Cornel West and Robert George ’77 Hold Collection on Campus

Cornel West and Robert George ’77 Hold Collection on Campus

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– Alright, so this is a pretty full room. Okay, so, ah, I’m Tim Burke, I’m the chair
of the history department and I’m on the executive committee of the Institute for the Liberal Arts. The Institute for the Liberal
Arts is an embryonic project that’s just been started at Swarthmore, and one of its missions over
the last couple of years is to enable conversations, initiatives, ideas, that couldn’t happen
inside kind of the ordinary bounds of discipline, and listen
to what people bring to us, and to see if we can’t
help make it happen. So the Critical Reflections
on Community Series that’s happening this
year is also a project that the Institute has sponsored. Last year, we sponsored some symposia on Jonathan Haidt’s
book, The Righteous Mind, and you know, these are
all kind of models for us. We don’t, and sometimes
members of our community don’t, always like everything about the things that people bring to us. I didn’t particularly care
for the Jonathan Haidt book last year, but it was an
interesting conversation. And that’s what we’re hoping for. I think we’re gonna get it today. So, let me just quickly say a
few things about the process and then I’ll introduce our two guests. We’re here in the main
house, and this is a space devoted to speech, and in
this space, people speak as the spirit moves them,
but it’s also a space where I think no one who’s
part of the religious community that meets in here would think to silence someone else,
so I’m hoping we’ll follow that spirit, too, today. And I hope you’ll be mindful
of how many people are here, and who are here to hear and to listen, and to speak, and keep that
in mind as you go along. The one thing that we’re
gonna do that departs a little bit from the
way that the congregation works in this space is that
our distinguished speakers will recognize, from here to the floor, so they’ll be looking for your hands up, and then they’ll call out,
and we’ll go from there. So let me introduce our guests. And I’ll start with Robert P. George. The McCormac Professor of Jurisprudence, and the director of the
James Madison Program on American Ideals and Institutions
at Princeton University. He spent last year as a visiting professor at Harvard Law School. He is chairman of the
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, and has previously served
on the President’s Council on Bioethics, and as a
presidential appointee to the United States
Commission on Civil Rights. He is a former judicial
fellow at the Supreme Court of the United States,
where he received the Justice Tom Clarke Award. Professor George is the
author of many books, including: In Defense of Natural Law. The classic: Clash of Orthodoxies. And: Conscience and its Enemies. His articles have appeared
in the Harvard Law Review, the Yale Law Journal,
the Review of Politics, the Review of Metaphysics,
and Law and Philosophy. He is the recipient of the
United States Presidential Citizen’s Award, and the Honorific Medal for the Defense of Human Rights
of the Republic of Poland. Among his other honors
are the Canterbury Medal for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Sydney Hooke Memorial Award from the National Association of Scholars, the Phillip Merril Award of the American Council
of Trustees and Alumni. He gave the 2007 John Dewey Lecture in philosophy of law at Harvard, the 2008 Judge Guido Calibrese Lecture in law and religion at Yale, and the 2008 Sir Malcolm Knox Lecture in philosophy at the University
of St. Andrew’s in Scotland. Professor George is a
Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Swarthmore, and holds degrees in law and theology from Harvard, and a doctorate in philosophy of law from Oxford. He has received honorary
doctorates of law, letters, ethics, science of divinity, humane letters, civil law,
and juritical science. He is an accomplished
bluegrass banjo player, and finger-style guitarist. I have it on good repute
from a number of people that it’s pretty amazing to hear, and led the country and bluegrass band, Robbie George and Friends,
when he was at Swarthmore. (laughing and applause) Cornell Ronald West is
professor of philosophy and Christian practice at
Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He was also the class of 1943
professor of African American studies emeritus at Princeton University, and was formerly a university
professor at Harvard. He has also taught at Yale University and the University of Paris. He is the author of such books, that’s always when you know an academic has written a lot, is
when it’s “such books”. (laughing) The American Invasion of Philosophy, A Genealogy of Pragmatism, The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought, Race Matters, and Democracy Matters. Professor West is well-known
as an anti-poverty and pro-justice and democracy activist, as well as a scholar
and public intellectual. He is honorary chairman of the Democratic Socialists of America and a founder of the Network
of Spiritual Progressives. He co-chaired the National
Parenting Organization’s task force on parent empowerment that participated in President Clinton’s National Conversation on Race. He was graduated magna cum
laude from Harvard College, where he majored in Near Eastern Studies, and earned his bachelor’s
degree in three years. In 1980, he became the
first African American to earn a PhD in
philosophy from Princeton. He has received numerous
fellowships, prizes, and honors, including more
than 20 honorary degrees. Professor West is a
frequent media commentator, he’s appeared on networks
ranging from MSNBC and PBS to CNN and Fox News. He often appears on
programs such as Real Time with Bill Mauer, the Colbert Report, and Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson. He has also been featured
in several documentaries, and I was gonna mention this, if it didn’t mention it
in his official biography, but it does, ah, he has made appearances
in Hollywood films, The Matrix: Reloaded, and
The Matrix: Revolutions. (laughing and applause) He is also a performing artist, having made several spoken
word and hiphop albums, and been named MTV’s Artist
of the Week for his work. His work with artists such
as Prince, Bootsy Collins and the late Gerald Levit. Professor West has published
a widely-noted memoir, entitled: Brother West,
Living and Loving Out Loud. Please welcome both our guests. (applause) I wanna let you be on
your own, to some extent. Please recognize from the floor, hands, and we’ll see what we get to. – Well, thank you so much, professor. And Cornell and I would like
to say a special thanks, Rebecca, to you. We are delighted to have the opportunity to be here and thank you
for your kind hospitality, and your leadership of the college. As you kindly mentioned, I’m
an alumnus of the college. Cornell is even better than
an alumnus: a true friend. Of the college and of everything
the college stands for. We’d also like to thank,
Ed Rowe, I don’t know if, Ed, where are you? Yeah, there you go. Ed has been just wonderful
in organizing things, especially when everything
went wrong a week ago. And an ice storm prevented
us from having the first of what were meant to be two meetings. Ed was a stalwart, kept
everything under control, kept us calm, and got us here for today. And I personally wanna
thank my beloved friend, Professor West, for joining me, again, for an occasion like this. We’ve taught at Princeton,
on several occasions. We’ll be doing that again, next year, about this time, in the
spring of next year. We’ve also taken our show on the road, around the country. It’s just a delight to
travel with Professor West. I’ve learned to be a photographer. I take lots of pictures with cameras that are handed to me, from
people who want a photograph with the star of The Matrix. (laughing) But, ah, I know that occasionally
we’re depicted as being an odd couple; I suppose
that’s because he’s tall and I’m short, but for some reason, they depict us as an odd couple. But we’re not. We’re united to each
other in love, in true, fraternal affection. When I call Brother
Cornell, “Brother” Cornell, I mean: he’s my brother, Cornell. And above all, in a devotion to the
cause of liberal learning. It was that that brought us together. It was teaching together. Great texts from Sophocles to Plato, Saint Augustine, Machiavelli, Hyatt, Marx, Dewey, C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther. It was that experience of
pursuing understanding, pursuing knowledge,
pursuing truth together, that was the bond that united us. And so despite the, ah,
well-known differences of height between the two of us, there is a powerful bond that unites us, and it’s for the sake of that
bond that we’re here today. We take our cue, really, from the speech that President Chopp
gave, and which I know some of you have read, because, Professor West and I
asked some of the students to read it for the day,
called: Against the Grain. And it really explores what the meaning is of Liberal Arts Education
in the 21st century. Way too often people
claim that this, that, or the other institution or
thing or value is in crisis. So I don’t wanna pile onto that, but I can’t help but say
that Liberal Arts Education is in crisis today. It’s in crisis because
pressures are bearing on it from multiple sources. Obviously, some of those
pressures are financial. The enterprise of Liberal
Arts Education is expensive. And there’s not an
obvious way, a direct way, in which Liberal Arts
Education pays off in dollars and cents, immediately, for anybody. So who’s going to pay for it? Our alumni donors, our
foundations, our governments? Are people generally going to
be willing to invest the money in our young people to give that portion who desire and are
qualified, intellectually, to take it on, the great gift
of a liberal arts education? But I would suggest that’s
actually the smaller crisis. The larger crisis, which President
Chopp puts her finger on, is an identity crisis. What does a Liberal Arts Education mean? What’s the point of the enterprise? What is it that we’re doing,
what is it that we’re about? What is it that justifies
the time and effort and money that goes into it? What’s the goal, in other words? Is the goal an instrumental goal? Is it to equip people for the workforce in the age of Google and Microsoft and the great trading houses
of New York and so forth? Is that what it’s about? Someone could make that argument. Someone could say: yeah,
Liberal Arts Education doesn’t seem to be instrumental. Of any instrumental value. I mean, reading Plato, reading Dante, reading Shakespeare,
studying molecular biology, just for its own sake,
those don’t seem to be of much instrumental value,
but if you talk to employers, in a range of fields, from the high-tech world
to the financial world, and everywhere else, they
will, of course, tell you: we want liberal arts graduates. Because they know how to think. But I would suggest to you that
even that is not the point. It’s a good thing. We welcome it. And I know you, who are students here, look forward to actually
having jobs, sure. Nothing wrong with that; no
need to apologize for that. But I’d suggest that the real goal is the deepening of the person. The deepening of the subject, the deepening of the student. The enrichment of the
intellect and the heart of the person who is the
fortunate beneficiary of an education like the education that has historically been
on offer at Swarthmore. But do we really want it? Do we really believe, do
we have the old faith, that a Liberal Arts Education
actually is enriching? Is it worth spending time with Plato? Or Shakespeare? Or Jane Austen? Or contemporary, 20th century thinkers, and writers, er, 21st
century thinkers and writers. When you could be spending
your time on technical, professional, instrumental subjects. Do we really believe that
there’s an intrinsic value to knowledge, and to
the pursuit of knowledge that justifies our
doing what we are doing? President Chopp has
put on the table for us three principles, that
she regards as integral to Liberal Arts Education. And I agree, and I hope that
our discussion here today will help to deepen our
understanding and appreciation of these principles, if indeed they are, as I believe, sound. The first of those is the
principle of critical thinking. Now, by “critical thinking”,
surely we don’t mean sheer, raw, 93-octane analytical ability. Yeah, that’s an important
component of critical thinking, but it’s got to be more than that, and so the president asks
us to think about ways to expand our understanding
of critical thinking, and if we do that, I think
we’ll naturally be led to the virtue of self-critical thinking. That is, the practice supported by the virtue of intellectual humility, that enables us to
consider, at every moment, the possibility that what
we thought was the case, what we believed was the case, what we perhaps hoped to be the case, and what we have wrapped
our own emotions around, hoping it to be the case, is, in fact, false. Is in fact, incorrect. Is in fact, not the case. Being open to the
possibility that we’re wrong, and that we need to revise our view, under the pressure of reasoning, thinking, considering, arguing, and the arguments might or might not be in discursive form. Professor West, in our sessions today with individual students, rightly stressed that while discursive, philosophical type analytical argument is
an important component in the truth-seeking enterprise, there are other complementary ways, non-discursive forms of seeking. In music and in the arts. And in literature of
the sort that we explore but not necessarily with the
tools of analytic philosophy. But the premise of the
enterprise is the possibility that we could move from error to truth. So we’re nearer to truth. The possibility that we can change, to affirm what we formerly didn’t affirm, or deny what we formerly affirmed, taking into account
the sheer vulnerability that’s presupposed by that prospect. And that’s because we human
beings are not simply minds, not simply centers of rationality. We have feelings, we have emotions. We have what David Hume
famously called: passions. And some of our feelings
and emotions and passions attach to the convictions
and beliefs and values that we hold. And we get deeply attached to them, and most of the time that’s really good. Who would wanna be a person
who was completely dispassioned about his or her beliefs? And yet, when we enter the
liberal arts enterprise, in its dimension of critical thinking, and therefore of self-criticism, we are boarding a train,
not knowing the destination to which we’re headed. We may come onto the, board the train, believing one thing,
passionately, powerfully, emotionally attached to
it, knowing that we might leave the train thinking
something very different. We might board the train
as one kind of person with one kind of self-understanding, and leave the train as a
person quite unlike anything we would have wished to be
like when we boarded the train. That vulnerability, rooted
in intellectual humility, a sense of one’s own fallibility, is vital to the self-critical component of Liberal Arts Education,
of the sort Swarthmore has historically provided
for and witness to. And then President Chopp
raises a second dimension. The development of moral character. She adds to that: civic responsibility. Now, that’s a theme that you have heard, both of those themes,
if we can separate them. Both of those are themes that you’ve heard all the time, right? Haven’t you been told that
a liberal arts education is for the sake of
development of character and civic responsibility? And I agree with President
Chopp that that is true. That’s gotta be added to the mix. It’s not just critical thinking. But then don’t we realize,
immediately, attention. And for this reason, if we’re truly open to the possibility that
we are wrong about this, that, or the other important thing, what view about morality,
what sense of moral character, do we try to achieve? If the college is to
shape moral character, doesn’t it have to have a view
of what moral character is? But that’s up for grabs. What’s right and wrong is
notoriously controversial, in our society. And if we’re doing our job,
it’s gonna be controversial in any center of liberal learning. And it’s gonna be subject
to internal self-criticism by each and every individual. So how does the college
square its obligation and commitment to critical
thinking and self-criticism, with its obligation and
commitment to character formation? And also, for surety,
to civic responsibility? Since, again, notoriously,
we disagree about what is right and wrong in the civic sphere. There is no consensus, and
none of us has been give the charism of infallibility,
so that we know for sure. All we can do is our best,
engaging with others, engaging with people who disagree with us, engaging with people who
see things differently, that have had different experiences, who’ve reached different judgements. Engage with them, in the enterprise of trying to figure out what
the right thing to do is. What the right policies
for our civil society and our civic work, actually are. And then, of course, the third dimension that the president puts her finger on, is the responsibility to
make the world better. Not to treat our liberal arts education as just a private possession, enriching me and making me better off,
but to take the treasures out into the larger society
and make a difference. But here again, quite
obviously, we don’t agree on which direction we should
take the larger society. Now, yes, on some things we do agree. On some things, we have a broad consensus. In the intellectual world,
undoubtedly here at Swarthmore, in the broader society, but there are many things
on which we don’t agree. What’s actually for the better, and what’s for the worse. And on some things we
agree about the ends, that we want to achieve, all of us want to fight
poverty, for example. Professor West has given
his life to bearing witness to that struggle,
participating in that struggle. And yet, with the best
faith, the best will, the best efforts and
understanding in the world, we can and do disagree
about the proper means for fighting poverty. What will, in reality,
alleviate the plight of those most disadvantaged, and what might make it actually worse. How to square our efforts in one domain, say the alleviation of poverty, with efforts in another domain, where there may be some trade-offs that are required. So, somehow, through this
whole difficult combination of principles and values,
we have to carry on the enterprise of liberal arts learning. There’s not a recipe. There’s not a way to check
the boxes and get it right. All we can do is our best
to practice the virtues that make Liberal Arts Education possible. Intellectual honesty, humility, integrity, courage, where one might find it necessary to speak up for a cause
that’s uncomfortable. Mutual respect. Even when dealing with people you think are profoundly wrong. All of that we have to do, while knowing all along,
every step of the way, we might be getting it very, very wrong. We might be getting it very, very wrong. Let me just turn, before
handing the microphone over to Professor West, to
one other great figure, along with Rebecca
Chopp and the reflection on liberal learning, the
19th century philosopher, John Stuart Mill. Some of our students
today, who met with us in small groups, were asked
to read Mill’s On Liberty, or a chapter of Mill’s On Liberty, his famous essay, On Liberty. And we had a great
discussion based on that. Mill, in the chapter that we assigned, which is about freedom of
thought and expression, freedom of thought and
discussion, he actually calls it. Mill says that the real
value of freedom of thought, and freedom of expression,
freedom of speech, we might say, the real value, is not in freedom of
thought or speech itself, as an abstract right. In fact, in the first
chapter, which we didn’t have the students read, but some
of you in your philosophy or political theory classes have read, in the first chapter, Mill says: I forego any advantage to my
argument for freedom generally. Including freedom of speech. From appeal to abstract
right is a danger (coughing) of utility, he says, utility, for me, is the final arbiter
on all moral questions, but it must be utility
in the broadest sense, the largest sense, centered on the concept of man as a progressive being. What Mill is saying
there, whether you accept, as your particular view of
value, the utilitarian view of value or not, I
happen not to, you might, but whether or not we accept
his particular conception of it, his point, to me, is
a powerful and sound one. The purpose of the freedom is
to advance the flourishing, the well-being, the
fulfillment of human beings, in the communities that we form. And so Mill observes, that in any engagement
with an interlocutor, in a classroom, in a forum like this one, in the public square, in
circumstances of mutual respect and goodwill, there are
three possibilities. One is wrong and one’s
interlocutor is right. That’s the first possibility. In that case, by being willing to engage, not just to listen or tolerate
the other guy speaking, but to be willing to
listen with an open mind, willing to engage in a serious way, willing to consider the possibility that the other guy’s right and I’m wrong, well, obviously, if it turns out, if it is the fact that
the other person is right, and you’re wrong, you have
been benefited enormously by that person’s successful argument, moving you from error to truth. From misunderstanding
to full understanding. Or proper understanding, or more nearly, at least, proper, complete and full understanding. The gift that your interlocutor
gives you is a possibility of getting it right, when
you’ve been getting it wrong. However confident you might
have been that you haven’t. Possibility number two. Your interlocutor is partially
right and partially wrong. And you are partially
right and partially wrong. In this case, the possibility
is there of both of you bringing each other to a fuller, richer, more complete understanding of whatever the subject matter is of the discussion. It might be something
relatively unimportant, but nevertheless worth arguing about. It may be of supreme importance. A profound question of
religion, religious truth, or morality, or politics, or justice? The great questions of
the sort that were debated by Plato and his interlocutors. Thought about and
reflected on by the great thinkers and teachers of mankind. And then there’s the third possibility. This is, to me, the most
interesting one of all. Mill argues that there is
a great benefit on offer, from engagement, serious
intellectual free engagement, even if you are completely right
and the other guy is wrong. And here’s why he says that. Truth, for human beings, knowledge, if you don’t like the T-word for truth, substitute “knowledge”, “understanding”, is not purely notional. It’s not just the assent to a proposition. It’s not getting it right,
like checking the right box on the SAT exam, or question. The truths that really
matter, existentially, and for the living of a human life, and for the living of a community, are more than just
propositions to be affirmed. They are realities to be entered into, to be understood more deeply, to be, if I can use this word, appropriated. When you understand that truth,
knowledge, understanding, is not merely notional,
but to be appropriated, you realize that even if I
could check all the right boxes and get the 800 on the SAT, that’s only the beginning
of understanding. And by engaging with a
serious, even if misguided, interlocutor, I can
deepen my understanding. Making it more than merely notional. Yes, God exists. Or, no, God doesn’t exist. But deep. Understanding what it
means that God exists. Or what it means that God doesn’t exist. Understanding what it entails for my life, my relationship with others, my obligations in the community. To stand with Maimonides,
let’s say, on one side, or Nietzsche on the other. Looked at in that way, just to use this, stay with my example of the God question, and we don’t have to, we can
talk about lots of other things that are important, but just
for the sake of example, the God question, what that shows is, the question is not just
one that you can address by checking the box:
yay or nay, yes or no. God or no God? God exists, God doesn’t exist. Either way, there’s a profound
meaning to God’s existence, or non-existence that is
a depth to be explored, a depth to be plunged into. There’s an enrichment to be
had that’s available to us, by entering into the reality
more and more deeply. But, it’s a risky business. It comes at a cost. We really do get attached to our beliefs. If one is a theist, if one is a Christian or a Muslim or Jew, a believer, one will identify with one’s convictions. One will wrap one’s emotions around them. One’s feelings. One will be a member
of a certain community, have certain valuable
relationships as a result of that. There will be certain practices that order and structure one’s life. But being open to the
possibility of being wrong, means it could all go up in smoke. You’re making yourself
vulnerable to the truth being, as best you see it,
profoundly uncomfortable. Profoundly discomfiting. Profoundly jarring, leaving
one potentially friendless and hopeless. That’s what an openness to the actual liberal arts enterprise means. Because you might not come
down on full reflection, in some party or another, on
one side of an ideological or religious divide or another. You might be in some ways a liberal and in some ways a conservative, in some ways a socialist,
in some ways a capitalist, and you might not fit, you might not fit with people who are like me, or who I thought were like me. Or who were like me,
before the transformation that worked in my life, by the openness to serious engagement with ideas. So as Professor West pointed
out in one of the seminars today, to actually be willing
to do the liberal arts thing, to be willing, takes enormous courage. It takes the courage
to face the possibility of not recognizing yourself when the process is done with you. Of being friendless and homeless. There’s a risk to a
liberal arts education. So what’s the, what do you owe? What are you owed? This liberal arts college, for
the education you’re given. Well, it seems to me that
one of the things you owe, as the beneficiary of this privilege, and it is a privilege,
most people don’t have it, most people who would love
to have it don’t have it, people often say, well, you
have an obligation to give back, and I agree with that. You have an obligation
to make the world better. Rebecca was right about that. You have an obligation
to be a good citizen, just a civically responsible
person, I agree with that. But my own answer to
that question would be, probably, an unorthodox one. Your responsibility is to be willing to demonstrate the courage
to make yourself vulnerable to being a person that
you would not recognize. Over to you, Brother. (applause) (laughing) (muttering) – Let me say that I am blessed to be here. And it’s always a delight
to be with my dear fellow, Robbie George; I have great
love and respect for my brother. We’ve had deep disagreements. We’ve got a number of agreements. And we love to engage in dialog. Committed to a life of the mind and committed to the world of ideas. I wanna begin by saluting
the students here, at this institution; we have
had magnificent conversations. Them three sessions that we had today, I walked away with very precious memories. Of the discussions that
we’ve had on Plato’s Apology, on Mill’s On Liberty, as
well as the wonderful essay of my very dear sister, Sister
President, Rebecca Chopp. We go back decades, across
the sex liberation theology, 1986, and all of those contexts. Yeah, you got leadership. And it matters, at Emery, at Colgate, and here, at Swarthmore, to think, the working class origins of
the vanilla side of Kansas. That you end up in this
Quaker institution, as a leader, and the
visionary that you are. I wanted to pay tribute to the faculty. The core that sits at the very center of the greatness of Swarthmore,
is a stellar faculty. I’ve been blessed to interact
with Alexander Nehamas, and the great David Lewis,
one of the few philosophic geniuses of the 20th century. I hear brother Gil
Harmon, and brother Chuck, he went to Swarthmore, too, didn’t he, the guy in political theory at Princeton? – Chuck Bouts, no, he taught here. He was, he was– – That’s right, that’s
right he taught here. He talks about Swarthmore all the time, you’d think he graduated from here. (laughing) But, and I’ve been
running around, of course, with the lady Robbie, as well. And I wanna thank my
dear brother, Ed Rowe, for facilitating this gathering. I know, it’s 150 years
that this place has been around, only to the current, ah, Quaker brothers and sisters,
and I want to thank them, you know, one of them is from 1964, Johnson Who, will speak
June the second, 2014. Will Barack Obama show up? (laughing) Interesting question. Interesting question. I pray for you, and him. (laughing) But I wanna make sure
we have time for dialog. Before I begin my epigraph,
the great WB Dubois said: everybody has allegiance. The liberal arts education
is one of the great public intellectuals in the 20th century, the greatest collection of
intellectuals ever produced by my own supposition. I’m talking about a dignified yet, terrorized, traumatized,
and stigmatized people, the black people. Dubois was 89 years old. And he embarked on the writing
of the trilogy of novels, about man’s art. Six years earlier, he
had been in a US court, handcuffs, targeted,
stigmatized, Communist. And yet, of course, he was just
in love with those friends, but no one calls the
wretched of the Earth. And he said, I been wrestling
with four questions, and I think these four questions
ought to have much to do with a liberal arts education. The first question was: how
does integrity face oppression? Second question was: how
does honesty face deception? Third question: how does
decency face insult? And that last query: what does virtue do in
the face of brute force? Now these queries are important for me, because they echo line
38:8 of Plato’s Apology, you understand that life is
not worth living for the human. And even though in our
english, human derives from the Latin, (speaking Latin), which means: burying, and bury the old. And having to do with death. Humility, humanity, have
to do with we’re creatures on the way to bodily extinction. We’re human beings on the way to death. That’s what Plato would
say, over and over again. File. Philosophy. What about wisdom? That one’s Sophia. The meditation on and
preparation for death. Montaigne, the greatest
of all of the early modern European philosophers would write: to philosophize is to learn how to die. And Seneca, we don’t even
expect too much profundity from the Romans. (laughing) All that imperial expansion. Maybe because something
is a he or she who learns how to die, unlearns slavery. We’ve told our students
and I’ve told my students, for almost 35 years, every
time you enter my classroom, you’ve come here to learn how to die. But that’s the only way
you’ll learn how to live. Is to learn how to die. What do you mean, Brother West? Then when you muster the
courage to critically examine assumptions, presuppositions,
your prejudices, prejudgments, and decide
to let some of them go, that’s a form of death. So when the seniors march with
dignity on (unintelligible) the political question will be: to what extent, did they learn how to die? Because if they critically
examine their own assumptions, themselves, inside of
them, what’s been deposited inside of them by society, by history, they’ve undergone a process
that the Greeks call: Paideia. P-A-I-D-E-I-A. The formation of attention,
a shift from paying attention to the surface, the superficial,
and the focus on depth, and of the substantial. The rejection of this
instant gratification and fleeting pleasures, and
focus on genuine compassion and enduring joys. That turning of the soul
that Plato talks about. As a form of Paideia, how we
engage in this transformation that connects and formulates the attention to the cultivation of a
critical, compassionate self, and the maturation of a soul? And by soul, I’m not just
talking about some entity. I’m talking about all
that goes into whatever form of integrity,
decency, honesty and virtue constituting who you are. And so, Paideia, a liberal arts education, echoes of Dubois, echoes of Socrates, Plato’s Socrates, I believe. But what does Montaigne think? And Seneca? Has to do with keeping
track of the forms of death, connected to the varieties of dogmatism, and structures of domination. Now, I have my own
philosophical (unintelligible) that we are the kind of beings, featherless, two-legged,
linguistically conscious beings, born between urine and feces. (laughing) Who’s body will one day
be the culinary delight of terrestrial worms. On our way from womb to
tomb, doesn’t last that long. What kind of human beings
will we choose to be? What kind of courage will
we muster, critically, to examine what other
assumptions, and presuppositions and prejudices that we have? And the history of Swarthmore
is precisely one in which you way: lo and behold, in such a barbaric and bestial and brutal world, of long history of imperial subjugation, by supremacist targeting,
patriarchal and homophobic stigmatizing and subordinating
of working peoples, somehow we could be flickering
candles in the darkness. Against the backdrop
of such historic forms of catastrophe and crisis. And say: we can learn how to die, in order to learn how to live, by wrestling with forms of death, so that we can be, what? Reborn. There is no rebirth without death. There’s no maturation without wrestling with the forms of death. There’s no growth and no
development without critically engaging and letting loose
assumptions and presuppositions that become forms of
death, in order to live. And that’s why any time you talk about liberal arts education, we
never wanna engage in any kind of deodorized, sanitized,
or sterilized discourse. Humanities, thank God. Swarthmore has a deep
commitment to humanities, because any time you hear “humanities”, you’re talking about (speaking Latin). We always remind our
professors of humanities, oh, you’re the one that’s
into that death stuff, huh? (laughing) Oh, you wanna teach us how to die? And you wanna deal with forms of death. Social death, like slavery. Psychic death that
women have to deal with, this is a vicious patriarchal tact. Spiritual death, when you’re
told you have no future. So many of our Jewish brothers and sisters in Jew-hating Europe for
so long; 2,000 years. Or even some of our Palestinian brothers on the Israeli occupation; we love both. Our precious Jewish and
our precious Palestinians, they’re part of the
(speaking Latin) project. Or our gay brothers and lesbian sisters. Humanity affirmed. And yet have to also
acknowledge they’re human, too, which means what? They can even be wrong, sometimes. But their humanity is
never to be questioned. Black folk. Brown folk, red folk, whatever. That’s what makes it both so serious, but also so joyful. And there was like, I
try to stay away from the word “pleasure”,
because we live in such a market-driven society. The rule of money and big money, everything for sale
and everybody for sale. The market calculations
sitting at the center, the financializing,
privatizing, militarizing of the whole world. What kind of non-market values can survive and thrive in such a world? Here’s Swarthmore, sitting there, like almost an oasis, with
all of these market forces coming at it, commodofication,
rationalization. Students coming in, boy I wish I had time for the humanities, but
I’m pre-professional. How come? Because mom and dad told me. (laughing) Sacrificed all these years, you better come out of there with a steal. You said: oh, no that schooling. I come to Swarthmore to be educated. There’s a qualitative difference between educated and schooled. I’m not against schooling. You need a skill, no kidding. But these four years,
you’re learning how to die, critically involved in
the ways Brother Robbie was talking about. Fallible, finite, always
acknowledging you might be wrong. No one has any presumption
of infallibility, that has any credibility, whatsoever. And yet also acknowledging, as Samuel Beckett used to say it so well, in his last piece of prose fiction. Worstward, ho! That’s about the same. Try, then fail again, fail better. Try again, fail again, fail better. Why? Because the history of the human drama is one in which what seems to be a cycle, of domination, dogmatism,
and forms of death. But these flickering candles,
in the face of dogmatism, conversation, and not just
conversational discourse, but in theater. I thank God for Tennessee Williams, and August Wilson and Lorraine Handsberry, and Arthur Millers. That’s how we get sound and body, along with just discourse. Or music, central. What better example to we have of Paideia, the spirituality of Socratic questioning, with the spirituality of
genuine loving and compassion? Better represented in John
Coltrane, A Love Supreme. The courage to question
and the courage to love. The best of the legacy of Athens. Know thyself. Question. And the legacy of Jerusalem. My Jewish brothers and
sisters, the Hassid. Forward, widow, stranger, Christians the least of these. Our Muslim brothers and sisters, the mercy for all, across the board. And then our precious secular
atheist and agnostics. We talk about love, compassion. Some elective affinity
with the earlier religious discourses, but they are
not to be subsumed under it. Chekov has more love in him than most Christian churches I know. And whom, let’s not forget,
was a medical doctor. Even though he comes out of
Russian Orthodox tradition. We got the Christian compassion without the Christian consolation. (laughing) Still my deep breath. But I say that, because when we’re talking about Liberal Arts Education,
we’re talking about issues of life and death and joy and sorrow, and agony and anguish, and catastrophe, and heartache and heart-break, but also of determination and fortitude. A hermeneutical humility. We all come with our own baggage. Goettimer is right. (muttering) Our hermeneutical baggage. Some of us have dogmas,
we put it under the fire, and we hold onto it. I’m still a Christian. They say: how could you be a Christian after reading Nietzsche? Nietzsche’s wrong. (laughing) And he is as profound as they come. And the same is true, one hopes, in our own ways, arriving
where we choose to decide, in light of the hermeneutical humility and the intellectual integrity,
the moral consistency, which the great Jane
Austen called: constancy. I love that word. Constancy. Not just concerned for
just you and the tribe, or your clan, or your race, the nation. But humans across the board. And then the political tenacity. Being willing to be unpopular. That line 24-A, Plato’s Apology, Socrates said: the cause of
my unpopularity was what? (speaking Latin) Plain speech, frank speech,
un-intimidated speech. Honest speech. Will always get you in trouble. (laughing) People were asking me over and over again: why do you spend so much time
with Brother Robbie George? He’s such a conservative. He claims to be so leftist. Appreciate the question. (laughing) Brother’s got plain speech,
whether you agree or not, he let’s you know where he stands. And you contest it, go at it, he’ll come back, now,
he got some comebacks. (laughing) But that’s very beautiful. That’s very important, because that means that you don’t have to
worry about the mendacity, and hypocrisy that oftentimes circulates in the name of discourse. You have to have sincerity. Malcolm X used to say what? Sincerity is my credential. Doesn’t mean he’s right, but you always knew where he stood. A sign of integrity. That’s what I love about this brother. Might be wrong, oh, not all the time, but sometimes, (laughing) but you’ve got sincerity,
and I try to be sincere, too. How come? Because when they, put me in the coffin, I don’t want people to be unclear. About where I stood. (laughing) What I was trying to prove. And it has everything to do with what this Paideia is all about. We’re not here that long,
and what kind of legacy will you leave; the one you’ll
be able to bring together. Regardless of your critical analysis, with the warmth of your heart
and the courage in your soul, and most important, and
I wanna end on this, because I believe quite deeply in piety, the way the great Rabbi
Abraham Heschel characterized piety: remembrance, reverence
for something bigger than you, and resistant, to be non-conformist. I’m pietistic in that sense. So the memory, your
afterlife, given the life you’ve tried to live
will be one that tries to ricochet through space and time, not because you’re so big and bad, but because your witness had a quality that Dubois talked about. Integrity, decency, honesty, and a sense of virtue, even
though you failed better. You still ended up doing
things, you did them, you still fell on your face,
but you try to bounce back. But let’s stop there,
and then we can open. (applause) – Well, like us, you are in
the middle of the profit, in the middle of the single large project. Some of you obviously are students, learning to be lifelong learners, lifelong liberal arts students. Others are on faculty, as
we are in our institutions. So you are wrestling, as we are wrestling, with what it means to do this. What the point of a liberal
arts application is. What’s the point of devoting
one’s life to teaching in an institution like this? What’s the point in doing the work, if it’s still the old sport, where it’s an awful
lot of work, (laughing) to make it through? To make it through a place
as demanding as this? So what we would like to
do now is open the floor. And ask you, in particular,
to share with us and engage with us, on
what you are wrestling with about the nature of this enterprise. What you think you’re doing,
what you’re worried about, when it comes to Liberal Arts Education, your doubts, if you have any,
about whether it’s actually worth it; what’s the point? What’s the objective? So let’s open, we just ask you
to stand so we can see you, because we’re down pretty low here, and if you could give
us your name and, ah, if you’re a student, what you’re studying, or faculty member, what you teach. Yeah, can you? – Ah, so, I’m Jake
Bakewell, I’m a student. I’m studying math and
economics here at Swarthmore. I’m a senior. And so I actually have two,
sort of separate questions, one for you and one for Professor West. Ah, my question to you
is you talk a lot about recognizing that you’re wrong, and so, on issues such as gay marriage, the way that we treat queer
people in our society, what would it take for you to realize that you’re wrong, and admit it? (laughing) And my question to you, Professor West, is you talk a lot about
the humanities as a, and the study of humanities as a project that is dedicated to the self. And so I have to ask: isn’t is selfish of you, isn’t it deeply, deeply selfish of you, to go
on tour with Robert George? To go on tour with a man
who has spent so much of his life, so much of
his professional career, dedicated to denying the rights of others? In pursuit of some academic project. Don’t you, don’t you, through
that, through this discourse, legitimize him, give him a platform from which to spew what I
think is really quite hateful? For the, The National
Organization for Marriage, an organization of which he
was the founding chairman, just, is currently in
the middle of a campaign to deny trans-gender children the right to use the proper bathrooms. His organization, his work
is doing enormous harm. And so isn’t is selfish
of you to prioritize your own learning over
the harms that you could, over the harms that he does? – Well, the answer to
your question from me is– (applause) You’ve got some support there,
as the applause make clear. Should make you feel good. But, who is a friend? The people who are
backing you up and saying: yeah, go get ’em. Gotcha question. Put ’em on the spot, let ’em have it. Or is the person who’s saying, you know, you’ve got an
awful lot of certainty about your conviction. Maybe you should stop and think about the possibility that you’re wrong. When I was a sophomore here at Swarthmore, I had the lesson to be in
a general, introductory political theory course with Ken Sharp. Professor Sharp taught us
Plato to (unintelligible). And along the way, although
you audited the course, we read Plato’s dialogue, Gorgias. That dialogue, if you happen to know it, those are some of the questions
that we’re concerned with, here today: what’s the purpose
of intellectual engagement? What’s the point of argument? What’s the point of mixing
it up, intellectually, with an interlocutor? Do we talk for victory, prestige, status? Applause? To feel good about being a
person who has these views, rather than those views. Or is it something else? Do we choose our convictions based on, what gives us standing? Leaves us un-threatened? Gives us status? Do we choose them based on what our group, or clan, or class, or tribe is? If we’re defeated in an argument, intellectually, should we be happy or sad? I came with a lot of views. A lot of views that, probably, are more similar to
the ones you hold today than the ones I hold now. I was quite confident in my views. I liked the way I presented myself. I wanted to be a sophisticated person. I wanted to think and
believe what sophisticated people believed, and I
like fitting in, a lot. I liked fitting in with other
people who are like-minded. You know that old Greek, he
grabbed me by the lapels, and he shook me. And he said: you haven’t
thought for a minute about why you believe what you believe. You’ve adopted beliefs because they came with the territory, because they belonged to the groups that you
were comfortable with. Because they were what you regarded sophisticated people as believing, so that required me to do
something I had never done before. Which is to rethink everything
and ask myself the question: why do I believe what I believe? That, in turn, required
me to do something else that I had never done before. Which was consider the very best arguments for the competing positions
on a whole range of issues, from religion to philosophy,
to ethics, to politics. And when I did that, when I started reading things
that I’d never read before, when I started engaging arguments
that I simply waved away before, I found myself
going to a different place. And so when it comes to
arguments about marriage and sexual morality, positions on that, and though I had to do some
reading and considering, and some thinking, and
read Singer and Wright, Kinsey, (unintelligible), but I also had to read Plato,
and Zanfon and Mussonis. And Augustine, Aquinas, and Kant, and Enston and Gandhi. And I found myself in
a very different place from the place where you find yourself. But I found myself there
on the basis of thinking as hard as I could about
some very difficult issues. Is it a comfortable place to be? No. I’d like the applause. I’d rather have the applause. But is it where I have to be
if I’m to have any integrity? Yeah. It is. Because I have read Singer and Wright, and Kinsey, and I have read
Plato and Augustine and Gandhi. And I find myself on the side of Plato and Augustine and Gandhi,
and not on the side of Singer and Wright and Kinsey. That’s where I am. And what I would ask you to do is simply to consider those
authors and any others who might cause you to at least consider, think about, the possibility
that you’re in the wrong place. Who knows? I might be in the wrong place now. Maybe I need to go back and rethink. Maybe I need to read more stuff. Maybe there are things that you know, that you’ve read, that I should read. Maybe you’ve thought about these issues more deeply than I have. But I’ve thought about them pretty deeply. And I really have considered the arguments on the other side, and I find
myself where I find myself. Cornell? (muttering) – I just appreciate your frank speech– (applause) What I don’t appreciate, young brother, is why you would move so
quickly to reduce my project to selfishness, see,
that’s a potential attack on my integrity, which I don’t appreciate. And I’ll tell you why. Because I’m saying this out of love, I mean, we probably are
going to be marching at the same demonstrations together, depending on how
oppressive (unintelligible) I didn’t know about the
trans-gender children that you talked about. But you see, I think any time
you approach another person that you don’t even know that well, I think you wanna begin with
a charitable starting point. (laughing and applause) What they’ve got to do with their life, you know what I mean? And so I’ll give an example,
I’ll give an example. You probably know it. Probably comes from Carl Dix, right? The revolution, they was confident. Really a black man who’s
wrong on Communism. (laughing) Still thinks Mao made a contribution. He’s just wrong. (laughing) Stalin, and so forth and so on, and we talk about that. And I think the same
thing that bugs Carl Dix, and we’ve been in jail
many times together, as I said to my dear
brother, Robbie George, disagreement, but I love
Carl Dix’s commitment hidden (unintelligible),
hidden mass incarceration, fighting against the
privatizing of public schools, be it in Philadelphia or any other place, so I spend time with him. Rabbi Michael Lerner,
love my brother to death. He’s a Zionist, I’m not a Zionist. I’m not a nationalist of any sort. But I work with progressive nationalists. He’s a progressive Zionist. Who’s concerned about Israeli
occupation and so forth. We travel all, we’ve
written books together. I said the same thing to Michael Lerner as I say to my dear brother here. So that I tend to be a
more gas-like figure, than you allow me to be. Because if, in fact, I’m
trying to be flexible and fluid, not just biological, but polyphonic, in allowing
voices to be lifted, where we do, in fact, overlap. Then I’ve got a number of
persons who I’ve traveled with, throughout not just the past year, but throughout my whole life. Now all of that’s going to be
reduced to just selfishness? Then we both might as well
just go to the crack house and just say: forget it. (laughing and applause) And I know you got your integrity. That’s why I started of conservative, because I know you got your integrity, and I like your moral passion. Very much so, but we know
that learning how to live, learning how to die, is
not just more passion, but it’s also trying to
approach someone in a context in which they’re engaging in dialog. So I’m not providing a platform
for this brother at all, I don’t think. You think I am. I don’t think so. I’m engaging in dialog,
so that, many people who would come to see
him and come to see me at the same time can
be exposed to a variety of different perspectives on the issue. Now, the issue today is education. (applause) Now, if we were having a
debate on: Brother Robbie, what in the world is, what is it, the National Association of Marriage, is that the name of it? – Organization. – The National Organization of Marriage, we’re debating just that organization, then that’s a whole different issue, due to his policies
and so forth and so on. But he’s doing a whole lot of things. We were just sitting in Washington DC, you headed a commission
for religious liberty. We’re fighting for the religious
liberties of Jews in Russia and the, ah, the Ba-hai
in Iran and so forth, and we’re working together on it. We come together, we agree. Those are very important things. And when we meet in that context, that’s what we talk about. We don’t talk about National
Organization of Marriage and so forth and so on. So then, in that sense, here, yes, we’re talking about
Liberal Arts Education. I’m convinced what he says
about Liberal Arts Education is very significant,
independent of even the policies that you are talking about. And that’s very important. That’s what I mean by
learning how to be charitable, even as you speak with that
magnificent moral passion, and that frank speech that you had. And of course, I’m just coming back at you with plain speech, you know what I mean? But I know, I won’t go on and on, but God bless you, brother. (applause) – Tell us your name and what’s your, ah, what you do. – Hi, my name is Stephanie Stiles. I’m a senior and my major
is English literature. And I guess I have, just
basically wanted to comment. One was to, ah, kind of what to, Dr. West, was your last point, it
return to your first point about sincerity, and I
think it’s very dangerous when we allow individuals
to kind of separate their beliefs from their actions. And so, yes, when you
might say that someone, you know, his views or his
opinions on homophobia, on gay rights, those
issues, those don’t matter when we’re dealing with
the hardcore realities or some other topic;
that’s not the reality. And they are combined. I think if you’re going to
treat someone as a sincere individual, like, it’s dangerous when you, how can you separate someone’s
ideas from their actions, because those ideas
will always impact his, they’ll impact my way that I view the solution to that problem? And so my second point to that is, like, this discussion is a privilege, and the reality is that,
whether it’s any disadvantaged group, my particular focus
might be with working class individuals and people
of color, I recognize that’s my focus because
that has been the position that I come from, right? A lot of that has to do
with my own personal story, but there are so many people
who do not have the luxury of really discussing these issues, and I feel like a lot of
the problem is that we then don’t have the correct
perception on what those issues are, because either we’re
not living in day to day, we’re not being forced to
deal with the day to day realities of those people
that are disadvantaged. And those people that are disadvantaged, the reality is that their
perceptions are there, their situations don’t end
up in these discussions. They end up in the environment. So it’s not a matter of,
like, it’s definitely a matter of having equal
access, but that’s not the case. It was where you see theory
never meeting reality. And so, for instance,
with Swarthmore College, and like, I’m in an honors
seminar that’s called The Urban Underclass, and you know, we’re talking about,
discussing and breaking down Moyerhand’s Culture of Poverty Report. Where is the Culture of Wealth Report? And why are we not when
we talk about these terms, there needs to be a redefining
of what these terms are. I’ve done debate, since middle school, and we all know that
when you start a round, it’s, we have to have equal terms, equal definitions, because otherwise, we’re not gonna be on the same page, and if we don’t agree on what justice is, if we don’t agree on our
perceptions of values, then we’re never going to be able to come to the same conclusion. So, unless we’re redefining
how we look at poverty and say, well, let’s look
at what is it that wealthy individuals, well, there’s a
problem with their perceptions, but there is a problem
with the way that they view capitalism and their values,
and how that impacts poverty, we’re always going to be
looking at what poor people do, and we’re always going
to be looking at what transgender individuals, or
those who are of different, they’re not of the mainstream ideal, we’re always going to be looking
to them for what is wrong, and so I would call and demand
for these larger institutions to look at how they can
reframe the problem. Stop looking to those that are,
quote/unquote, not the norm, and what is it that they
do to be so different, but what it is about the mainstream that has yet to be re-evaluated? Because there is not
equal access to the way that we can evaluate those terms. Thank you. (applause) (muttering) (unintelligible) – There’s wisdom speaking
in what you said. You see, my hunch is that, ah, I know sister Sherome
taught here, in religion. She just, she (unintelligible). Run with the poverty program? He deals with these issues. That is to say, the kind
of quality analysis, in the brief amount of time that you had, that you laid out, I’m
sure that’s part and parcel of the conversation in those classes. That could be, because they’re not, two, two classes on poverty,
brain, and poor folks. I’m not doing that, I know,
I’m, it ain’t gonna work. You say what? – [Stephanie] And I don’t
mean to cut you off, but the issue then becomes,
and we kind of talked about this last year, is where you might have those platforms, but
everyone’s not going to be coming to that table, being like: look at the majority percent
of the people that watch the Colbert Report versus,
I forget the guy’s name, but the opposite one, people are always– (laughing) People are always moving into that which they already agree in,
like, a lot of people, (unintelligible) we’re
all talking to ourselves. – Well, now, I don’t disagree with that. I’ve taught in prison for 37 years, I’m teaching a course
on Broadway right now. And ah, you see, I don’t
believe that the Swarthmore’s and Yale’s and Princeton’s and so forth are just the privileged sites
where discourse takes place. Discourse takes place a whole
lot of different places. And when I’m teaching in Broadway, I’m not concerned with
everybody coming to the table. We having a discussion about New Jim Crow with those who are Jim’s Crow, right? And then I come to Swarthmore, it’s a different kind of data, there’s a different kind of boat, right? In all of this, the boat
was an essential symbol, because in their own context, they have their own blindnesses. They have their own limitations. So that Swarthmore has
this rich dialog going on, but Swarthmore ain’t said
a thing, it’s just one site on a whole set of different sites, and it’s up to the students
of Swarthmore to say: you know what? We know it is a privileged site, but we’re gonna be multi-sited, we’re gonna be in a
lot of different sites. We gonna be in Choppper
side of Philadelphia. We’re gonna be with the
prison up in Haverford, or whatever it is, and
that’s one of the ways in which the discourse
becomes even more robust, more multi-voiced in that way. And that’s not a question just of thinking that if, if it doesn’t
take place at Swarthmore, somehow, we’re just
missing out on everything. No, no, no, no, no, it’s a slice in a set of
very rich, important voices. Do you see the point I’m trying to make? That is to say that, I don’t want you to, in any way, get discouraged if somehow everybody is not at the table
and having equal access. America is structured by
inequality, past and present. It is not gonna be equal
access across the board. You’ve got to work with what you got. And what you got is gonna be courageous voices like yourself, courageous persons like
this brother right here, who gets cantankerous. (laughing) That’s probably some kind of tradition. Now, say you hang with some
Jesus, a little more charity, you gonna be, but, still,
the kids can change, they cut against the grain, but also you do wanna respect
those you are also engaging and respect the complexity
of the situation, and the subject matter, and I would wanna, I would suggest that the,
I don’t know the curriculum at Swarthmore, but if I
looked at that curriculum, I’m gonna see some professors
wrestling with issues of poverty and inequality,
in highly sophisticated ways. Is that true, you all got
professors doing that? (laughing) Or am I speaking in a desert? (unintelligible) Well, say something, y’all. (laughing) There’s professors breaking their necks and so forth and so on, they trying to engage
in some filth out here. But of course, it’s within the narrowness of whatever context the
great Swarthmore is, but every institution
has its own limitations. Nobody’s logos. Nobody gonna notice our
vision, agency, in that sense. We’re doing what we can,
relative to what we have, but we do it better when we are pushed with cantankerous voices,
but when we also know that in the end, it’s
gonna be folk far outside of Swarthmore, so Swarthmore
has a rich tradition of struggling against
injustice, but in the end, if any transformation in American society of last 40 years was predicated
just on folk at Swarthmore. (laughing) We’d have been in World Cup. (laughing) So, people on the ground
who make the difference, put the pressure on, and
the response was such. I’m sorry to go on and on,
but these are two wonderful– – One of the tragedies
of the human condition is that it’s possible for
reasonable people of good will, not only to disagree, but
to disagree about some very, very profound,
deeply important things. Professor West and I disagree
about some important things. We agree on some
important things, as well. But he and I both disagree,
perhaps even more profoundly, with my colleague, Peter Singer. Professor of philosophy at Princeton. I can’t say Peter Singer is a “bad” man. I can’t say he’s a stupid man. He’s anything but stupid. I can’t say he’s an ill-informed man. On the subjects on which
we so profoundly disagree, he’s read as widely as I have, he’s thought as deeply,
and carefully as I have, but he comes to a different conclusion. The world is complicated. Things are tough. We might like them to be
simple, straightforward, you just see the truth. I think it’d be great if we
could just see the truth. But that’s not reality. There are hard questions that have to be addressed
in a challenging way. That challenge us to address
them in a proper way, and ah, to add to the tragedy, we have the strongest possible temptation to believe that, in that
issue is truly important, especially if it’s truly important to me, then if somebody disagrees
with me about that, that person is simply intolerable. Not allowed to disagree about that. That’s the evidence that
the person is a bad person. Someone who does not have
a place in the dialogue. Now, as I say, this is
the human condition. It’s the conservative condition, it’s not the progressive
position, er, condition. It’s the same, everywhere. I speak to conservative
audiences fairly frequently. You could just change the nouns. Leave everything else the same. The adjectives, the
adverbs and verbs the same, and there’d be no difference between speaking to a liberal audience. Same things, same issues. In very many cases. And the temptation to
think that those people on the other side, they’re the bad guys. They are the people who have
wicked, malicious, intent. We gotta do something about them, or, sure, doing something about them, we certainly have to marginalized them, to keep them out of the discussion. But I think anybody who does consider the sheer fact, as Mill says, of our human fallibility, and the intellectual humility
that is required in that, will welcome, if you’re me, not only a Cornell West,
but a Peter Singer. If I were addressing,
together with Cornell, a conservative audience,
and somebody said to me, what are you doing, associating with him? I would say: hang on. This man is going to,
he’s your best friend. He’s going to do you the
biggest favor anybody can do anybody who aspires to
intellectual credibility, he is going to challenge your
most cherished assumptions. That’s not your enemy. That’s your friend. And he’s your friend, even if he’s wrong. He might be right, but he’s your friend, even if he’s wrong. By engaging with him, you
will appropriate more fully, more deeply, the truth
that you’ve already gotten, at least a chunk, ah, out of. – Ah, I can’t believe
that the– (applause) One more question we get, so
this was gonna end at six, so, I got a couple of hands up. – Over here? (muttering) Oh, Williams. Williams, that’s right. – My name is Zachary Worsewood, and I have a question
for Dr. Cornell West. First, I wanna say, Dr.
West, I was deeply moved and profoundly inspired by your love, your commitment, and– (muttering) And my question, in particular, is: given the political realities that you’ve perceptively noted and
described in your lectures, of institutionalized graph,
normalizing corruption, normalizing bribery and so forth, how can you transgress, and transcend, the limitations that politicians, in our political sphere today, encounter? So how can you, ah, propose
in an act of legislation that will actually, effectually,
address and diffuse, and alleviate poverty? – And that’s, that’s a
tough question, brother, because ah, we live in an
empire, in relative decline. Not just militarily, but spiritually. In terms of reality, the culture,
super Christian spectacle, an obsession with money, ah, the major message to
young people these days: be successful, defined
in terms of the material. Toys. Policy. And trophy spouses, and being
well-adjusted to injustice. Well-adapted to indifference. No Democratic experience, we have a very fragile
Democratic experience, can survive, based on
that kind of obsession. With cupidity. With love of money. And we’ve seen it spill over,
in the political sphere, with our politicians, all colors. I get in trouble because I’m, I’m talking about all of them. So alright, we’re not
focusing on this one, who’s black, all hell breaks loose. I say, wait a minute, I’m just
talking more the conceptual. And so this eventually becomes: what possibilities are there? And historically, we’ve
seen you have to have more at the end of the day,
remember that epigraph, for all, he says that: I
gotta do anything I can to wake up my neighbors
from their sleepwalking. You have to have some awakening. Some moral, spiritual,
and political Renaissance. Around non-market values. Courage, love, justice, compassion. As well as: sharp analysis, and I’m not telling
anybody just to be smart. And we talked about this today. Let the prone be smart, we got to be wise. What I don’t wanna hear
is how smart people are. I wanna know what kind of courage, what kind of compassion, and what kind of wisdom do they have? So they have some sense of
how to use their smartness. So that they’re not just successful, but they’re faithful to
something bigger than them. And without that
Renaissance, a renaissance, and one of the ways you get
it is through discourse. From public discussions. Everywhere you go. And you also do it through the music. That’s why I spend a lot
of time in the studios, cussing with the hiphop artists. I’m talking about the serious ones, the Lupe Fiasco’s, the Talib Kweli. Kendrick Lamar, but the (unintelligible) and the May Hamilton’s,
who really sell the music, not just body-stimulating music, you see? And that’s very important,
because the kind of music that young people are
crazy about says something about their spirituality. My spirituality is about the
quality of the integrity, and the decency and the honesty. Because there’s all this
superficial, bodily stimulation. Then you’re not going to
produce the kind of folk to be courageous, be
Socratic, to be prophetic. And so, and also entails
getting the streets, some will go to jail, by example. Right, and that wonderful
line of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, the example
is the (unintelligible) of judgment. His example is the
(unintelligible) judgment. We see different folk acting certain ways, courageously, it then
becomes contagious, in terms of forcing you to reshape
how you are judging things, evaluating things, and so forth. And I think right now,
we’re just in very early, embryonic stage of trying
to get the truth out, because we have monstrous
mendacity in corporate media, we have massive hypocrisy,
not just of our politicians, but across the board. I mean, when I teach
in prison, I tell you, there’s no like, how
many morphines they can– (unintelligible) Because we got an influx every day. Of poor folk going to jail. And they see that the
criminal justice system, tilt against the poor and
the weak and the vulnerable. It’s wrong, it’s morally obscene,
it’s spiritually profane. How do you get that truth
telling and witness bearing, so that you can generate the
possibility of an awakening? That in the end, of course,
is a democratic awake, with a small “D”, radical
democratic voyage means small D. And that’s what Martin Luther King was talking about when we shot him down. That’s why 72 percent of
America disapproved of him, and 55 percent of black people disapproved of Martin when he was shot. Because he was talking
about organizing poor people of all colors, and he was
talking about a critique of the American involvement in Vietnam, and if he was alive, he’d
be talking about humanity, women, humanity, oppression,
just brothers and sisters and transexual and so forth,
because he wanted to be, it would be morally consistent. And for me, that’s a grand
tradition to build on. I know I wish we had another hour up here. (laughing) (applause) – Just one word about your question. And by and large, I
agree with most of what, Professor West has said here. I grew up in West Virginia, and Appalachia is now, ah,
land of hopeless hollows. It was never wealthy. It was, for the most part, poor. People like my grandfather,
who was a coal miner, one of them finally made (unintelligible) who gave him a business of
his own, were poor people. But things only began
to get very much worse, ironically, when efforts
at the national level, very well-intentioned, were made to address Appalachian poverty. The Great Society programs and so forth. Recently, Nicklas Christoff,
the New York Times columnist visited Appalachia to
look at the situation. Massive unemployment,
and like, and of course, the racial issue is not
there, because the minority populations are just so small. This is an all, an issue of white people. Christoff visited and he said, you know, as a liberal, it’s
hard for me to admit this, but these government programs that were introduced in the ’60s and ’70s have made the situation
worse, in many ways. Alright, now, that’s not polemic, against progressive programs. It’s a plea, to be thinking across party
and ideological lines. About how we can restore
economic opportunity and mobility to those hopeless hollows. In the same way we
oughta be thinking about how to restore mobility
and hope to Detroit. The problems in our urban
areas are very similar. And they’ve been manifested
in the same ways. An enormous percentage
of out of wedlock births, massive drug problem,
just, just substitute methamphetamine for cocaine
or for crack cocaine, you got the same thing. Same effects, same consequences. In Appalachia. Now, on the progressive
side of the spectrum, I think the, the thrust of opinion or
the thrust of thought, is to think about the
problem in terms of equality and inequality, and I understand that, because the inequalities,
now, are so massive. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett. Although, it turns out
that in adjusted dollars, those guys have a
fraction of the net worth of John D. Rockefeller
in the 19th century, or Andrew Carnegie, a fraction. I mean, trivial, by comparison. Still, let me encourage, just as a, just as a suggestion, for
those on the progressive side, to maybe, instead of
thinking about reframing it in terms of equality and inequality, as such a comic inequality, as such, think about it in terms
of social mobility. And economic opportunity. Not so much that, at
the end there won’t be fabulously wealthy people. But just hope that, at the end, there won’t be very many
abjectly poor people. That people can be raised up, by the opportunities that
are made available to them, and if that becomes the issue, I don’t see any reason standing in the way of conservatives and
liberals getting together and arriving at agreed upon
experiments, not conclusions. We should have learned
by the ’60s experience not to propose, not to
think we’re gonna actually reach conclusions or solve problems, but try some experiments to see what, in fact, will bring
the kind of opportunity that’s needed to the hopeless hollows, or the wards of the, to the cities. There is less on this
social mobility question, there is less division of opinion. Even in our polarized situation, than you would think if you
just look at the situation from the political parties
and then look at all sorts of other issues like abortion, or ah, ah, you know, health care,
the Obama health care plan, there you have true polarization. People just disagree about that stuff, and there’s not much room for
them to meet in the middle. On social mobility and
economic opportunity, there are ways to cooperate. To help poor people, which
should really be the goal. I’m not asking progressives to
admit that you don’t believe in equality as an aim; I don’t share it, but I understand it, and
I don’t hold contempt for, I don’t have any contempt of it. But I know that progressives
also care, as I do, about mobility, and if we
can make that our focus, we can get somewhere, I think. Thank you. (applause) – Thank you, and I wish
we had another hour, too. I’m pretty sure these guys could fill it. But ah, thank you all for coming, and thanks to our guests. (applause)

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