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Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

They waited in line for 13 years; but now that they’re here, my Russian relatives want out.

I couldn’t believe it when my great aunt shared with me that her son, his wife, and their young child are planning to move back to Russia. In fact, I still can’t believe it.

It took them 13 years to obtain Green Cards. Their apartment in Moscow? Sold. Their jobs? Resigned. And in the United States, shortly after they arrived two years ago, they leveraged the majority of their savings to purchase a comfortable two-story home. From the outside, they were well on their way to achieving the mythic American Dream. …

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Exterior of the Princeton University Chapel. (Source: elekh, on Wikimedia Commons.)

Where calls for increased diversity in academia fall painfully short

On July 4th, 2020, faculty at Princeton University began circulating a letter calling on the administration to “acknowledge and give priority” to a series of demands aimed at counteracting or dismantling the “[a]nti-Blackness . . . foundational to America,” which at Princeton “has a visible bearing upon [the university’s] campus makeup and its hiring practices.” As of June 12th, the letter has attracted just over 400 signatures, including 26 graduate students, 58 lecturers, and 215 of Princeton’s 1,289 full-time, part-time, and visiting professors.

Held up in various media outlets as proof positive of the continued self-destructive politicization of academia, or else thoroughly denounced for the same, the Faculty Letter is troubling as well if not even more so because of the shortsightedness of the vision of social change it endorses. For by focusing primarily on how the university can better serve existing faculty, right now, by asserting that the circumstance of chief concern is the undervaluation or paucity or attrition of current professors of color, the letter’s signatories suggest rather myopically that the (perceived) inequities at issue both stem from within the university and are addressable in their entirety by it. This despite the letter’s sweeping assertion that anti-blackness is baked into the fibre of America and nearly inextricable from Princeton itself. …

Or, what’s wrong with the modern obsession with being an ally

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Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

“Have you signed up for the newest resources-for-white-people-who-want-to-become-allies newsletter?”

“Where I can get those, ‘I’m an ally!’ bumper stickers?”

“I’m going to talk to my manager about allyship training in the workplace. Have you ‘done the work’ yet?”

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If ethics witnessed seasonal trends, “allyship” would be this summer’s hottest style. Note that the y-axis represents search interest relative to the maximum for the displayed time and region. Expanding this analysis to the beginning of the dataset, 2004, it becomes clear that on 6/2/20, “allyship” reached a global peak—not just a yearly one. (Source data from Google Trends. Current through 6/21/20.)

If it seems like the word “allyship” is everywhere these days, it’s not just you. …

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Columbia University’s Butler Library against spring blossoms. (Photo by Jahsie Ault on Unsplash)

In the wake of this month’s nationwide protests against police brutality, systemic racism, and a host of other social ills, many businesses across the country have issued statements supporting protestors, rioters, and the Black Lives Matter movement more generally. Often times, they have also made pledges to “do the work” to educate themselves and their employees on the alleged underlying ills — or, rather less charitably, much like the Soviet citizen interested in surviving an authoritarian regime, to convince themselves of the truth or morality or appropriateness or expediency or the like of the ideology these movements push.

Of course, most businesses are well within their rights to make such declarations. After all, whether it be a local bakery or a regional bank, public declarations in support of popular protest movements have no direct bearing on the missions of these organizations, namely the generation of profits and the rendering of services. Put differently, statement or not, it seems like businesses will by and large be able to continue going about their business. …

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Photo by Rolande PG on Unsplash

Non-cognitivism, broadly speaking, is the meta-ethical position that moral statements are not truth-apt—that they are not the kinds of things that can be true or false, that express moral facts or properties, or about which we can have beliefs or other cognitive mental states. Rather, the non-cognitivist holds, moral statements express only distinctly non-cognitive mental states, such as approval, disgust, disapproval, and desire. Non-cognitivism is a position in meta-ethics, then, because it is concerned with the nature and status of ethical claims, not with the development of first-order ethical principles.

But why bring together meta-ethics and political activism? Although it is not unusual for social justice movements to claim the moral high ground, it seems to me that what is unusual is the degree of certainty with which protestors today assert their moral superiority, the absence of nuance and intellectual humility in their moral reasoning. If, following the outcries of those invested in Black Lives Matter and associated movements, the resignation of The New York Times’ Opinion Editor, calls to rename the prestigious R. A. Fisher Prize, and the placement of a UCLA professor on leave are any indication of the present modus operandi of political activism, then it seems safe to say that today’s activists demand of everyone nothing less than complete ideological conformity. That is, in the current climate, it’s become quite clear that there are no grey areas—and, perhaps even more troublingly, that it is by mob vote that lines of acceptability are drawn. …

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Paolo Veronese, Nobleman between Active and Contemplative life (c. 1575). (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Felton Bequest, 1947.)

Writing in the Opinion Section of The New York Times, Sabrina Strings, a sociologist at UC Irvine, argues that America’s legacy of slavery is behind not only the staggering racial disparity in deaths from COVID-19 but also racial health inequalities more generally. In what is by now a familiar move, Strings contends that focusing on the “individual-level factors”—such as whether someone is obese or has asthma or diabetes—obscures the true cause of the disparity in question: the hidden-in-plain-sight workings of systemic racism.

Put differently, while it is difficult to argue with the fact that, compared with the overall population, a greater percentage of black people are obese, work in the service industry, have limited access to healthy foods, and are exposed to toxic chemicals, Strings suggests that we ought to think of these patterns as emerging not so much because of the uncoordinated choices of many independent actors as because of decades if not centuries of government action designed specifically to segregate and discriminate—e.g., …

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As with any concept worth studying, self-fashioning is complex, abutting and at times perhaps even overlapping a host of related ideas. While I make no claim to drawing the distinguishing lines in the correct locations I hope at the very least to create some interesting shapes.

I argued in a recent essay that the COVID-19 pandemic presents a formidable challenge to those of us invested in self-fashioning—invested in actively cultivating ourselves in line with the basic commitments we take to guide our lives and to define the kinds of individuals we aspire to become. I suggested, too, that the present roadblocks to self-fashioning are particularly worrying if we subscribe to philosopher Thimo Heisenberg’s reading of Hegel’s political philosophy, where self-fashioning—albeit a very particular brand of it—plays a central role in moderating our fear of death.

And yet, I concluded, there is reason to think that quarantine and its associated restrictions are ultimately likely to be quite generative. For learning to express ourselves through novel routines, in a new language, essentially, forces us to rethink who exactly it is that we are—or, rather, are striving to become. Perhaps we realize the importance of what has hitherto been simply a side commitment, say, volunteering. Alternatively, maybe we find ourselves downsizing, excising components of our identity that in fact turn out to be less valuable to us than we had initially presumed. For instance, we might realize that we simply don’t care as whether we drive a Mercedes. …

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The brushes with which we craft our lives under normalcy can in times of crisis seem woefully inadequate to the job. Instead of ceasing to paint, however, we might take the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity not only to master finger painting, say, but also to reimagine the final product toward which we direct our creative energies to begin with.

At the recent Workshop in Ancient & Contemporary Philosophy, held at Columbia University in March of 2020, philosopher Thimo Heisenberg presented a paper on Hegel, mortality, and the social order. His argument, briefly, was that in Hegel’s political philosophy the state has the responsibility of creating and maintaining the kind of society that will allow its citizens to face their own mortality with resolve.

What this means, in practice, is that state institutions and regulations must be such as to allow citizens to engage in the kinds of practices that assuage their fear of death or, put differently, that make it easier for them to face death. For one, then, institutions and regulations must be stable and compassionate, the social order must be such as to provide for its citizens in times of hardship and must be capable of ensuring that, say, inheritances are properly distributed to heirs. …

Background

I have for a long time been suspicious of cheap food — whether in grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, or other such establishments — primarily because of what in my experience is a direct relationship between price and quality. To be sure, some products, despite being manufactured at the same plant and out of the same raw ingredients, are marked up simply because of their brand label; yet in other cases, higher prices do seem to track something like quality. …

Although we lived in nearby Rocky Hill, a mere ten minutes from the university, it was not until my parents dropped me off for orientation that I actually saw its illustrious heart: main campus. As usual they were in a hurry and as usual we were late. So regular were these habits and so normalized their self-obsession that it was never even a question as to whether they would be there to see me in to my dorm. Of course not. It was only my first day of college. And I was only a little surprised when they announced at an inconspicuous street corner that this was as far as they could go: “Too much traffic along the main arteries; you understand.” …

About

Nikita Bogdanov

Nikita holds a BA in philosophy from Stanford University and is currently an MA student in English literature at Columbia University.

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