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April 2017 Newsletter

April 6, 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.

REVISITING THE COMPLEXITIES OF TRUTH-TELLING, LYING AND DECEPTION

 

From Trump’s claims about the number of people who attended his inauguration, to his denial of climate change, to his assertion that Muslims are a threat to national security, lying, disseminating false facts, and withholding information seems to have become a potent feature of the Trump administration. In our “post-truth” era, we must ask what impact this has on the freedoms and rights of US citizens, residents, immigrants, and refugees, but we must also ask whether there are situations when lying remains inconsequential—or even saves lives. The Fall 1996 issue of Social Research on “Truth-Telling, Lying and Self-Deception” examined these complexities in thirteen articles on the significance of truth-telling and lying in politics, everyday life, children’s development, poetry, and the theater. They have renewed resonance for the current moment.

 

Mary Mothersill, in her paper “Some Questions about Truthfulness and Lying,” recognized the arbitrary use and perception of lying, and asked why we “think of lying as an evil at all.” Mothersill’s question points to an important aspect of truth-telling and lying: context matters. That is, it matters who is lying, and where and when the lie is told, as well as who is listening. Bernard Williams, in his article “Truth, Politics and Self-Deception,” also raised the importance of context and urged us to reflect on how the truth or, for that matter, a lie is transmitted—what kind of media and methods are employed to communicate the message, and how is the truth distorted, hidden, and interpreted along the way.

 

If context matters, why is it important that politicians and governments tell the truth at all? What is at stake when the truth is distorted by politicians, and those who lie are empowered? The answer lies in our expectation that governments protect the well-being of their citizens. Williams reminds us that carrying out this responsibility requires the state’s use of secrecy; he also notes that governments “will be lucky” if they can fulfill this obligation to protect without the use of force. It matters, then, whether a private individual or government uses deception since their responsibilities, sphere of action, available means and audiences are dramatically different. A private individual’s lies may have consequences such as strained relationships or difficulties at work, a government’s lies can lead to strife on a national or even global scale.

 

The question of media and methods of communication has come to the fore with Donald Trump’s use of Twitter and the White House’s exclusion of news outlets that do more than merely repeat (or supply) the administration’s message. More than two decades ago, Williams suggested that television contributed to the perception of politics as entertainment. Politicians became characters we engaged with as if they were stars in a soap opera (or perhaps a reality show in the current context), with the consequence that “one accepts the invitation to half believe in them.” Today, social media exceeds the reach of twentieth-century media such as television. It has pervaded the private sphere and become an integral part of public life in the United States and we now have a TV star as president of the US!

 

Social media tools are equally suited to sharing facts and opinions and to providing entertainment. In order to “restore the trust” between the public and politicians, as called for by Alan Ryan in his article, “Professional Liars,” it is important that we pay close attention to how politicians use social media to distort facts in order to justify their actions. If we know how to read and interpret the messages we receive t, we will be much better equipped to expose and challenge the deceivers.

 

- Franziska König-Paratore

CLIMATE CHANGE DEMANDS WE CHANGE. WHY DON'T WE?

 

After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, many New Yorkers began to understand the how serious the impact of climate change on their lives could be. Yet, as the Fall 2015 Social Research issue, Climate Change Demands We Change. Why Don’t We? makes clear, understanding the science is not enough. We must change too. Contributors to this issue underscore the urgency with which the problem of climate change must be addressed. And yet, as editor Arien Mack notes in her introduction, “despite the urgent need for action, we have seen a marked reluctance on the part of governments, corporations, and the general public to do what is necessary.” The papers in issue, which were originally presented at a Center for Public Scholarship conference in April 2014, explore how psychological factors, money, politics, and infrastructure act as barriers to change.

 

Elke U. Weber writes that “there is no silver bullet—no single solution—to get us to a sustainable climate.” However, a combination of political, technological, economic, and behavioral actions and interventions are required in order to make necessary progress towards that goal.

 

Recognizing that complexity, Joel Towers points out that the difficulty of responding to climate change can be linked to the “human tendency to avoid knotty, multiscalar, temporally intergenerational problems.” John Jost writes that decades of psychological research show that people are resistant to changing beliefs that are logically or psychologically connected to systems of beliefs and values that are important to them (like ideologies). And, as Michael Oppenheimer writes in his article in the issue, “fear of disaster is a poor motivator to action because fear is paralyzing.”

 

Frances Beinecke’s keynote address at the conference, published as an essay in the issue, highlighted that climate change is simultaneously personal and global. She acknowledged the enormity of the task and the fundamental shifts required from countries, companies, cities, states, and each one of us, observing that “some changes are technological, some are behavioral, and all require a tremendous commitment to action.”

 

In contrast, President Trump’s March 28 Executive Order to withdraw and rewrite the Clean Power Plan raised doubts about the future of the United Nations agreement on climate change made in Paris in 2015, and reinforces an ideological message that addressing climate change has no place on the administration’s agenda. This is, no doubt, a major setback to work toward minimizing the effects of human activity on the environment. The greatest challenge, then, may indeed be not to fall into despair, and to keep committing to change, however possible. As Beinecke writes, “one of the pitfalls of climate communication is that people feel there is nothing to be done.” She suggests that we can overcome such defeatist attitudes by, for example, looking to grassroots organizations that engage communities and can show us what climate solutions look like in our own lives. She argues that a “lack of solutions is not the problem. We know how to fight climate change and we know the pathways forward.”

 

- Lydia Nobbs

SPOTLIGHT ON: ENDANGERED SCHOLARS WORLDWIDE

 

Attacks on higher education communities are occurring at an alarming rate around the world, threatening the safety and well-being of university and college scholars, students, and staff. That is why Endangered Scholars Worldwide (ESW), a Social Research initiative, founded at the New School in 2007 on the conviction that academic freedom and freedom of inquiry are fundamental human rights, is more deeply dedicated than ever to raising public awareness and support for academics, researchers, and students around the world who have been threatened, silenced, or imprisoned for doing their scholarly work or speaking out against injustice.

 

Over the past five years, ESW has successfully increased its research network into Africa, and has identified previously ignored cases in Asia and the Middle East. In addition to tracking news sources and human rights organizations around the world, ESW's researchers now have regular contact with colleagues and family members of threatened academics, particularly in Iran, Turkey, and China, in order to closely monitor developments. Since the attempted coup in Turkey last summer, they have been in near-daily contact with our network within the country. A section of their website, is devoted to tracking the situation of Turkish academics, and they have taken the lead on publicizing the plight of imprisoned and detained academics in Turkey.

 

ESW's work in support of persecuted scholars with dual citizenship between the United States and a second country has contributed to successful actions on behalf of endangered scholars around the world, including the release of Iranian American journalist Jason Rezaeian. Currently we are putting pressure on the Turkish government to release the Turkish American astrophysicist Serkan Golge, who is in prison on charges of espionage.

 

Threats to academic freedom are mounting around the globe. In this critical moment, readers are urged to show support for threatened scholars. ESW's website follows cases, publishes letters of protest, and signs petitions to pressure responsible authorities to do what is right. Information is also available on the Facebook page. If you know of endangered scholars or students whose cases Endangered Scholars are not yet following, please contact esw@newschool.edu.

 

- Ebby Abramson

SPOTLIGHT ON: THE JOURNAL DONATION PROJECT

 

When East and Central European countries were still under the shadow of communism in the late 1980s, Arien Mack, editor of Social Research, embarked on a project to bring the work of scholars in those states to the attention of Western readers. Her work led to the publication in 1988 of two special issues of Social Research on “Central and East European Social Research” (volume 55, numbers 1 and 2). A year later, the Iron Curtain came down. Across the region, and in the former Soviet Union, the scholars that Mack had met repeated the message they had given her years earlier: Please help us build scholarly ties with the West.

 

Mack did, establishing the Journal Donation Project (JDP) in 1990 and building up at first a small and then an extremely large network of publishers who provided libraries across East and Central Europe with free subscriptions to their scholarly journals. Housed at the New School for Social Research for now more than 25 years, the JDP has expanded its reach and assisted a vast network of libraries in 30 countries across Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. All of these libraries are housed at institutions of higher learning in countries that for political or economic reasons have been unable to build their own collections or create major research and teaching libraries with current, high-quality journals published in the West: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Estonia, Ghana, Georgia, Hungary, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Latvia, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Nigeria, Poland, Palestine, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Serbia, Tanzania, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine.
 

The project accepts gifts to help continue its mission, and all gifts are tax deductible. JDP also accepts donations of full volumes of back issues of periodicals, though they do require that the donor cover the shipping costs to the recipient library. Please visit their website to read more about their work. 

 

- Beatrice Wainaina 

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