March 2016 Interview on MS Flag

The Commercial Appeal, March 12, 2016

I now recall giving an interview that I had completely forgotten about. As I had written on the MS state flag, a reporter called me from The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN’s major newspaper. To those not from the region, Memphis is the closest big city for many folks living in northern Mississippi. In fact, lots of people live in DeSoto, MS, and commute across the state border to work in Memphis. So, lots of Memphis readers are Mississippians.

Photo of the piece from the Commercial Appeal.In the effort to change the MS state flag, one approach that arose came in the form of a lawsuit. Here’s the piece that draws on the interview I gave.

Still no change to the MS state flag. It bears an emblem of the Confederate Battle Flag in its canton, even though the state of Mississippi joined the Confederacy explicitly for the purpose of defending the institution of slavery. Go on, read it. Please.

Here’s the article in The Commercial Appeal about the lawsuit.

Self-Respect and a Sense of Positive Power [Essay]

Journal of Speculative Philosophy 30, Issue 1 (2016): 45-63.

My regular, public writing is starting up again, as we’re getting settled in. Over the course of a few busy months, some of my pieces have come out in academic outlets, like the essay I posted last week. Here’s a further piece published this year (2016) in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy. It’s titled “Self-Respect and a Sense of Positive Power: On Protection, Self-Affirmation, and Harm in the Charge of ‘Acting White’.” Here’s a pic of it:

Photo of my essay, 'Self-Respect and a Sense of Positive Power.'

I seek permission to post my full articles on my Academia.edu page, and I either am given it or have at least given a good faith effort to get that permission. In this case, though, this copy of the paper is the only one I have with my final edits and it’s plastered with JSTOR info (online journal database) and policies stuff. Given that, I’m posting a link to the JSTOR page for my paper instead of to a scan on my Academia.edu profile. If you have academic library access to such stuff, you can probably open the paper or manage to get access to it here (the “static” page for the on JSTOR).

This essay is one of the steps in my overarching project on culture and justice. For now, I can share my abstract for the paper:

In the liberal tradition, self-respect is most often associated with Kantian moral philosophy, which suggests a focus on individual responsibility. While the individual plays a part in the development of his or her self-respect, so, too, do his or her environmental and cultural conditions. In this essay, I distinguish between conceptions of self-respect, especially those that focus on it as a duty to oneself, and having a “sense of one’s own positive power,” a Deweyan educational ideal. A sense of positive power is partly directed by the individual but is also clearly conditioned by the ways in which one’s culture treats and reacts to one’s efforts. Thus, a sense of positive power, as a concept, reveals the powerful role of one’s wider culture in frustrating or enabling a vital element of personal growth necessary for justice. I test the distinction with respect to the difficult and harmful charge of “acting white,” which concerns self-respect and the role of oppressive forces conditioning people’s senses of their power in an unjust society.

If I can figure out a way to share the full paper without violating relevant policies, I will. In general, scholars as editors want you to share your work. A journal is better known the more it’s read. I do understand that there’s a system to this, however, and I try to always seek permission to share my work as much as I can.

John Dewey, standing.

Despite this hurdle, I’m especially happy to have work come out in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy. It’s a classic outlet in American philosophy. John Dewey published in it as early as 1882. Also, Charles Pierce published one of his classic pieces in the journal as early as 1868 (free to access, unlike my paper). A few of Dewey’s early papers there are available for free as well, such as this one on Kant that was very helpful for my dissertation.

If you can’t access this paper and want to know more about it, let me know that. At the very least, that’ll tell me that I should probably consider a newspaper piece on the subject. For now, I’m working on an op-ed on education and another on the Presidential election.

Reach out if you’re interested and follow or “like” my pages on Twitter @EricTWeber and on Facebook.com/EricThomasWeberAuthor.

Video: US Judge Carlton Reeves on “Race and Moral Leadership”

Now that I’m finally catching up with my grant reporting obligations, I’m returning to work from October of 2015. We snagged some nice pictures of Judge Reeves while he was here and we recorded the video of the open forum discussion we held. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves of Mississippi’s southern district caught my attention in particular with the speech he delivered at the sentencing case of a racially motivated murder in Jackson, MS. NPR called his speech “breathtaking,” and it certainly is.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves.

When I read it I was so moved that after a period of absorbing his deeply thoughtful remarks, I felt compelled to write to him and tell him how much what he said meant to me and to Mississippi. On a whim, I ventured to invite him, were he willing and ever able, to come talk with one of my classes, particularly on the Philosophy of Leadership. He got back to me the same day to say that he would be delighted to come. That’s the kind of guy this now famous judge is. [Video is at the bottom of this post]

Here’s the bio on Judge Reeves that NPR put together after his speech had garnered over a million downloads. It was a profound honor to have Judge Reeves meet with my students and me for lunch, my class soon after, and then the campus and Oxford community members who came to hear and speak with him. Judge Reeves is also famous and to some controversial for his judgments on prayer in school and on same-sex marriage. Progressive Mississippians came to meet the judge to thank him for his leadership and several called him a hero to them. Judge Reeves explained at our lunch and to my class that when he was growing up, his moral heroes in Mississippi were federal judges.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, in October 2015, talking with students at lunch.

Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

The interesting thing about Judge Reeves’s position is that people think that judges must not be activists. Does that mean that they should not really speak up much on public issues? Judge Reeves thinks that they should. A judge should not be prejudiced in making his or her judgment on a particular case, but may, and Reeves argues should, voice their concerns about larger social issues and movements. I asked Judge Reeves whether he had been criticized for delivering the speech that he did at the sentencing for the murder of James Craig Anderson. Judge Reeves said just the opposite happened. If anything, people had issued threats because he upheld the Constitutional prohibition on governmental establishment of religion in public schools. For speaking up as he had, he explained, he had only received very positive feedback.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves in October 2015 speaking at an open forum discussion on "Race and Moral Leadership in the U.S. Judicial System."

Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

A judge holds a complex and interesting kind of leadership position, which is why I was eager to hear Judge Reeves talk about “Race and Moral Leadership in the U.S. Judicial System.” I certainly gained a great deal from his visit, and I welcome you to watch this video of the forum we held with Judge Reeves. Here it is:

If you can’t see this video in your RSS reader or email, then click here.

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Fun Interview on WDAM TV

Photo of Miranda Beard in a school library.I had a delightful time in Hattiesburg, MS this January. My first stop while in town was at WDAM TV’s studio for the Midday News on Channel 7. I had the great pleasure of talking with Miranda Beard, who invited me to tell people about Uniting Mississippi and who announced my talk at the University of Southern Mississippi later that day, as well as the book signing afterwards. Miranda is a very impressive news professional and was very kind and welcoming.

Photo of WDAM TV's studio in Hattiesburg, MS.

The people at WDAM were very kind. The studio was easy to find, and I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to drive. I will say that Mississippi’s actually quite a big state. I had to get up at 5 and be on the road at 7 to get to Hattiesburg by shortly after 11 for this interview. It was well worth it. One of the members of the audience at my 2pm talk said that she saw me on WDAM and that she had read my interview in the Clarion Ledger earlier in January.

Here’s the interview:

If you can’t see this video in your RSS reader or email, then click here.

Thank you to Miranda and to Margaret Ann Morgan, who set this up!

If you’re looking for a speaker for your next event, or know someone who is, visit my Speaking & Contact pages. Also, follow me on Twitter @EricTWeber and “like” my Facebook author page.

“Justice as an Evolving Regulative Ideal”

Journal article published in Pragmatism Today, Volume 6, Issue 2 (2015): 105-116.

Photo of the top of my paper, which links to the PDF file on the journal's Web site.

Logo for Pragmatism Today.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.”

Abstract:

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.

Designs on Kids and Culture: Cartoons

Screen capture of Charlie Brown shaking hands with Franklin, the first African American character in Peanuts, introduced in 1968.

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:

If you can’t see this video in your RSS reader or email, then click here.

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.

Star Trek kiss - Kirk kissing Uhura.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.

Offensive children's book, "Ten Little [N-word] Boys"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.

Logo for Variety magazine.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.

Follow me on Twitter @EricTWeber and on Facebook.com/EricThomasWeberAuthor.

Reciprocal Goodwill Is Answer to Flag Issue

My latest Clarion Ledger piece, published December 8, 2015, 8A.

Photo of the printed version of the article.

Thumbnail photo of the Clarion Ledger logo, which if you click will take you to the Clarion Ledger's site where you can read the full article.My latest piece in the Clarion Ledger draws on Aristotle’s insights about friendship, which he called acknowledged reciprocal goodwill. We sure need more of that in Mississippi.

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.

Public Philosophy Is Worth It

Logo for WLOV Tupelo.I’ve tried my hand at a few new kinds of public engagement efforts that have borne fruit. The latest example for me is in seeking TV interviews to talk about issues in public philosophy, particularly some ideas about how I think Mississippi could benefit from good democratic leadership. I’m headed to Tupelo, MS for an interview on WLOV’s This Morning show, Wednesday, November 18th. Then, on Monday, December 7th November 23rd, (updated), I’ll be heading to Biloxi, MS to give an interview on WLOX’s News at 4 show. After each I’ll be holding a book signing, though only the one in Tupelo has been scheduled at this point.

The Thinker, statue.Scholars or readers curious about higher education may wonder: why do all of this? We certainly have enough work to do teaching classes, researching and writing, applying for grants, and serving our institutions and professional associations (the work of a professor is a lot more than what folks see in the classroom). Why add on to that with “outreach” or public engagement?

In “The Search for the Great Community,” from The Public and Its Problems, John Dewey argues that democracy’s prime difficulty has to do with how a mobile, complex, and many layered community can come to define itself and its interests. He believed that the key to addressing democratic challenges was to make use of democratic means, particularly communication. Democracy can embody wise leadership, but only with widespread, maximally unhindered communication, especially emphasizing the developments of human knowledge — the sciences, broadly speaking. For that reason, it is a clear and crucial extension of his democratic theory to value the public engagement of scholars with their communities.

Scan of 'First Day of Issue' envelope honoring John Dewey in the 'Prominent Americans' series. The envelope bears Dewey's stamp, which was valued at 30 cents and issued on October 21, 1968.

When Dewey referred to public engagement, however, that did not mean only a one-way street. Communication takes listening too. So, the point isn’t only for scholars to speak to audiences, but for them also to learn from the people. When I write, I draw increasingly often from newspapers and magazines to illustrate my points about what people are saying and experiencing beyond the academy. Scholarly research is vital, but so is the world beyond the academy. Some circles have criticized me for it in peer-reviews, but so far I haven’t let that dissuade me from seeing scholars’ task as needing to draw also on sources and input from beyond the academy. In addition, talking with people around Mississippi and in other states about my work has revealed all kinds of interesting insights. Some people offer me great examples that I can use to strengthen my points. Others highlight challenges for bringing about the kinds of changes that I believe are needed.

A November 2015 article by John Corvino in the Detroit Free Press, titled "Why Marco Rubio Needs Philosophers."My point in this blog post is to give scholars and other writers a little nudge of encouragement to try something unusual: reach out to news stations and outlets. Some folks do this already. A great public philosopher, for example, is John Corvino. Few of us consider trying something that a mentor of mine encouraged me to try, though. John Lachs of Vanderbilt University said to me: “Plenty of people will read your op-eds, but vastly more people watch TV.” He encouraged me to pursue that direction for engagement. So, in addition to writing for newspapers I’ve been working on developing my “platform,” for which this Web site serves as a key tool. Along with that, there are ways to present oneself to news organizations, such as in creating a “press kit.” It was foreign to me too until I read Platform by Michael Hyatt (creator of my Web site’s WordPress theme, GetNoticedTheme).

With the help of a student research assistant, I wrote to a handful of TV news outlets to let them know about my latest book, a work of public philosophy — Uniting Mississippi: Democracy and Leadership in the South. In the letter, I explained a little bit about the book, as well as my interest in getting the word out about the issues it covers. I then enclosed a nice brochure about the book that the University Press of Mississippi designed for it. Finally, I included an abbreviated 1-page press kit, as well as a short, 1-page set of “interview resources,” that I learned about from Michael Hyatt’s book.  The letters went out in the last two weeks. A little over 10 days later, I got calls and emails from two TV stations inviting me for interviews. It worked.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: The point of public engagement as a scholar is not in itself to get attention, money, or fame. The latter two are highly unlikely anyway. The point is to get our ideas out there and to learn from others through that engagement. If the ideas that we develop in the academy are worthwhile, then they’re worth some effort to spread the word about them. Benefits come from doing these things, but by far the greatest of these are the effects, however small, that we can have on our culture and the relationships we can expand and develop through the effort to speak up about issues that we care about and study.

Tell me on my Facebook page or on Twitter about your public writing and engagement.

“Judge Reeves speaks at UM”

Originally published in the Oxford Eagle on October 28, 2015. Republished with permission.

Image of Lyndy Berryhill of the Oxford Eagle.

Lyndy Berryhill, Oxford Eagle.

I’m grateful to Lyndy Berryhill of The Oxford Eagle, who came to our forum with Judge Reeves. She also kindly gave me permission to republish her piece on my page here. Thanks again to the Mississippi Humanities Council and to the College of Liberal Arts for their support for the event! Thanks to Berryhill for coming and letting people know about the event. There’s so much to be proud of in Mississippi. It’s crucial that we talk about that more often. Here’s her piece:

Judge Carlton Reeves, photo by Lyndy Berryhill of the Oxford Eagle, 2015.

Judge Carlton Reeves, photo by Lyndy Berryhill of the Oxford Eagle, 2015.

By Lyndy Berryhill

In the wake of racial discussions on campus, the University of Mississippi provided students with a speaker to talk about Mississippi history and racial violence in the state.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves of Mississippi.

District Judge Carlton Reeves has presided over key race and equality cases in Mississippi

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves spoke on “Race and Moral Leadership in the U.S. Judicial System.” Tuesday afternoon in Bryant Hall.

“Mississippi has struggled with its past, but it has also struggled to move forward,” Reeves said.

Reeves famously presided over the racially charged murder of James Craig Anderson and later sentenced his murderers to prison. NPR called his speech at the trial “breathtaking” and it garnered Reeves national media attention. During the forum, Reeves talked about the case and how it was important for people to realize what a hate crime is.

Weber in 2010 in Ventress Hall at the University of Mississippi.

Ventress, (c) U of MS 2010.

He said he believes there is a new Mississippi starting to form with a new generation. A couple decades ago, most of the racial progress that is present today would be unthinkable. He said to continue that progress, students have to continue to have open discussions and remain open-minded.

“The response to him was better than I could have hoped for. The students could relate to Judge Reeves, because he’s from Mississippi,” said Eric Thomas Weber, associate professor of public policy leadership.

“Students often feel that politics is uncooperative, primarily a battle between competing interests. Sometimes, however, we can find shining examples of virtuous people and leaders making the right decisions,” he said.

Logo of the Mississippi Humanities Council.Weber routinely brings in visiting speakers relevant to the current news cycle. With the help of the Mississippi Humanities Council, Weber brought Reeves to visit his class and speak to a packed open forum.

Reeves first arrived in time for a lunch with public policy leadership majors and then he joined a philosophy of leadership class.

“Over the last few years, as I wrote ‘Uniting Mississippi,’ the racially charged murder of James Craig Anderson offered the most troubling recent example of injustice here that is rooted in underlying cultural divides and hatred,” Weber said.

After he wrote the book, Weber came across Judge Reeves’ speech from the sentencing in the case.

The Lyceum building at the University of Mississippi.“It truly took my breath away,” Weber said. “I was so moved that I immediately decided to write Judge Reeves to tell him. I mentioned in my note that if he were ever willing to come to my philosophy of leadership course, we would love to have him come to the university.”

Within a matter of hours, Reeves replied that he would be honored.

Weber said Reeves is an example of hope for progress in Mississippi.

“He is also an inspiration for our students to look beyond partisanship to the character of our leaders,” Weber said. “I couldn’t ask for more from the visit of an invited guest.”

The Oxford Eagle logo. Reposted here with permission from The Oxford Eagle.

Book Talk on ‘Uniting Mississippi: Democracy and Leadership in the South’

At the Clinton School for Public Service, on Monday, October 19, 2015 at noon.

I am so grateful for two lovely introductions, one from Dean Skip Rutherford of the Clinton School and a former student of mine studying there, Rob Pillow. This video includes only the talk and Q&A. If I can get their intros, I’ll post them too. The Clinton School folks are excellent at what they do and were wonderful hosts. Here’s the video of my book talk:

If you can’t see this video in your RSS reader or email, then click here.

You can find the video on the Clinton School’s speakers site here.

If you’re interested in inviting me to speak with your group, visit my Speaking and Contacts pages.