Check out the front page of February 28th’s Tehran Times. I gave an interview on Uniting Mississippi and was honored with some pretty cool real estate in the paper. Here’s an image of the cover and below that I’ve got links for a clipped PDF of the interview and to the regular text version on their site:
I had a great time at the University of Southern Mississippi on Friday, January 29th. After a fun interview on WDAM TV in Hattiesburg, MS, I headed over to the new Liberal Arts Building on campus, which is beautiful.
Dr. Sam Bruton in the Philosophy and Religion department at USM organizes the Philosophical Fridays program, which runs in part with the general support from the Mississippi Humanities Council. I’m grateful to Dr. Bruton, to the department of Philosophy and Religion at USM, and to the MS Humanities Council for the chance to present in Hattiesburg and the permission to post the video of my talk here. The video was first posted here on the USM library Web site.
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):
When I was in graduate school, looking at the job market, I remember feeling perplexed at certain questions about the future of my career. Some colleges and universities ask you about your “research trajectory.” Finishing a dissertation prepares you with a stack of paper, but now it’s supposed to be nimble and fly like an arrow. I can just picture throwing an unbound dissertation from the top of some stairs, watching the pages fall in all directions. That’s one kind of a trajectory.
It wasn’t too hard to imagine things that I wanted to study next, but it’s a huge step in one’s academic career just to finish a major, final project. To be asked at that moment what your next one will be takes one aback. I’ve come to like that question, but somehow I hadn’t been expecting it at the time. It was exciting to think about what I might pursue over the course of my career, though. I had ideas about wanting to work on this or that topic, and some of them did come together.
I thought that I, like so many scholars you meet, would want to depart from the focus of my dissertation. While some steps have been diagonal or roundabout to this point, I have found myself actually returning to some of the issues and sources from that first project. I won’t get into that now, but the fascinating thing for me in writing has had to do with how each work builds on elements of the one before, even if in surprising ways.
My dissertation on John Rawls and John Dewey’s work focused on basic questions, after which my next project was much more centered on application. Then, Democracy and Leadership was a return to theory, especially to Plato, but with adaptations drawn from Dewey and some from Rawls. The last chapter of that prompted further focus on application, which resulted in Uniting Mississippi. While working on each of these earlier projects, I have had cause to return to Rawls and Dewey’s work, and noticed a concern that I believe is crucial, yet insufficiently explored in studying justice: especially the role of culture in enabling or impeding it.
So, I’ve been working in slow steps on A Culture of Justice for a few years now, longer than I expected. It is coming together, still needing work. That said, it is definitely a more theoretical project, even if I see and will note many possible applications. With my more applied writings, I’ve been striving to make them more and more accessible and publicly engaged. In addition, I’ve focused quite a bit on Mississippi, given that issues for democracy, education, and leadership are so striking here. At the same time, many of the issues I’ve studied are relevant beyond the South. Dean Skip Rutherford of the Clinton School highlighted that point for me. I thought it to be true, but he encouraged me to speak to a broader audience, beyond both Mississippi and the South.
Given that, I’ve started rethinking some of the next projects that I want to pursue. In particular, I’m seeing a number of ideas come together for a next step after A Culture of Justice. The big picture challenge for democracy at the national level can be drawn from what I argued about Mississippi. That lesson was itself learned from Plato. Plato’s Socrates asked what could be a greater evil than that which makes the city many, instead of one? And, he continued, is there any greater good than that which binds it together and makes it one? Nothing and no. Unity is indeed vital for a good city.
For Plato, unity was important enough to trample on liberty. He thought leaders were justified even to lie to their own people for the sake of fostering unity. He was not democratic. In a democratic society, liberty is central. So how could a democracy be united, he wondered? Plato doubted that democratic societies could be wise enough to unite, to care about virtue, and to limit the will of the majority, when it wants vice and injustice.
John Rawls once noted that in many ways American democracy has been remarkably stable. I would suggest that he could only say that in a part of the country that did not fight for secession. We still have the scars of division from the Civil War showing in Mississippi. That said, I believe that Rawls was right when he explained that there are so many more things that unite Americans than that divide us.
We focus so much on the latter, as that’s disagreement. It’s drama. It sells newspapers, or at least ads on their Web sites. The countless things I could mention that people accept as uncontroversial and obvious are so numerous that they would take entirely too long to list. Given that, we can say that in many ways, our hyper-polarized, divided society does live up to one key aspect of our nation’s billing. Indeed, it’s so easy to forget: the key virtue noted in Plato’s Republic is the one virtue mentioned in the name of our country: unity. Ours are the United States of America. Unity is primary. It is vital. But it is also not guaranteed.
So, I’m thinking about expanding from my project on Mississippi. I’ve adapted Faulkner’s line, and want to follow that next step. Faulkner said that to understand the world, you’ve got to understand a place like Mississippi. Ok, so I’ve given Mississippi a try. Next, I want to study the needs, forces, and factors Uniting the States of America. That may not be my title, but I’m working on it. Hell, I may go in a very different direction, but at present, this feels right.
While I’m an unabashed optimist — nothing ventured, nothing gained — I recognize that the “stability” that Rawls saw in the United States comes at a price of the massive incarceration of poor and otherwise disadvantaged people, the use of labor under the table, paid to people who do not have the protection of the police, and many other troubles that people face in the U.S. That said, a vision of progress takes recognition of our challenges, of what divides us. When we see the need for unity, for fighting problems like hyper-incarceration, we can fight for change. In that particular example, there is cause for hope, as Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and the Koch brothers, powerful voices on the Left and Right, all believe that we desperately need to combat hyper-incarceration.
These are just some sketched thoughts about the big picture next steps for my writing trajectory. If you have thoughts or questions for me, send me a tweet @EricTWeber or post on my Facebook Author page.
As promised, I’m posting here below my interview on WLOV of Tupelo’s This Morning show with Katrina Berry. Also, below that is a photo of the nice layout that Reed’s Gumtree Bookstore setup for the book signing later that day.
Katrina was a lovely person who was kind and encouraging. As I said, she drove home the fact that on WLOV they like to support local authors. It was a great experience, and also featured the fastest turnaround I’ve experienced for getting a video of the broadcast. All around, great trip.
Oh, and here’s Reed’s Gumtree Bookstore’s nice setup before the book signing. Very nice people there too. They’ve got signed books from John Grisham, George Will, and many more. Great people.
If you know of TV or radio stations that would be interested in an interview about Uniting Mississippi, or groups looking for a speaker, contact me on Twitter, Facebook, or via my info on my Contact page.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
You can find the video on the Clinton School’s speakers site here.
Mississippi offers a clear example of Plato’s worry about disunity. One of the four virtues that he clarifies in The Republic is moderation, which is important for avoiding the extremes of behavior or of belief. What is most famous about Plato is his conclusion that the good city needs philosopher-kings, that leadership most fundamentally must be guided by wisdom. While that is true, it misses what Plato’s Socrates calls the greatest good for the city, the absence of which yields the greatest evil.
Plato’s Socrates asks “Is there any greater evil we can mention for the city than that which tears it apart and makes it many instead of one? Or any greater good than that which binds it together and makes it one?” Yes, wisdom is the most important virtue in one sense, for Plato, but when it comes to the public good, wisdom should be most concerned about division, and most fervently and wisely striving for unity. Without the latter, a state, divided against itself, only falls apart or fails at its aims.
I am looking forward to visiting the Clinton School for Public Service at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock on October 19th (if you’re in the area, mark your calendar). For those interested, I believe you’ll be able to watch the talk I give there via live Web stream. I should also be able to link to the video of it afterwards. And, as I’ve noted, I’ll give an interview on the Little Rock affiliate of NPR program, the “Clinton School Presents.”
In preparation for that trip and while talking with students, I’ve wondered about Alabama’s quick removal of its Confederate Battle Flags from public spaces. On the one hand, it was no surprise, given how atrocious the Charleston murders were. On the other, places like Alabama and Mississippi have been home to some of the most stubborn unwillingness to change. As places in which land is cheap and taxes are low, Alabama and Mississippi nevertheless struggle with economic development in part because of our troubled histories and the continued division and dysfunction that come from disunity.
The same day in Alabama, however, the Governor announced the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag and the commitment from Google to build a $600 million facility in the state. According to the Alabama Media Group, “The decision to take the flags down had nothing to do with the Google announcement, but the governor said economic development was part of the reason to avoid a fight.” The denial of a relationship between the two announcements sounds about as plausible as Nixon’s declaration that he’s not a crook.
As one of my students asked me this week, “How much has Mississippi missed out on because of our stubbornness?” Good question. More importantly, however, is the meaning of Mississippi’s recalcitrance. It means that people have yet to feel the pangs that they should in their hearts. We remain a state divided against itself, and we continue to suffer the consequences of the evil that tears us apart.
I’m glad to say that civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams has joined the rally to change Mississippi’s flag, which features an emblem of the Confederate Battle Flag in its canton. There are those who have said that taking the flag down won’t change their hearts (1, 2, 3). To them, I say two things. First, it is alright for some people to be a lost cause, when so many other people are not. In a lovely garden, there are still unpleasant things living under a rock. That doesn’t mean we cannot enjoy the garden’s beauty, appreciating all that warrants sunlight. Second, Aristotle explained that one’s virtue, the state of one’s character, is a result of what we repeatedly do. Our habits matter. Public spaces are a visible place that inspires habits and maintains them. Changing those habits will only slowly bring about a change. It is also no guarantee. But, it is a wise step in the right direction towards healing, virtue, and unity.
As I finished my latest book, thinking about the possible titles for it, the most pressing challenge and opportunity for the state jumped out clearly. The difficulty for Mississippi, and, if resolved, the incredible opportunity for the state, would come from unity. No greater good could come to Mississippi than from that which will make it one, instead of many. There is therefore no greater cause I can see for the state than of Uniting Mississippi.
You need to watch this. William Flowers, a man from Georgia, came to a demonstration in Jackson, MS, as a leader in the effort to defend the Mississippi flag, which features an emblem of the Confederate Battle Flag. He leads the self-described southern nationalist group, League of the South.
This interview is not simply someone with a video camera. This is Mississippi Public Broadcasting interviewing a spokesman for the organized protest.
The man speaks of the cultural attack on southern heritage as a genocide. That is the language and strategy of the Ku Klux Klan. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I returned home from Germany this August to find a message on my answering machine from a Presidential candidate arguing for a fight against the genocide of the white race. This man refers to genocide of southerners, which is novel, at least to my experience.
The argument reminds me of a powerful cartoon by Clay Jones, on right, featuring an African American man carrying a shot child, grieving silently, next to a wailing southern white man carrying his Confederate Battle Flag, in a shape resembling the child on left.
When asked about secession, Flowers openly advocates for it. He is explicitly a secessionist, who then says that he’d prefer a political solution. That sounds like a threat to me.
If you ever needed a demonstration that the Confederate Battle Flag is divisive, this fellow made it crystal clear. He refers to heritage, then dismisses any relation to slavery. He’s unhinged. We have this stuff scanned and online now. Mississippi’s first statement explaining its causes for secession says that slavery was its fundamental cause.
If you’ve visited my site before, you know where I stand on this. If you haven’t check out:
- “Sometimes Heritage Does Harm,”
- “Racism Defies the ‘Greatest Commandment’,”
- “What a Flag Has to Do with Justice,” and
- “Governor, Take Down the Flag“
But seriously, watch this first:
It’s 7.5 minutes long, but you can get the most important stuff within the first 3 minutes.
or "Governor, Take Down This Flag," in The Clarion Ledger, September 20, 2015, 2C.
My piece, “Mr. Bryant, Take Down the Flag,” came out in The Clarion Ledger this morning. In the printed version, the title is “Governor, Take Down this Flag.” For the next week or two, please head to the electronic version of the piece on the newspaper’s site. You can download and print a PDF of the article by clicking on the image of the printed version.
I’ll soon post the full article on my site. For now, be sure to check out my blogpost arguing that “Racism Defies the Greatest Commandment.”