On the European side of the Atlantic one hardly ever hears mentioned the contributions of American academics to the fierce debate on multiculturalism going on in Europe. Given that America is a symphony of cultures, or a nation of nations, it seems obvious to me that the American contribution to such a debate would prove at the very least valuable, if not essential.
Alas, that is not always the case, more often than not it is simply dismissed with spurious condescending charges that somehow American popular culture has vulgarized and reduced to a lower common denominator the more sophisticated culture of Europe. That may contain a kernel of truth but it is that kind of rather superficial analysis that, in my opinion, renders a great disservice to a serious dialogue on multiculturalism between the two sides that that ought to be going on but is often missing. I’d venture to say that frankly, this phenomenon smacks of elitism and condescension. When Matthew Arnold finally visited America in the 19th century he realized that his own European culture had fed him with many misconceptions about America and changed his mind on quite a few of them.
In my various postings and contributions for Ovi in the last three or four years I have attempted, as best as I could, to point out how unfortunate such a persistent tendency is. I have briefly introduced the Ovi readership to several academics and intellectuals within the field of philosophy, specifically the philosophy of history of Giambattista Vico and Benedetto Croce who are actually Europeans but outside the mainstream of empirical materialistic positivism; others are Americans born in Europe. My hope was that, once those authors were introduced, the interested reader would then deepen the search on her/his own. To mention a few that come to mind: Voegelin, Rorty, Strauss (albeit mostly as a severe critique of what I consider his misguided anti-historicist stand and distortions of Vico), De Chardin, Said, Thoreau, Searle, Dawson, Chomsky, Pierce, Whitehead, Judt, Danto, Beardley, Goodman, Piper, Dewey, Fish, Siskind, Shroeder, Nasr, Weiler, Ulanowiez, Frye, Berry, Palmer, just to mention a few.
Each of the above listed authors were accorded a brief contribution in Ovi designed to introduce them to the educated readership. They are all academics and authors who either were American born or lived and worked in the US extensively and eventually became American citizens. Just listing their names should convince the reader of how important it is to pay attention to the cultural and intellectual ferments going on this transatlantic side of Western civilization and to the cultural bridges of understanding and conviviality between the two continents that those great intellectuals have attempted to build.
Indeed, there is much more to American culture than Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Las Vegas, and making money on Wall Street, and global business and the assorted vulgarities of popular culture and entrepreneurship, as the caricaturists love to assert. I am always bewildered, when I visit Europe, at how many Europeans who consider themselves well educated have no inkling of the fact that Disney and Las Vegas are not the whole of American culture, and not even an important part of it, even if millions of Europeans flock to it every year and then proceed to make negative judgments on the whole culture. Admittedly American culture is slightly different from European culture, if for no other reason that it has the Afro-American and the Native-American and Asian-American component, but I would submit that it is a culture worth knowing on more than a superficial level.
I’d like to now introduce to the Ovi readership Claes G. Ryn, another American author and academic who originally ailed from Sweden, but was educated in America (Ph.D in 1974 from Louisiana State University) and subsequently taught at the University of Virginia and Georgetown University. He presently teaches political philosophy and Ethics at the Catholic University of America. One of his later books is A Common Human Ground: Universality and Particularity in a Multicultural World (2003), a highly commendable book on the subject of historicism and multiculturalism. He is also the editor of the academic journal Humanitas and president of the Academy of Philosophy and Letters.
Ryn’s fields of teaching and research include ethics and politics; epistemology; historicism; politics and culture; the history of Western political thought; conservatism; the theory of constitutionalism and democracy. He has written on ethics and politics and on the central role of culture, specifically, the imagination, in shaping politics and society, has sought to reconstitute the epistemology of the humanities and social sciences, paying close attention to the interaction of will, imagination and reason.
Most importantly, he has criticized abstract, a-historical conceptions of rationality as inadequate to the study of distinctively human life and to the study of real universality. He has argued that there is a much different, experientially grounded form of rationality, the reason of philosophy proper, that is capable of at once humble and penetrating observation. He has therefore developed a philosophy known as value-centered historicism, which demonstrates the potential union of universality and historical particularity and is redolent of Vico’s philosophy. In political theory he has been a sharp critic of Straussian anti-historical thinking and so-called neo-conservatism. He has argued that in essential ways neoconservatism resembles the ideology of the French Jacobins and is in fact neo-Jacobin.
Many in the Western world trust in “democracy,” “capitalism,” “liberal tolerance,” “scientific progress,” or “general enlightenment” to handle this problem. Ryn argues that the problem is much more complex and demanding than is usually recognized. He reasons that, most fundamentally, good relations among individuals and nations have moral and cultural preconditions. What can predispose them to mutual respect and peace? One Western philosophical tradition, for which Plato set the pattern, maintains that the only way to genuine unity is for historical diversity to yield to universality. The implication of this view for a multicultural world would be a peace that requires that cultural distinctiveness be effaced as far as possible and replaced with a universal culture. The Enlightenment set the pattern for this view.
A very different Western philosophical tradition denies the existence of universality altogether. It is represented today by postmodernist multiculturalism—a view that leaves unanswered the question as to how conflict between diverse groups, especially when originating from religious principles, might be averted. Ryn questions both of these traditions, arguing for the potential union of universality and particularity. He contends that the two need not be enemies and mutually exclusive, but in fact need each other. Cultivating individual and national particularities is potentially compatible with strengthening and enriching our common humanity. His book embraces the notion of universality, while at the same time historicizing it. His approach is interdisciplinary, discussing not only political ideas, but also fiction, drama, and other arts. This is an approach proposed by Vico in the 18th century, and by Croce in the 20thcentury.
Ryn’s discussion of modern democracy emphasizes that popular government can assume radically different forms, only some of which can be judged compatible with a higher, ethical striving. Theories of what he calls plebiscitary democracy assume romantic and utopian notions of human nature and society. Constitutional democracy is based on a more realistic view of man and is more consonant with the actual moral terms of human existence. This form of government has demanding moral and cultural preconditions and is endangered wherever those preconditions are not satisfied.
In the year 2000 Ryn gave the Distinguished Foreign Scholar Lectures at Beijing University, which also published this lecture series in Chinese translation as a book, Unity Through Diversity (2001). He has lectured and published widely in China. In 2007 he gave a keynote address at the Chinese Academy of Social Science in Beijing. The Chinese edition (2007) of his book America the Virtuous became one of the most hotly discussed in China. Dushu, China’s preeminent intellectual magazine, described it as “the kind of classical work that will be read over the generations.”
The above background ought to convince the reader of how important is Ryn’s thought for present philosophical political and ethical concerns. I believe that his most signal contribution is in the field of historicism, or the restoration of Vichian historicism in an academic world devastated by a-historical abstract absolutistic Straussian thought. In 2005 Ryn published a devastating critique of Straussianism in Humanitas (Vol. XVIII, n. 1 and 2) in an article titled “Leo Strauss and History: the Philosopher as Conspirator.” The article points out how dangerous it is for those teaching philosophy to choose a pet philosopher (in Strauss’ case, Plato) from the ancient world and subsume the whole philosophical enterprise to his thought as a sort of footnote, as if nothing had been thought and nothing had happened in the field of philosophy in two thousand plus years.
Here is a selected but relevant excerpt from the article which renders the idea and hopefully will motivate the reader to pick it up and read it in its entirety:
“So radical and seemingly forced is this dichotomy between philosophy and history that one has to suspect that its origins are mainly non-philosophical. The dichotomy seems to have more to do with a felt need to discredit tradition, presumably to advance a partisan interest. It might be said that Strauss and the Straussians are simply following the pattern set by Plato, who also taught disdain of what he thought of as history. But Strauss is presenting his arguments more than two millennia after Plato, and in the wake of philosophical developments that can only make the adoption of a Platonic conception of the relation of history and universality appear to the philosophically educated to be archaic and far-fetched.
Strauss is also more radically anti-historical than any ancient Greek could have been. It might be retorted that Strauss and the Straussians are not alone today in ignoring centuries of philosophical development, but this means merely that the question of extra-philosophical motives must be raised with regard to others as well. It is not uncommon in intellectual history for groups to avoid facing up to profound philosophical challenges to themselves by acting as if nothing had really happened and by hiding behind some old, more pleasing figure who is accorded the status of unimpeachable authority and is interpreted as representing just what the group thinks he should represent. This is philosophical evasion, group partisanship intensified by intellectual insecurity, for which the particular group pays a high price in the long run [stress is mine]. Strauss’s exaltation of Plato, as he chooses to interpret him, would appear to be in large measure an example of such evasion, however helpful it may be in discrediting tradition and dislodging corresponding elites.
Though not a philosopher in the more narrow, ‘technical’ sense, Burke sees deeply into the connection between history and universality. Other philosophically more systematic and conceptually precise minds, including Hegel in the nineteenth and Benedetto Croce in the twentieth century [and I would add Vico in the 18th century], have, in spite of philosophical weaknesses of their own, provided a more penetrating account of what Burke understood more intuitively.
One of the weaknesses of modern American intellectual conservatism has been its failure fully to absorb the historical consciousness that gave rise to and gave distinctiveness to modern conservatism. A certain resistance in the Anglo-American world to philosophy above a certain level of difficulty helps explain this problem. One finds, for example, in a thinker like Richard M. Weaver a failure similar to Strauss’s to grasp the possibility of synthesis between universality and the particulars of history. To be sure, that deficiency does not make Weaver as unfriendly as Strauss towards tradition, but, although Weaver himself may not recognize it, it does give tradition a philosophically precarious existence. The absence in Weaver’s thought of the idea of synthesis makes him see the need for a choice between ‘imitating a transcendent model,’ which is to him the appropriate stance, and giving prominence to individuality.
What will invest life with meaning is ‘the imposition of this ideational pattern upon conduct.’ To Weaver, ‘ideas which have their reference to . . . the individuum . . . are false.’ Echoing an ancient notion that had long been challenged by historicist philosophy when Weaver wrote, he asserts that ‘knowledge’ has to be of the universal, not the individual. He decries ‘the shift from speculative inquiry to investigation of experience.’ That universality might be a concrete, experiential reality rather than a purely intellective, a-historical truth does not here occur to him.
Eric Voegelin provides a much needed counterweight to the abstractionist intellectual trend that affects even a thinker like Weaver. Voegelin does so by drawing attention to the experiential reality of what he calls the Ground. Unfortunately, he at the same time and inconsistently gives aid-and-comfort to anti-historicism by propounding a notion of radical transcendence. That notion, too, tends to rob history as such of meaning and contradicts the possibility of incarnation. Straussians and Voegelinians find common ground at the point where their respective positions are philosophically the weakest. Straussianism has been able to invade American conservatism on its philosophically perhaps most unprotected flank, which is its halting, fumbling conception of history and its correspondingly weak notion of universality or ‘higher values.’”
P.S. This article has already appeared in the Ovi Magazine’s 47th symposium meeting on March 12, 2015.
The daily reality of working poverty
Louisette Fanjamalala, has worked hard all her life, yet, like millions of working poor around the globe, she barely makes enough to survive.
Fanjamalala, from Madagascar, lives with four teenage children – two of her own and two orphans she has adopted. Their home is a cramped one-room house in the Antananarivo suburb of Soavina. Her husband left years ago.
For years, she worked in textile factories, getting only short term contracts and earning as little as 70 000 ariary (about US$20) a month in some cases, and, at best cases 300 000 ariary (about US$90). That was barely enough to feed her family. Now, things are even worse.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult for me to be hired because I am considered as too old. It is a shame because I am qualified, I work as fast as and even better than younger workers. However, nowadays, human resources departments usually turn down my request without even giving me an appointment,” she sighed.
Because she was also a victim of violence at work, Fanjamalala recently received support from an ILO programme which provided her with new skills and a sewing machine. She now makes some money by doing sewing work at home for people in her neighbourhood. She also makes clothes and curtains that she sells at the local market. However, getting food on the family table remains a constant challenge.
“Fanjamalala’s story is unfortunately very common in Madagascar and in many developing countries,” said Christian Ntsay, Director of the ILO Office in Antananarivo. “You only need to walk in the streets here and talk to people to realize that the findings of the World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2018 (WESO) on vulnerable employment and working poverty translate into a reality faced by millions of people,” he said.
“Ninety-three per cent of Malagasy workers like Louisette Fanjamalala have no other choice than working in the informal economy to survive,” Ntsay added.
1.4 billion workers in vulnerable employment
“Working poverty continues to fall but – again – just like for vulnerable employment , progress is stalling,” explained Stefan Kühn, lead author of the ILO World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2018.
”Vulnerable employment affects three out of four workers in developing countries. Almost 1.4 billion workers are estimated to be in vulnerable employment in 2017. Every year, an additional 17 million are expected to join them.”
In 2017, extreme working poverty remained widespread, with more than 300 million workers in emerging and developing countries having a per capita household income or consumption of less than US$1.90 per day.
Overall, progress in reducing working poverty is too slow to keep pace with the growing labour force in developing countries, where the number of people in extreme working poverty is expected to exceed 114 million in 2018, or 40 per cent of all employed people.
“Emerging countries achieved significant progress in reducing extreme working poverty. It should continue to fall, translating into a reduction in the number of extreme working poor by 10 million per year in 2018 and 2019. However, moderate working poverty, in which workers live on an income of between US$1.90 and US$3.10 per day, remains widespread, affecting 430 million workers in emerging and developing countries in 2017,” said Kühn.
“The findings of the WESO Trends 2018 report is a reminder that more efforts need to be done to reduce inequalities and to ensure better living and working conditions for people like Louisette Fanjamalala and the 1.4 billion workers facing a similar situation throughout the world,” he concluded.
The Worst Horror Story – Rape
Rape in all its horrendous forms is a marred and an abhorrent trace of patriarchy and misogyny. The direct victims are majorly women, but the fact that men can be –and often are– victims cannot be discounted. Devising its roots in power-play and control, today it carries a heavier weight as a statutory offence with set penalties. Despite these penalties and a massive international attention taking forms of media outrage, studies, monetary and legal aid, awareness programs, and safe shelters, rapes of women – young and old are alarmingly high in South Asia by offenders of varying age groups.
In Nepal, as reported by a national daily, 78 rape cases have on average been reported every month over a course of five years, many of the offenders being septuagenarians and octogenarians. The Indian National Crime Bureau Report (NCBR, 2016) claimed 338,954 reports were made between 2015 and 2016 as crimes against women out of which 38,947 were rapes. It also reported an increase of 82% in the incidents of rape of children. Likewise, in Pakistan, Human Rights Watch asserts of at least one rape every two hours and one gang-rape every eight. In Bangladesh, 13,003 rape cases were reported between 2001-2017 out of which 85 were rapes by law enforcement agents such as police, jail agents, and the army. These data are only the tip of the iceberg as many cases are unreported by the victim, withdrawn upon coercion, or refused to be registered as a legit case by the authority
The causes of rape are far too many, and differs from case to case. The reasons that surface commonly are sexual frustration in men, poverty, mind-sets and attitudes that reflect machismo, a sense of entitlement, unawareness, and acceptance. In 2012, a report by UNICEF published that 57% men and 53% women in India thought marital rape as not rape, and a sizeable number believed that beating of wives by their husbands was not violence. In India and Bangladesh, the legislations on what constitutes a crime declares it as not rape if the person is married to the victim and if she is over 15 years of age, excepting judicial separation.
We need to remind ourselves that in the South Asian countries, men often grow up being told and shown that they are superior to women who then grow old with a sense of entitlement as they deem it fit for a woman to be available on their demand. When these men are unable to earn for the family due to unemployment or otherwise, their frustration takes the form of rape to demonstrate their ‘masculinity’ and maintain superiority over the women.
Now, this mentality also works in reverse, where a woman is told be to weaker than men and should protect herself from them if she does not wish to get raped. In most South Asian families, females have lesser liberty of movement and choices as compared to their male counterparts. This obviously arises from expected gender behavior that good women should be meek, submissive, and obedient but is also centered around the fact that the families do not want their females to be raped.
This objective of giving women the security inside the family homes is flawed for two reasons. Firstly, rapes and molestation within the family very often exist. In January 2018, a baby girl of eight months was raped in Delhi, India by a relative in her house. Little girls of varying ages have been raped right next to a family member by another family member or neighbors in several instances in Nepal and they could do nothing, not even file a complaint because this façade of a domestic protection does not concern a female’s bodily security but societal reputation.
Once a person is subjected to rape, the victim becomes unchaste and impure and is thought to bring dishonour to the family. The terminology in Pakistan is kari, referring to someone who has lost virginity outside marriage and an honour killing, karokari, is subjected by the village council. The victims often commit suicide or are killed by their own families for tainting the honour. In 2002, Mukhtaran Bibi challenged this status quo by not committing suicide after a gang rape that was ordered on her by a village council but filed a case against all her rapists. Initially, they were sentenced to death but in 2005, five of them were acquitted due to lack of evidence. In 2011, the sixth offender got acquitted too. In 2017 in Multan, Pakistan, a jirgah (village council) ordered revenge rape on the sister of an offender. In all these years, nothing has changed and even today revenge rape is still being ordered on innocent girls for no fault of their own as punishment.
The victims in other countries face social stigma and have to live in fear because once someone falls victim to rape, they are prone to more rapes because the value of a person is reduced from that of a human to a commodity that is free for public use. In Haryana, India, a girl was gang-raped twice by the same set of men who were out on bail after raping her the first time six years ago. A take-home message is that the onus lies on a woman to protect herself from men who are always lurking in hunt of a prey to rape, yet again asserting that the victim befalls such fate on themselves due to their actions, or in Pakistan actions of their family members.
Rapes are justified for godforsaken reasons and victims told they were ‘asking for it’ by travelling alone at ungodly hours, dressing provocatively, being friends with men, or indulging in so called notorious activities like smoking, drinking, and partying. The way these protectionist measures are advised always revolves around victim but never around the offenders, due to the notion that men have an insatiable sexual appetite and if women portray themselves to be ‘easy’, they are raped. Ranjit Sinha, head of Indian Central Bureau of Investigation once commented that if women couldn’t prevent rapes, they should enjoy it.
In India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, victims of rape are subjected to a two-finger test to determine their sexual activeness. This procedure exists despite so many pleas from within these countries and outside to get rid of it on the bases that it is flawed on so many levels as it renders women who chose to be sexually active out of consent as lecherous and dirty who have already been touched by a man. This violation of a victim’s body is backed by the government in the form of a random stranger determining of their worth. This is of course scientifically inaccurate, and extremely irrelevant in case of rape.
Equally exasperating is the fact that women should remain pious and dedicated to only choosing to be sexually active with their legally married husbands but when their husbands rape them, it is not recognised by the legislation. O. P. Chautala, an ex minister in India, once stated that girls should be married as they turn 16 so that sexual needs of women are met and they will not go elsewhere and rapes will reduce. However, even statutory age of marriage is above 16 in India, and marriage is not a way to end rape. Rather, such a statement renders women as cattle whose ownership belongs to the husband.
These instances prove time and again that the role of a woman is always reduced to pleasing her husband in bed without considerations. In fact, marriage is a holy sacrament that can undo rape – perhaps why victims are married off to their rapists in South Asia who then continue to rape them for the rest of their lives.
Most importantly, the police and other protectors of law find ways to make money out of instances of rape. Like, in January 2018 in Kathmandu, Nepal, a woman of 22 years withdrew her report of rape after few days and it was later revealed that the police were involved facilitating monetary settlements between the accused and the complainant with a personal gain. In Bharatpur, Nepal in February 2018, police coerced a woman to withdraw her rape complaint. So many more cases have surfaced in the southern plains of Nepal where the police have been involved as middlemen.
Hindrance to Justice
The reasons behind rape are men-centric but they have been ingrained in the societies as acceptable by both men and women. Reporting of rape has been increasing in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan but the cases are not dealt with caution. The victims face injustice and have to go through denigrating treatment by the police and health officers, questioning their character and morality.
The portrayal of a victim in the media is a stereotypical one, a non-provocative, harmless, and morally upright person with no past sexual history. Any victim deviating from this stereotype probably brought it on themselves. Further, the media has been reporting on sensitive issues like rape without sensitivity like revealing the victim’s name which is illegal or slut-shaming the victims.
Lastly, even death penalties are not enough to deter people from committing rapes. In Pakistan and India, rape can be punished with death but the crime is still on the rise. After the 2012 Nirbhaya case in Delhi, India, a strong plea was made to change the judicial system and a fast-track hearing was introduced for rape because national outrage by the citizens was not deemed enough to bring a change. In Nepal, the fast-track court is in practice too, but the problem arises in procuring evidence which is substantial in these cases.
Without firm action on gender equality, women’s empowerment, world may miss development targets
“This is an urgent signal for action, and the report recommends the directions to follow,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women, said on the launch of the new report, Turning promises into action: Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Speaking to reporters at UN Headquarters in New York, she said: “As a world, we committed through the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] to leave no one behind,” but the report reveals many areas where progress remains slow to achieve the Goals by 2030.
Even where progress is made, it may not reach the women and girls who need it most and the ones that are being left furthest behind,” explained Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka.
Turning promises into action makes in-depth case studies in the Colombia, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, United States and Uruguay, looking at what is necessary to achieve the 2030 Agenda.
Focusing on unpaid care work and ending violence against women, the comprehensive report examines all 17 SDGs and how deeply intertwined the different dimensions of well-being and deprivation are in impacting the lives of women and girls.
As one example, it points out that a girl born into poverty and forced into early marriage is more likely to drop out of school, give birth at an early age, suffer childbirth complications and experience violence – a scenario that encompasses all the SDGs.
Moreover, new data in 89 countries reveals that there are 4.4 million more women than men living on less than $1.90 a day – much of which is explained by the disproportionate burden of unpaid care work women face, especially during their reproductive years.
Looking beyond national averages, glaring gaps are uncovered between women and girls who, even within the same country, are living in worlds apart because of income status, race, ethnicity or location.
While the report addresses how to tackle existing structural inequalities and what is needed to move from promises to action, progress remains slow.
“It’s a problem in all countries, developed, developing, north, south, east west,” Shahrashoub Razavi, UN Women’s Chief of Research and Data, told UN News.
“We have a long way to go to achieve gender equality universally,” she added, calling it “a problem that stymies the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.”
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