The New York Times today (12/9) reports on the role of Bill Gates in getting keys nations to commit to spending billions on research and development to limit the production of greenhouse gases. This approach has a long history. The idea is that if you don’t like the way things are going, just wait until we find some new technology to fix it. This is very convenient for the 1 percent and their fans.
On the other hand, the documentary Cowspirary, provides compelling evidence that cows and animal agriculture produce more greenhouse gases than the burning of all fossil fuels. Decreasing the environmental harms of animal agriculture, of course, would require a change in our eating habits, and in the whole system of providing food. This is something we can do now. It would not do much for global economic growth, but it might save the planet.
Trump claims that he will make America great again. Have you been wondering when it was great? Here are some options
- It was great during the era of Jim Crow and lynching
- It was great in responding to the depression in the 1930’s
- It was great in defeating Germany and Japan
- It was great before the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement, the feminist movement, the gay rights, movement, the Chicano movement, the Black Power movement, and the environmental movement.
Some might say America was great in responding to the devastation of the 1930’s by establishing a multitude of government programs that protected citizens from despair. The government provided jobs, built a national infrastructure, created public spaces, and gave millions of people security from destitution. My guess is that this is not Trump’s idea of greatness.
I doubt if Trump would select the movements of the 60’s and 70’s either.
So we are left with events of white economic growth in the 20’s, of winning a war (Atomic bombs are really great), and of white prosperity of the 1950’s.
These episodes might have been great for a lot of white people, but times of segregation, exclusion and misery for others. Is Trump’s promise a promise to create an America ruled by and for white people?
Trump’s racism is not so much that he despises people of color, but rather that he believes he is superior. He probably would not say that he is superior because he is white. He doesn’t have to. His followers understand him as an emblem of white superiority. They don’t have to say so either because white superiority is something that goes-without-saying.
If you want to know, check out Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The book was first published in 1989, and has remained a best seller. It may seem shocking to many that it can be used to illustrate white supremacy, but the fact is that white supremacy goes largely unnoticed in a white culture.
Perhaps the first sign of white supremacy is that Covey’s book never mentions the legacy of white supremacy. I don’t know, of course, whether the actual person named Stephen Covey is aware of this legacy, so I am not talking about him. I am talking about what can be called the “implied author” of the text. The implied author is simply the author that is reflected in what is written. So I don’t have much to say about the person of Stephen Covey, but about the author Stephen Covey.
One principle of white supremacy is to ignore or even deny one’s social self—one’s particular race, class, gender, and so on. The ideology of white supremacy does not depend on social position, but rather on something more internal. In the history of white supremacy it was sometimes based on an Anglo-Saxon identity, and sometimes just on being white. Today, it is based on an internal confidence that provides immunity from criticism and impunity from doing harm.
Ignoring all the social aspects of one’s self, Covey writes: “I can live out of my imagination instead of my memory. I can tie myself to my limitless potential instead of my limiting past. I can become my own first creator” (Fireside Book edition, 1990 p.105). Can you imagine someone writing this to a Black community? Communities that live in the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and police violence will probably understand this for what it is: an expression of white superiority . I think that the implied author is not writing to audiences of color, but only to people like himself. In fact, the book is mostly a book from and to Covey.
One of the themes of the book is that a “private victory” of the internal self must come prior to a “public victory” of the public self (He doesn’t use the idea of “social self,” not only because he doesn’t believe in a social self, but he also appears unaware of all the sociological studies of the self. Instead of centering the self in family, marriage, church, or other relationships, he argues that the only security you can really trust is self-centered security. (Covey the person is interesting here. As a Mormon, I would assume that he would be centered in a relationship with God or the Mormon faith, but since he doesn’t talk about this when writing about a principled life, I don’t know if his faith played a role here or not.) In any case, there is a lot of research today that places human security in secure attachments with others. This research would say that security is relational, not individual. White supremacy, of course, allows one to ignore relationships because the security is in one’s superiority.
There is a way in which white supremacy is unconscious, and the implied author of this book appears to be totally unconscious. That makes it a good text to examine for the many ways that white supremacy continues to shape the culture of our organizations, families, and associations. I invite you to continue the examination.
Let’s start with this: If you cannot understand Africa today without understanding Europe, then you cannot understand Europe without understanding Africa. Such a principle might unlock our imagination to think about the immigrant “problem” as part of the solution for Greece, and for Europe. This would recast the center of the conversation from Brussels or Berlin, to the Mediterranean Sea. Europe and Africa, in other words, are best understood not as two continents, but rather as two coasts on the Mediterranean Sea. Europe’s future, I would guess, depends much more on its relations with Africa than its relations with itself, which I suspect has always been the case.
Civic conversations, as I see it, are not about the “exchange of ideas” (our thoughts are not commodities) or about winning debates (we are we selling things), but are about what we jointly discern as urgent issues. How we approach these issues of course, depends on who invites whom to the conversation. If we want to deal with social inequality, who invites whom makes all the difference in the world.
In Aristotle’s famous two books on friendship in his Nicomachean Ethics, he states that un-equals can be friends, if they figure out what reciprocity would look like for them. If parents give their children money, for example, reciprocity would not require that the children repay their parents with money, but rather with gratitude and honor. The point about reciprocity, as Laurence Becker has said, is about balanced social relations.
Much of the inequality we see around us violates this principle of balanced social relationships. So, if we went to engage in civic conversations, we need to re-balance them.
Here is where the “you” come in. I don’t mean you, but rather the second person pronoun “you.” Most of the time, we treat ourselves as an “I” or a “me” or maybe a “we.” We actually cannot treat ourselves as a “you.” Someone else must do that. We only become a “you” when someone addresses us with a question or some other invocation. The question “What do you think?” can enable another to become a “you.” A you-you relationship may be a necessary condition for real civic conversations. (Martin Buber called it an “I-Thou” relationship, and he is certainly one source of these reflections)
If “I” cannot make myself a “you,” then I am dependent on the invitation of the other. If others have been disadvantaged by social imbalances, how likely is it that they will invite those of us who have benefited from the imbalances into a civic conversation? Isn’t it the case that those of us in privileged positions need an invitation (that’s the only way we can enter into you-you relationships) but that our benefiting from social inequalities make such an invitation unlikely? So, what can we do?
Deeper than our social inequalities resides a common humanity. We are all living now, for example. We are contemporaries. We have attachments and we need provisions. We need protection. Our grandchildren inherit the same planet. We face new beginnings and we face death. What these events mean, of course, depends a lot on our social worlds, but our common humanity is more than these social worlds.
The problem is that this common humanity has been violated by slavery, wars, and imperialism. If we want it to become a foundation for engaging in dialogue with others, it needs to be repaired. It may be that we cannot effectively deal with our social inequalities until we repair the violations of our common humanity. What that repair would require is an open question—a question that might get us an invitation to engage in civic conversations.
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