Sunday, August 28, 2005

Sara Teasdale

About Sara Teasdale

Timeline (1884 - 1933)

Peace flows into me
As the tide to the pool by the shore;
It is mine forevermore,
It ebbs not back like the sea.

I am the pool of blue
That worships the vivid sky;
My hopes were heaven-high,
They are all fulfilled in you.

I am the pool of gold
When sunset burns and dies, --
You are my deepening skies,
Give me your stars to hold.


Sara Teasdale, Sara Teasdale poetry, Secular or Eclectic, Secular or Eclectic poetry,  poetry,  poetry,  poetry

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


The following is from an article from Common Dreams by Ray McGovern that urges Americans to speak out against war:

Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke out, plotted against Hitler, and was executed. Also executed was a more obscure but equally courageous professor from the University of Berlin, Albrecht Haushofer.

Like Bonhoeffer, Haushofer was arrested for speaking out. The SS prison guards were required to extract a confession from prisoners before they were hanged or shot, but Haushofer refused. When they removed his body, though, a paper fell out of his pocket. It was his admission of guilt written in the form of a sonnet:

...schuldig bin ich Anders als Ihr denkt.
Ich musste früher meine Pflicht erkennen;
Ich musste schärfer Unheil Unheil nennen;
Mein Urteil habe ich zu lang gelenkt...
Ich habe gewarnt,
Aber nicht genug, und klar;
Und heute weiß ich, was ich schuldig war.

I am guilty,
But not in the way you think.
I should have earlier recognized my duty;
I should have more sharply called evil evil;
I reined in my judgment too long.
I did warn,
But not enough, and clear;
And today I know what I was guilty of.

Rooted Cosmopolitanism

In his The Ethics of Identity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005) Kwame Anthony Appiah defends a position he calles rooted cosmopolitanism. His discussion gives us material for a more subtle approach to Peace through Understanding. We began with the hope that peace could be achieved through understanding; and that understanding is to be obtained through dialectics. A survey of the history of philosophical reflection on dialectics gives the impression that there are two main sorts of ideas about the ends of dialectic: Platonic and historical, or transcendent and immanent. In Platonic theories we end up with universals, Forms, or Ideas, principles to which all must agree if they are rational, universal human rights, and moral absolutes. In historical theories we end up with familiarity, sympathy and love. Appiah suggests that both of these approaches is flawed. Familiarity can breed discontent, resentment, and boredom as well as it can make possible sympathy and love. Truly universal principles will be as empty and trivial as declarations of the nobility of truth, beauty, and goodness. Instead, we should seek agreement on specific practical issues through dialogue across cultures. Against antiuniversalism that celebrates all diversity, Appiah complains that aside from the moral repugnance of some forms of tyranny that would seek to excuse themselves by appeal to non-Western values, "it protects difference at the cost of partitioning each community into a moral world of its own." (249) The objection is similar to one made by Miroslav Volf against MacIntyre. But while Volf allows for learning to value various principles rooted in different traditions, Appiah takes a more particularist approach.

"If we want to hold on to the idea that the ethnocentrism of the Enlightenment was wrong, but still sympathize with the radical and continuing doubts of the ironists, we must find, I think, a different response from Rorty's to the cosmopolitan experience of being "impressed by other vocabularies." I prefer to speak with the Enlightenment: to think of dialogue--and I don't mean jsut the dialogue across nations that cosmopolitans favor--as a shared search for truth and justice.

People from other parts of the world, we can all agree, attract our moral attention; through them we see the "balance of good and bad" in a particular position, and our sympathy is engaged. In the past, in a humanist narrative, this would have been glossed as the discovery of our common humanity, and these responses to others could have been defended as a source of insight into that human nature. "Yes, they are different and we rejoice in that: but we can rejoice in it, in the end, only because it is human difference." (Strains of "Ode an die Freude" in the background here: "Alle Menchen werden Brüder ..." und so weiter.) This--I agree with the critic of Enlightenment humanism here--is the wrong conclusion." (250-251)

"I want to suggest that there was something wrong with the original picture of how dialogue should be grounded. It was based on the idea that we must find points of agreement at the level of principle: here is human nature; here is what human nature dictates. What we learn from efforts at actual intercultural dialogue--what we learn from travel, but also from poems or novels or films from other places--is that we can identify points of agreement that are much more local and contingent than this. We can agree, in fact, with many moments of judgment, even if we do not share the framework within which those judgments are made, even if we cannot identify a framework, even if there are not principles articulated at all." (253)

"It should perhaps go without saying that the existence of conflict--geopolitical tension--doesn't track with moral or metaphysical difference, either. For the most part, conflict between national powers doesn't arise from clashing conceptions of the good. On the contrary, conflict arises when both have identified the same thing as good; and where it is, in the economic argot, a "rivalrous good" (something that cannot be shared by two parties at the same time: a port, an oil field, a piece of fertile territory). The fact that both Palestinians and Israelis--in particular, that both observant Muslims and observant Jews--have a special relation to Jerusalem, to the Temple Mount, has been a reliable source of conflict. Cosmopolitan education, Martha Nussbaum says, should help students "to recognize humanity wherever they encounter it, undeterred by traits that are strange to them," and "learn enough about the different to recognize common aims, aspirations, and values, and enough about these common ends to see how variously thay are instantiated in the many cultures and their histories." Again, I think this is a commendable ideal; but it would be a mistake to think that harmony among peoples could thereby be achieved. Proximity, spiritual or otherwise, is as conducive to antagonism as it is to amity." (255-256)

Appiah rejects relativism in a manner similar to Bencivenga's: "We can learn from each other's stories only if we share both human capacities and a single world: relativism about either is a reason not to converse but to fall silent." (257) Given Bencivenga's warnings about assumptions of unity, we should perhaps modify this to say that we can learn from one another only if we share capacities and share experiences. There is no need to posit a unique world.

Appiah's position is summarized in the following paragraph:

"Cosmopolitanism imagines a world in which people and novels and music and films and philosophies travel between places where they are understood differently, because people are different and welcome to their difference. Cosmopolitanism can work because there can be common conversations about these shared ideas and objects. But what makes the conversations possible is not always shared "culture"; not even, as the older humanists imagined, universal principles or values (though, as I say, people from far away can discover that their principles meet); nor yet shared understanding (though people with very different experiences can end up agreeing about the darnedest things). What works in encounters with other human beings across gaps of space, time, and experience is enourmously various. For stories--epic poems as well as modern forms like novels and films, for example--it is the capacity to follow a narrative and conjure a world; and, it turns out, there are people everywhere more than willing to do this. This is the moral epistemology that makes cosmopolitanism possible." (258)

Appiah often quotes Mill, and the last quote is worth requoting: "To human beings, who, as hitherto educated, can scarecely cultivate even a good quality without running it into a fault, it is indispensable to be perpetually comparing their own notions and customs with the experience and example of persons in different circumstances from themselves: and there is no nation which does not need to borrow from others, not merely particular arts or practices, but essential points of character in which its own type is inferior." (271) -Mill, Principles of Political Economy.

The flaw of liberalism as stereotyped in popular culture is that it excuses what is morally unacceptable as merely different. Appiah's liberalism does not have this flaw, and he discusses the problem sensitively. Bencivenga is also quite explicit about the fact that dialogue will have to be confrontational at times and painful. At the other extreme are those who would impose their own cultural habits on others in the name of a need for Lebensraum, those who are uncomfortable hearing foreign languages, entertaining guests with foreign table manners, sitting on a plane with Muslims.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Constructive Imagining of Peace through Understanding

I had the good fortune to study with Ermanno Bencivenga when we were both at Rice University in the late '70's. His latest collection of essays is Exercises in Constructive Imagination (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2001). In various places among these essays, Bencivenga takes up issues relevant to our theme of Peace through Understanding. Here is a sampling:

"If things are seen as I suggest, it is absolutely vain to try to avoid occasions for the establishment of the ingroup/outgroup dynamics. Since the occasions are not the decisive factor, there will always be something that can be used as an occasion. In this Hegelian view, there is no escaping conflict--there is only, at most, postponing it, possibly with even more devastating consequences. The Hegelian solution can only be riding the conflict: acknowledging its necessity and enabling people to realize the appropiate Aufhebung. Whenever a group goes through its inevitable process of self-differentiation, social mechanisms must be in place to urge people to work out the difference, to face it and handle it in a practical, constructive manner. Peace can only be temporary anyway, but it will be less temporary beyond conflict than it can ever be before it." (62)

"...the contemporary extended awareness of different behavioral codes is seen as a means to promote an extended morality. And the easy moral relativism espoused by many is seen as a device for depriving this means of its explosive effectiveness. Whereas morality accepts the challenge of difference by internalizing it and establishing a (painful) dialogue with it, moral relativism (a true negation of morality) tries to make everyone content with what she already has." (107)

"We must get involved, we must be constantly teaching and learning from one another, constantly incorporating one another to add to (the complexity of) our being." (132)

"I am advocating giving up cultural competition in the name of cultural preservation, as a service not only to our personal growth but to maintaining enough of a pool to make general growth possible.... Learning will be the substance of everyone's self realization, and teaching will only be the recurrent, but temporary service paid by each for the good of all. And, to reiterate, there won't be tolerance in this exchange: there will be curiosity instead, and interest, and care. One might even say, there will be love--if that so much abused word could for once be reclaimed from sentimentality and its attending blind savagery." (133)

"And it's trivial to say that we will never make reality look like our dreams, since that's not even the point of dreams: their point is rather to give us direction--to provide us with the notions of beauty, knowledge, and justice that we need to find our bearings within the adventure we are living." (135)

"To gain that diversity which so painfully eludes us, the diversity that is not a single way of living all different things but is rather different forms of living--of toiling and perspiring and rejoicing and crying in the very same world; and because of that, because of how different all such practices are, of being able to make the world itself different--we need to reactivate those delusive visions, which means finding them not delusive at all, rediscovering a belief in them which cannot be (given who we are, and where we are located) an automatic reaction, which must express a commitment, and on the basis of that commitment educating ourselves to oscillate again, to find some new crevices--fissures between what is new and what is old." (146)

The recognition of the need to engage with others, to protect their differences (as long as their injustices are not excused as differences), but to appreciate the diversity in dialectic learning, reminds me of a beautiful ayah (verse, literally sign) of the Qur'an: "O mankind! Verily We created you of a male and female, and We made you nations and tribes to know one another" (49:13); (Cf. 35:27-28).

Colorado August 2005

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Crusading Peace

The peace movement in Europe began as a movement to unite Christian Europeans against heretics and infidels. Tomaž Mastnak has documented the historical development of this movement through the period of the crusades in his Crusading Peace: Christendom, the Muslim World, and Western Political Order (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002). Crusades were not seen as a form of war, but as a sacred blood sacrifice. Those who sought peace in Europe were exclusively opposed to the spilling of Christian blood by Christians. Although mysticism in all the world's religions is usually associated with love of all creatures and non-violence, there have been notable exceptions. Mastnak ends his book with a discussion of St. Catherine of Siena. In the 1370's she promoted the return of the Pope to Rome from Avignon, peace among Christians, and a revival of the crusades to culminate in the Church's victorious march to Jerusalem. She viewed the crusade as a mystery of blood: "Just as Christ had shed his blood for the salvation of men, so Christians now had to shed their blood for Christ to free his patrimony from impious hands." (341) She described the crusade as a wedding feast. When Pope Gregory XI held an audience with Catherine, he explained to her that he wanted to make peace among the Christians so that he could then call them to a crusade. Catherine responded that there was no better way to make peace among Christians than by ordering a crusade. She believed that the result of the crusade would be the conversion of the Muslims, whom she described as "wicked unbelieving dogs". Mastnak continues: "The greatest minds of the Medieval Western world... as well as mystics and visionaries, all bent their heads and their knees before the spirit of the crusade. They all subscribed--rarely with silence, often with admirable eloquence--to the declaration that it was necessary to eliminate those who had been named infidels and declared enemies. This made the greatest minds at one with the mindless...." (345-346) Here we find reason for doubt about our motto, "Peace through Understanding." The profound understanding of the Middle Ages with all its subtlety and mystical insight was unable to imagine that there could be anything wrong with the most rapacious campaigns against the infidels. If peace can be achieved through understanding, what sort of understanding might that then be?

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