21CU Op-Ed Draft / Press Release Final
Written for Ceres Inc.
New Report: U.S. Electric Utilities Must Embrace Clean Energy, Energy Efficiency to Compete in 21st Century
The full report is available for download at Ceres.org
Op-Ed piece run in Salem Evening News, Apr. 27 2010
Written based on my internship experience with the IIRI
Excerpts from a comparison essay, Care of the Self: Michel Foucault and James Baldwin
Written for a modern political theory course at Providence College
The ancient Greeks believed in the importance of the principle of ‘care of the self’ and connected it with the idea that to care for your soul you had to know yourself. Knowing who you are as a human, as a Greek, as a potter, or any other definition of personage, allows you to properly understand how to take care of your soul. Michel Foucault took interest in this idea of ‘care of the self’ and applied it to a course he taught at the Collège de France. Care of the self is hard to define, it seems, and Foucault draws on several philosophers and thinkers from history to help define his conception of the principle. I would like to make my own attempt at defining ‘care of the self’ through my experience and understanding. Rather than reformulate Foucault’s work, however, I seek to synthesize the work of James Baldwin with Foucault’s to create a more personal depiction of what it is to care for oneself and how James Baldwin is a person I look to in doing so.
Although Baldwin wrote much about race relations and issues of sexual orientation, I will try to apply his ideas universally and see the value his ideas have for people of every race, gender, orientation, heritage, and history. It is an endeavor I would like to think he would not have frowned upon.
Baldwin proposed two ideas people must hold in their minds about the world: first, “acceptance, totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are… [and second] to fight [these injustices] with all one’s strength.”1 This is done by keeping one’s own heart free of hatred and despair. George Shulman sees acceptance as “Baldwin’s conception of redemption as a practice of acknowledging nonsovereignty in relation to the desire and history that he makes the grounds of human being.”2 That is, we are saved by accepting that we cannot control either what makes us human or what drives humanity. This idea of acceptance driving redemption is a powerful metaphor fusing ideas of great ancient philosophy and modern prophecy.
Perhaps most importantly, Foucault notes that caring for oneself is “necessary if one wishes to be able to care for others”3 Not only is this principle important for each individual, but important in their relation to others, and thus can be brought into the realm of the polis. The idea behind this is that only if one understands what they are as a human being, can one see themselves in some way connected to other human beings.
Baldwin, James. “Collected Essays.” Compiled by Toni Morrison. New York: Library of America, 1998.
Shulman, George. “American Prophecy: Race and Redemption in American Political Culture.” Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.
Foucault, Michel. “The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the College de France 1981-82.” Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
- Baldwin, 72, “Notes of a Native Son”:
- Shulman, 134.
- Foucault, 494.
Excerpts from an essay on “The Augustinian Imperative and Contemporary Political Thought: William Connolly on Moral Order, and Our Alternatives”
Written for a modern political theory course at Providence College
“The desire to kill someone, or killing someone, for not conforming to the…norm by which a person is “supposed” to live suggests that life itself requires a set of sheltering norms, and that to be outside it, to live outside it, is to court death. The person who threatens violence proceeds from the anxious and rigid belief that a sense of world and a sense of self will be radically undermined if such a being, uncatagorizable, is permitted to live within the social world.” – Judith Butler, Undoing Gender
“Thinking is most stimulated, perhaps, when you explore a deep, morally intense thinker who disrupts your most basic convictions.” – William E. Connolly, Preface to the New Edition of The Augustinian Imperative
“I like the word [curiosity]. It evokes “care”; it evokes the care of what exists and might exist; a sharpened sense of reality, but one that is never immobilized before it; a readiness to find what surrounds us strange and odd; a certain determination to throw off familiar ways of thought and to look at the same things in a different way…a lack of respect for the traditional hierarchies of what is important and fundamental.” – Michel Foucault
In his work, “The Augustinian Imperative: A Reflection on the Politics of Morality”, William Connolly seeks to thrust more prominently into the philosophical/political debate voices that call for plurality and “agonistic respect” as a way to contest fundamentalist forces that dominate the discussion.
Perhaps we can examine the contingent nature of what is conceived as “natural” and intrinsic, and to let go of the existential hatred associated with the rifts in these concepts.
As Connolly phrases it, “There is wildness in the world that exceeds the wish of humanity either to moralize or master it” (9). Justice is not rewarded by the cosmos, just as injustice is not punished.
In the loss of that foundational conception, there can be some gain. You lose the cosmic being to blame and resent for not rectifying the unjust suffering; you need not be bitter. It also allows you to see victims of chance, fate, or human malevolence not as scapegoats responsible for their pitiable state, nor as outliers, but as members of the same community and owed the help and comfort anyone would desire in their situation (12).
Does this mean we must resign ourselves to suffering? Is there comfort in such thinking? There is a need to find fault, but where does it lie? Does the fault lie in nature?
“The thought of a mistake in nature is the thought of a divine agent who makes it, or, at least, of an intrinsic design that occasionally lacks the capacity to realize this or that detail of its own architecture” (18). But why would an agent so powerful be thoughtless or cruel enough to make such a mistake?
A moral order, a scale of justice, to explain chance and fate. Who sinned, the blind man,or his parents? Gender duality to explain sexuality. Male and female he made them. So how do we react? Can we envision a cultural map that is consistent with the variety of designs, inclinations, and affections in sexuality? Or the variety of goods and ills that befall life, as we know it? Can we go farther?
Chance and fate occur in every moment: “Chance in that you throw the dice, but fate in that the throw is not made by an abstract person, but by a particular self with a specific identity in an established setting” (Connolly, Augustinian Imperative, 123). The choices you make in each moment fold themselves into the “contingent and conflicted density of your identity.”
Installed within the logic of morality is a cruelty in the way it conflicts with our experience. This morality can come from an Intrinsic Moral Order, or a Purpose in Being, or a Categorical Imperative, or a social Contract. And yet, to reach beyond this notion of good and evil is not to become immoral, or reject the evaluation of actions and thought. “It is to nurture a new sense of restraint and a revised orientation to the very differences through which an individual and a culture achieve self-definition” (132)
We have to resist the call to vengeance when a surge of anxiety disturbs a conviction within us that fosters security or self-confidence. Perhaps such anxiety could be used to reconsider the social demand to have an intrinsic moral identity or moral order.
In pursuing the genealogies of what is ‘natural’ and ‘intrinsic’, perhaps we can contest these notions and replace them with a cultivated sense of generosity towards self and others. We can dig to show how things are not necessary, but contingent; dependent on history, culture and experience. Ascribing to such a view forces you to admit the contestability of your own position as well. There can be no attempt to universalize such pluralism, nor to place it on uncontestable ground. Michel Foucault states that “…perhaps one must not be for consensuality, but one must be against non-consensuality” (151).
You do not have to readily fall into the fold, but you must be open the possibility for contestation. “The aspiration is to draw agonistic respect from the effects of politics and to fold agonistic respect into the art of politics” (158). Such a thought, that through such respectful disagreement, criticism, challenging, and engaging, things can be improved, gives us a hope for change where there may not have been hope before. That some things deemed necessary may only be circumstantial, and suspect, and malleable, opens doors and presents options that may not have existed before.
Butler, Judith. Undoing Gender. London: Routledge, 2004.
Cole, Juan. Engaging the Muslim World. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
Connolly, William E. The Augustinian Imperative: A Reflection on the Politics of Morality. Lanham:Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002.
Connolly, William E. Capitalism and Christianity, American Style. Duke University Press, 2008.
Foucault, Michel. Herculine Barbin. New York: Random House, 1980.
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, An Introduction: Vol. 1. New York: Random House, 1978.