There are people in the U.S. fighting against the Keystone pipeline. There are people in Britain fighting against the privatization of the National Health Service. There are people in India fighting against corporate land grabs. There are people in Brazil fighting against the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. There are people in China fighting against poverty wages. These are all noble and important movements in their own right. But by focusing on all these symptoms we risk missing the underlying cause. And the cause is capitalism. It’s time to name the thing.
The rich have, Drezner writes, empowered a new kind of thinker—the “thought leader”—at the expense of the much-fretted-over “public intellectual.” Whereas public intellectuals like Noam Chomsky or Martha Nussbaum are skeptical and analytical, thought leaders like Thomas Friedman and Sheryl Sandberg “develop their own singular lens to explain the world, and then proselytize that worldview to anyone within earshot.” While public intellectuals traffic in complexity and criticism, thought leaders burst with the evangelist’s desire to “change the world.” Many readers, Drezner observes, prefer the “big ideas” of the latter to the complexity of the former. In a marketplace of ideas awash in plutocrat cash, it has become “increasingly profitable for thought leaders to hawk their wares to both billionaires and a broader public,” to become “superstars with their own brands, sharing a space previously reserved for moguls, celebrities, and athletes.”
Did you know Brazilians are required to study philosophy?
In Ribeiro’s neighborhood, children play football or do capoeira, pray in Pentecostal Churches or worship African gods. Many are involved with drugs; “every year we lose students to crack,” she tells me. And they study philosophy two hours each week because of a 2008 law that mandates philosophy instruction in all Brazilian high schools. Nine million teenagers now take philosophy classes for three years.
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That’s not surprising, considering that the 2008 law is above all a political project. In 1971 the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985 eliminated philosophy from high schools. Teachers, professors in departments of education, and political activists championed its return, while most academic philosophers were either indifferent or suspicious. The dictatorship seems to have understood philosophy’s potential to create engaged citizens; it replaced philosophy with a course on Moral and Civic Education and one on Brazil’s Social and Political Organization (“to inculcate good manners and patriotic values and to justify the political order of the generals,” one UFBA colleague recalls from his high school days).
The official rationale for the 2008 law is that philosophy “is necessary for the exercise of citizenship.” The law—the world’s largest-scale attempt to bring philosophy into the public sphere—thus represents an experiment in democracy. Among teachers at least, many share Ribeiro’s hope that philosophy will provide a path to greater civic participation and equality. Can it do even more? Can it teach students to question and challenge the foundations of society itself?
What do pit bull bans tell us about the freedom-versus-security dilemma?
In legal rationales, realities are created. Old inequalities and radical discrimination are repackaged in unexpected forms. In breed-specific legislation, the taint and incapacity of the disenfranchised live on. At a time when our government is labeling certain persons as threats—alleged terrorists, enemy aliens, illegal immigrants, ordinary people who want to get on airplanes—we need to ask how the seizure and destruction of dogs deemed contraband becomes a medium for the intimidation and debasement of humans in turn. Who should suffer deprivation without redress so that we can live in reasonable—safe and secure—consensus? And who gets to decide?
Many believe the Internet leads to democratization of authoritarian regimes (see media coverage of the Arab Spring). Evgeny Morozov stands against such technological determinism.
[D]rawing conclusions about the democratizing nature of the Internet may still be premature. The major challenge in understanding the relationship between democracy and the Internet— aside from developing good measures of democratic improvement—has been to distinguish cause and effect. That is always hard, but it is especially difficult in this case because the grandiose promise of technological determinism—the idealistic belief in the Internet’s transformative power—has often blinded even the most sober analysts.
What happens when the North Korean regime falls? In this presentation from the U.S. Army War College’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, the international response to such an event is explored:
The purpose of this hypothetical case study/table top exercise (TTX) on North Korea is to teach the participants/students how difficult stability operations are in the immediate aftermath of a major conflict. The learning objectives are many: to figure out what U.S. foreign policy should be in the wake of a major conflict on the Korean Peninsula; proceeding from that, how to prioritize meeting the immediate and long-term needs of the populace; and how to manage Allies and rivals (China and Russia) competing in the same space, under South Korea’s lead.
What is flash fiction? Is it art? And why is it becoming so popular?
There is something a bit brazen about the flash form, something redolent of legerdemain and prestidigitation, a gumption, moxie, and chutzpah that is, in the best way, polarizing. One flash piece might “get through” to one reader, while it bounces off another with little effect. Some say this makes flash a shallow and subjective genre, just another example of consumer niche-ification and ultra-specificity. Perhaps, but perhaps that’s why the genre is flourishing. Not because it’s easy, but because reaching anyone, connecting to anyone, finding the time to reach or connect to anyone, is increasingly hard.
Do Twitter and Facebook spell the end of the critic?
Criticism of any kind is increasingly unwelcome at the digital-age paper. Consider a controversy that flared up in Canada last year. Arthur Kaptainis, who had long been the critic of the Montreal Gazette and more recently had been writing freelance for the National Post, reviewed a Canadian Opera Company production of Rossini’s “Maometto II.” The Canadian Opera asked for a couple of corrections, whereupon the Post took the bizarre step of removing the review from its Web site. Amid the resulting hubbub, a Post arts editor was quoted in an e-mail: “I really hate running reviews for performing arts. They simply get no attention online, and almost always end up as our poorest performing pieces of digital content.” The same mantra is heard at culture sections across America. Reviews don’t catch eyeballs. They don’t “move the needle.”
The logic seems irrefutable. Why publish articles that almost nobody wants? On closer examination, some shaky assumptions underlie these hard-nosed generalizations. First, digital data, in the form of counting clicks and hits, give an incomplete picture of reading habits. Those who subscribe to the print edition are discounted—and they tend to be older people, who are also more likely to follow the performing arts. A colleague wrote to me, “The four thousand people reading your theatre critics might be extremely loyal subscribers who press the paper on others. People in power often speak of ‘engagement’ and ‘valued readers,’ yet they still remain in thrall of the big click numbers—because of advertising, mostly.”