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What Do We Do Now? Larger Lessons From The Pandemic

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“The enemy is the unphilosophical spirit which knows nothing and wants to know nothing of truth.”-Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1971)

To survive and prosper after Covid-19 – a pandemic with pertinent political as well as biological origins – will require both courage and reason.[1] There is nothing new or insightful about such a prescription; nonetheless, it is well worth reiterating. After all, despite its apparent obviousness,  useful recommendations for seeking integrity and rationality in public affairs are frequently disregarded.

This is hardly a contestable proposition.

 There is more. In these starkly vital security matters, at least one thing is certain. Before this two-part requirement can actually be met, more will be needed than perpetually transient changes in American politics. Though still generally unacknowledged, the political sphere of human change is always epiphenomenal, in the United States and everywhere else. Always, it offers only an imperfect reflection of what lies far more meaningfully below.  

What matters most in all such dauntingly complex circumstances is an underlying willingness to seek what is best for the entire polity and its corresponding society.[2]

In the United State this rudimentary lesson has never been learned.[3]  Now, yet again, we seek some sort of idealized “change” in the upcoming presidential election. But sans a courageous and thinking electorate, this latest search will represent just another visceral exercise in misunderstanding and futility.[4] And all this despite a now primary obligation to rid the United States of a grimly corrosive and starkly injurious president.            

The lessons are plain. Left unmet, the conjoined obligations of  courage and intellect could signal not only extended disease pandemics, but also nuclear terrorism and/or nuclear war.[5] Like  any genuinely terminal disease, the only “cure” for such unprecedented political violence must lie in prevention.

Such grievously destructive prospects of terror-violence and war are not in any way inconceivable. Nor are they necessarily mutually exclusive, of each other or of any ongoing disease pandemic. In an absolutely worst case scenario, these sorts of extreme human aggressions would intersect with assorted biological aggressions and economic crises, perhaps to the point of becoming synergistic. By definition, in that hard-to-face kind of interaction, the “whole” of any insidious effects would exceed the arithmetic sum of its myriad “parts.”

There is even more here to consider. Still lacking both courage and intellectual commitment or mind, we the people of the United States ought not express surprise or incredulity at the  sheer breadth of our collective failures, staggering by any measure, whether  past, present or future. Over too many years, the casually seductive requirements of wealth and “success” were allowed to become the presumptive foundation of America’s economy and society. Although seemingly plausible pillars of national reassurance, these requirements have turned out to be very high-cost delusions.

In essence, over these many years, American well-being and “democracy” have sprung from a self-defeating posture of engineered consumption. In this wrongheaded derivation, our core marching instructions have remained clear:  “You are what you buy.” It follows from such persistent misdirection that the country’s ever-growing political scandals and failures are the predictable product of a society where anti-intellectual (Jaspers’ “anti-reason”) and unheroic lives are actively encouraged and even taken for granted. More insidiously, these dreadfully unambitious lives are measured not by any rational criteria of mind and spirit, but dolefully, mechanically, absent commendable purpose and without “collective will.”[6]

There is more. What most meaningfully animates American politics today  is not a valid interest in progress, but rather a steadily-escalating fear of  personal defeat and private insignificance. Though most readily apparent at the presidential level, such insignificance can also be experienced collectively, by an entire nation. Either way, its precise locus of origin concerns certain deeply-felt human anxieties about not being valued; that is, about not being “wanted at all.”[7]

 For any national rescue to become serious, unblemished candor must first prevail. Now, ground down by the hammering babble of pundits and politicos, we the people are only rarely motivated  by any elements of insight or courage. To wit, we are just now learning to understand that our badly injured Constitution is subject to dissembling increments of abrogation by an evidently impaired head of state who “loves the poorly educated,”[8]  who proudly reads nothing at all, and who yearns openly not to serve his country,[9] but to expand its fractionation and be gratifyingly served by its suffocating citizens.

In brief, this president openly abhors genuinely challenging  thought and wants desperately to be an emperor. For the United States, it is a lethal and unforgivable combination.

There is more. To understand the full horrors of both the Corona virus and Trump presidency declensions, we must first look soberly behind the news. Accordingly, in these United States, a  willing-to-think individual is now little more than a quaint artifact of some previously-lived or previously-imagined history. At present, more refractory than ever to courage, intellect and learning, our American mass society displays  no decipherable intentions of  ever taking itself seriously.[10]

“Headpieces filled with straw…,” is the way poet T S Eliot would have characterized present-day American society. He would have observed, further, an embittered American herd marching insistently backward, cheerlessly, too often incoherent, and in dutiful but pitiful lockstep toward ever-greater levels of serious illness and unhappiness.

 What next for the imperiled American Republic? We the people may wish to slow down and smell the roses, but our self-battering country now imposes upon its exhausted people the breathless rhythm of some vast machine. Before Cocvid-19, we witnessed, each day, an endless line of trains, planes and automobiles, transporting weary Americans to yet another robotic workday, a day too-often bereft of any pleasure or reward , possibly even of any hope itself. Now the economy has been largely shut down, perhaps irremediably, and we the people are even forced to yearn for prior levels of hopelessness. The ironies here are staggering, and sorely discomfiting.

Could it possibly get any worse than this?[11]

Until now, we the people have lacked any dignifying sources of national cohesion except for celebrity sex scandals, local sports team loyalties and the comforting but self-perpetuating brotherhoods of war.[12] As for the more than seven million people stacked cheek to jowl in our medieval prisons, increasingly infected by the Corona virus, two-thirds of those released will return promptly or slowly to crime and mayhem. At the same time, the most senior and recognizable white collar criminals – essentially, those who have transformed  personal cowardice into a religion – look forward to Trump presidential pardons.

They can do so with real confidence.

 Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd,” said the ancient philosophers. Why?

Oddly, we Americans inhabit the one society that could have been different. Once we displayed unique potential to nurture individuals to become more than just a “crowd.”[13] Then, Ralph Waldo Emerson had described us as a people animated by industry and self-reliance, not paralysis, fear and trembling.  Friedrich Nietzsche would have urged that Americans “learn to live upon mountains” (that is, to become willfully thinking individuals), but today an entire nation remains grudgingly content with the very tiniest of elevations. In Zarathustra, Nietzsche warned civilizations never to seek a “higher man” in the” market place,” but that is precisely where America discovered master-of-ceremonies Donald J. Trump.

He was, after all, seemingly very rich. How then could he possibly not be both smart and virtuous? As Reb Tevye famously remarks in Fiddler on the Roof, “If you’re rich they think you really know.”

Inexcusably, the true enemy faced by the United States is still We the People. Accordingly, as we may learn from Nietzsche’s Zarathustra: “The worst enemy you can encounter will always be you, yourself; you will lie in wait for yourself in caves and woods.” And so we remain today, poised fixedly against ourselves and our survival, in the midst of an unprecedented biological crisis nurtured by multiple US presidential policy forfeitures.

 Bottom line? In spite of our proudly clichéd claim to “rugged individualism,” we Americans are shaped by harshly demeaning patterns of cowardly conformance. Literally amusing ourselves to death with illiterate and cheap entertainments, our endangered society fairly bristles with annoying jingles, insistent hucksterism, crass allusions and telltale equivocations. Surely, we ought finally inquire:  Isn’t there more to this suffering country than abjured learning, endless imitation and expansively crude commerce? However we might choose to answer, the actual options are plainly and increasingly limited.

There is more. “I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” observed the poet Walt Whitman, but today the American Selfis generally created by stupefying kinds of “education,”[14]  by far-reaching patterns of tastelessness and by a pervasive culture of unceasing rancor and gratuitous obscenity.

 In fact, only a rare “few” can ever redeem courage and intellect in America,[15] and these quiet souls typically remain hidden, even from themselves. You will not see them engaged in frenetic and agitated self-advertisement, whether to maintain control over a deeply-corrupted White House or to capture it for themselves in the next election. To be sure, our necessary redemption as a people can never be found among the crowd, or mass, or herd or horde. There is a correct way to fix our fractionating country, but not while we the people insistently inhabit pre-packaged ideologies of anti-thinkers, that is, by rote, without mind and without integrity.[16]

Going forward, inter alia, we must  insist upon expanding the sovereignty of a newly courageous and virtuous[17] citizenry. In this immense task, very basic changes will first be needed at the individual human level.  Following the German Romantic poet Novalis’ idea that to become a human being is essentially an art (“Mensch werden ist eine Kinst“), the Swiss-German author/philosopher Hermann Hesse reminds us that every society is a reflection of unique individuals.[18] In this important regard, Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung goes even further, claiming, in The Undiscovered Self (1957), that every society represents “the sum total of individual souls seeking redemption.”[19]

Looking to both  history and logic, it would be easy to conclude that this monumental task of intellectual and moral reconstruction lies beyond our normal human capacities. Nonetheless, to accede to such a relentlessly fatalistic conclusion would be tantamount to collective surrender. But this would be unconscionable. Far better for the citizens of a sorely imperiled United States to grasp for any residual sources of national and international unity, and exploit this universal font for national and international survival.

Today, of course, this universal and unifying source for an indispensable coming-together is the worldwide Corona virus and its palpably unspeakable harms. Sometimes, out of a commonly-faced horror, humankind can turn tragedy into gain, and build something unique, welcoming and durable. This is potentially just such an ironic but promising transformative moment, but only if it is first duly recognized and suitably exploited.


[1] To recall Karl Jaspers on opponents of Reason, such an unphilosophical spirit gives currency “to everything that is inimical and alien to truth. That is, it serves to sustain and magnify all “perversions of truth.”

[2] Consider, in this regard, the relevant observation of Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in 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.”

[3] Freud was always darkly pessimistic about the United States, which he felt was “lacking in soul” and was  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.

[4] German philosopher Karl Jaspers warns presciently in Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952): “Conscious of his emptiness, a man tries to make a faith for himself in the political realm. In vain.”

[5] The ancient Greeks and Macedonians were fond of calling war a struggle of “mind over mind,” rather than one of “mind over matter.” To be sure, similar sentiments animated ancient Chinese

military strategist, Sun-Tzu, and much later, Prussian military thinker, Carl von Clausewitz.

For authoritative early accounts by this author of nuclear war effects, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018).

[6] The origin of this term in modern philosophy lies in the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration (and by his own expressed acknowledgment), Schopenhauer drew freely upon Goethe. Later, Nietzsche drew just as freely (and perhaps still 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 centenerary 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] “It is getting late; shall we ever be asked for?,” inquires the poet W H Auden in The Age of Reason. “Are we simply not wanted at all?”

[8] Said candidate Trump in 2016, “I love the poorly educated.” This strange statement appears to echo Third Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels at Nuremberg rally in 1935:  “Intellect rots the brain.”

[9] This brings to mind the timeless observation by Creon, King of Thebes, in Sophocles’ Antigone: “I hold despicable, and always have….anyone who puts his own popularity before his country.”

[10] “The mass-man,” we learn from Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset (The Revolt of the Masses, 1930), “has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns only in his own flesh.”

[11] In this connection, cautions Sigmund Freud: “Fools, visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics and lunatics have played great roles art all times in the history of mankind, and not merely when the accident of birth had bequeathed them sovereignty. Usually, they have wreaked havoc.”

[12] War, of course, is arguably the most worrisome consequence of an anti-intellectual and anti-courage American presidency. For the moment, the most specifically plausible area of concern would be a nuclear war with North Korea. https://mwi.usma.edu/theres-no-historical-guide-assessing-risks-us-north-korea-nuclear-war/

[13] “The crowd,” said Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, “is untruth.” Here, the term “crowd” is roughly comparable to C.G. Jung’s “mass,” Friedrich Nietzsche’s “herd,” and Sigmund Freud’s “horde.”

[14] In an additional irony, these already unsatisfactory kinds of education will be supplanted by even more intrinsically worthless forms of learning. Most notable, in  this regard, is the almost wholesale shift to online education, a shift made necessary and more widespread by the ongoing disease pandemic, but unsatisfactory nonetheless.

[15] The term is drawn here from the Spanish existential Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, especially his classic The Revolt of the Masses (1930).

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

[17] As used by ancient Greek philosopher Plato, the term “virtuous” includes elements of both wisdom and knowledge as well as morality.

[18] Says Carl G. Jung in The Undiscovered Self (1957): “The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinaire and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional State should succumb to a fit of weakness.”

[19] Carl G. Jung eagerly embraced the term “soul” following preference of  Sigmund Freud, his one-time mentor and colleague.

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.

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Is an Electioneering Trump Overblowing the ‘China Threat’?

M Waqas Jan

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As several analysts grapple over the futility of calling for greater international cooperation against the Coronavirus pandemic, US – China relations seem to be plumbing to ever increasing lows day by day. One has to just glance at the daily news cycle to see how both the virus and the US – China rivalry seem to be going almost hand in hand in representing perhaps the most serious threats to global peace and prosperity. Threats that are in turn more than likely to dramatically impact the world’s economic and security outlook for many years to come. 

Yet, even before the COVID-19 pandemic stormed all forms of political and international relations discourse, the primacy with which the US – China rivalry had been afforded was never in doubt of fading anytime soon anyway. Especially considering President Trump’s incessant obsession with everything China in his previous election campaign, it was already expected that his hardline stance on China would only intensify the closer it came to his re-election bid. This for instance was best encapsulated in his ‘successfully concluded trade deal’, which in supposedly ending the long and protracted US- China trade war,was to stand as one of the most significant achievements of the Trump presidency. In fact, it was to represent in essence a vindication of President Trump’s entire ethos of America First as manifest in his more assertive and obstinate approach to US diplomacy and foreign policy.

Yet based on some of President Trump’s most recent statements, even the achievements of his much-touted trade negotiations now stand jeopardized as both the White House and State Department continue to directly blame China for causing the Coronavirus pandemic. In fact, the way both President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo have gone about in accusing China of deliberately covering up and mishandling the crises during its earliest stages has stood out particularly for its lack of evidence and sole reliance on hawkish rhetoric. What these claims have instead effectively done is to conflate the security and economic implications of the ‘Chinese threat’ on US primacy. An aspect which has in turn continued to resonate unequivocally with President Trump’s highly conservative and mostly far-right electorate.

Its thus not much of a surprise that China’s response has been to mount an even stronger diplomatic offensive. This has been evident in the collective vitriol expressed by a new breed of more assertive diplomats engaging in what has been ascribed (perhaps more disparagingly) as ‘Wolf Warrior Diplomacy’. Yet, it is worth emphasizing that while such a response is likely to have been expected, it still represents a marked departure from the more subtle, patient and restrained manner that had up till now characterized Chinese diplomacy under the now infamous guiding principlesof Deng Xiaoping. While such assertiveness may represent a benign attempt by China at limiting the defense of its international credibility to the diplomatic front, it could also point towards the growing eminence of more hawkish voices taking hold within the Chinese politburo. Hence, ultimately signifying a more overt and perhaps more dangerous challenge to US primacy on China’s part.

Yet as this back and forth between Chinese and US officials rapidly intensifies, many have been left wondering whether the very threat of China’s rise has been deliberately overblown within US policymaking circles to begin with. This argument for instance has been raised by a number of leading analysts such as Fareed Zakaria among others. In a recent article, Zakaria very pointedly explains how designating China as a strategic competitor has allowed the Pentagon to once again justify the kind of grandiose plans and expenditures which more or less defined some of the most tense days of the US – Soviet Cold War. This kind of thinking for instance is replete in some of the latest analyses and commentary calling for a complete overhaul of the US military – industrial complex in response to the ‘Chinese threat’. Chris Brose’s recent book ‘The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare’, makes exactly this argument drawing on his years of expertise working closely with the Pentagon and the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee. As pointed out by Zakaria, this kind of discourse feeds directly into the perceived inevitability and simple predictability of a US – China conflict in what has been famously ascribed to now as the much-vaunted Thucydides Trap. A concept whose own author – Graham Allison – has warned against turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy. A similar skeptic can be found in Michael Beckley whose latest research also questions the severity and alarm that has been afforded to China’s rise. Especially when considering the long way China still has go to overtake the US both economically and militarily.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that on the purely political front, this debate on China’s rise while completely stripped off its historical precedents and hard economic numbers has been reduced to just diplomatic vitriol between both powers. Whereas, President Trump has simply continued what he knows best, the more assertive line taken by China now however directly feeds into US insecurities regarding the future of its power projection capabilities even more.

With the COVID-19 pandemic now representing the latest battleground for this rivalry to play out, China’s attempts at ‘Mask Diplomacy’ and pandemic aid are adding even more fuel to this fire by appearing to take on a more leading role in international leadership. All while appearing to eclipse the US’s waning influence even further as it undergoes one of the most divisive US elections to date. A development that is to only further complicate this rivalry more along the basis of simple prestige than on any serious hard power discrepancies in the years to come.

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From Plato To Donald Trump: A Once Unimaginable Declension

Prof. Louis René Beres

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An elder Plato walks alongside a younger Aristotle. "The School of Athens" is a fresco by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael. It was painted between 1509 and 1511 as a part of Raphael's commission to decorate the rooms now known as the Stanze di Raffaello, in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.

“….till the class of philosophers be invested with the supreme authority in a state, such state and its citizens will find no deliverance from evil….”-Plato, The Republic

“I love the poorly educated.”-Donald J. Trump, 2016

It’s hardly a secret. During the once unimaginable Trump years – an ongoing era of conspicuous presidential dereliction and determined anti-reason[1] – Americans have been enduring  a grievous national retreat. Earlier, in  principle at least, and at a moment when “principle” still held certain tangible meanings,  Plato’s Republic had provided a proper benchmark for many generations of college students. Here, acquainted with a learning-based view already well-known to Thomas Jefferson and to other founders of the American Republic (back then, our leaders actually read challenging books), such students could think interestingly and usefully about a “philosopher king.”

 The lesson was “heavy,” of course, yet unambiguous. For earnest freshmen, this inspirational figure of  commendable judgment and public righteousness was cast asthe one who could be trusted, the exemplary political  leader, the witting thinkerwho could fuse real learning (not cheap merchandising, chicanery or electoral contrivance) with law-supporting national governance.[2]

Plato’s proposed leader represented what the interested scholars would call an “ideal-type,” and was not considered as an immediately graspable or pragmatic model for national political implementation. Nonetheless, it still served to remind entire societies that justice, virtue and decency could somehow be immensely practical. This dignifying message is patently absent from literally anywhere in the Trump White House. Correspondingly, with this Platonic example, higher education was regarded as an intrinsically worthwhile American experience, not just a tactical stepping stone to better vocation or higher personal income.

Back then, inter alia, American higher education was not just about learning how to extract narrowly personal benefits without regard for fulfilling certain much wider and necessary societal obligations.[3]

Back then, in essence, dignified learning was about rejecting the primal and persistently damaging ethos of “everyone for himself.”[4] In other words, worthwhile it itself, such learning was the literal opposite of what we now suffer hourly from a tweeting but non-reading American president.

 There is more. Now, at a precarious time when extant US presidential liabilities are being amplified and multiplied by worldwide disease pandemic,[5] by a bewildering and frightful pestilential assault, it is a last good time to inquire as follows: What has happened to this once enviable and hopeful model of political leadership?

Significantly, the day-to-day betrayal of this model by an American president and his unswervingly obsequious henchmen in government and industry also represents a wholesale betrayal of America’s Founding Fathers. Though assuredly not understood by Donald Trump or any of his reflexively servile enforcers, the Founders who crafted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were animated by distinctly Platonic notions of wisdom and by the corollary high ideals of Natural Law.[6]  Thomas Jefferson, especially, had argued that the core viability of the precarious new American republic would depend most of all upon the meaningful education of its citizens. For Jefferson, the kind of ignorant imposture we must now tolerate in the Trump White House would have been judged irreconcilable with any genuine democracy.

Myriad promises notwithstanding,  Donald J. Trump could never plan to move us even inches toward a more properly virtuous and wise “polity.” Rather, and exactly as Plato had once feared in a generic sense, we Americans have already been deformed by a dissembling president who is unable and/or unwilling to distinguish between true knowledge and self-serving opinion. Much like the contemporary Sophists who Plato had recognized could only impair societal betterment and virtuous government, Donald J. Trump represents an utterly insidious caricature (one might even say here, a grotesque self-parody) of commendable national leadership.[7]

In this connection, the president now wittingly risks millions of American lives by personally taking over very complex medical and scientific judgments regarding Covid19.[8] When he is finally finished supplanting properly analytic assessments with his own propagandistic and conspiratorial views of the raging pestilence,[9] there will likely be more body bags piled up on our streets than were earlier evident during the Vietnam War.

That is a sobering and instructive image, one now well worth visualizing.

What about basic human compassion in the White House? As to any evidence of personal empathy or presidential concern for the millions of already suffering, ill and jobless fellow countrymen, Trump can only lament his own alleged punishments by the “fake news.” Grotesquely, even when confronted with the steadily mounting number of American fatalities to Covid19, his only thought is to urge “unfair” interlocutors to “be nice,” to be “more polite.”

There is more. Under Donald Trump’s sorely twisted presidential tutelage, we Americans can never expect any Platonic-style  “deliverance from evil.”  Rather, when we begin to consider the increasing threats of war and terrorism now tied up in various complex interactions with unpredictably virulent pathogens, such evil could prove greater than anything Plato might ever have imagined in the fourth century BCE. Looking toward these potentially existential  perils, they could eventually include enemy nuclear attack and/or biological terrorist assaults against the American homeland.[10]

If anyone in President Trump’s governing inner circle should ever come around to acknowledge such hazards, it would have to be done with a proper obeisance to Der Fuehrer; that is, obliquely, disingenuously, sotto voce.

Nothing more.

Ironically, in this pestilential age of rampant pandemic, a time of global war, terror and plague, the absence of a suitably wise American leadership could render vastly more probablethe weaponized pathogens of some present or future adversary. To wit, as Donald Trump rules openly and entirely by untruth and obfuscation –  “in his own flesh”[11] – he simultaneously undermines utterly vital US relations with Russia, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea.

“I love chaos,” volunteered  Donald Trump with uncharacteristic honesty on March 4, 2018. Portentously, there is ample confirming evidence of just such a dissembling love (a perverse sentiment he also applied several times to his personal relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un) in the offhanded way Trump has stubbornly mishandled American testing and tracing for the Corona virus. Moreover, in late May 2020, this president announced plans to withdraw from the long-stabilizing Open Skies Treaty with Russia, another worrisome example of favoring gratuitous international belligerence (chaos) over any correctly law-based patterns of international cooperation.[12]

Every four years, We the people – we ina nation which had once been nurtured by American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Platonic call for high thinking and by Henry David Thoreau’s complementary (and similarly Platonic) plea to “consider the way in which we spend our lives” –  push aside any still-recognizable  serious thought. Obediently, as a deformed society that loathes complexity and looks ever anxiously for simple explanations, we Americans may yet again reduce complex US policy issues  to a crass assortment of numbing clichés and empty witticisms. Whatever else one might say about the rapidly-approaching election, choosing an American president will once again be fraught with abundantly delusionary expectations, and with conspicuously uninformed or incoherent policy platforms.

 Endlessly, in our quadrennial presidential election contests, the celebrity politician draws huge audiences and generous donors in spite ofan ineffable absence of substance. Always, in our infantile and banal national politics, less intellect is more pragmatic. Now, with Donald Trump still able to be taken seriously by so  many Americans, less discernible intellectual substance still spells tangible candidate advantage. With this starkly benighted incumbent, outright buffoonery has often become indisputable electoral advantage.

Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosophers. “I believe because it is absurd.”

 There is more. The harshly demeaning and dangerous Trump presidency  bears witness to America’s unprecedented national decline  – a declension of both the electorate and the Republic for which it stands. Now, whenever the sitting president’s words seethe with altogether evident worthlessness, a still-adoring crowd rushes in from the wings to applaud. Mixing desperation with a curiously self-imposed absence of memory and learning, it nods approvingly, en masse, and in more-or-less compliant “social distancing,” cheerlessly celebrates what it presumptuously calls “American Exceptionalism.”  The celebrations are without authentic joy because any tangible evidence that America is “great again” would be preposterous prima facie.

If it were in any way identifiable, it would then represent a glaring contradiction in terms.              

Once, many of our national heroes, including those who could and would actually read, were created by something other than marketing and crude commerce.[13] Today, a “normally” incoherent American president has become an embarrassing pitchman, a circus-announcer fashioned by careful manipulation and persistently meticulous misrepresentations. Far more ominously, of course, America trusts this sitting president with life or death nuclear command decisions,[14] a complex set of expectations that is always subject not only to willful deviations, but also to wholly unpredictable episodes of decisional irrationality.[15]

Let us finally be candid. The American “emperor” is more than just occasionally mistaken. He is hideously and very plainly “naked.” Most worrisome, in this regard, especially for any still-remaining American national future, is an election process that will likely remain shabby and demeaning, that will gratuitously mock all elements of genuine learning, and that proves shamelessly refractory to all residual hints of American intelligence and virtue.

 In principle, somehow, this ill-fated election process can still be civilized and transformed, but only after critical personal meanings in America can finally be detached from a ubiquitously craven and vulgar commerce. The American Republic, it must then be acknowledged, represents significantly more than just another gaming or real estate deal fashioned by Babbitts and politicos who have never heard of Plato or Jefferson or Blackstone, and have no clue as to what is actually discoverable in the US Constitution. Soon, governing this democracy, it must be acknowledged, will require more than another blustering and self-promoting illiterate buffoon.

Much more.

 We must now finally be candid. Plato’s prescriptively high standard of political leadership remains unassailably out of America’s ordinary reach. Still, this guiding standard may serve to remind us just how far we have already managed to descend from the Republic’s original expectations and how far we will need to advance to fully rescue and restore the imperiled United States. No one can reasonably expect Donald Trump or even the other party’s presidential candidate to become another Thomas Jefferson, but we should still hold every presidential aspirant to some at least minimal standards of intellect, seriousness and learning.

Sustaining and expecting some rudimentary intellectual life in the United States is hardly a dispensable option. In the final analysis, a more far-reaching American respect for a genuine life of the mind is required not “merely” for national physical survival, but also for the most fragmentary implementations of virtue. In the seventeenth century, Blaise Pascal, in his eternally elucidating Pensées, effectively summarized Plato: “All our dignity, then, consists in thought. It is upon this that we must depend, not on space and time, which we would not in any case be able to fill. Let us labour then, to think well (emphasis added): this is the foundation of morality.”[16]

There is one last and prospectively overriding point left to make. It is that the manifold derelictions of an anti-intellectual American society must inevitably “spill over” into the wider global arena, sometimes “synergistically,”[17] and thus weaken this country’s overall position in world politics. Accordingly, it was modern French thinker and poet, Guillaume Apollinaire, who understood the corresponding bit of  wisdom better than most: “It must not be forgotten that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.”[18]

Now, beleaguered by plague as well as by the more “ordinary” hazards of foreign affairs – war, terrorism and genocide – Americans could do worse than consciously resurrect certain core principles of Plato’s Republic.

Far worse.

So long as we wittingly ensconce Plato’s “supreme authority” in the hands of a manifestly unfit American president, we should rightfully expect no quarter from adversaries of  any kind or magnitude, no reassuringly Platonic “deliverance from evil.”

None at all.


[1] “There is something inside all of us,” writes twentieth century German philosopher Karl Jaspers, “that yearns not for reason, but for mystery – not for penetrating clear thought but for the whisperings of the irrational….” See: Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time, Archon Books, 1971, p.67.

[2]Generally, the pertinent obligations of international law are also obligations of US law. 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.”

[3] See, by this author, at The Daily Princetonian : https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/06/a-core-challenge-of-higher-education

[4] Says French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in 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.” Nonetheless, at the international level, Trump has amplified the competitive nature of America’s Covid19 policies, a brand of “vaccine nationalism” that is the reductio ad absurdum of his more generally belligerent stance in world politics.

[5] Says Albert Camus in The Plague (1947): “At the beginning of the pestilence and when it ends, there’s always a propensity for rhetoric….It is only in the thick of a calamity that one gets hardened to the truth, to silence.”

[6] See Edward S. Corwin, THE “HIGHER LAW” BACKGROUND OF AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONAL LAW (1955);  Alexander P. D’Entreves, NATURAL LAW: AN INTRODUCTION TO LEGAL PHILOSOPHY (1951). Additionally, Blackstone’s COMMENTARIES recognize that all law “results from those principles of natural justice, in which all the learned of every nation agree….”  See William Blackstone,  COMMENTARIES ON THE LAWS OF ENGLAND,  adapted by Robert Malcolm Kerr  (Boston; Beacon Press,  1962),  Book IV,  “Of Public Wrongs,”  p. 62  (Chapter V.,  “Of Offenses Against the Law of Nations.”) Still earlier, a century before Demosthenes, Antigone’s appeal against Creon’s order to the “unwritten and steadfast customs of the Gods” had evidenced the inferiority of human rule-making to a Higher Law.  Here, in the drama by Sophocles, Creon represents the Greek tyrant who disturbs the ancient harmony of the city state.  Aristotle, in his RHETORIC, quotes from Sophocles’ ANTIGONE when he argues that “an unjust law is not a law.”  See RHETORIC 1, 15,  1375, a 27 et seq.

[7] In just one example, during his May 21, 2020 tour of a Ford plant in Michigan, Trump refused to wear a mask. Though his explanation for this legal violation was that he didn’t want to give the press “the satisfaction” of seeing him in a mask (what that should actually mean is anyone’s guess), more likely he thought that wearing a mask would project an image of weakness, and – as everyone must already know – Der Fuehrer  is not subject to the normal rules of biology and infection (just as he is allegedly immune to any normal expectations of law). In essence, Trump’s refusal implies that he stands all-powerful, conspicuously “above biology,” just as he allegedly stands uniquely and brazenly “above the law.”

[8] “I tested very positively,” Trump said confusedly on the South Lawn of the White House on May 21, 2020,. “So this morning, yeah, I tested positively toward negative, right? So no, I tested perfectly this morning. Meaning, meaning I tested negative. But that’s a way of saying it, positively toward the negative.” To be charitable about describing such telling presidential confusions, Trump has also had some “trouble” in the past offering proper terminology concerning his medical test results.

[9] https://www.yahoo.com/news/answers-va-given-hydroxychloroquine-1-220636232.html

See also: https://www.yahoo.com/news/massive-study-coronavirus-patients-shows-140100072.html

[10] Professor Beres is the author of some of the earliest books on nuclear war and nuclear terrorism, including Terrorism and Global Security: The Nuclear Threat (1979); Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (1980); and Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (2016). His pertinent writings on this topic have been published in The New York Times; The Atlantic; Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (West Point); The War Room (Pentagon); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon) International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; and The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

[11] “The mass man has no attention to spare for reasoning,” warns 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gassett in The Revolt of the Masses (1930), “he learns only in his own flesh.”

[12] Trump’s proposed withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty (1992/2002) mirrored the U.S. decision to pull out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia in August 2019.

[13] Sigmund Freud maintained a general antipathy to all things American. He most strenuously objected, according to Bruno Bettelheim, to this country’s “shallow optimism” and its seemingly corollary commitment to a disturbingly crude form of materialism. America, thought Freud, was very evidently “lacking in soul.” See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), especially Chapter X.

[14] See, by Professor Beres, at The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, https://thebulletin.org/2016/08/what-if-you-dont-trust-the-judgment-of-the-president-whose-finger-is-over-the-nuclear-button/

[15] Expressions of decisional irrationality in world affairs could take assorted and overlapping forms, and need not be a function of “madness.” These forms include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of pertinent individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).

[16] This is taken from Chapter XXIII of Pascal’s Pensées, “Grandeur de l’Homme.”

[17] Synergistic intersections are those that are “force-multiplying;” more precisely, ones wherein the “whole” is effectively greater than the more-or-less calculable arithmetic sum of its “parts.”

[18] See Guillaume Apollinaire’s “The New Spirit and the Poets,” 1917.

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Coronavirus: The Collapse of Higher Education -Or its Revolution?

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This is the first time higher education has faced the dual-crisis of finance and health.

After World War II, the American higher education foresaw a significant expansion, which helped their economy to grow. During the Great Recession, a similar plot took place: College enrollments surged along with the tuition fees.

In an ever-expanding industry, a tremendous amount of money has been circulating since then: contributing to the economy and funding for infrastructures and research models — but in a rather unsustainable manner with unsustainable debt levels.

The global economy has faced several recessions. However, the current global economic crisis we are facing is different: it is more so focused on saving lives, and then saving the economy.

With travel bans, lockdown, and social distancing enforced to minimize the transmission of coronavirus, enrollments face new uncertainty.

This is the first time higher education has faced the dual-crisis of finance and health. Thus, it’s hard for institutions to strike a sustainable balance.

Higher education was already on the verge of collapse long before the coronavirus forced the world into lockdown.

In the past eight years, colleges and universities alike had been facing the decline in domestic enrollments, only saved by the significant increase in international enrollments. But since the commence of the US-China trade war, international enrolments had also fallen low.

To attract more students, enormous debts were used to invest in infrastructures such as student centers and research labs. Such investments require a continual cash flow. Recessions jeopardize that cash flow. The financial future of most of those institutions were already at risk. Their annual operating budget desperately depended on the students’ tuition fees, which have been increasing.

As previous recessions illustrate, higher education has always been one of the first budget lines to be cut due to declining state appropriation needed to balance budgets. Competing against expenses such as health and pension, higher education is an easy target, as it was throughout previous recessions.

To manage unsustainable debt, colleges and universities would shift the costs to the students by increasing tuition fees — quicker in public institutions than in private. Student debt would rise as the student loan limit is relaxed.

Over the years, financial aid has increased substantially — although not enough. But the institution’s debts and tuition fees will outweigh the financial aid.

For instance, in March 2020, the congress of the U.S. has approved $14 billion (economic rescue measure against the coronavirus)for the educational sector: over $6 billion in student aid; and about $7.5 billion for institutions. However, colleges and universities are already spending around $8 billion just to refund room and board charges for the current academic year, according to the American Council on Education (ACE). Only 1% of that student aid has been distributed.

During previous recessions, enrollments saw bloom. What about now?

Enrollments were highly positive during previous recessions. As earnings decrease and unemployment rises, a theory suggests that individuals will be more likely to attend college. Research from Dellas and Sakellaris (2003) shows that when the unemployment rate rises by 1 percent, college enrollment doubles.

Travel bans and lockdown enforced all around the world has helped in minimizing the transmission of the virus. But the preventive measures themselves cause further consequences. All these pandemic preventions spell trouble to bring in international students.

For (and from) such unprecedented times like this pandemic, ‘Survey’ was invented. Asking the right questions to the targeted demographic results in much-needed data to evaluate the next steps. The primary targeted demographic are students, but they are not the only one to participate in such surveys: teaching staff, board members, parents, and all higher education stakeholders need to communicate properly as well.

Few surveys have already been carried out.

830 Chinese students have been unable to return to the US to continue their studies, as per a COVID-19 survey by the Institute of International Education (IIE). About 100,000 Chinese students who were in China for their Lunar New Year holidays were unable to return to Australia due to the pandemic enforced travel bans. In the UK, about 60 percent of Chinese students who have already applied to study in the UK next year are either likely to cancel their plans or have yet to decide, as per a survey by Matt Durnin, regional Head of Research and Consultancy, East Asia at the British Council.

These numbers are highly relevant to evaluate the probable future of higher education as China is the largest source of international students in the world. And international students contribute tremendously to the global economy through their enrolments as well as their accommodation costs overseas. For example, in 2018, international students contributed $39 billion to the U.S..; $37.6 billion to Australia.

India comes second to China. About 70 percent of prospective international students from India want to continue with their applications to study abroad, according to a survey by Yocket, a Mumbai-based EdTech startup.

In such a crisis, international students also suffer more.

Academically, every student suffers equally, but economically, it’s different.

This is a myth.

Every student doesn’t suffer equally academically. Some are well-equipped with technology for online learning; some may lack technology; some proper internet connection. Some may be fortunate enough to have enough savings, taking away the toll of worrying about survival.

This panic hampers mental health. Lack of mental clarity will indefinitely hurt academically.

Accommodation is always cheaper at home country when the income source is out of the question. Data shows that international students contribute more from accommodation expenses and similar living expenses than they do from their tuition fees.

Meaning that, accomodation triumphs tuition fees.A highly relevant aspect. In April, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated that foreign students in financial difficulty should leave. The infamous speech garnished a lot of criticism, citing that Australia should not be ‘biting the hand that feeds it.’

Because, once the coronavirus transmission is subdued, the competition for international students will be of massive importance; one which has been in action long before the pandemic. Australia has lost points in this regard.

Meanwhile, other countries are using strategic plans such as easing immigration rules. For example, Canada has permitted international students planning to begin studies in Canada for spring 2020, to complete up to 50 percent of their courses online — a mitigating measure away from travel bans from their home countries.

More surveys will follow. For the time being, the logical answer each survey points towards is E-learning. But it has its own caveats.

Going offline: a new kind of ‘dropping out’

As the majority of the universities are shut down physically, they are opting for online learning, and students are justified in asking for a price cut on their tuition fees. The expensive fees seemed to be for the ‘college experiences’ of falling in love, partying in dorm rooms, and so forth besides the course itself.

The debate of online learning versus traditional learning carries on now more than ever before. Professors, including some outdated from modern technology, are trying their utmost to learn to operate online software. Most of the students who have access to the required technology will attend classes. However, most universities are lacking a proper system to even carry out the basics such as taking attendance.

Absency, in the pre-coronavirus era, used to occur frequently in high numbers for several causes. So did dropouts. Now, most of the world’s educational institutions are physically closed, and courses have been compelled to move online. Once, majorly used to browse social media, is now forced to share the screen time with their respective professors.

But the caveat is that more students than previously are missing class.Some don’t log in; some don’t complete assignments; and so forth.

Most of the absence come from low-income students, who lack access to home computers and stable internet connection — or lack thereof in its totality.

Generating participation is also more difficult than it is inside a normal classroom. But online, it’s even more so.

Online classrooms might do for now, but it is unlikely to ever replace traditional classrooms.

Collapse or revolution? Conclusion.

The Covid-19 pandemic will ensure many of the small institutions to collapse entirely by disrupting the cash flow. Meanwhile, the future of the bigger ones remains in doubt. Cannibalism: the financially strong one consume the weak.

The three aspects — uncertainty in enrolments, unsustainable debt levels, and growth in online courses — have a massive role to play for the future of higher education. International competition does matter as well.

At the moment, in shaping the new world order, China is regarded as one of the top countries. It has already started to reopen its economy. It has provided strict guidelines to its schools and universities on how to physically reopen in an ‘orderly manner’.

Before the pandemic, Xi Jinping dedicated measures to improve education at all levels in China and envisioned producing at least 40 world-class universities by mid-century (the figure will rise to 16 by 2030). In 2018, two universities from China (Peking University and Tsinghua University)ranked inside the World University Rankings (Times Highers, 2018) top 30; outranking several prestigious institutions in Europe and the US.

If China finds a way to retain its Chinese students against overseas countries — taking advantage of this pandemic and travel bans around the globe — higher education won’t be the only thing that gets revolutionized. The world economy will too.

As previously mentioned: In 2018, international students contributed $39b to the U.S.; Australia, $37.6b. Of those figures, Chinese students alone contribute approximately about $13b to the U.S.;$12.1b to Australia.

China has an immense opportunity here: to promote its universities against online lectures amid lockdown elsewhere. As with the US-China trade war, China has the upper hand during this lockdown. The future of Economies and Higher Education will be affected by how China grasps this opportunity.

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