I received a reader email from Iran in the last few weeks. I’ve been swamped and hadn’t had a chance to respond until now. I’m still swamped, catching up, but I thought it might be fun to post the question and my reply here. These responses were quickly drafted, with some thought but little editing. <Disclaimer…> lol.
Dear Eric Thomas Weber
I’m [name omitted] from Iran.We are Iranian people who we love peace and other culture we love other people in every point of earth.You know my country is a victim of mistaken policies in 8 years ago but we(people of Iran) are not bad.Politician of united state of America like Mr President Barak Obama say that the human right situation in Iran is not good.I want to know that what is meaning the human rights?
Best Regards, [name omitted]
While I feel bad about having little time to answer [name omitted], I felt worse about how long it had taken for me to get to his email (BTW, that’s my mug on the front page of The Tehran Times from this past July – Pretty cool). So, here’s my rough and quick reply:
Hi [name omitted],
I apologize for the long delay before my reply… [explanation omitted]. To answer your question, human rights are generally considered responsibilities on the part of a government towards its people. The legitimacy of a government depends upon its respect for its people and their rights. Among the kinds of rights that Americans find sadly infringed upon in Iran are the freedom of expression and of the press. Governments cannot be wise and just without knowing about how their people are affected. When free expression is stifled, when leaders do not allow criticism of their decisions, the government intentionally fails to draw its judgments on the greatest pool of information available. Therefore, one of the cornerstones of just governments on this view is the right to criticize any public official. Here is an example of what I mean:
I think it is fair to say that the United States, and most every nation, falls short of perfect justice. There are some things that we take to be fundamental, however. Freedom to raise one’s concerns as a citizen is vital as perhaps (or one of) the most basic human right(s).
That’s how I think about the question you’ve asked me. Again, I apologize for the delay in my reply. Happy new year to you and your family,
Now that I’ve sent that message, I’m reminded of Michael Ignatieff‘s suggestion that freedom of movement might possibly be considered more fundamental than speech. I see his point with respect to cases of ethnic cleansing.
January 6, 2016, With host Jack Criss, and guests Kinsella, Weber, and Rings
I had a great time talking with Jack Criss on BAM South’s Midlife Criss podcast. The interview will soon be up on BAM South’s site, but for now Jack’s posted the interview on Sound Cloud. The player is here below. Jack is a great M.C. and he had questions for me about Uniting Mississippi. My interview is about 16 minutes in from the start of this audio recording. I’m the second of three guests: Stephan Kinsella, me, and John L. Rings.
Jack has kindly invited me to join him again for a more extended discussion when I’m next in Jackson, MS. I’ve got plans in the works for a trip to Jackson at some point in the spring of 2016, so I think that it would be great to join Jack again.
The name BAM South is short for Business Always Matters. Check out the online publication, which features a nice podcast series. Jack has a great voice, I should add. Fun host too. I hope you enjoy.
Here’s the interview (again, my interview is around 16 minutes in):
Journal article published in Pragmatism Today, Volume 6, Issue 2 (2015): 105-116.
I’m happy to announced that my latest paper, as of December 2015, has been published in Pragmatism Today, the peer-reviewed journal of the Central-European Pragmatist Forum. This paper is a step in the larger project of my book in progress, A Culture of Justice.
Title: “Justice as an Evolving Regulative Ideal.”
In this paper, I argue that justice is best understood as an evolving regulative ideal. This framework avoids cynicism and apathy on the one hand as well as brash extremism on the other. I begin by highlighting the elusive quality of justice as an ideal always on the horizon, yet which is nevertheless meaningful. Next, I explain the ways in which it makes more sense to see justice as evolving, rather than as fixed. Finally, I demonstrate the value of Charles Sanders Peirce’s concept of a regulative ideal for framing a pragmatist outlook on justice. Peirce helps us at the same time to appreciate ideals yet to let go of outmoded understandings of their metaphysical status. Ideals are thus tools for regulating behavior. Each of these qualifications demonstrates that justice is best conceived of as an evolving regulative ideal.
While I have been writing A Culture of Justice, so many examples have come up to illustrate what I’m concerned about. The latest is from Charlie Brown. At the same time, it’s true that culture is a funny thing to think about when it comes to justice.
When I first read Plato’s Republic, I found it so strange that Plato addresses oddly specific decisions about which kind of music and arts should be allowed in just city. It is one thing to be concerned about music that promotes violence or that demeans women, but what does the mode of the music have to do with justice? By modes, I’m referring to the dorian, the phrygian, or the mixolydian modes. Plato believed that it mattered profoundly which modes of music were taught to young people. Here’s a YouTube lesson on the modes of music – probably longer than you need, but you can stop whenever or jump ahead:
Plato presented a highly authoritarian version of Socrates in the Republic, so much so that Karl Popper accused him of betraying his great teacher. Popper saw the real Socrates as an advocate for freedom and the open society. The early dialogues do seem to present a different Socrates from the late dialogues. Plato loved his great teacher, yet the Athenians killed unjustly. It is not surprising that he would be skeptical about the will of the people to lead wisely.
While I disagree with the extent of Plato’s heavy handedness, I think he was right to attend to culture’s relationship to justice. Today, we defend the freedom of expression to amazing lengths, protecting even hateful speech. The modes of music seem strange to think of limiting, sure, but it was once prohibited to show Elvis Presley’s shaking hips on television.
The first interracial kiss on television was also a big deal at the time. I thought it was the one on Star Trek (photo on right), but it turns out that CNN has found one earlier. The funny thing is that today people belittle efforts to shape culture for the sake of justice. Presidential candidate Ben Carson has called political correctness “dangerous.” People joke about the silliness of calls for being “P.C.,” rolling their eyes.
Some efforts to address “political incorrectness” have offered cause for concern. The University of New Hampshire created a Guide for Unbiased Language, for example, which found the word “American” problematic, among many others. The university took down the guide, but not before the Washington Post released a piece on the subject.
While I appreciate calls for people not to be too swift or harsh in judging uses of language, they are extensions of sensible thinking. For example, when young people throw around the word “retarded” as a substitute for anything they think is bad or worthless, it hurts people with cognitive or other disabilities, as well as their family members like me. Some people may roll their eyes when a woman doesn’t appreciate being called “sweetheart,” yet when she is called “tootse,” most people balk. These things are matters of degree, and examples will vary.
Reasonable people may wonder “What’s the big deal?” or “Why does culture matter?” I’ve answered already what I think a flag has to do with justice, addressing the Confederate Battle Flag in the South. Language matters too. So do cartoons and children’s books, such as these horrifyingly racist ones that I first learned about in the Atlantic Black Star. In the Ten Little N—-r Boys (cover image on right), for example, young white kids were taught to count by means of learning ten ways in which young black boys were killed or somehow lost. The drawings were meant to be humorous, but are horrifying.
For generations, young people have been conditioned from infancy to devalue others. You can see, therefore, why a school teacher and then African American readers wrote to Charles Schulz, urging him to introduce a “negro character” into his Peanuts comic strip. The latest story on the matter includes this short one on NPR. The more interesting stuff can be found in the actual letters that the story refers to, in which readers and Schulz went back and forth about how to incorporate a new character respectfully, without patronizing African Americans. Mashable.com put together a set of letters, sample comic strips that Schulz released, some story about the resistance he faced from disappointing editors, and a video of school teacher Harriet Glickman who first wrote to Schulz – find that stuff here.
I understand that Variety called for more diversity in the new Charlie Brown movie. At the same time, I appreciated what I read of Schulz’s replies to his readers and the hard line he took with editors and agents who were resistant to his inclusion of the Franklin character in 1968, whom Charlie Brown greets in the featured image above. That makes me want to see his movie. Of course, Variety‘s criticism raised the ire of the conservative American Spectator.
I haven’t seen the film yet. Nevertheless, I think it is important that we consider the messages we present our kids and the kinds of cultural force that we need to push back against, from hundreds of years of conditioning young people to devalue some folks and to see others as deserving of privilege. Such designs on our culture begin as early as the cartoons we show our kids.
My latest Clarion Ledger piece, published December 8, 2015, 8A.
Click here or on the Clarion Ledger logo on the right to read the piece on their Web site.
You can also see a scan of the printed piece on Academia.edu.
The video clip of my interview on WLOX TV News at 4 in Biloxi, MS, is included at the bottom of this post. I had a great time visiting the coast, seeing the beautiful water, and talking with some really nice people.
I also had a great time meeting Jeremy from Bay Books for the book signing afterwards at the West Biloxi Public Library. While I was at the TV studio, I was able to snap these photos.
Here’s the interview video:
For more information, you can visit my page about the book here. If you are looking for a speaker for your group or think your community might enjoy a book talk and signing, visit my Contact page and drop me a note. Groups in Mississippi can apply for a mini grant from the MS Humanities Council, as they have a speakers’ series that features my talks on Uniting Mississippi.
Beautiful day in Biloxi! Just met the owner of Southern Bound Book Shop. If you live nearby and can’t make it to the signing tonight, you can head there for a signed copy later. They also have a store in Ocean Springs. If you live closer to Bay Saint Louis, Bay Books will have copies there after tonight’s signing.