Connect with us

Americas

Poetry and Rancor: Donald Trump, America and the “Hollow Men”

Prof. Louis René Beres

Published

on

“We are the hollow men, We are the stuffed men”-T S Eliot, The Hollow Men  (1925)

Donald Trump did not emerge ex nihilo, from nothing. He was the predictable outgrowth of a society that generally loathes any serious thought. When Mr. Trump noted proudly during his 2016 campaign that “I love the poorly educated,” it was by no means an off-the-cuff or seat-of-the pants observation.

It was offered as a politically convenient affirmation of alleged kinship, a deliberate strategy nurturing his bond with a specific portion of the American electorate.

This targeted portion could have been called “hollow men” by poet T S Eliot. Currently, to be sure, this meaning must be taken to include both genders. In this regard, the president’s revealed sentiments were entirely “evenhanded.”

However regrettable and worrisome for other reasons, they were not intended as sexist.

What were these “other reasons?” To answer, we must first inquire: Where does Donald Trump’s conspicuous loathing of intellect and learning have its contemporary historical roots?  Significantly, this is not really a difficult question.

“Intellect rots the mind,” warned Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels at the Nuremberg rallies in 1935. This plausible historical resemblance or commonality need not suggest that the Trump administration is in any way genocidal, only that both regimes drew their “primal” nurturance from the poisonous font of a know-nothing populism.

Even in anti-intellectual America, the poet occupies a proper place. Sometimes,  he or she is all-seeing, even as a prophetic antecedent of what still lies ahead.  “This is the dead land…” laments T.S. Eliot, speaking of no one geographic place in particular.  Rather, he observes, in a presumptively generic “cactus land,” false images of wood and stone are raised by “hollow men” as suitable objects for veneration.

Just as in present-day Trump-era United States, compliant inhabitants will insistently welcome “the supplication of a dead man’s hand.”

By definition, of course, it is a profoundly self-destructive welcoming.

Today, still more precisely, such lethal surrenders are witnessed most often at Trump “rallies,” literally incoherent gatherings of the president’s faithful, replete with screams and ritualistic phrases chanted in loud and atavistic chorus.

For the United States, at least in principle, there still exist more promising supplications. But any such foreseeable entreaties would first require a society that can take itself seriously, not one that has wittingly exchanged banal observations and empty chatter for intellect and learning. Under no circumstances – absolutely none – could these sensible pleas be spawned by a society of “hollow men” or “hollow women.”

Never.

Now, actually meeting the requirements of a tangibly thoughtful and reasoning society is little more than a vague hope.Nonetheless, a simple though dignified model for improvement does remain available. To wit, before the poet Eliot’s revealing metaphors, Transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson called upon his fellow Americans to embrace “plain living and high thinking.” Today, especially, it is evident that his sensible nineteenth-century plaint for enhanced equilibrium  (personal and social) went unheeded.

Widely unheeded.

No truth-based observation could ever be more obvious.

Now, in the glaringly rancorous “Trump Era,” there is no longer any plausible pretense concerning  mind or integrity. Today, both intellect and dignity are out of political fashion, strikingly out of fashion. At least in the most cantankerous public realms, truth is no longer regarded as meaningfully worthwhile or advantageous. For this president, who seemingly learned a great deal from de facto mentor Joseph Goebbels, it is plainly a liability.

A grievous liability.

Though not generally understood, looking behind the news is everyone’s first obligation of citizenship. Only here, in what is not immediately obvious, may we yet discover certain immutably core truths of American life. After all, even the tiniest hint of science or “high thinking” is treated by US President Donald Trump as an affront, as an epithet, as an unseemly sign of independent thinking.

Could anything else be more fittingly subject to mass-based spasms of public loathing, of duly “patriotic” American hatreds?

This corrosive subordination of intellect was by no means an original “contribution” of  Donald Trump  (American society has never been an example of obeisance to learning or enlightened considerations of “mind”),  but it remains a defiling signature of this rapidly dissembling American presidency.

 For sensible and still-thinking Americans, there should be little residual ambiguity about what is unraveling. Beyond any reasonable doubt, this country now backs further and further away from any merit-based  standards of policy assessment. Locked fixedly into a regressive trajectory of political and cultural decline, America’s cumulative ambitions are continuously being reduced to narrowly shallow credos and correspondingly empty witticisms.

“I love the poorly educated” said candidate Trump back in 2016.

Pertinent policy examples abound. It hardly comes as a surprise that virtually all Americans are already victims of this president’s  vaunted “trade wars.” Ironically, the principal long-term beneficiaries of  this Trump-induced incoherence will be Russia and China. The only derivative question should be this: Why is such plainly injurious presidential irrationality still acceptable to millions of rhythmically chanting citizens?

What can they possibly be thinking?

Always, science must begin with tangible questions.  These core questions cannot be overlooked or ignored.  Americans, it follows, must much more sincerely inquire: “How can a US president so willfully ignore and accept his Russian counterpart as his puppet master?” Even in the wholesale absence of “high thinking” within the Trump White House, it should be unambiguous that one superpower president has become the all-too-witting marionette of the other.

At what point do Americans candidly acknowledge that in any measured comparisons with geopolitical reality, the current US presidency is effectively The Manchurian Candidate on steroids?

There are still more serious questions. As a nation, when shall we finally agree to bear truthful witness on Constitutional governance?[1] Can there be any doubt that there is much more to these founding principles than the Second Amendment?  Surely this country must ultimately be about much more than just the right to bear arms.

Is it not already obvious, patently, that what we now witness from moment to moment represents a more perilous American declension than even the most sensationalized fictional catastrophes?

Cultural context remains vital, even determinative. Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency did not arise ex nihilo, in a vacuum. What exactly has gone wrong with American  “high thinking?” How, more precisely, have we managed to allow a once-still-promising and steadily-rising nation to slide uncontrollably toward collective national misfortune?  

In the inherently unsteady nuclear age, such misfortune could sometime include irreversibly catastrophic human wars.  With such dreaded inclusion, we the people might even need to witness a wholly unprecedented fusion. This would be an explosive alloy of banality and apocalypse.

It’s not a pleasing fusion.

Before answering such queries – and properly serious replies must take special account of expanding nuclear proliferation – the genre we select must be exquisitely precise.  In this connection, whenever we speak of Donald Trump we dare not speak of authentic “tragedy.” “True” tragedy, unlike common buffoonery or self-induced misfortune, is ennobling.  Always.

From Aristotle to Shakespeare, true tragedy has demanded a victim, whether individual or societal, one who suffers undeservedly.

This demand has not been met today.

In this dreary and profane play directed by President Donald Trump, we Americans are not properly tragic figures. Surely we are not just the passive victims of a disjointed and contrived presidency effectively forced upon us in 2016. As long as we refuse to speak out at less  delicate levels of truth-telling – and this refusal means much more than just showing up to vote in 2020 – we will  deserve our consequent losses.

Richly deserve them.

In the nuclear age, it now bears repeating, such losses could be irremediable.

Even immediately, they would likely be unendurable.

At that late point we would surely not represent the tragic victims of some unstoppable national decline. Instead, we would appear the pathetic “spillover” of a palpable and once-preventable melodrama.

At that point our defining genre will have become parody and pathos.

In all likelihood, that finally expressed American genre would represent a dreadful and prospectively hideous farce.

Amid all these consequential “theatrical” matters, we may have less to learn from Aristotle or Shakespeare  than from the 20th century psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Even a cursory glance at the two seminal thinkers from Vienna and Zurich should remind us of the ever-present dangers posed by “horde” or “mass.” Both Freud and Jung were strongly influenced by the Danish Existentialist thinker Soren Kierkegaard (who personally preferred the term “crowd” to “horde” or “mass”) and by German-Swiss philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

 Without guile, Nietzsche spoke woefully of the “herd.”

Whatever term we might decide to favor, one key point remains unassailable: When an entire nation and society abandon the most basic obligations of critical thinking and “reason” (this observation about “reason” should bring us also to the German post-War philosopher, Karl Jaspers[2]), we can expect incremental deformity and eventual tyranny.  Nietzsche, in his masterpiece Zarathustra, was more specific. “Do not seek the higher-man in the marketplace,” the prophet had warned presciently.

Translated into more prosaic terms of our current American presidential dilemma, this ought to remind us that mundane skill sets acquired in the worlds of real-estate bargaining and casino gambling do not “carry over” to high-politics and diplomacy.

Or as one might say here in Indiana, “Not hardly!”

Now, in essence, American national leadership desperately requires some serious figures of historical literacy and tangible erudition, not the crudely half-educated marketers of  “deals.”

In America, snake oil can still be sold under various different markings.

But it’s still just snake oil.

In the end, every society represents the sum total of its individual souls seeking some sort or other of “redemption.” This search is never properly scientific – after all, there can be no discernible or tangible referent for a human “soul” – but important answers may still occasionally lie outside mainstream scientific investigations.[3]

These sorts of “eccentric” answers ought not necessarily be disregarded.

At times, at least, they should be consciously sought and carefully studied.

Not only the blustering American “emperor,” but also those still awed  by his mind-stifling “parade,” are shamelessly “naked.” In President Donald Trump’s deeply fractionated American republic, we the people cheerlessly inhabit a stultifying “hollow land” of unending submission, crass consumption, dreary profanity and immutably shallow pleasures. Bored by the suffocating banalities of daily life and beaten down by the grinding struggle to stay hopeful amid ever-widening polarities of wealth and poverty, our weary US citizens – people who have every right to vote,  but not to keep their teeth[4] – now grasp anxiously for any available lifelines of distraction.

In 2016, this presumed lifeline was a false prophet of American “greatness.”

In 2016, legions of Americans unaccustomed to reading anything of consequence were easily taken in by a mountain of cheap red hats and starkly inane slogans.

For Donald Trump, cynical simplifications represented his planned path to electoral victory.

“Intellect rots the mind” said Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels in 1935.

“I love the poorly educated” said US Presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016.

Such things considered, it is small wonder that the cavernous Opiate Crisis is already deep enough to drown entire libraries of a once-sacred poetry.

Small wonder, too, that in a nation of so much institutionalized pain and private desperation there exists a pervasively growing cry for “anesthesia.”

In part, because of the indifferent and ineffectual stewardship of America’s current president, both this singular nation and the wider planetary system of which it is a part are at significant risk. Where, then, shall we meaningfully seek any still-lingering public demands for human improvement and collective survival? Where might we still discover any usefully reinforcing visions of social cooperation and personal growth?  

In principle, at least, thoughtful concepts are de rigeur. Misdirected by the incessantly hollow claims of “American Exceptionalism” and “America First,” we have somehow managed to forget that world politics is a system.  It follows, among other things, that US prosperity is perpetually linked to the calculable well-being of other states and other societies.

It’s not terribly complicated. In brief, this is an historical moment where one simplifying gastronomic metaphor can actually make sense:  In essence, we are all in the “soup” together.

There is more. Until now, we have unceremoniously ignored the Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s clear warning from The Phenomenon of Man: “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature. No element can move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”

We have also ignored almost everything else of commendably real intellectual importance. Should there remain any sincere doubts about this indictment, one need only look at the current state of American higher education –  in many ways, now just another obvious expression of Nietzsche’s (Zarathustra’s) “marketplace.”

In Donald Trump’s America, we the people are no longer shaped by any suitably generalized feelings of reverence or compassion, or, as has already been amply demonstrated, by even the tiniest hints of plausibly complex thought. Now, our preferred preoccupation, shamelessly unhidden, lies with a closely- orchestrated hysteria of indulgence in other people’s private lives and (with even greater and more visceral enthusiasm) their corollary sufferings. In German, there is a specially-designated word for this lethal pathology of the human spirit.

The Germans call this schadenfreude, or taking exquisite pleasure in the misfortunes of others.

For the most part,  this voyeuristic frenzy is juxtaposed against the always-comforting myth of American superiority. In the end, this particular myth, more than any other, is apt to produce further declension and despair. This is the case even when an American president chooses to physically wrap himself around the flag, a recent Trump embrace of rare and visually defiling repugnance.

I belong, therefore I am.”  This is not what philosopher René Descartes had in mind when, back in the 17th century, he had urged greater thought and expanding doubt. It is also a very sad credo. Unhesitatingly, it loudly shrieks that social acceptance is equivalent to physical survival, and that even the most sorely pretended pleasures of inclusion are inevitably worth pursuing.

There is much more. A push-button metaphysics of “apps” now reigns supreme in America. This immense attraction of smart phones and corresponding social networks stems in large part from our barren society’s machine-like existence. Within this increasingly robotic universe, every hint of human passion must be shunted away from any caring human emotions, and then re-directed along certain uniform and vicariously satisfying pathways.

Jurisprudentially, although international law obliges the United States to oppose all crimes of genocide and related crimes against humanity – and despite the fact that this binding international law is an established part of the municipal law of the United States[5] – America’s president remains irremediably silent on war crimes committed by both America’s allies and its adversaries. These terms of relationship must be bound together because  it has become substantially unclear in Trump’s inverted universe exactly who is friend and who is foe. When Trump says of North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un “We’re in love,” the rest of us are in real trouble.

We may still argue, and quite correctly, that human beings are the creators of their machines, not their servants. Yet, there exists today an implicit and hideous reciprocity between creator and creation, an elaborate and potentially murderous pantomime between the users and the used. Openly, our adrenalized American society is rapidly making a machine out of Man and Woman.

 In an unforgivable inversion of Genesis, it now seems plausible that we have been created in the image not of God, but of the machine.

Mustn’t we now ask, at least those residually few Americans who would courageously remain determined thinkers and doubters, “What sort of redemption is this?”

For the moment, we Americans remain grinning but hapless captives in a deliriously noisy and stultifying mass. By relentlessly disclaiming any dint of interior life, we are able to proceed with our lives, very tentatively, of course, and – in absolutely every existential sphere – at the lowest possible common denominator.

Expressed in more palpable terms, our air, rail and land travel is too often insufferable, especially when compared to other western democracies. Our universities, institutions in which I have lived exclusively for more than the past half century, are generally bereft of anything that might ever hint at serious learning. For the most part, they have obligingly become submissive adjuncts to the larger corporate and entrepreneurial worlds.

Now, they are dedicated more than anything else to private wealth accumulation and institutional self-promotion. In America, let us be candid: “You are what you buy.” Or in a grotesque inversion of Descartes, “I don’t think, therefore I am.”

In the blatantly anti-intellectual Trump Era, this already intolerable trend merely continues to worsen.

There is still more pertinent detail to consider. Across the beleaguered land, our once traditionally revered Western Canon of literature and art has largely been replaced by unhidden and more “practical” emphases on job preparation, loyalty-building sports, and “branding”(quantitative rankings.) Apart from their unhappy drunkenness and broadly tasteless entertainments, the once-sacred spaces of “higher education” have managed to become something wholly unrelated to learning. Most visibly, though rarely acknowledged, our universities have morphed into a vocational pipeline to nonsensical and unsatisfying jobs.

Sometimes, as in the case of onetime “Trump University,” they are incapable of meeting even these embarrassingly minimal expectations.

Again, it is time for candor.  For most of America’s young people, learning has become an inconvenient and burdensome commodity, nothing more. At the same time, as virtually everyone already understands, commodities exist for only one overriding purpose. They exist, like the newly minted college graduates themselves, to be bought and sold.

Beware, warns Zarathustra, of ever seeking virtue or quality at the marketplace. This is a place only for buying and selling, a venue for “deals.”

 Though faced with genuine threats of war, illness, impoverishment and terror, millions of Americans still choose to amuse themselves to death with assorted forms of morbid excitement, public scandal (remember Schadenfreude), inedible foods, and the stunningly inane repetitions of an illiterate political discourse. Not a day goes by that we don’t notice some premonitory sign of impending catastrophe. Still, our bewildered and  drug-numbed country continues to impose upon its exhausted and manipulated people a devaluation of challenging thought and a breakneck pace of unrelieved and unrewarding work.

Small wonder that “No Vacancy” signs now hang securely outside our psychiatric hospitals, childcare centers and ready-to-burst prisons.

In an 1897 essay titled “On Being Human,” Woodrow Wilson inquired coyly about the authenticity of America. “Is it even open to us to choose to be genuine?” he asked. This president (a president who actually read and wrote serious books) answered “yes,” but only if we would first refuse to join the misleading “herds” of mass society. Otherwise, President Wilson already understood, our entire society would be left bloodless, a skeleton, dead with that rusty corrosion of broken machinery, more disabling than even the sordid decompositions of an individual person.

 In all societies, Emerson had already understood, the care of individual “souls” is our most urgent responsibility. Conceivably, there could emerge  a betterAmerican Soul,”but not until we first agree to shun the variously inter-penetrating seductions of mass culture  –  that is, (1) rank imitation; (2) shallow thinking;  (3) organized mediocrity; and (4) a manifestly predatory politics of  ethnicity, race and class. Of course, any such far-reaching rejection will not be easy. It will take time.

 And time is something we no longer have.

The alternative would be for us to embrace an intolerably “hollow” future, one offering not a national life of any excellence or promise, but a “cactus land” –  a decaying country ever more willing “to receive the supplication of a dead man’s hand.” This would represent an unalterably lethal embrace, one earlier described (in generic terms, of course) by 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard as “a sickness unto death.”  In this cactus land, hope would inevitably give way to abject surrender and expanding despair.

Eventually, resembling the probable survivors of a future nuclear war (perhaps even  literally), the living could envy the dead.


[1] https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2017/07/Beres-president-trump-impeachment1/

[2] See especially Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952).

[3] Both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the very essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provides a precise definition of the term, but clearly it was not intended by either in any ordinary religious sense. For both, it was a still-recognizable and critical seat of both mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present context, is that Freud explained his already-predicted decline of America by various express references to “soul.” Freud was plainly disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect and literature), and even thought that the crude American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and material accomplishment at any cost would occasion sweeping psychological misery. Per the following brief discussion of America’s rampant Opiate Crisis, he was most assuredly prophetic.

[4] One has to wonder just how many Americans can even afford to have essential dental care. As a practical matter, for a great many Americans (both poor and aged) teeth are simply no longer affordable.

[5] In the words of Mr. Justice Gray, delivering the judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900)) See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)).Moreover, the specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is expressly codified at Art. 6 of the US Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.”

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Continue Reading
Comments

Americas

Third world needs ideological shift

Samudrala VK

Published

on

As nations across the world have been pooling their efforts to contain the COVID-19 spread, the looming economic crisis has caught the attention of global intelligentsia. In the light of health emergency, The policy makers of Asia, Africa and Latin America have been struggling to steer the economic vehicle back to normalcy. Although, the reason for the economic slump could be attributed to the pandemic, it is also important to cast light on the economics of these tricontinental nations. Been as colonies for more than two centuries, these players had adopted the style of economics which is a mix of market economics and socialism. The imperial powers of the then Europe had colonised these nations and had subjugated them with their military and political maneuvers. Under the banner of White man’s burden, the Imperial masters had subverted the political, economical, social and cultural spheres of the colonies and had transformed these self-reliant societies into the ones which depend on Europe for finished products. The onslaught on the economical systems of colonies was done through one way trade. Though, the western powers brought the modern values to the third world during colonial era, they were twisted to their advantage. The European industrial machines were depended on the blood, sweat and tears of the people of colonies. It is clear that the reason for the backwardness of these players is the force behind the imperial powers which had eventually pushed them towards these regions in search of raw materials and markets i.e., Capitalism. Needless to say, the competition for resources and disaccord over the distribution of wealth of colonies led to twin world wars. Capitalism, as an economic idea, cannot survive in an environment of a limited market and resources. It needs borderless access, restless labour and timeless profit. While the European imperial powers had expanded their influence over Asia and Africa, the US had exerted its influence over Latin America. Earlier, at the dawn of modern-day Europe, The capitalist liberal order had challenged the old feudal system and the authority of church. Subsequently, the sovereign power was shifted to monarchial king. With the rise of ideas like democracy and liberty, complemented by the rapid takeoff of industrialization, the conditions were set for the creation of new class i.e., capitalist class. On the one hand, Liberalism, a polical facet of capitalism, restricts the role of state(political) in economical matters but on the other hand it provides enough room for the elite class and those who have access to power corridors to persuade the authority(state) to design the policies to their advantage. Inequality is an inescapable feature of liberal economics.

The powerful nations cannot colonise these nations as once done. The Watchwords like interconnectedness, interdependency and free trade are being used to continue their domination on these players. As soon as the third world nations were freed from the shackles of colonialism, they were forced to integrate their economies into the global economical chain. Characterized by the imbalance, the globalization has been used as a weapon by the Western powers to conquer the markets of developing nations.

The Carrot and stick policy of the US is an integral part of its strategy to dominate global economical domain. The sorry state of affairs in the Middle East and Latin America could be attributed to the US lust for resources. In the name of democracy, the US has been meddling in the internal affairs of nations across the developing world. Countries like Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, Libya, Iraq and Syria have challenged the US,a global policeman. Back in the day,soon after assuming the power, the Left leadership in Latin American countries had adopted socialist schemes and had nationalised the wealth creating assets, which were previously in the hands of the US capitalists. Irked by the actions of these nations, the US had devised a series of stratagems to destabilize the regimes and to install its puppets through the imposition of cruel sanctions and by dubbing them as terrorist nations on the pretext of exporting violent communist revolution. With the exception of the regimes of Fidel castro in Cuba and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the US is largely successful in its agenda of destabilizing anti-American governments in the region. The US has a long history of mobilising anti-left forces in Latin America, the region which US sees as its backyard, in an attempt to oust socialist leaders. At present, by hook or by crook, the trump administration has been trying to depose Nicolas Maduro, the president of Venezuela, a socialist.

In addition,The US has been colonising the minds of the third world citizens psychologically with its cultural hegemony and anti-left indoctrination. It is important to understand that the reason for the neo-fascism, which is unfurling across the developing and developed world alike, is rooted in capitalism.The third world citizenry is disgruntled and the ultra-nationalist right wing forces in these countries have been channeling the distress amongst the working class to solidify their position. Growing inequalities, Falling living standards, Joblessness and Insecurity are exposing the incompetence of capitalism and have been pushing a large chunk of workforce in the developing countries into a state of despair.Adding to their woes, the Covid-19 has hit them hard.

The US, with the help of IMF and the world bank, had coerced the developing countries to shun welfare economics.The term “Development” is highly contested  in the economic domain.Capitalists argue that the true development of an individual and the society depends upon economic progress and the free market is a panacea for all problems.Given the monopolistic tendencies in the economical systems across the developing world, the free market is a myth, especially in a societies where a few of business families, who have cronies in policy making circles, dominates the economical and social scene.The time has come for the governments of these nations to address these issues and ensure that the wealth would be distributed in a more equitable manner.

Continue Reading

Americas

The Election Circus and an Event in the Cosmos

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

Published

on

The election in the US is held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.  A  Tuesday was chosen to allow people enough time to drive to the election site after Sunday, reserved for religious services and rest.  Those were the horse and buggy days and it took a while. The people clearly had greater ardor for democracy then considering we get a less than 50 percent turnout now when voting sites are usually less than a five-minute drive. 

Most states are either heavily Republican or Democrat so the results there are a foregone conclusion.  The winners get the electors assigned to the state on a basis of population.  The electors then vote for the nominees receiving the most votes in the state when the electoral college meets. 

There are about a dozen battleground or swing states; among them Pennsylvania and Florida are prized for their high electoral votes — hence the repeated visits by the candidates.  Trump won both in 2016.  Will he this time? 

Meanwhile two New York papers are busy running negative stories on candidates they oppose.  The New York Times offers tidbits against Trump.  The latest this week is that Trump has a Chinese bank account.  The fact is not new since the information was filed with his tax returns — one has to report foreign bank accounts over $10,000 — but the news is intended as an example of Trump’s hypocrisy for he has been speaking out against doing business in China.  The accounts in the name of Trump International Hotels have been moribund since 2015. 

The New York Post, much less distinguished than the Times, is after Hunter Biden and through him his father, candidate Joe Biden.  Last week the Post unearthed a dubious email purporting to show then Vice President Biden possibly meeting with Hunter’s potential business partner.  This week there is a photograph of the Bidens, father and son, flanked by a Kazakh oligarch on one side and a former president of Kazakhstan on the other.  The latest on the email issue has a certain Tony Bobulinski, one of the recipients, confirming the Post email adding that Hunter sought Dad’s advice on deals.  There is also a proposed equity split referring to ’20’ for ‘H’ and ’10 held by H for the big guy.’  

New York State may be a secure prize for Democrats but news stories these days are picked up on the internet and spread nationally and internationally.  Surely the two newspapers have something really big up their sleeves for the week before the election.  

Charges and counter-charges in the final presidential debate.  Biden repeatedly blamed Trump for deaths from the Covid 19 epidemic.  On almost everything Biden promised, Trump’s rejoinder was why he had not done it in the 47 years he was in public office including 8 years as vice president.  This included mimicking Biden’s previously successful tactic of talking directly to the public.  The same interests fund both major parties and they generally  get what they want except that Trump mostly funded his campaign himself. 

From all the ridiculousness to the sublime.  Images of M87 are the first of any black hole swallowing whatever is within range.  We are told of the discovery of a black hole in the center of our own Milky Way, presumably the eventual destination of everything in our galaxy.  From this perspective the Trump-Biden debate, although quite important for our immediate future, seems to diminish to nothing in significance.  

Continue Reading

Americas

Building World Order from “Plague”: Utopian, but Necessary

Prof. Louis René Beres

Published

on

Pieter Bruegel's The Triumph of Death

“In the end, we are  creatures of our own making.”-Goethe, Faust

From the start of the current worldwide “plague,” US President Donald J. Trump has claimed the corona virus crisis can be easily managed. “Soon,” he has predicted again and again, “it will  go away, miraculously.” This stubborn expectation is silly at best and homicidal at worst.[1] Founded upon nothing of recognizable intellectual consequence, that is, of any actual tangible evidence, it remains a grimly false and self-serving expectation.

               Prima facie, in view of its palpable human costs, it is one of the most heinous presidential derelictions in American history.

               An antecedent question also arises. Why should an American president in the 21st century openly prefer gibberish-nonsense to science or “mind”?[2] The correct answer is discoverable, at least in part, in the unchanging mentality of  “mass man.” This all-too-conspicuous , nefarious and universal historical figure, as we may learn from twentieth-century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset  (The Revolt of the Masses,1930), “has no use for Reason.”

               “He learns,” warns Ortega famously, “only in his own flesh.”

               When Donald Trump went to Singapore for his initial summit with North Korea’s Kim Jung Un on June 12, 2028, he volunteered that he needed “no preparation,” just “attitude.” Here, incarnate, was the conspiracy-believing “mass man,”  figuring things out only  “in his own flesh.” Here was an American president who blames catastrophic multi-state fires on “forest management,” not climate change, who recommends injecting Covid patients with household disinfectants, and eagerly plays obedient lap-dog to Vladimir Putin.

               Here, in short, was a fearful archetype, the American herald of  continuously approaching misfortune and fatality.

               Though there can be no persuasive reassurances in any such president’s anti-science/anti-reason diatribes,  an unhidden potential for good may still lie latent  in this pandemic. More precisely, purposefully exploiting the vast pathogenic challenge of corona virus could help all affected peoples to reaffirm their integral human interdependence. Beyond any question, this obviously unwanted and unwitting “benefactor” now confronts humankind indiscriminately, in toto.

               There is more.   This plague delivers its toxic and corrosive debilities without any regard for national, racial, ethnic, religious or ideological differences. The basic lesson here is simple, yet powerful: In primal matters of biology, of “being human,” we are all essentially the same. Still, that evident “sameness” is not exclusively biological. Instead, it carries over to humankind’s multiple and intersecting needs as communities, nations and planet.[3]

               Fittingly, pandemic can be approached not only as a pathological scourge, but also as a prospective global unifier. In this regard,  corona virus harms could become a genuine source of a fragmented world’s long-sought human unity.

               How could this happen? It is a sensible query, one that merits serious and systematic attention. It’s not just a silly or offhanded thought. In reality, of course, it is utopian, but nonetheless necessary. What happens, we must now inquire, when  what is improbable is also necessary? It’s not a question for the intellectually faint-hearted.

                Where do we stand today? As a partial but important response, Donald J. Trump’s United States remains oriented toward the diametric opposite of global community, of solidarity, of what Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardon  in The Phenomenon of Man (1955) imaginatively calls “planetization.” This president’s incessantly cynical postures of belligerent nationalism represent a gratuitously rancorous rejection of human commonality. This ill-fated rejection has no recognizable jurisprudential basis in either codified or customary international law.

               Background matters. In 1758, in The Law of Nations, famed legal scholar Emmerich de Vattel affirmed the irrefutable primacy of human interdependence. Said the great Swiss jurist: “Nations….are bound mutually to advance human society….The first general law …is that each nation should contribute as far as it can to the happiness and advancement of other Nations.”  Vattel’s visionary ideals have never held any tangible sway in global politics, but today, in the grievously tarnished Trump-era, these ideals have been pushed farther away than ever before.

               Why should one allegedly “powerful” country, the United States, seek prosperity at the expense of other countries? Left unmodified, the most palpable effect of this unprepared American president’s retrograde policies will be a more starkly accelerating global tribalism .[4] To the extent that the corrosive effects of this false communion could sometime display or ignite even a nuclear conflict, these effects (whether sudden or incremental) could propel this imperiled planet toward irreversible catastrophe and enduring chaos.[5]

               A timely example would be Trump’s continuing references to the “China Virus,” a defiling derivative of this president’s “America First” posture. Among other things, a firm rejection of any such atavistic American tribalism could prove generally clarifying and indispensably gainful.

                There is more. Ultimately, if we humans are going to merely survive as a species, truth must win out over political wizardry. For Americans, one unavoidable conclusion here is that any continuance of national safety and prosperity must be linked inextricably with wider global impact. It is profoundly and unforgivably foolish to suppose that this nation – or, indeed, any other nation on this bleeding earth – should ever expect meaningful security progress at the intentional expense of other nations.

               The bottom line? We humans are all in this together. The current pandemic is universal or near-universal, and could thus provide impetus not only for mitigating a particular and insidious pathology, but also for institutionalizing wider patterns of durable global cooperation.

                By its very nature, the US president’s core mantra of celebrating a perpetually belligerent nationalism is crude and injurious. Now, instead of “America First,” the only sensible posture for Donald J. Trump or his successor must be some plausible variation of “we’re all in the lifeboat together.” Such an improved mantra might not be all that difficult to operationalize if there were first to emerge some antecedent political will.[6]

               The basic idea behind underscoring and exploiting a basic human “oneness” is readily discoverable in the elegant words of Pierre Teilhard De Chardin: “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of everyone for himself,” summarizes the French Jesuit scientist and philosopher, “is false and against nature. No element can move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”

               The key message here is simple, straightforward and illogical to contest or oppose. This message communicates, among other things, that no single country’s individual success can ever be achieved at the planned expense of other countries. Correspondingly, we should learn from the very same primal message that no national success is ever sustainable if the world as a whole must thereby expect a diminishing future.

               Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosophers: “I believe because it is absurd.” The pandemic can bring many discrepant civilizational matters into striking focus. No conceivably gainful configuration of Planet Earth can ever prove rewarding if the vast but segmented human legions which comprise it remain morally, spiritually, economically and intellectually adrift.

               It is, however, precisely such a willful detachment from more secure national and international moorings that is the legacy America’s Donald J. Trump.[7]

               In every important sense, the philosophers are correct. For the world as a whole, chaos and anarchy[8] are never the genuinely underlying “disease.” Always, that more determinative pathology remains rooted in certain ostentatiously great and powerful states that fail to recognize the overriding imperatives of human interrelatedness. This core incapacity to acknowledge our species’ indestructible biological “oneness” (a fact more utterly obvious with today’s Covid-19 pandemic) has been a long-term problem.

               It is not particular to any one American president or to the United States in its entirety.

                Now, in the literal midst of a worldwide pathological assault from the corona virus, what should we expect from President Trump’s unhidden contempt for cooperative world community?  Increasingly, if  left unimproved, world politics will further encourage an already basic human deficit. This deficit or shortfall  is the incapacity of individual citizens and their respective states to discover authentic self-worth as individual persons; that is, deeply, thoughtfully, within themselves. Such an enduring deficit was prominently foreseen in the eighteenth century by America’s then-leading person of letters, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

               Today, unsurprisingly, the still-vital insights of Emerson’s “American Transcendentalism” remain recognizable to only a tiny minority of citizens. How could it be any different. In the current United States, almost no one reads books. As for serious books of literature or science, the revealed minority of readers becomes excruciatingly small. This cryptic observation is not offered here in any offhanded or gratuitously mean spirited fashion, but, quite the contrary, as a simple fact of American life, one famously commented upon during the first third of the nineteenth century by distinguished French visitor to the new republic, Alexis de Tocqueville (See Democracy in America). This same fact led the Founding Fathers of the United States to rail against uneducated mass participation in the new nation’s formal governance.  

               The United States was never even imagined as a democracy.[9] Back then, in the 18th century, creating a republic was revolutionary enough.

               Today, our relevant focus must be on world politics, and on getting beyond state centrism. From pandemic control to war avoidance, belligerent nationalism has always been misconceived. Left to fester on its own intrinsic demerits, this atavistic  mantra will do little more than harden the hearts of America’s most recalcitrant state enemies. What we need now, as Americans, citizens of other countries, or as worried inhabitants of an imperiled planet, is a marked broadening of support for global solidarity and human interconnectedness.[10]

                From the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which ended the last of the religious wars sparked by the Reformation, international relations and international law[11] have been shaped by an ever-changing  but perpetually unstable “balance of power.” Hope still exists, more-or-less, but now it must sing softly, sotto voce, in an embarrassed undertone. Although counter-intuitive, the time for any visceral celebrations of nationalism, military technology and even artificial intelligence is at least partially over. 

               What is to be done? Always, the macrocosm follows microcosm. In order to merely survive on a fragmented planet, all of us, together, must seek to rediscover a consciously individual life, one that is wittingly detached from all pre-patterned kinds of  nationalistic conformance and from mass-determined visages of some imagined tribal happiness.

               Only then might we finally learn that the most suffocating insecurities of life on earth can never be undone by militarizing global economics, by building larger missiles, by abrogating international treaties or by advancing ”realistic” definitions of national security.

               In the end, whatever happens in the crumbling world of politics and nationality, truth must remain exculpatory. Accordingly, and in a uniquely promising paradox, disease pandemic  can help us see a much larger truth than the ones we have wrongly cultivated for centuries. This particular truth, a conclusion broadly pertinent and intellectually cosmopolitan, is that Americans must become more explicitly conscious of human unity and relatedness. Significantly, such a heightened consciousness or lucidity is not a luxury we can simply choose to accept or reject.

               Its selection is indispensable.

               It represents an ineradicable prerequisite of national and species survival. “Civilization,” offers Lewis Mumford In the Name of Sanity (1954), “is the never-ending process of creating one world and one humanity.”[12] The visionary prophets of world integration and human oneness ought no longer be dismissed out of hand as foolishly utopian. Now, more than ever, they define the residual wellsprings of human survival.[13]

               Macrocosm follows microcosm. All things must be seen in their totality. By itself, the corona virus pandemic is uniformly harmful and grievously corrosive. At the same time, and precisely because it represents such a conspicuously lethal threat to the world as a whole, it could be viewed as a prospectively life-affirming human unifier.

               “In the end,” Goethe reminds us, “we are creatures of our own making.” To continue,  every national society, but the United States in particular,[14] will need to embrace leaderships who can finally understand the irrevocable meanings of human interdependence and human “oneness.” In this auspicious embrace, all will need to understand the differences between a “freedom” that is uniformly gainful and one that selectively disregards the needs of certain others. In this regard, as President of the United States, Donald J. Trump has supported the most strikingly nefarious meaning of freedom, a freedom not to care about  other people (Americans and “foreigners” ). He has displayed such injurious orientations primarily with his retrograde anti-mask policies on Corona Virus, and by his corresponding antipathies toward science and scientists.

               In the words of this lethal  president, Dr. Anthony Fauci and other properly-credentialed epidemiologists have now been reduced lexically to the status of “idiots.”[15]

               What we require are not refractory affirmations of homicidal indifference, but a renewed awareness that true knowledge is inevitably much more than a manufactured contrivance. Going forward,  public policy must follow disciplined logic (correct reasoning) and rigorous science. Anything else would be inexcusable “wizardry,” and would lead us even farther astray from residual pandemic-based opportunities.

                In essence, the prescribed task still before us is complex, daunting, many-sided and bewildering, but there are no sane alternative options. None at all. Whatever policy particulars we should ultimately adopt, America’s initial focus must remain steadfast on considerations of human interrelatedness and “mind.” Until now, the grotesque Trump paradigm of bitter rancor and endless conflict has driven us further from both survival and law.[16] It is time to sweep that ill-conceived paradigm into the oft-referenced “ashbin of history.”

               Wittingly, Trump policies have produced devastating misfortune, mass dying and mounting casualties. Surely America can do better. Surely there must be more capable and decent leaders discoverable in the wings. Surely we can all do much better than merely cling to corrosive presidential postures of callous indifference and murderous egocentrism.

               If not, it’s time to inquire, what can even be the point of our being here? We are, after all,  “creatures of our own making.”


[1] Though a jurisprudential stretch, one might also think here of “genocidal” harms. In  effect, the number of Americans who are currently dying and still apt to die in more-or-less direct consequence of this rabidly anti-science American presidency resembles certain actual historical genocides. The key difference lies less in the measurable magnitude of “plague death” than in the absence of intent, or mens rea. Under pertinent international law, primarily the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948), before authentic genocide can be taking place, there must first be discernible evidence of an “intent to destroy.” Whatever else may be said about Donald J. Trump’s gross indifference to American mass dying facilitated by his abject policies, it still likely lacks this express law-specified intent.

[2] The Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin coined a new term to denote the vital sphere of intellect or “mind.” This term is “noosphere;” it builds upon Friedrich Nietzsche’s stance well-known (especially in Zarathustra) that human beings must always challenge themselves, must continuously strive to “overcome” their otherwise meager “herd”-determined  yearnings.

[3] We may recall here the pertinent parable from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations: “What does not benefit the entire hive is no benefit to the bee.” Unless we take meaningful steps to implement an organic and cooperative planetary civilization – one based on the irremediably central truth of human “oneness” –  there will be no civilization at all.

[4] There is no longer a virtuous nation,” warns the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, “and the best of us live by candlelight.”

[5] Though composed in the seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan still offers a timeless vision of chaos in world politics. During chaos, says the English philosopher in Chapter XIII, “Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery,”  a “time of War….  every man is Enemy to every man… and…. the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Hobbes believed that the condition of “nature” in world politics was less chaotic than that same condition among individual human beings because of what he called the “dreadful equality” of individual men in nature – that is, being able to kill others – but this once-relevant differentiation has effectively disappeared with the spread of nuclear weapons.

[6] In modern philosophy, the evident highlighting of this useful term lies in Arthur Schopenhauer’s extraordinary writings, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration (and by his own expressed acknowledgment), Schopenhauer drew freely upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later, Nietzsche drew just as freely (and perhaps more importantly) upon Schopenhauer. Goethe. also served as a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, author of the prophetic work, The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas (1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s very grand essay, “In Search of Goethe from Within” (1932), written for Die Neue Rundschau of Berlin on the occasion of the centenary of Goethe’s death. It is reprinted in Ortega’s anthology, The Dehumanization of Art (1948) and is available from Princeton University Press (1968).

[7] Though very few in the United States would recognize or understand, iinternational law is integrally a part of United States jurisprudence. In the words of Mr. Justice Gray, delivering the judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900))  See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)).Moreover, the specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is expressly codified at Art. 6 of the US Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.”

[8] Anarchy, unlike chaos, is the “official” structural creation of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the treaty that ended the Thirty Years’ War and created the modern state system.

[9] Nurtured by the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and the religion of John Calvin, the American Founding Fathers began their Constitutional deliberations with the core notion that a citizen must inevitably be an unregenerate being who has to be continually and strictly controlled. Fearing democracy as much as any form of leadership tyranny, Elbridge Gerry spoke openly of democracy as “the worst of all political evils,” while William Livingston opined: “The people have been and ever will be unfit to retain the exercise of power in their own hands.” George Washington, as presiding officer at the Constitutional Convention, sternly urged delegates not to produce a document to “please the people,” while Alexander Hamilton – made newly famous by the currently popular Broadway musical – expressly charged America’s government “to check the imprudence of any democracy.”

[10] One pertinent aspect of this interconnectedness concerns legal rights of refugees. When President Trump’s executive orders direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to expand his coercive program of “expedited removal,” he has been in flagrant violation of the legal principle known as non-refoulement. This principle is unambiguously codified at Article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Automatically, owing to the prior incorporation of international human rights law into US law, these serious violations extend to the authoritative immigration laws of the United States.

[11] For the authoritative sources of international law, see art. 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice: STATUTE OF THE INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE, Done at San Francisco, June 26, 1945. Entered into force, Oct. 24, 1945; for the United States, Oct. 24, 1945.  59 Stat. 1031,  T.S. No. 993,  3 Bevans 1153, 1976 Y.B.U.N., 1052.

[12] But,  Fyodor Dostoyevsky inquires: “What is it in us that is mellowed by civilization? All it does, I’d say, is to develop in man a capacity to feel a greater variety of sensations. And nothing, absolutely nothing else. And through this development, man will yet learn how to enjoy bloodshed. Why, it has already happened….Civilization has made man, if not always more bloodthirsty, at least more viciously, more horribly bloodthirsty.” See: Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes From Underground 108 (Andrew R. MacAndrew, trans., New American Library, 1961)(1862).

[13] See, on these “prophets,” Louis René Beres, Reordering the Planet: Constructing Alternative World Futures (1974); Louis René Beres, Transforming World Politics: The National Roots of World Peace (1975); Louis René Beres, People, States and World Order (1981); Louis René Beres, America Outside the World: The Collapse of US Foreign Policy (1987); W. Warren Wagar, The City of Man (1963); and W. Warren Wagar, Building the City of Man (1971).

[14] Sigmund Freud, however, was always darkly pessimistic about the United States, which he felt was “lacking in soul” and was  therefore a place of great psychological misery or “wretchedness.” In a letter to Ernest Jones, Freud declared unambiguously: “America is gigantic, but it is a gigantic mistake.” (See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (1983), p. 79.

[15]See: https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/trump-declares-americans-tired-hearing-200227368.html

[16] The core legal rights assured by the Declaration and Constitution can never be correctly confined to the people of the United States. This is because both documents were conceived by their authors as codifications of a pre-existing Natural Law. Although generally unrecognized, the United States was founded upon the Natural Rights philosophies of the 18th century Enlightenment, especially Locke, Hobbes, Montesquieu and Rousseau. Thomas Jefferson, an American president before Donald J. Trump, was well acquainted with the classic writings of political philosophy, from Plato to Diderot. In those early days of the Republic, it is presently worth recalling, an American president could not only read serious books, but could also write them.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Reports35 mins ago

MSMEs Key to Southeast Asia’s Post-COVID-19 Recovery

Strengthening the dynamics of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) with innovation and internationalization will be key to revitalizing Southeast...

Development3 hours ago

Global collaboration is key to recovery and achieving the SDGs

The COVID-19 pandemic has stalled the advancement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). It is creating many challenges, yet also...

Science & Technology5 hours ago

Antivirals, Spaceflights, EdTech, and Hyperloops: 20 Markets That Will Transform Economies

As the world grapples with the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is increasing demand to shape a new...

Finance7 hours ago

Make the Reskilling Revolution a Priority in the Recovery

“There has been a lot of talk during the last few years, but very, very limited action” on education, reskilling...

New Social Compact9 hours ago

Classroom crisis: Avert a ‘generational catastrophe’

The world is at risk of suffering “a generational catastrophe” as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the education of students globally,...

Africa11 hours ago

SADC, Zimbabwe and Sanctions

Reports suggest the South Africa Development Community (SADC) is growing increasingly impatient with President Mnangagwa’s willingness to impose repressive measures....

News13 hours ago

Step up action to achieve COVID-19 ceasefire- Guterres

The UN’s 75th anniversary this Saturday, which falls as countries continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, is an opportunity to...

Trending