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February 2017 Newsletter

February 28, 2017

CENTER FOR PUBLIC SCHOLARSHIP - UPCOMING EVENTS

Save the dates for the upcoming events on the Center for Public Scholarship calendar:

 

April 7: Public Voices 11 – Their America Panel. 6-8pm 55 West 13th Street

April 20-21: Invisibility – The Power of an Idea Conference. Locations vary.

May 1: Public Voices 12 – Imperialism: Is It a Relevant Concept? 63 5th Avenue.

 

More information via the Center for Public Scholarship online.

INVISIBILITY

 What is invisibility? And, perhaps more important, what does invisibility do? The Winter 2017 issue of Social Research explores the power and possibility of invisibility from diverse angles, from Emily Greenwood’s discussion of the mythical Gyges ring of invisibility in Plato’s Republic to editor Arien Mack’s explication of “perceptual invisibility,” a psychological phenomenon in which we do not see what is there to be seen.

 

Bent Flyvbjerg and Cass Sunstein, in their article “The Principle of the Malevolent Hiding Hand,” argue that the “Benevolent Hiding Hand,” the principle that optimism in planning leads to unexpectedly productive outcomes, is Janus-faced with the “Malevolent Hiding Hand.” In both cases, undesirable information and difficulties are ignored—but with very different results. Prominent Indologist Wendy Doniger notes that invisibility, in Hindu mythology, is “generally not morally colored: good people use it for good purposes, evil people for evil purposes.” These purposes range from the licentious (like entering a harem in secret) to the heroic. Invisibility here becomes a neutral tool, to be wielded toward any number of ends. And in the volume’s final paper, Michael Harris considers the puzzling fact that though we tend to think of mathematics as an invisible activity of pure logic, mathematicians have turned to visual metaphors since the beginning of the field’s recorded history.

 

Underlying the philosophical dimensions of the concept of invisibility are its very concrete implications and consequences. Arien Mack, in her introduction to the issue, perhaps says it best when she writes that “the inattentional blindness that is researched in cognitive science labs”—by which things to which we pay no attention, such as poverty, the homeless, the aged, the underrepresented, are rendered invisible to us—“can account for much of the social invisibility that plagues our society.” From the purely metaphorical to the very concrete, in this issue of Social Research it all comes down to what we do and do not see. And there is much to see—and not see.

 

- Jerusalem Parsons

SOCIAL RESEARCH, THE NEW SCHOOL, AND INTELLECTUAL EXILE 

 

Today, scholars from around the world from places like Turkey, Syria, Iran, Egypt or China experience oppression through persecution or employment bans forcing them to seek help in other countries or go into exile. Founded in 1919, The New School has a history of providing a safe haven for international scholars facing persecution. In 1933, The New School responded to the refugee crisis and threats to German scholars by establishing the University in Exile.

 

Exile means that one is abruptly separated from familiar places, customs and communities and confronted with the feeling of loneliness and estrangement. In our 1937 (4:3) issue of Social Research, reprinted in our 80th anniversary issue 2015 (82:1), Hans Speier notes, “solitude may destroy or elate the human being; in it he may find or lose himself; from it he may return wiser or broken.” Speier also observes that the scholar is a member of a community (generated by a common language, educational institutions or interests) that cuts across national, religious, racial and class boundaries. The existence of an intellectual community has therefore been a crucial factor in helping scholars and their families to survive as well as to pursue their work.

 

If we value the pursuit of intellectual activities, such as research, critical thinking, reflection and analysis, why then is it important to highlight the consequences of intellectual exile? In another article from our 1937 (4:3) issue and reprinted in 2015, Harold Lasswell argues that intellectual exile not only results in the diffusion of skills and knowledge but attitudes, such as helplessness and hopelessness. The unique contribution of scholars who find themselves in exile is the ability to “externalize, systematize and standardize all or many of the attitudes” and therefore “relieve bewilderment with explanation.” Consequently, the most promising outcome of intellectual activity in exile is the attempt to make sense of current events that otherwise provoke hopelessness, confusion and bewilderment paralyzing the organization of resistance to oppressive regimes.

 

Until recently many scholars sought protection, stability and support in the U.S. with the hopes of continuing their research and teaching activities despite the adversities faced in their home country. However, the U.S. has now become a place where the financial support for intellectual activities is increasingly under threat. President Trump’s plans to defund or even eliminate the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as the National Endowment for the Arts would seriously undermine the facilities, community and stability that provides scholars in exile with resources needed to cope with estrangement and solitude. And as New School President, David Van Zandt wrote recently for the Huffington Post, “the recent Executive Order banning entry into the United States by refugees, immigrants and citizens from seven predominantly Muslim nations is antithetical to the core values of inclusion and openness that make our institutions of higher education among the very best in the world.”[1] Therefore, institutions of higher education have an obligation to provide a safe environment for refugees and to help guarantee their safety. As Alvin Johnson, founder of the University in Exile and president of the New School, observes in our 1937 issue (4:3), “the Graduate Faculty was set up not as a refuge for European scholars, but as a refuge for a type of free educational institution which the world cannot afford to lose.”

 

Endangered Scholars Worldwide provides information on past and current cases from the above countries and others, see their website: http://www.endangeredscholarsworldwide.net/.

 

- Franziska König-Paratore

GIVING: CARING FOR THE NEEDS OF STRANGERS

 

In the space of a few days, the American Council for Civil Liberties (ACLU) received more than six times its average annual donation total. Typically, $3.5million is donated, yet in one weekend last month, its online donation total reached $24million. This was following the announcement of President Trump’s Executive Order imposing a travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries, and these do not seem to be typical times. 

 

In 2012, the Center for Public Scholarship hosted a conference on “Giving: Caring for the Needs of Strangers.” Social Research published an issue of the same title the following year. Editor Arien Mack noted in her introduction, the conference and the issue were not intended to lament the extreme state of need – this was taken as given. Rather they were to further our understanding of why we give and why we should give, the philosophical and religious roots of altruism, and how we can instill generosity in our young. She wrote that “our basic assumption is that understanding these issues is the most direct path to finding effective solutions to the problems that confront us.”

 

Matthew Bishop’s article "Philanthrocaptialism: Solving Public Problems through Private Means" argues that the impact of the 2008 financial crisis saw government spending facing increased pressure, while the wealthy survived in better shape: “the need for philanthrocapitalism will be greater than ever.” He argued that rather than replacing traditional grant-making or undermining the democratic processes of civil society, philanthrocapitalism permits a pragmatic, laser-like focus on achieving “impact.” Yet one of the notable philanthropists Bishop highlights is Peter Thiel, the controversial Silicon Valley billionaire and adviser to President Trump. The questions are then: what “impact” does philanthropy have, and for whom? Can philanthropy ever challenge the political and economic conditions which give rise to the issues that might require funding in the first place?

 

Joanne Barkan argues in her article “Plutocrats at Work: How Big Philanthropy Undermines Democracy” that in our age of immense concentrations of wealth, insufficient public resources, dominant market ideology, and unlimited private financing of political campaigns, "big philanthropy" is—more than ever—an instrument of plutocracy, of power derived from wealth, the result being a co-opting democratic control of public education in the United States to the detriment of both education and democracy.

 

In these atypical times, it may be helpful to draw some optimism from Tina Rosenberg’s article on “Harnessing Positive Peer Pressure to Create Altruism.” She argues that although peer pressure is generally considered a negative influence, one that can pull people into anti-social behavior, it can be an equally powerful force for encouraging altruistic acts. Pressure from peers can set a social norm of altruism and can inspire people to act heroically or altruistically in order to win the group's respect. The flood of donations that the ACLU received may be evidence of the power of positive peer pressure and its potential as a tool to create social movements for good causes.

 

- Lydia Nobbs

 

CUBA: LOOKING TO THE PAST, LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

 

The forthcoming summer issue of Social Research,Cuba: Looking Toward the Future,” guest-edited by LeoGrande, will provide readers with a close study of the island nation. Social Research first addressed Cuba in its pages in 1968, when James O’Conner, in “Political Change in Cuba, 1959-1965,” discussed Fidel Castro and Che Guevara’s revolutionary vision for the nation and the world following their popular ousting of Batista. “No one perceived the revolution in precisely the same way at any given moment,” O’Conner wrote on the divisive social transformation that ultimately lead to the demise of already shaky US-Cuban relations. Then, in 1981, in “Analogy as Temptation: Understanding the Present International Crisis,” Dominique Moisi discusses the urgency of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, comparing it to the events in Munich and Sarajevo that had each sparked a world war in their times. Though because “history does not give us infallible guidelines to act in the present,” the world remained uncertain in the face of nuclear arms. While history does not always repeat and defining Cuba can be tough, the small island clearly tends to play a notable role in global politics and is worth further consideration.

 

More recently, Mauricio A. Font’s 1996 article, “Friendly Prodding and Other Sources of Change in Cuba,” looked at the economic upheaval in Cuba following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1989, a time now known as the Special Period (Periodo especial). His article discusses this period through the passage of the Helms-Burton Act, which intensified the US embargo on Cuba. Many of these policies have been maintained or expanded since, feeding the nation’s current changes under Raul Castro, who took office nearly decade ago and has reasserted Cuba’s regional leadership. These articles and William LeoGrande’s 2015 article in our “Purse Power” issue, summarizing how US sanctions on the country have passed their expiration date, will serve our readers as great preparation for our much-anticipated summer issue and provide historical context for President Obama’s repeal of the Cuban Adjustment Act earlier this year.

 

Specially invited articles by leading experts from both sides of the Florida Strait will cover Cuba’s international and diplomatic relations with the United States, Latin America, Russia, and China; its economic interests, including modernization and emerging inequalities; and social issues such as access to technology, and the influence of religion and civil society on on Cuba’s twenty-first century society and culture. Please visit our website for the table of contents.

 

- Timothy Sughrue

 

 

 

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