“The world must be remade,” as Raoul Vaneigem wrote half a century ago—but how? Berardi’s argument in his recent work—and it must be said that Futurability repeats arguments made in The Soul at Work and Heroes—is that ordinary people are overwhelmed by despair because of their impotence to produce the kinds of radical change in social structures that are so obviously required if we want our lives to be, well, livable in any meaningful sense. This impotence leads to the by now all-too-familiar phenomena of resurgent ethno-nationalism, mass murder, and suicide, as well as to resistance in the form of heartening but short-lived movements like Occupy.
In January 2017 Mike received the Mark O. Hatfield Leadership Award from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities for “uncommon leadership” in the Christian values of higher education. The award was a wonderfully appropriate recognition of his contribution to the understanding of religion and public life in America today. Under his guidance, the EPPC set the gold standard, especially for clarifying Christianity’s role in modern society. He managed to challenge both liberal trendiness and conservative traditionalism while retaining the respect of both sides—no small achievement.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Native leaders were often torn about the best approach to dealing with their white neighbors—sometimes attempting to forge treaties in order to maintain control of their territory (despite the government’s very poor record of honoring such agreements), other times choosing outward defiance in the face of relentless pressure to shrink their power and landbase. But no matter which policy they were pursuing, many Indian leaders concluded it would be useful for their children to be educated in the ways of their neighbors.
Getting people to commit themselves and their resources to tackling pressing social problems can be a very good thing, but when it turns out that “tackling” never quite amounts to “solving,” we can be left with such bitterness, frustration, and anger that we might wonder if the original project is even worthwhile. I think what Niebuhr’s body of work suggests, and this might be his greatest gift to us, is that it is often indeed worth it, since to ignore those pressing problems amounts to violating Christ’s commandment to love our neighbors, but that it will just as often disappoint us, sometimes deeply.
True to his own foundation, Lear’s writing demonstrates a great deal of creative freedom, exploring the ironic interplay between Plato and Kierkegaard, the psychoanalytic dimensions of Shakespeare, J.M. Coetzee, and Marilynne Robinson, and the connections between Aristotle’s ethics and Native American cultural heritage. In relationship to psychoanalysis proper, Lear is not offering a belated entry in the Freud wars or an attempt to repristinate what’s become an unfashionable legacy. Instead of settling or fixating on Freud, Lear argues, we need to work through him: “if psychoanalysis is to live up to its promise of being a moral psychology—one that contributes as it comes to understand what it is to lead a full, rich, meaningful human life—it must find ways to mourn Freud’s legacy and move on.”
Interest in their lack of sentimentality is not necessarily full-throated endorsement. In the chapters on Sontag and Didion, Nelson sharply brings forward the limits of a self-consciously unsentimental pose, which can devolve into smugness or self-satisfaction. Still, she insists, what links the six women discussed in the book is not simply their toughness but a need for reality, a move toward the painful. If there’s not a sisterhood, there is at least a school of unsentimentality here. In their attitudes toward their subjects, they sought to comprehend, to rebuke, to pay attention, but not to justify or to comfort. One could characterize them as seeking, in every instance, to be deliberately uneasy.
Today’s news features several stories bearing on immigration to the US, international migration, and refugees around the world. How would you describe the present moment? Is there something distinctive about this juncture in time—an immigration crisis—or is that an exaggeration? How should we be responding?
In particular, stupidly broad protocols on the use of deadly force could . . . be tightened up. One prevailing standard, introduced apparently at random by a single police trainer, is that any civilian moving at an officer with a stabbing weapon from any distance within twenty-one feet may be shot, and more than two hundred of the yearly dead threatened with something other than a gun. But the documented outcomes of such encounters say that the officer’s chance of death is effectively zero. Under the Common Law concerning proportional self-defense, there is little or no rationale for a well-trained and well-informed officer to shoot; and there is only an iffy justification under the Tennessee vs. Garner Supreme Court ruling, that an officer may kill only someone posing a significant threat of death or serious injury to another.
Everyone’s genome contains genetic mutations. Some mutations might raise our risk for a disease or slightly change our propensity to freckle in the sun, but other mutations do not change such phenotypes at all. Still, greater knowledge of our genetic makeup necessarily involves greater awareness of potential health risks. As Dr. Colleen McBride, the former chief of the Social and Behavioral Research branch of the National Human Genome Research Institute, explained in an interview with Rochman, “The more [parents] anticipated feeling good, the more they wanted to test. But the reality is, those parents are going to get bad news. Their kids are going to be at risk for something.” Risk and destiny are not equivalent, but that news does not always calm an anxious parent.
Didion, as narrator, is aware of her own quirks, in ways that most of us are blissfully not; I am too often content to allow the pictures in my mind to remain unsullied if inaccurate, whereas Didion felt compelled to return and look again. She had visited the South once before, as a child, when her father was stationed in South Carolina during World War II. She notes that in her childish egocentricity (“which then approached autism”) she imagined the war as a punishment designed specifically to deprive her of her father.