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Ovi Symposium; Seventy-Eighth Meeting Ovi Symposium; Seventy-Eighth Meeting
by The Ovi Symposium
2017-03-16 09:09:38
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Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

Between Professors Emanuel Paparella, Ernesto Paolozzi, Michael Newman and Azly Rahman
Seventy-eighth Meeting: 15 March 2017

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Symposium's regular participants

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

 

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

newmanProf. Michael Newman received his Master’s of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Eastern Michigan University.  He discovered his love for teaching English as a Second Language while living abroad. He moved to South Florida and began his journey for a tenure track position at Broward College where he has recently earned a tenured position teaching English for Academic Purposes.  Another great passion of his is that of philosophical writing and discussion.  

azlyDr. Azly Rahman holds a doctorate in International Education Development from Columbia University, and multiple Masters Degrees in the fields of International Affairs, Peace Studies, Communication, and Education. He is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing. He has edited and authored seven books. He resides in the US where he teaches courses in Education, Philosophy, Cultural and American Studies, and Political Science. His interest in research and writing lies in the cultural interplay between Cybernetics, Hegemony, and Existentialism.

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Subtheme of session 78: The Concept of freedom, democracy and civilization within the political realities of our times.

Indirect Participants within the Great Imaginary Conversation across the ages: Plato, Aristotle, Adams, Jefferson, Donovan.

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Table of Contents for the 78th Session of the Ovi Symposium

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

First Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella: “An Imaginary Conversation between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson”

Second Presentation by Michael Newman  “Can Democracy in the United States Survive Real People?”

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Coordinator’s Preamble to the 78th Meeting

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Given the crisis in which American Democracy finds itself in at this time, we have decided to dedicate this 78th meeting of the Ovi Symposium to sundry reflections on the concepts of freedom, democracy, and civilizations vis a vis the turbulent political realities in which we live and have our being.

The first presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella is under the guise of an imaginary conversation in Washington DC by the second and third president of the US, namely John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Given that much of the present predicament of American democracy revolves around the figure of the current president, who better than two of his illustrious predecessors to share with us some thoughts on the issue?

To be sure, it is an imaginary conversation, open to interpretation, including that it is a mere opinion by Adams and Jefferson, or perhaps a misinterpretation by the author of the imaginary conversation. Nevertheless, it is meant to reaffirm what is sadly being lost in our era of post-truth and alternate facts where truth and falsehood and lying seem to be indistinguishable. It is affirming that there are indeed historical facts with which we need to begin any rational discourse. To deny the facts and simply create our own reality is to be end up in the lunatic asylum. Nowadays the White House is beginning to assume the appearance of one such. Which, of course, is not to say that imagination has no place in our discourse. Imagination and the poetical makes us see things that we would surely miss if we simply stuck to the empirical and the positivistic.

The second presentation by Michael Newman presents us with some personal reflections on our present predicament looking back at some crucial historical events in the US such as the phenomenon of slavery, racism, the civil war, the fear and hopes of ordinary people. Here again, the reader may disagree with the interpretation of the facts enumerated, including the most recent and most existential ones, but one cannot disagree with the facts themselves.

Both presentations have a common premise: that unity and cooperation is a much better option than strife and ideological wars. It’s up to the readers to then decide to adopt the former option and avoid the latter.

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1

An Imaginary Conversation between
John Adams and Thomas  Jefferson
on the Current Predicament of the United States

Dr. Emanuel L. Paparella

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John Adams, second president of the US      Thomas Jefferson, third president of the US

Adams: Good morning Thomas. What is your ghost up to, strolling through the streets of Washington DC so early in the morning?

Jefferson: Good morning to you too John. I surmise my reason is the same as yours: I’ve been unable to rest in my grave. A grave is supposed to be one’s final resting place, but these days I’ve been tossing and turning at the mere thought of what is happening in our beloved country. So I decided to take a walk and see what our ordinary fellow citizens are up to some 230 years after I wrote the Declaration of Independence. It’s a good thing that we are invisible and nobody can see us.

A: quite right Thomas, quite right. I have been in the grave just as long as you have been. Remember that we died the same day on the 4th of July 1826, and I don’t think it was a mere coincidence. In any case, it’s more reassuring to stroll through Washington and simply see ordinary people going about their business unconcerned with all the Byzantine political machinations taking place in the halls of government. To look at them, you’d think that all is well with the world and nothing extraordinary is going on.

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John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on the same day on the 4th of July 1826 

J: Ah, ignorance is bliss! But I suppose that had one taken a stroll through the streets of Philadelphia any day or hour of the week during the revolutionary times, things wouldn’t have appeared that much different. Surely you remember.

A: Indeed. But that “business as usual” atmosphere was quite deceptive even then. I remember only too well the words of Benjamin Franklyn reverberating in my head as I walked in the Philadelphia streets at the time: “either we hang together or we shall surely hang separately.”

J: Indeed, that was an urgent and wise warning to all of us revolutionaries. To rock the boat is to run the risk of being branded a subversive and a traitor fit for hanging.

A: no doubt about it. Had we lost the war of independence, we the signers of the Declaration of Independence would all have been hung together; every last one of us. All those ideals we spelled out in the Declaration of Independence would not have been very useful to any of us. Power would have trumped liberty, pun intended.

J. Yet, as you know John, today in America we have the spectacle of people in national security departments of the government who think nothing of conducting secret deals and negotiations with foreign powers, even acting as secret agents of the same, out to dismantle the whole security apparatus built over many years, not to speak of the Constitution. Some make no secret of wishing to “deconstruct” what they now dub Deep State. One such advisor is inside the White House, almost as a Trojan horse, and his name is Steve Bonner.

A. What did the Roman senator and orator Cicero say? “O tempora, o mores.” I suppose that is what you had in mind when you counseled that “eternal vigilance is the price of freedom” and that as Plato warned democracy built on ignorance is a pseudo-democracy.

J. Indeed, John, one cannot take liberty for granted just because we, the founding fathers, wrote its principles in a document called the US Constitution. Democracy demands education and eternal vigilance from all its participants. A democracy based on ignorance and apathy ignorant of its noble identity, is like a house built on sand.

A. How true. And history confirms it. As you know, I conducted a study of the history of republics throughout human history, and was somewhat surprised to discover that most republics died after an average span of approximately 300 years. That sounds rather natural, most human phenomena are born, grow and eventually die. What I found surprising and somewhat disconcerting, however, was that most of them did not die of natural causes, so to speak, or by external invasion by their enemies, but by self-inflicted suicide. The most common cause for the eventual termination was public corruption.

J. But the ancient Roman Republic lasted much longer than 3 short centuries. Can we not hope that the American republic will go beyond 300 years?

A. I wish I could answer yes but unfortunately, even Rome did not go on for very much longer after its imperial corruption culminating with the installment of the likes of Caligula and Nero.

J. Could you please elaborate on this point?

A. What happened with Rome, is that it held on to power and control but in effect the republican spirit had all but died by the time one gets to Caligula. That is to say, Rome was no longer a republic of virtue. It was on its way to becoming a swamp of corruption which would defeat it internally. It was not the barbarians that overrun the Empire; it was the Empire that forgot its foundations and traditions.

J. And how did the ancient Greeks and Romans understand virtue?

A. As you well know, Plato in the Republic, and Aristotle in his political and ethical tracts outline which virtues are necessary to govern a city. In the first place there is prudence and wisdom with concern for the common good as distinct from individual egoistic self-interest, there is also harmony among the various factions and branches of government, there is honesty, enterprise, free speech, the sincere belief and search for truth. There is democracy; there is the rule of law but also the rule of reason, compromise, tolerance; there is respect for the rights of others, for civil rights, human rights coupled with an intuition that all of these derive from the very nature of what it means to be fully human. There is the persuasion that unalienable rights are not granted by a powerful state but by the Creator and are integral part of human nature. They cannot be given and they cannot be taken away. This is the great mistake we made at the outset of our republic: we proclaimed unalienable right on paper but forgot to practice them when it came to the slaves who were also fellow human beings.

J. So, if I understand you correctly, you are saying that there is a strict correlation between the loss of those virtues you just enumerated and the eventual demise of any polity that conceives itself as democratic or republican?

A. Precisely Thomas. That’s why I coined the expression “Republic of virtue.” A republic of virtue has a better chance of surviving and going on for a while, albeit all of them came to an end eventually. Some of them went on for many years, even centuries, but it was only a semblance of democracy.

J. I concur. If one loses the very identity of being a republic or a democracy, one has for all intent and purpose ceased to be one. Not to be a republic of virtue is to be something else while continuing to delude oneself that one remains a democracy. That’s why I counseled “eternal vigilance as the price of freedom.” Not to be republic of virtue and of ideals, that is to say a perfectible political entity, is to become a tyranny or an oligarchy catering to special interests. It is to have as one’s core value the worship of power. And we have seen what absolute power does to individuals and nations.

A. Quite right, Thomas. Then voting and public debates become a charade. Voting is not the essence of democracy per se; it is merely a sign. The essence resides in truth and liberty. Once those are lost you have a floundering republic. A floundering republic is one where the principle of perfectibility (“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union” begins the US constitution) has been abandoned and that of the path of least resistance and greatest advantage has been instituted.

J. And what would you say, is the most glaring sign nowadays that the present American Republic (which we and other founding fathers started as a noble experiment some 230 years ago), is a floundering social experiment which doesn’t allow us to rest in peace in our tombs?

A. The most glaring sign, I dare aver, is the fact that many citizens no longer possess a great deal of respect for what the Greeks called the transcendentals: True, the Good, and the Beautiful. We seem to have gone back to the cynical question of Pilate: “What is truth?” Some talk of an Orwellian Deep State controlling everything which needs to be dismantled, or, as they put it “deconstructed.”

J. You seem to be saying that the centrifugal process of political disintegration is already an ongoing one in our country, just as there was one just before the Civil War that almost broke our country apart.

A. Yes, it is going on as we speak. All you have to do is look around. Cooperation and solidarity is the exception, fierce competition and survival of the fittest, a la Ayn Rand, seems to be the norm. There is a general disdain for institutions that have served us well for over two centuries. The conspiratorial counselor in the White House calls it “deconstructing the Deep State.”  

J. No doubt, our country is in deep trouble. And we have not even broached the subject of our present presidential descendant, Mr. Donald Trump. He seems to be the elephant in the room here.

A. Indeed, Thomas. But we have proceeded correctly by first examining the theoretical implications of democracy and republicanism, before dealing with particular individual charges that may appear biased and unilateral to those who have voted for and support Mr. Trump.

J. I suppose we now need to address the principal cause for our turning and tossing in our graves lately. Let’s therefore talk about Mr. Trump.

A. Consider this: how do you think I would have felt had I, the second president of the US, been accused by you, the third president of the US, of subversive and traitorous acts toward you while you were the president elect? Let’s say, of spying on you, with secret traitorous letters, given that there were no telephones at the time. We had our differences, God knows, especially on the issue of slavery, and sometimes they hurt our friendship, but they never induced us to go beyond the threshold of honor and civic duty to our country.

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Anomaly or Abnormality?

J. True, John, our mutual love for our country always managed to restrain us from descending to such a low level as slander and false accusations. But today honor and genuine patriotism has become a sham, not to speak of respect for the objectivity of truth. What seems to be all important is self-interest, narcissism and what is convenient and useful at the moment, never mind Truth, Goodness and Beauty.

A. I keep hearing the slogans “the era of post-truth” and “making America great again.” But it stands to reason that without truth, justice and fairness also become a chimera. The Greeks taught us as much.

J. I think we have arrived at the crux of the issue, John. It has to do with the issue of truth. What we may have sitting in the same place we used to sit in in the White House is a veritable embarrassment. We were not perfect men, far from it. Like most men, we were flawed, and historian has created for us the myth of men who never told a lie, but we never put in doubt the very concept of truth. We never denied that it had rained when the road was still wet, or that a crowd was there when it was not there, or that people had protested by the thousand in N.J. when the tween towers came down, or that unemployment statistics were fake when one’s predecessor was in office but true when one was in office, etc. etc. etc.

A. Indeed, the inability to distinguish truth from falsehood is a sure sign of psychological derangement, never mind metaphysics. What is most troubling of all, is that almost half of the country actually ignored the issue and elected the man to the presidency, which says something about the present collective psychological status of our country. As in the Andersen tale, few dare proclaim, like the little boy in the tale, that the emperor goes around without clothes.

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“The emperor goes around naked”

J. Which also says that my warning has not been heeded. As I walk throughout the country, I get the feeling that there isn’t much of a “republic of virtue” to be discovered; that a great purging via some social catastrophe may soon ensue. That perhaps it will lethally be brought about by the deconstruction of a Bannon. That perhaps at this crucial point the burden to save the republic will fall on the shoulders of a few heroes who understand the real peril of the crisis. In 1861 that purging, or perhaps divine retribution as one may wish to interpret it, came via the civil war and a hero like president Lincoln almost failed in his mission. But I ask, what are the lesson that should have been learned? Has  anything been learned? Or shall events follow their inexorable course toward extinction?

A. I am afraid I cannot offer a positive answer Thomas. I see the same resurgent centrifugal forces at work now that were in place then. Let’s hope we are both wrong in this regard, but the omens do not look very good, and unfortunately my study of republics and their demise confirms it.

J. Well, it was good to see you again and chat for a while, as of old, John. We can now return to our respective tombs. History will soon render a verdict on the present dire situation. Perhaps then we can meet again under the capitol and resume our conversation.

A. I am already looking forward to it, Thomas. Perhaps we can involve a few more former presidents who must also be turning and tossing in their graves, not to speak of those who are still alive and are incredulous at what they are witnessing.

J. By all means. Be well, and God bless America.

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2

Can Democracy In the United States Survive Real People?
Prof. Michael Newman

Plato said that good people do not need laws to tell them how to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around laws.  This is somewhat echoed by Jack Donovan in his book The Way of Men. In it he refers to the way of men as being the way of the gang.  Each man must find his role in the gang, or be excluded from it.  Exclusion could result in forming your own gang, or it could mean death if you don’t succeed. 

Donovan reveals and identifies the innate problem of freedom.  If the reader will permit me to cite a fictional character, Captain Jack Sparrow states it thus, “What a man can do and what a man can’t do.”  This is the heart of freedom.  When democracy and civilization are built, without adequately accounting for this freedom, that democracy and civilization suffer.  It is partly why Plato said that tyranny results from democracy.

A man will do what a man can do, and it requires a very altruistic spirit to not do that.  More frequently, to those in power, the common good becomes a puppet to the personal good.  This is readily acknowledged by lobbyists.  Thus the suffering of democracy is the same suffering of anyone in power, just on a rotating basis.  This is what has been seen, and is being seen today, in the political reality in the United States.  It is political power being used to achieve what is best for a few, while seeking to control the populace with fear.  The current fear is the fear of the immigrant, coupled with the old fear of lawlessness, rape and murder.  Trump proclaimed himself to be the “law and order” candidate, echoing the words of Nixon during his presidency.

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The Law and Order Candidate

This was brought brilliantly to light in the documentary13th.  In this documentary, it is suggested that the racial divide here in the US stemmed from the problem of slavery, which was never truly accounted for.  I believe that racism in the United States could arguably be seen as getting worse, not better, with further divisions of the populace being encouraged by the lack of technology, a lack of education, and the lack of understanding of the founding ideals of these United States: liberty and democracy.

In the United States, there was the idea of liberty, not freedom.  Indeed, the Declaration of Independence clearly states that we are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Liberty was the pursuit of freedom within limits, both legal and self-imposed, not just “what a man could do.”  It is upon this basis that the United States was founded upon.  This subjugation of man’s will to a higher good, either for the good of all, or the good of God brought about a nation that was unique in the world. 

We had a democracy that was built upon the foundation of law, but it was not without its problems.  Indeed, one issue that was not resolved came back much later to rear its ugly head and be a problem that we still feel the effects of today:  slavery.  Slaves were people who were not at liberty in this new democracy, and the Founding Fathers knew it was a problem, but not one that would be resolved in their time.  They chose to let others deal with the problem, and would take over 80 years before it would come to a head. 

The Civil War in the United States was an ugly one, one that pitted free and independent states against a Union that wanted to remain strong.  A major issue for those independent states was how slaves were treated.  Freedom and democracy, though with different meanings on both sides, were the watch words of the day.  How could we be a democratic country when there were people here who were not allowed to be at liberty?  How could we be democratic states when one group of states wishes to impose their will on others?  States where slavery was illegal wouldn’t return fleeing slaves to their owners in states where it was, tensions ran high, and moderates could no longer be moderate. 

Though not the choice of the majority of either side, war broke out.  After five long years, the North won, and so slaves were given their liberty, and the Southern states had to abide by the wishes of the Northern states.  The rights of the free Southerners were ignored.  In such a repressive situation, and as is always the case when force is exerted upon someone, resentment builds.  In this failure of democracy, the gang had won.  Now the repressed (the South) had only one public option: accept the repression.

Fighting it was a lost cause.  So instead, the fight morphed into Southern pride, and millions of slaves became a reminder of what they had lost.  Added to the mix was the fear of the violent among the slaves, and among the abolitionists.  Fear gripped people then, as it does today.  Fear “of what a man can do” becomes the tool used by those in power to subjugate the undesirables and deny democracy to those people who are not part of the gang. 

The gang has gotten larger.  Political power is being wielded to benefit those of the gang, but there are those on the outside who are willing to rise up and fight for their rights of liberty and democracy.  The fight appears to be rising.  So the question becomes: Is a war between the factions worth the cost?  It is the opinion of this author that it is not.  A peaceful resolution can be achieved through reasonable discourse, through study of the arts, and seeking to find that benefit to all factions.  As Plato mentioned about music, it is a moral law.  It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and charm and gaiety to life.  Building on this, all members of gangs could come together, and join the dance of life.

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 END  OF 78th SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (15/03/2017)

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Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

16th Meeting - 17th Meeting - 18th Meeting - 19th Meeting - 20th Meeting - 21st Meeting -

22nd Meeting -23rd Meeting - 24th Meeting - 25th Meeting - 26th Meeting - 27th Meeting -

28th Meeting -29th Meeting - 30th Meeting - 31st Meeting - 32nd Meeting - 33rd Meeting -

34th Meeting -35th Meeting - 36th Meeting - 37th Meeting - 38th Meeting - 39th Meeting -

40th Meeting -41st Meeting - 42nd Meeting - 43rd Meeting - 44th Meeting - 45th Meeting -

46th Meeting - 47th Meeting - 48th Meeting - 49th Meeting - 50th Meeting - 51st Meeting -

52nd Meeting -53rd Meeting - 54th Meeting - 55th Meeting - 56th Meeting - 57th Meeting -

58th Meeting -59th Meeting - 60th Meeting - 61st Meeting - 62nd Meeting - 63rd Meeting -

64th Meeting -65th Meeting - 66th Meeting - 67th Meeting - 68th Meeting - 69th Meeting -

70th Meeting -71st Meeting - 72nd Meeting - 73rd Meeting - 74th Meeting - 75th Meeting -

76th Meeting -77th Meeting - 78th Meeting -

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