was shouted down. I felt very ashamed to have been part of organizing a union where members not only behaved in that way, but were allowed to behave that way.

When I appeared on a panel on the Middle East in Osgoode Hall’s Moot Court at the university about fifteen years ago, the situation had become much worse, the language more degrading and the sense of a mob culture much more apparent. Categories of oppression multiply and certain language was placed off limits at the same time as a new callous and rude language became more prevalent. I have been told that over the past thirteen years since my retirement from York University, the situation of creeping censorship combined with enhanced callous language has become even worse. As Haidt said, “Far from embracing free debate of challenging ideas and the free speech necessary to pursue them, university life today is characterized by policies governing every aspect of college life, in the classroom and out, and offices to enforce them.” So one kind of speech, discourse and behaviour that fosters a free exchange of ideas is ruthlessly suppressed while another alternative form of discourse or repression and angry rhetoric displaces it in the name of “social justice’ rather than truth. Bullying of gays, of blacks, of women has correctly been countered only to see bullying for “free space” rather than free speech moved to centre stage.

But there has been a growing backlash. It is coming from students who graduate with a great deal of debt from studies in the humanities and social sciences but lack marketable skills, even of political thinking as they have increasingly been submerged in ideological thinking. The backlash is coming from business leaders who find that many of the students who graduate lack the most basic skills required to work in the corporate world. The backlash is coming from parents who end up supporting their children well into their twenties and then find that the jobs they get are as bell hops and desk clerks, receptionists and waitresses or waiters, chefs and salespersons. They ask why they sent their children to university in the first place and why, after they get a degree, they have to go back to study at a community college in a skills-based program. And the backlash is also coming from government torn between one huge part of a province’s obligations to health versus the increasing costs of higher education. As the electors age, concessions shift to that segment of the population that is getting larger, those who are older.

But worst of all, the students are uneducated. This past weekend I spent three days with three different university graduates who did their undergraduate studies in different parts of the world, one at York University. All three were exceedingly nice and decent. They were pleasant, trustworthy and eager to please. They were hardworking and willing to carry out anything asked of them. But they lacked initiative. They were also cut off in a peculiar way, more attached to communication with their cell phones – with texting and messaging – than with interacting with each other and with me on a deeper level, even as they told stories of their travels and adventures in the world and their love of different kinds of food. Patrick Deneen in his essay, “How a Generation Lost its Common Culture” in Minding the Campus: Reforming Our Universities, called his students who matched the three young people I spent a long weekend with as “know nothings.”

These graduates of universities had only the vaguest sense of politics. They knew little about not simply the Hebrew and Greek classics, but of the development of the enlightenment. They had only the vaguest notion of sociology, though that was the major of one of these young people. But none of the three had gone to an A-grade university. Deneen’s students, by contrast, were from Princeton, Georgetown and Notre Dame. Yet, though they were superb test-takers – which perhaps only one of the three I spent time with probably was – and earned A’s, they were neither passionate nor invested in a specific issue or subject. They were like the three I spent the weekend with – somewhat detached and deeply involved in their own personal search for adventure and a desire to taste and experience the world, but with no depth of historical knowledge evident of that world.

Do not get me wrong. They were a delight to talk to. They were respectful and cordial both to one another and to me. They loved hearing narratives based on experience, but were not interested in narratives rooted in literature or history. One no longer really read. Another had been reading the same book for six months, but was too busy with work and having experiences to spend much time with it. And it was a title and author I did not recognize. A third when asked whether he saw movies and which ones, replied that he saw an excellent children’s cartoon that I think was made by Pixar.

They were extremely tolerant of differences – racial or sexual – and genuinely respected differences, but without a passion for exploring those differences. Tolerance for them meant not judging the other. Not one was religious. They grew up on three different continents, yet seemed to have far more in common with each other than with any of the students with whom I went to school. At the same time, they were terrifically decent. They exhibited a sense of caring for each other and helping one another in work and chores. They were very fair in sharing food and responsibilities. They were liberal and two who met a year ago through me had kept in touch on Facebook. In my contact with them, what each valued most in the world was their personal liberty to explore that world on their own terms.

Though each respected the family that raised them – and each seemed to have devoted parents – not one seemed particularly loyal and attached to their parents or their siblings. Every one of them respected people who requested them to do something, but disliked being told to do something; respect for others did not include respect for authority. Most of all, not one of them seemed to have a religious bone in their bodies in the sense that they thought some place or some person worthy of regarding as sanctified. One loved Dubai of all places; another loved a day flight to Miami; a third found what was most exciting was what was under the sea that she explored through deep diving.

I write this, not because I carefully selected the three as a sample – the choice of these three was somewhat arbitrary. I write about them because, other than the fact that probably not one of them could come close to competing with Patrick Deneen’s A-students from top universities, they otherwise seemed remarkably like his description of his own students. They loved peer gatherings, but not standing and fixed communities. They detested hierarchy and not one of them had any respect for tradition. Mass killings, genocide, wars in Syria all seemed far away, yet each was drawn to treating strangers well. In other words, they were the ideal liberal students that Jonathan Haidt described in his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. But they were not ideological liberals who seemed to be very bothered by Donald Trump or very interested in the American race for the presidency.

Most of all, they were filled with trivia, and what they do not know, they look up on their cell phones by the minute. Want to know what the population of Barrie is? Want to know the density of the traffic flow returning to Toronto? Want to know about the life of a tent caterpillar whose nests we were eagerly destroying? All could be learned with great acuity and fluidity by pressing a few buttons and reading what they found.

In one of my very early books, The Holiversity, I described how the university we were attending was evolving from a discipline-based Sanctuary of Method into a Social Service Station focused on solving problems out there in the real world. I anticipated that in 50-60 years that type of university would also morph into something very different again, the Consumer University, the university not so much a market place where great ideas clashed, but the university as a collection of market stalls like those in small town fairs or those at a local market where people bring items to sell. The university was evolving faster than I ever thought possible into a cafeteria university where students come to taste the various wares on offer, and, like those attending Deneen’s great universities, each had studied a different social science only to become ignorant that their civilization had become committed to “civilizational suicide” in Deneen’s words.

Clyde Kluckhohn described five options in structuring time. All three of these young people lived in the fleeting present while updating their skills and trying to improve their positions. Why? To get as much as possible out of life while aging without a past and where the future is a foreign country that lies around the next corner to experience. They were very different than the dominant culture that had constituted America and its devotion to a greater future.

“In such a world, possessing a culture, a history, an inheritance, a commitment to a place and particular people, specific forms of gratitude and indebtedness (rather than a generalized and deracinated commitment to “social justice”), a strong set of ethical and moral norms that assert definite limits to what one ought and ought not to do (aside from being “judgmental”) are hindrances and handicaps.” And if there is anything they value more it is the negative value of not being limited or handicapped. They are committed to detachment and mutual indifference except to their own tastes and sense of wonder at what the world has on offer.

They are not members of a res publica, but non-members engaged in a race individula. And if a student wants to escape this solipsistic world, where does he or she or it go? Into engaged ideology rather than engaged intellect, whether that ideology be the anti-Zionist pursuit of an ephemeral sense of social justice or a more conservative ideology with far fewer members defensive of family, community, respectful of status and protective of those closest to them in need. Most of all, the latter are very defensive of an older social fabric rather than the happenstance mini-shorts of the present. As Haidt describes it, one ideology – the dominant liberal one – is at war with a minority more cultural communitarianism, even if liberal in a different way. The ideologues each have an heir that tries to lead the rest into battle, but most abhor activism of this sort, though the call for social justice has a greater appeal to their moral tastes.

Are Deneen and Haidt but the intellectual heirs of Alan Bloom decrying like Cassandra the end of the world we once knew? In part. In good part. But they also offer an explanation for why the university is at once an excellent breeding ground, not just for cultural anthropology as an engaged discipline and for BDS, but why that call for engagement and support of BDS falls on essentially instinctively empathetic but also deaf and dumb ears. The students quietly accede to the appeal, but in their passivity ensure BDS falls on dry and sterile ground where only mummies walk. In the vacuum, universities, particularly those with an activist history, habitually drift toward an activist left monoculture according to Richard Vedder attacking from the right as the university drifts into a place where faculty are wards of the state, anyway at least 50% of them who have gained tenure in an average public university, where administrators are now their bosses and where students have become their customers.

The fight becomes one between different ideologies of attachment, an abstract one versus very personal ones and the central issue becomes which group has suffered the greatest victimhood, us in defence of the whole world or us against the whole world, whether that us be Zionists, members of Islam fearing Islamophobia, or evangelical Christians repelled by the solipsism of the new dominant ideology. Even within Israel and Israeli academic institutions, the battleground of identity politics becomes the dominant hegemonic discourse among activists. The ideological uncompromising radical activists disdain dialogue in favour of confrontation while the soft liberal ideologues prefer dialogical interchange between different groups in promoting evaluative rather than engaged scholarship, in promoting an understanding of differences rather than a clash between and among differences, but neither side providing any more general ground for resolving those differences.

One of the results of this radical shift is that, as Leonard Saxe documented at the AIS meeting in Jerusalem from his empirical studies, Jewish students on campuses in North America are subjected to an increase in verbal abuse as a fact of life at the same time as more Jewish students, though still a minority, feel connected with Israel, and more than half of the Jewish students, like the students described above, remain blissfully ignorant of the BDS effort to boycott Israel. Most of those who are aware are, perhaps less blissfully, ignorant of the anti-Zionist foundation of BDS. BDS is not simply a movement opposed to settlements in the West Bank. Further, campuses with the most perceived anti-Semitic and anti-Israel atmosphere were Canadian, with the only close completion coming from Mid-Western state schools and the California state system.

Even more significantly, while Zionism now occupies a central place in collective Jewish life, most Jewish students were dramatically ignorant about Israel. Of the 60% who even check into current events in Israel, the vast majority of these do not follow the policy debates there. So even if they feel a connection, there is very little intellectual connection. As indicated above, this is but a reflection of the state of mind of the majority of students on campus about public affairs more generally. Thus, the students are ill-equipped to deal with comments that Jews have too much power, that Israelis are Nazis and practice apartheid, and even that the Holocaust is a myth. Most Jewish students, surprisingly, often know little more about the Holocaust than they do about Israel. They are certainly unable to review the different sides of the argument claiming anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism. Ironically, the more liberal they were, the less capable they were of defending Israel from many extant criticisms of Israel.

Thus, Saxe concluded that countering Jewish ignorance was the great problem, not engaging in conflict with BDS. But how does one conduct an educational program on campuses that revere historical ignorance and where community leaders see the strife on campus only in ideological defensive terms?

With the help of Alex Zisman

Obama9: Black and White 11.02.13

My blog this morning is both attached and the same version follows to allow you to chose ether (or neither) to read. It documents and reiterates the intractable conflict between Obama’s social democratic agenda and the economic conservative beliefs. Using a variation on Jonathan Haidt’s thesis, the blog makes the counter-intuitive case that Obama is trying to peel off cultural conservatives in service to a common set of virtues rather than a common set of interests, thereby weakening the Republican base even further and strengthening his own democratic base and his determination to go down in history as a transformational president.

Hward Adelman

Obama9: Black and White 11.02.13


Howard Adelman

The phrase ‘Black and White’ has two opposite connotations. If you say the issue is black and white you usually mean it is either one or the other. But black and white can also mean both ‘a’ and ‘b’ and not either/or. Either/or categorization is exemplified in Adam’s assignment to name the different species. What you see is either a dog or a cat. Of course, such dichotomous categorization tends to commit the fallacy of exhaustive options. For what you see may be neither.

If I divide the American polity into Republicans and Democrats, I leave out both the independents and fringe groups such as the Greens (in the US they are still fringe) and Libertarians, though the Republican Party includes some Libertarians. Most significantly, black evangelicals who could be expected to be Republicans voted for Obama. Similarly, if I divide the right into community versus economic conservatives, I again leave out the libertarians and subsume religious conservatives as a sub-category of community conservatives. And if I do that I have to explain why Black religious conservatives voted overwhelmingly for Obama on the left.

If an individual, say Adam, is divided into a body and soul, an embodied self and a disembodied self, as Simon May did in his book on Love, and if you import the Christian version of the Garden of Eden myth wherein the passions of the flesh are blamed for Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, then the embodied part of the soul is blamed for the Fall or at least the inability of reason to keep control of the unruly passions.

This is the message of Plato’s version of the chariot tale in Phaedrus (246a-254e), at least the initial part on which I focus. Plato’s story differs from the one in the Katha Upanishad of more than a century earlier found in the Ratha Kalpana (1.3.3-1.3.4) by having a driver but no passenger; it was a chariot of war akin to those seen in movies of the Roman empire. Second, in Plato, the embodied self is represented by two different winged horses, a black and a white one. In the Upanishads, the horses provide only sensibility and are not driving forces; the chariot is the body and has no independent source of motion. In Plato’s story, the reins are the means of controlling and guiding the horses. In the vedic tale, the reins are equivalent to what Plato dubbed understanding or instrumental reasoning that were used to guide the horses. Higher reasoning belongs to the charioteer that can focus on the ultimate direction and aim of using reason to achieve Truth. There is no passenger equivalent to the true self that is independent of all tension and conflict.

But the major difference is that in the vedic tale it is the outside world that presents the challenge of choice to the charioteer between that which is pleasurable to the senses and that which is preferable when the consequences of choosing one or the other are examined. Only the soul that fails to conduct an examination chooses the pleasurable. In Plato’s version, the major source of the problem is internal rather than external stemming from divisions within the soul.

The major point of Plato’s story is to differentiate between the noble white steed and the ignoble black horse. The white horse represents the embodied virtue of courage (or spirit or boldness), not a rational impulse itself, but rather one that can be guided by intelligence by means of the reins of instrumental reasoning, and the ignoble unruly black horse representing embodied passion, lust and love as divine madness discussed yesterday and in the review of Anna Karenina. It is the wild horse that cannot be guided by reason either in its higher form or as an instrumental calculation. It is a mad passion that can only be kept in line by being yoked to the white horse. If the charioteer loses control, the chariot, the horses and the charioteer crash to earth. If proper control can be exercised by intelligence, the horses and the chariot using the combined forces of courage and the wild passions that have been tamed can rise to the heavens of higher reason.

Examine the difference between the above and my interpretation of the Adam and Eve story in yesterday’s blog. First, in both stories there is a difference between a spirited element and a more passive one, but in my version of the Adam and Eve story, the spirited element is embodied in the curiousity of woman to learn and find out about others through actual experience. Adam, who represents rationality, is distracted and passive, insensitive to both the other and even the needs of his own body and projecting all embodied qualities on woman. Secondly, reason is not divided between a higher reason focused on Truth and an instrumental reason dealing with direct management of the material world, but between the scientific reasoning of objectivity that looks on with a detached attitude and an embodied and committed reason which is Machiavellian and characterized by guile. But the biggest difference is that in the evaluation of my interpretation, the blame is not placed on mad passion. The major weakness belongs to reason that is detached and cut off from passion, for it is passion combined with guile that allows the couple to escape the confined and enclosed world of the garden and enter history and a world of action and creativity.

I will get to Obama soon enough but first I want to introduce another scholar, Jonathan Haidt of New York University’s Stern School of Business who has undertaken a great deal of research in political psychology and, in particular, on the political psychology of the schisms in American political culture as articulated in his latest book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. In a previous book, The Happiness Hypothesis, he articulated the fundamental great ideas drawn from history that he brought together, in particular the writings of philosophers who, according to him, have been the best psychologists over the last two millenia as guides to cut through the shoals of divisiveness and political polarity that has been widely documented.

In The Happiness Hypothesis, Haidt adopts the traditional view that the most critical division in the psyche is between reason and automatic impulses, only he uses the metaphor of two different riders on the back of a pachyderm for, from his perspective, neither part of the psyche can manage and direct such a huge and powerful beast on their own. Only by working together can the two guidance systems control, train and direct the political beast. Unlike termites or bees, humans are the only form of life that live in collectivities but without the benefit of consanguinity and an automatic built-in communal control system to prevent conflict. Precepts like love thy neighbour as oneself play that role and allow us to create cities, large social systems and nations not based on blood. A clear understanding of love and its various expressions is the prime method for fostering cooperation. If Simon May focused on love on the interpersonal level, Haidt focuses on the uses of love on the macro-political level.

One must not only sharpen our rational skills but master the methods of being in tune with our automatic emotional reactions through processes like meditation and cognitive therapy. Further, as I described yesterday, the failure to accept responsibility and examine one’s own faults as well as failing to see reality before us instead of filtering what we see through pre-established frames and ideological glasses are the inhibitors of cooperation and forging a common morality in society. Religion has served that purpose in the past and the secular religion that Simon May described dedicated to romantic love just does not cut it. So the effort must be concentrated on getting reason and impulse, the white and the black horse together, not by means of yoking the two together and using the noble spirited white horse which can respond to rational guidelines to ensure the black horse does not get out of line. Each capacity must be respected for what it brings to the table as a foundation for cooperation.

Haidt focuses on the main division between the liberals and conservatives. Liberals priorize: a) care for others versus militant combat mainly directed at perceived enemies; 2) fairness in which justice delivers rewards and punishments proportionate to the positive contributions and harm contributed respectively; and 3) liberty and autonomy of subjects above all in a resistance to tyranny and oppression. Conservatives priorize the key virtues of loyalty, respect for authority and the sanctity of the good life as opposed to disloyalty, betrayal, treachery, subversion of formal legitimated authority and degradation. But unlike liberals who tend to play down loyalty, respect for authority and the purer life, conservatives also value care, fairness and liberty. Haidt is not only clearly focused on the chasm between liberals and cultural conservatives, rather than the rivalry between economic liberals versus economic conservatives, he also finds that conservatives are more inclusive in their value priorities for they are more in touch with their moral and ethical intuitions.

Whereas I have told a story of the importance of intelligent guile and embodied passion confronting the observations and categorization of detached reason, which I suggest may characterize the writings of economic conservatives infused with passionate polemic, Haidt in his effort to get cultural rather than somatic Blacks and Whites to work together has relied primarily on moral intuition supplemented and supported by reason that can be used for persuasion under special circumstances in cases where the other is open to both looking and justifying. Haidt’s elephant, unconscious automatic processes of intuition that are very powerful must be addressed by practical moral reason required to defend and advance a position (Haidt’s rider). (See Haidt’s response to the criticisms of Gary Gutting and Michael Lynch in The Stone on 7 October 2012.)

The objective is to ensure our justificatory reasoning and our direct intuitions cohere both in identifying what is wrong (the practices of the Soviet Union for example) and in identifying what is right and proper. Since intuition matters the most for beliefs, especially strong when anchored in partisan identities, civility and cooperation require appealing to the evidence that reason can grasp and the arguments that can link those observations with intuitions. The values articulated by those intuitions must be recognized and respected not ignored or belittled if there is to be civility and a healthy civil society. This has to be given priority. This is the role of indirection and the guile of reason – avoiding direct and destructive confrontation over differences. One is required to hear and attend to the key values grasped and held dear by others and making "good thinking and openness to compromise redound to a politicians credit" so that hyperpartisan posturing and inflexibility become sources of shame or humiliation.

The message is both white and black not either white or black. But note the primacy is given to black, but not as passions, impulses or curiousity in partnership with eros, but as intuitions or what the scholars of the Scottish enlightenment called sentiments. Reason must attend, service and reconcile those intuitions. That is why primary attention must be to virtues and intuitions rather than placing the primacy on deontological transcendental rational foundations a la Kant or consequential calculations for determining policies and deciding on actions. That is why practice, training, and habit are required that reinforce and strengthen those virtues.

Haidt also has an interesting political agenda for resolving the current impasse and chasm in the political conversation. He essentially suggests an indirect route. Avoid trying to reconcile economic liberals and conservatives who are so fundamentally divided over the approach to the national debt and rising inequalities between the top 20% and the rest, but particularly the top 1% and the rest which he views as seeds for dissent and future chronic conflict. Instead he implies that cultural liberals reconcile with cultural conservatives who have their own concerns about the rising numbers of single parent households and exponential increases in the imprisoned population in the United States and do not have the embedded dogmas of reason that are blind and deaf to both the empirical evidence (global warming) and the counterfactual evidence undermining the belief that reducing taxes can get the country out of debt. But most of all, pure economic conservatives are often cut off from their moral intuitions as sure are they about the rightness of their rational conclusions. They have one distorted take on Adam Smith and The Wealth of Nations as endorsing a Darwinian competition where only the fittest survive ignorant and blind to Adam Smith’s work, The Theory of Sentiments.

Evidently when Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination in 2008 and then the subsequent election, Haidt was thrilled because Obama wanted to speak to the centre and reconcile the polarities. Those polarities have become more entrenched since. Has Obama failed because he has fallen into the trap of his liberal Democratic supporters in failing to understand the right and attend to their concerns about loyalty, authority and sanctity, an "intuitive" advantage they hold over the liberals?

Whether Obama did or did not reach across the aisle in his first term, his inaugural speech in his second term threw down the gauntlet before the economic conservatives. As Fred Barnes wrote in The Wall Street Journal in his column, "Obama’s Inaugural Intentions: The president reached out to Democratic interest groups. Republicans? Not so much" (21 January 2013 online), it was a speech in praise of Big Government. Obama had waved a red flag before the economic conservatives in the Republican Party with his call "for a bigger and more ambitious federal government". While Obama paid lip service to cutting the debt, he exempted "Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security". As Obama said, "These things do not sap our initiative. They strengthen us" as he reached out to various interest groups in the Democratic Party corral – gays, minorities, feminists, immigrants. There was not a sliver of an offering to compromise with the economic conservatives.

As Barnes went on, "The speech should debunk two myths about Mr. Obama and his presidency…that the president is really a pragmatist and a centrist"…and "that Mr. Obama is eager to compromise with Republicans but has faced unprecedented obstructionism on their part." The experience of the first term does suggest that, indeed, Obama has faced unprecedented obstructionism, but Barnes is correct in asserting that only "an ideologically committed liberal could have delivered the address that Mr. Obama did." I went back and re-read the inaugural address. I would amend Barnes. Only a social democrat would write that kind of speech. As Barnes wrote quoting FDR’s 1937 inaugural address, "Democratic government has the innate capacity to protect its people against disasters once considered inevitable, to solve problems once considered unsolvable." If Obama had been willing in his first term to wheel and deal with the economic conservatives, he was now committing to fighting them tooth and nail in the trenches.

So Obama does not seem willing to wheel and deal with the economic conservative, and, personally, I do not blame him. They have given no indication of compromise and they voted virtually one hundred percent for the Republican Party. But Obama did more which Barnes ignored. He began with an assertion of virtue ethics, the unique virtues of America and of its constitutional faith. (See Sandy Levinson cited in an earlier blog.) "What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’" America had a founding creed and it was not "the most to the fastest". That creed through the Civil War was renewed and interpreted to mean, "Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together." And it was renewed and interpreted again in the New Deal with its massive investments I infrastructure and in regulation. "Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers."

Barnes treated Obama’s next appeal as just a rhetorical and misleading gesture to conservatives, a praise of individual initiative and responsibility and scepticism about the unlimited power of government. As Obama said, "Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise; our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, are constants in our character." This was another celebration of virtue ethics. Given what went before, it would not cut it with economic conservatives who do not believe that America is what it is because of its virtues but that it is what it is because it follows a set of natural economic laws which are eternally true and valid.

As Obama said, spitting in the faces of the economic conservatives, "preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action." American economic recovery has begun by challenging the laws economic conservatives hold sacred. Obama appealed, not to social democracy as a creed but to patriotism. "Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people." How could he say that when he had just thrown the gauntlet down before the economic conservatives? Because he was launching his appeal to cultural conservatives who are not wedded to a faith in the natural laws of Milton Friedman and the Chicago school. As he appealed to the principles of individual initiative and responsibility that unites economic and social conservatives, he also appealed to the core belief of his own constituency, equal opportunity that was not incompatible at all with the community conservative creed. "For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship."

Obama explicitly appealed to a new creed for a new age, one that united virtue ethics with a belief in equal opportunity and fairness, caring with justice for all, individual responsibility with community solidarity rooted in a unique American tradition and loyalty to the nation’s ideals. "We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, and reach higher. But while the means will change, our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American. That is what this moment requires. That is what will give real meaning to our creed." Obama was trying to drive a wedge between the extremist individualism of economic Republicans and the virtue ethics of cultural conservatives.

The commitment to security can be fought with unmanned drones, "through strength of arms and the rule of law" (no more torture) rather than an imperial army sent thousands of miles overseas. (Read my blog later this week.) By extricating America from endless ground war abroad, the resources will be available for investment in infrastructure and countering climate change. By relying and bolstering alliances rather than going it alone, through a marriage of interests and conscience we will appeal to those abroad who aspire to freedom while living in culturally conservative communities. The principles of our "common creed", the one that can unite liberals and community conservatives are "tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice." The issue is not big government or small but the core virtues of a nation.

If Romney gave up on the 47%, Obama has come to recognize that he cannot convince the economic conservatives but he could win over the cultural conservatives, or at least a portion of them whose stands on virtues as the core of politics was unshakable but whose stands on gay marriage and abortion, on immigration and climate change could change with times, change at a much slower pace than the values of liberals, but change they could, they have and they must. The specific issues were not the deal breaker, the core virtues were.

Economic conservatives are going beyond efforts to keep urban liberal voters from getting to polls. For the 2014 election they are targeting congressional redistricting to ensure that electoral college votes are determined by congressional districts that favour more sparsely populated rural ridings instead of determining electoral college votes by state wide counts. (see the Freedom Outpost, Kevin Fobbs, 7 February 2013) Economic conservatives have dedicated themselves to long term trench warfare. In the meanwhile, Obama is attempting an end run around them by hiving off community conservatives to support the Democratic Party and ensure a new majoritarian coalition for the next few decades and ensure his place in the pantheon of transformational presidents. While Republicans fight amongst themselves whether and to what degree to blame Romney for not appealing to Hispanics, Asians, and immigrant voters – Blacks are always left out – Obama has gone on the offensive to steal away at least part of their community conservative base.

Is this realistic? How can they deal with Obama’s explicit endorsement of gay marriage? Republicans who support individual rights have little problem. What about community conservatives? As heterosexuals increasingly opt for living together outside of marriage, the strongest supporters of marriage and even the family in which a stable, loving home is the best environment for ensuring a child’s development seem to be coming from the gay community. Read Ken Mehlman’s (George W. Bush’s gay campaign manager in the 2004 election who subsequently became chair of the Republican National Committee) op-ed "making the Same-Sex Case: Legalizing marriage for gay couples will cultivate community stability and foster family" in The Wall Street Journal (20 November 2012). "Conservatives—and I count myself as one—succeed when we attract new supporters to timeless traditions. [Note; "timeless
traditions", not individual rights] The Republican Party’s loss in this month’s presidential election resulted partly from a failure to embrace some of America’s fastest-growing constituencies. One area of significant change is in attitudes toward legal equality for gay Americans." (See Kevin Hal in The Iowa Republican (29 January 2013) where the appeal for gay support comes from a traditional virtue based foundation.)

This is but one example. Others can be offered which I will detail when I examine first the domestic policy and then the foreign policy of this Obama administration later this week. But first I want to characterize Obama’s overall battle plan.

Tomorrow: Obama9: How White and Black Become Red

On Invisible Men, Monstrous White Whales, Giant and Colossal Squid 12.02.13

[Tags Obama, cultural conservatives, economic
conservatives, Haidt]

Obama9.Black and White.11.02.13.doc