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New Social Compact

The Cultural Anthropologist as Philosopher and Conspirator

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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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.

The above may contain a kernel of truth but it is that kind of rather superficial analysis that, in my opinion, renders a great disservice to any 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.

After Croce in Italy, the intellectual that did an great deal of work to popularize Vico in America was Giorgio Tagliacozzo who ailed from Italy but lived and worked in America for many years and via Vico was able to build a crucial bridge of cultural understanding between the two continents.

Indeed, there is much more to American culture than Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Las Vegas, or making money on Wall Street, and global business and the assorted vulgarities of popular culture and entrepreneurship, as the caricaturists love to assert. Unfortunately a President Trump will be the icon of that sort of culture for the forseable future.

Nevertheless, I am always bewildered, whenever 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 MD readership Claes G. Ryn, another American author and academic who originally was a European ailing 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.

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. Undoubtedly, 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 can complement 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. To be sure, this is an approach proposed by Vico in the 18th century, and by Croce in the 20th century.

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 Cartesian absolutistic 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. 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.’”

A rather long quote, but perhaps necessary to make the case that indeed Ryn may have it on target in insisting that Philosophy and Cultural Anthropology are the sine qua non for a recovery of what is best in Western Culture. Some have called the approach a conspiracy, a conspiracy of hope.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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New Social Compact

Women and girls with autism must be empowered to overcome discrimination they face

MD Staff

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On World Autism Awareness Day, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has joined the global call to empower women and girls with autism and involve them and their advocates in policy and decision-making to address the discrimination and other challenges they face.

“They face […] barriers to accessing education and employment on an equal footing with others, denial of their reproductive rights and the freedom to make their own choices, and a lack of involvement in policy making on matters that concern them,” said the Secretary-General in his message on the Day.

Emphasizing that “our work for gender equality and women’s empowerment must reach all the world’s women and girls,” he stressed that the international community’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) must uphold the 2030 Agenda’s core promise to leave no one behind.

The Goals and the landmark framework from which they emerged were adopted by UN Member States three years ago. Together they aim to wipe out poverty and boost equality by putting the world on a more sustainable economic, social and environmental path by 2030.

“On World Autism Awareness Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to promote the full participation of all people with autism, and ensure they have the necessary support to be able to exercise their rights and fundamental freedoms,” concluded the Mr. Guterres.

Autism is a lifelong neurological condition that manifests during early childhood, irrespective of gender, race or socio-economic status. The term Autism Spectrum refers to a range of characteristics.

Autism is mainly characterized by its unique social interactions, non-standard ways of learning, keen interests in specific subjects, inclination to routines, challenges in typical communications and particular ways of processing sensory information.

The rate of autism in all regions of the world is high and the lack of understanding has a tremendous impact on the individuals, their families and communities.

The World Day is marked annually on 2 April, and this year’s official UN commemoration will be on Thursday, 5 April, with a half-day programme in New York entitled Empowering Women and Girls with Autism, that will feature a keynote address from Julia Bascom, Executive Director, Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

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New Social Compact

Law in societies: Encounters vs. Anarchy

David Ceasar Wani

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In this essay I will discuss the purpose of law in society but before I go further law refers to the system of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and may enforce by the imposition of penalties.

Some human beings can be aptly described as weak willed animals. They are easily influenced by the slightest sight or sniff of power and money. This originates from insatiable greed. Greed that can sometimes make even the iron willed loses their head. How many stories have we heard since our childhood where many “heroes” lost their way to the path of glory by being trapped by greed?

Our one aim in life has always been to find balance and serenity in our lives. A utopian society envisages a vision where people govern themselves. People trust each other blindly. They achieve happiness. People set their goals, lead disciplined lives and achieve anything they set their sights on They are able to live their lives to the fullest and all the time feeling secure about it.

However the vision, unfortunately, exists in an ideal world which frankly is almost the opposite of today’s real world. Our realistic society is heterogeneous mixture of all kinds of people, people who look to disturb the balance of the natural society. It is here that law plays a very important role in restoring that delicate balance back to the society and making the lives of the people living together cohesive. It is here that law helps to maintain the morality of the people as individuals as well as the society as a whole.

World without Let us imagine a world without any law to punish the wrong doer. Let us assume that the society has till now lived an honest life without any kind of betrayal. Suppose a person, in greed, steals a valuable item from his neighbor’s house. He isn’t punished but everyone knows what he has done. Some naive person, probably a youngster witnesses this and is tempted to steal because he knows there are no repercussions. This develops into a never-ending chain endangering the very foundations of the society.

Another example might be a survival situation. A group of people are stranded on an island with twenty days of food and water. They know that a rescue team will reach them on the twenty first day. They carefully divide the food such that they get the necessary nourishments by the time they are rescued. A person, out of greed for more, sneaks quietly and consumes two days of food meant for the whole group. When the group discovers what has happened they confront the person who cunningly reasons with the group that there was no rule or law which forbade eating more. As the group consisted of educated men and women, both young and old, they knew his reasoning was correct and they could not do anything to get the food back. As a result, they starved for two whole days during which a few old people fell ill and could not make it.

Law is essential and many do ask why and how but Law is essential in the society and it is there to guide the society towards happiness without bloodshed and in peace and harmony. Law helps us to restrain ourselves in times of great thirst for more money or power. It curbs our greed reminding us that there is someone or rather something out there ready to punish us if necessary. It helps to restore the balance in the society and bring justice to the victimized. The greatest thing about law is that all are equal before it. No man is rich or poor in the eyes of the law. No man is more powerful than the other in the eyes of the law. Law helps to regulate the behavior of the people. It prevents us from descending into anarchy.

Law is dynamic. It is constantly adapting to the changing times so as to close all the loopholes that may be left due to human error. Our Preamble states the ideals of justice liberty sovereignty fraternity and equality which constitute the basic foundation of Our Constitution. However, without law these ideals will be constantly shattered. There will be nothing to protect these ideals.

In a world where ‘survival of the fittest’ is prevalent, and looking at the size of human population we can say only one thing. Law is needed for survival. We cannot go against each other as it will definitely lead to destruction. Law plants an element of fear which may prevents in killing of fellow human being. It gives each one his or her own share, what they deserve.

Laws tell us what to expect as consequences as a result of our actions. It makes us look before we leap. It is there to protect and to destroy. It restricts people who get carried away due to the freedom given to them by the absence of law if this is the case. They know one abuse of the law will affect them economically, mentally and physically. Some exceptions may be found but this is applicable for the majority.

In addition the natural law which can be refers to Mother Nature herself which follows many rules and laws which help in the sustainability of this world and the life which flourishes on it in abundance. Every living organism, from the tiny unicellular amoeba to the biggest animal the blue whale follows a set of laws to survive.

Let us take the examples of honey bees. They follow the orders of the queen bee and visit hundreds and thousands of flowers to carry the process of pollination which helps in reproduction of these plants. They have to follow a set of rules or laws which will help in this important process. If one of them breaks the law, they are ordered to leave the bee hive. They cannot join another hive nor can they return. It is as good as giving them a life sentence. This life-threatening situation helps to keep the honey bees in check and brings order into the hive.

Same can be said for the birds which migrate every winter or summer depending upon their pattern. They have to follow a set of rules or laws which will help them navigate their way. One abuse of these laws can lead to cases extreme to death.

When in the modern society our modern society has become quite educated and the main question that arises from them is that who has the authority to form these laws which imposes a restriction on their lives. They question and debate upon the authority that makes these laws and rightly so. Once they are satisfied with the authority they know that their lives are secure and they are free to concentrate on their aims and dreams in life. Law is there to attempt to balance the needs of individuals against the needs of the majority. We accept responsibilities, we renounce some of our freedoms (not kill others, not harm others, not steal from other members of the society) to receive in return the benefits of society (not being kill by others, not being harm by others, not being robbed by other members of the society).

Law helps in removal of social stigmas such as dowry and untouchability. For example, in some Constitutions, it talks about untouchability and even though it still exists today, the number of cases has comparatively gone down a lot. This is just one example that law can have in a society which is not perfect, a society where human beings fight, and abuse and kill their own species. This is how law helps in protection of the underprivileged.

Furthermore Law plays a significant role in producing successful societal functions around the world. Law helps regulate social behaviors, ultimately leading to society running efficiently. Without laws, society would have no ethical boundaries or standards, no rules or measures, nor any means of settling even the simplest disputes. Law helps keep the peace in society through governance and standards set forth by all voting citizens. All functions of law in society include peacekeeping, promoting personal freedom, regulating government power, promoting economic growth, promoting social justice, and protecting all of society and the environment. It is important to remember without laws to govern the actions of people in society, it is highly likely all social structure and commerce would collapse. If one can imagine what life would be like if every prisoner in the world were to be released back into society that would be about how unsafe and dysfunctional society would be without laws (Melvin, 2011).

Law and Society The function of law in a society is more or less universal. It acts as a deterrent to control the evil and treacherous behavior of humans, to maintain discipline and imposes restrictions on some freedom. We live in a chaotic and uncertain world. Without an orderly environment based on and backed by law, the normal activities of life would be lacerated with chaos. Law is a social norm, the infraction of which is sanctioned in treat or in fact by the application of physical force or by a party possessing the socially recognized privilege or so acting. It provides a society with order and predictability, resolving disputes, protecting individuals and property, providing for the general welfare and protecting individual liberties. Law and the predictability it provides cannot guarantee us a totally safe world, but it can create a climate in which people believe it is worthwhile to produce, venture fort, and to live for the morrow. It prevents the state of nature, which would be total anarchy had there been no laws. Societies today are more complex and interacting. Maintaining good order and discipline have far reaching implications on a society’s prosperity. Laws are in acted daily throughout different societies for the protection and security of individuals, property, businesses and states. It permits an orderly, peaceful process for dispute resolution and provides us with the programs to establish and enable corporately, what would be impossible, or at least prohibitive, to do as individuals. Laws should be designed to protect the individual personal and civil rights against those forces, which would curtail or restrict them. Some examples of this are freedom of speech, religion, the press, the right to a fair trial and the freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. In the United States the respect for the law is paramount and disobedience to the law.

In conclusion it can be implied by common sense that law helps us to survive as a society and it is convenient. Convenient is comfortable and humans look for comfort above all things apart from happiness. Also law helps in getting rid of the social barriers that exist in our society. Through law we survive yet thrive. Hence law is necessary in a society.

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New Social Compact

The holistic gender and media agenda in focus

MD Staff

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Achieving gender equality in and through media requires a comprehensive approach covering a full gamut of longstanding as well as new challenges.

Assessing the issues – ranging from media ownership and staffing, news coverage, the safety of women journalists, through to policy effectiveness – is essential if society is to overcome the snail’s pace of progress to date.

This was the thread running through a panel session convened at the UN headquarters in New York on 23 March by UNESCO and the Global Alliance for Media and Gender (GAMAG).

Taking place as a side event during the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women  (CSW), the occasion previewed a number of analytical position papers which GAMAG had prepared with the support of The Netherlands and channeled through UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC).

The position papers, to be published in book format later this year, helped GAMAG to focus its advocacy around the CSW’s annual review theme on women’s’ participation in, and access to, the media and information and communications technologies.

The work also helped towards references to media and ICT being included in the CSW’s conclusions concerning its primary theme of “Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls”.

Aimée Vega Montiel from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the Interim Chair of GAMAG presented the wider context of the position papers. She pointed out that media has a key role in the achievement of gender equality across all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals through shaping the social and cultural norms underpinning discrimination and inequality.

Sarah Macharia of the World Association for Christian Communication and co-ordinator for the Global Media Monitoring Project  flagged how little progress has been made in the portrayal of women in media. Within a 10-year timeframe, women’s appearance as experts in media has only risen by 2 percent.

Combatting sexist stereotypes is a necessary part of the process but it is hindered by the low representation of women in decision-making roles on boards of media companies. As Carolyn Byerly, a professor at Howard University noted, media and social media power is still highly concentrated in the hands of men. She cited research showing that out of the 100 largest media companies, only 6% have a woman CEO.

Rampant sexual harassment within the media and society is an enduring problem, with women journalists being abused within newsrooms and also by sources, said Mindy Ran from the International Federation of Journalists.

She said that women in media faced a “triple jeopardy” – enduring the same risks as their male counterparts, social pressures because they are female, and additional abuse because of the combination of being a woman who is a journalist. “Protection mechanisms are often completely inadequate at workplaces”.

Claudia Padovani from Padova University in Italy signaled the importance of having effective policy to mainstream gender equality in and through media. She highlighted, however, that many governments lacked such an instrument, and that there are questions about the effectiveness even where policies exist.

Abeer Sa’ady, Vice President of International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) summarized the discussion, urging that “we need to close the gap between good intentions and practices”.

Gender equality should be everyone’s concern, she said. “It is not about women, but about everyone, about men and women”, adding that there was a need for action across governments, trade unions, universities, civil society and private and public sectors.

UNESCO’s Guy Berger, Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, called for relevant actors to introduce or revise gender policies for media in order to ensure greater implementation.

Many governmental, social media and newsroom policies serve only as “weak symbols” that may reflect the aspirational gender norms, but are not translated into practices, he noted.

The event was moderated by June Nicholson from Virginia Commonwealth University .

UNESCO

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