Sunday, May 15, 2016

Martha Nussbaum's Non-Anger

Without doubt and without question Martha Nussbaum is a leading authority on classical philosophy. She wrote a doctoral dissertation on Aristotle and reads it in the original Greek. Today she teaches at the University of Chicago.

And yet, when she was asked about what the great philosopher would have thought about anger, and, in particular, the anger that seems to be propelling people toward one Donald Trump, she seems more concerned with promoting her leftist feminist ideology than applying Aristotle’s thought.

Rather than offer some sober reflection about the current political scene, Nussbaum can do no better than say that we need more of “the audacity of hope.” Yes, indeed, when your favorite policy fails, you want more of the same. Some people are impervious to the verdict of reality. Hope is obviously the opposite of despair. But that does not make it the antidote to despair.

Nussbaum does not notice, as very few have, that Obama’s phrase is grammatically incorrect. And she does not notice that seven years of Barack Obama’s flaccidity is the cause, not the solution to the problem of American anger.

For those who do not care to delve into the writings of Aristotle, I would point out a simple and salient historical fact. As you undoubtedly know, Aristotle was the private tutor of one Alexander the Great. Say what you will about Alexander but his life was not about what Nussbaum calls, in her effort to turn everyone, but especially men, into potted plants-- flourishing.

Whatever Aristotle meant by eudaimon, a word that used to be translated as happiness, it has now, thanks to philosophers like Nussbaum, been translated as flourishing, as in flowering, as in potted plants.

I don’t think that you need to know too much philosophy to understand that Barack Obama, a man who prides himself on his ability to surrender, to end wars, to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, who has made, through his cowardice, Syria and Iraq into ungodly messes, is not the second or third coming of Alexander the Great.

With apologies for those who have gotten lost in their texts and blinded by their ideology, the two men should not be spoken in the same breath.

From whence cometh anger? According to Aristotle, via Nussbaum, anger comes from the sense of being wronged, from being insulted, from being diminished.  By her lights, anger provokes a desire for payback… which is not exactly true.

She might have added, because she surely knows it, but Aristotle was not against responding to insults and slights, to threats to status, to what I would call threats to face. He was opposed to trigger-happy responses and was opposed to gun-shy responses. Courage, he said, lay somewhere between the two. Aristotle saw the expression of anger as an ethical issue: you should express your anger to the right person at the right time in the right place in the right way under the right circumstances.

You may desire revenge, but the philosopher counseled prudence and temperance, even in the expression of anger. Where Nussbaum simple-mindedly says that anger is always bad, Aristotle had a far better understanding of the moral stakes of being angry.

If you fail to be angry when you ought to be angry you will be supinely accepting a diminished status. Of course, Barack Obama is an exemplary instance of someone who fails to get angry when he needs to do so, and thus who caused the nation to suffer a diminished status in the world.

One hastens to add, if you merely want payback, you have gotten it wrong. If your excessive expression of anger draws more attention to your anger than to the issue at hand and labels you a histrionically angry person, you have not restored your reputation. You have affirmed the negative judgment implied in the insult. If you react to insult by bending over and asking for more, you have affirmed the implication of the insult and have shown yourself to have accepted a lesser status.

It ought to be fairly obvious by now, but you do not counter the debilitating and demoralizing effect of an insult by throwing a bunch of hope at it. Nor do you counter it, as Nussbaum notes, by letting loose with a torrent of rage. I will not mention which presidential candidate has become the presumptive nominee by riding a wave of rage. Were I to mention his name, you would get very angry, indeed.

Anger might seem to be something like a desire, but it represents a duty to reassert your standing and status, thus, to save face. Duty and desire are not the same thing. Duty involves what you should do. Desire refers to something you do not have.

But, the interviewer asks Nussbaum the salient question. The nation has suffered through many years of hope and it has ended up angry. It’s not just Trump supporters. We see anger in the mania called Black Lives Matter. 

None of it fazes Nussbaum. She sees hope in Chicago, even though her city is undergoing and has been undergoing an out-of-control crime wave. And she obviously does not care about the outcome. Apparently, hope is not quite the balm we need. 

If Nussbaum had not succumbed to the temptation to adulterate Aristotle with political correctness she would have drawn the correct conclusion. Americans are angry because Obama has diminished the nation, has sapped its pride, has made it a second-rate power, and has caused it to lose, not to win wars.

America under Barack Obama has lost status; it has lost prestige; it has allowed itself to be humiliated by the tinhorn mullahs of Iran… among others.

So, people are angry. And they are right to be anger. They do not seem to know how to set things right, but at least they have the right emotion. Which is more than we can say of the Chicago philosopher.

10 comments:

priss rules said...

No matter who wins, the deep-state collusion between state and media will continue to undermine truth and democracy.

priss rules said...

She is animated by hatred against white conservatives and traditional Christians.

It is audacity of hate masked by 'hope'.

Sam L. said...

It is always amazing, but not surprising, to see the obtuseness of the well-educated.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Aristotle said courage is the most important of the virtues, because it makes the others possible. Obama reserves what little courage he has for the domestic opposition, and embraces our nation's enemies. That doesn't seem courageous, it seems stupid. To be the land of the free, we have to be the home of the brave. Obama is not brave, he's brazen. And his bearing is not American.

One of Nussbaum's significant works was to introduce the "politics of disgust" to fight for homosexual "marriage." Ostensibly because no one ought become disgusted by love between two consenting adults, under any condition. And certainly we ought not bring the force of law into it, or that's the tyranny of the majority. My goodness, how many laws and regulations came into being last year? Her simplicity and naïveté are astounding.

Anger is bad? Anger is an emotion. I thought there were no bad emotions. I thought we were supposed to have empathy for all.

And now we come full circle, because "the audacity of hope" was a phrase Mr. Obama took from his mentor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. And he's not angry, is he? Naw, no rage there!

And who is the "all" we should comfort, console and empathize with? The world of the political/media/academic Left is so insular today. They preach tolerance but are anything but. Just don't get angry about it. No time for questions, there's always a crisis at hand, and we have to move "forward." That's Progress!

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

The hallmark of all Leftist thought is the ready one-size-fits-all answer to every imaginable problem, while simultaneously prattling on about championing and celebrating "diversity." We see this in everything: science, social studies, bureaucracy, technology. It's a lie. They have no stomach for the sausage-making of diverse approaches, which is why the distrust states and worship the federal (and soon global) government. There is no diversity in central planning... that's the idea (as well as the supposed solution and benefit). Progress!

Ares Olympus said...

This looks clear enough, except for the predicaments of at who, where, how and when.
Stuart: Aristotle saw the expression of anger as an ethical issue: you should express your anger to the right person at the right time in the right place in the right way under the right circumstances.

This is less convincing:
Stuart: If you fail to be angry when you ought to be angry you will be supinely accepting a diminished status.

Or at least we can first ask where status is derived, and I think if status is ONLY derived by your ability to put others of lower status in a hierarchy in their place, then your status is based on invoking fear, and is teaching others to derive their status by invoking fear.

I suppose the answer is there are different sorts of status.

The author Starhawk wrote about types of power. Power as fecundity or "flourishing" is perhaps just for women and plants. That's a 5-minute job for men, and then they're bored I guess.
------
What we need to be doing is not just changing who holds power, but changing the way we conceive of power. There is the power we're all familiar with — power over. But there is another kind of power — power from within. For a woman, it is the power to be fertile either in terms of having babies or writing books or dancing or baking bread or being a great organizer. It is the kind of power that doesn't depend on depriving someone else.
-------

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: America under Barack Obama has lost status; it has lost prestige; it has allowed itself to be humiliated by the tinhorn mullahs of Iran… among others. So, people are angry. And they are right to be anger. They do not seem to know how to set things right, but at least they have the right emotion.

I'm quite sure this is nonsense, and still thinking the problem is over the nature of status. Is status derived from the ethical issues of self-righteousness, or is it derived from the lies of self-pity?

And I'm quite confident that 99% of Americans are not thinking about Iran at all, and if America has failed us, it's because of economic issues, or failed expectations about the future. We can try to blame Obama, but surely this problem preceeds his presidency.

Also on a proper use of anger, I recall the story of the samurai:
http://unknowingmind.blogspot.com/2006/07/story-of-wise-samurai.html
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A samurai warrior once was charged with avenging a noble's death at the hands of a rival warlord. He trained for four years, studied the warlord's habits, and planned his attack. When the day came, he stealthily approached the warlord when he was alone, and cornered him. The samurai held his katana aloft, poised to strike the final blow, when the warlord, utterly defeated, spit in the face of the samurai. The samurai sheathed his sword and walked away, rather than kill the warlord out of anger.
-------

So the lesson is that personal anger is not sufficient for justice. And actually personal anger is the antithesis of justice, corrupting the execution of justice. The story is outrageous since you're 100% sure assassin is guilty, in a similar way that the justice system can throw out illegally obtained evidence and let a guilty person walk away.

I also recalled Kiplings poem to his son called If:
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/46473

When you read the poem you can be confident that Kipling is talking about "Anger management". And it is about ethics. It's about recognizing an autonomous center inside us who that is not dependent upon the good will or good sense of others. It is a dangerous center, since it can be based on lies as well, but it is a counterweight against external corruption.

Stuart: Anger might seem to be something like a desire, but it represents a duty to reassert your standing and status, thus, to save face.

I can mostly agree with this assertion. My difference is that I think anger shouldn't be directed towards your need for status, but the needs of the person who is acting out. That is, we have to hope they have a conscience, and our goal ought to be to help THEM save face. It's obvious to me that a person who acts badly is the one who has status problems and making people angry might RAISE their sense of personal status.

And I've seen perhaps 80% of anger is based on misunderstandings, and inaccurate projection of motives of another. So if you always react immediately and identically in all cases of your own anger, then you're possibly going to give a WRONG respond 80% of the time, and possibly escalate a conflict in ways that are not necessary.

So once physical safety is established, the most important thing is to slow down reactionary anger. Like the idea of the Awareness cycle separating: observations, assumptions, and feelings. If you can separate these, you can challenge your assumptions, and change your feelings, and what's left, observations, can be more neutrally reflected back to another person for them to evaluate how they look from the outside and evaluate that in their own conscience.

Or as parents say to children who are angry "Use your words."

Ares Olympus said...

p.s. Here's a video from maybe 2011 talking about the failure of the American Dream, narrated from a sort of "back to the future" perspective, worth a look. Its closer to the housing bubble of 2008 than 2016, but the bubble is not over.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mII9NZ8MMVM The Collapse of The American Dream Explained in Animation

I wonder what's the proper expression of anger when you sign a deal with the devil?

Do we scapegoat the bankers for giving us "free money", or ourselves for believing their feel-good lies?

In that regard, trusting Trump to "Make America Great Again" is a suspect solution to our anger.

David Foster said...

I posted some thoughts on anger--its uses and misuses--here:

http://chicagoboyz.net/archives/49277.html

Zarathustra said...

Nussbaum is not only a tenured leftist, first and foremost she is a woman. It is a toxic combination: Female narcissism empowered, freed from the healthy constraints of a normal woman's life.

To people of her mindset righteous anger, a quintessential character feature of an honorable male, just does not compute. From being a complex and virtuous phenomenon it is reduced to being something simplistic and The Problem.