Political Animal Magazine2019-03-27T14:53:23+00:00

SPOTLIGHT

Naomi Klein, Autism & Climate Activism

September 26th, 2019|

By Craig Collins

In a recent interview (TruthOut, Sept. 17, 2019) with Amy Goodman, Naomi Klein linked Greta Thunberg’s autism with her powerful commitment to combating climate chaos.  In doing so, I believe she promoted a serious misunderstanding about how autism is linked to Greta’s moral clarity on this existential threat.  In the interview quoted extensively below, Klein talks about autism and the human brain’s propensity for “mirroring.”

Klein portrays mirroring as a basically negative mental quality that has become a “huge problem” for most people because it keeps them distracted by the complacencies and opinions of others.  She believes Greta Thunberg’s reduced impulse to mirror allows her to stay focused and committed to her cause.  I disagree with Klein’s understanding of mirroring.  I also reject her belief that Greta and others with her form of autism have a reduced capacity to mirror.

Mirroring is the very foundation of our ability to empathize with other people and living things.  Our brain’s mirror neurons help us identify with the feelings of others.  Mirroring gives us the ability to walk a mile in their shoes, to see the world from their perspective.  In short, mirroring allows us to give a damn.  Greta’s autism does not limit her capacity to mirror or feel empathy.  Instead, it gives her the unwavering, obstinate mental focus to empathize deeply with the pain and suffering caused by something so scary, overwhelming, and conflicting that most people prefer to ignore it. (more…)

Silence as Speech: Reading Sor Juana’s Primero Sueño in the Light of her Final Silence

May 4th, 2016|

By: Rich Frontjes

Speakers and Listeners in Public Discourse

American public discourse is theoretically founded on the freedom of speech.  This freedom to speak, however, in no way guarantees entry into conversations where the common good is considered, assessed, or decided.  Free speech is the freedom to speak publicly—but participation in public discourse requires inclusion.  And inclusion is variously brokered: depending on the conversation, its participants, and the power dynamics at work, any given stream of public discourse involves a boundary.  On one side are the participants, and on the other side are the listeners—or, frequently, those whose attention is focused elsewhere.

In contemporary society, the boundary between participants and listeners exists partly as a function of access to media.  Individuals or groups with the (financial or other) power to gain access to media increase their chances of entering the public discourse.  The powerless, of course, are typically also voiceless.  But financial power has not always been the key that opened the door to participation in public discourse: various epochs and cultural moments have likewise had various modes of adjudicating participation in public discourse.

The present power of media outlets to perform this boundary-keeping function once resided largely within other institutions.  The Roman Catholic Church and its functionaries exercised considerable control over public discourse for centuries of European history and cultural development.  Exploring how participation in public discourse has been adjudicated in a specific past instance elucidates a dynamic which clarifies the nature of contemporary public speech.  In the example of the Mexican nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695), we discover a turn of events in which ecclesial power brokers attempted to enforce silence upon an otherwise astoundingly prolific poet.[1] (more…)

THEORY

Philosophical Arguments for Abortion

By |August 23rd, 2019|0 Comments

Arguments for ethical and legal conclusions on the topic of abortion are often pursued dialectically, with positive arguments developed in response to contrary positions and objections. Many people say they just “feel” that abortion is wrong or their “opinion” is that it’s not wrong. But complex issues require informed, fair and honest critical thinking, not just mere “feelings” or “opinions.”

Freud, Woodstock, and Crowd Behavior

By |July 25th, 2019|0 Comments

When you have a master or a leader, there’s always another master somewhere fighting them off or trying to contest them. The masters of other people can look pretty annoying to you, if not contemptible, irrelevant, reprehensible. I think about Beatlemania, where people were just horrified — What the hell is going on? These four guys with weird floppy haircuts. Or with Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, or any of the other rock stars. The disgust and terror that people have that others are caught up.

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PRACTICE

Arguing Dialectically about Abortion

By |August 23rd, 2019|0 Comments

How do we talk about abortion? How do we make arguments about a topic that evokes such strong reactions? In opposing articles, Nathan Nobis and Kristina Grob and Hendrick van der Breggen, approach the issue dialectically. One approach is to think dialectically--to critically examine arguments pro or con, in order to uncover the assumptions and grounds they rest on, and develop new arguments that respond to the faults we find in our prior positions.

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JUSTICE

Social Contract Theory

By |February 1st, 2019|0 Comments

When you make an agreement of some significance (e.g., to rent an apartment, or join a gym, or divorce), you typically agree to certain terms: you sign a contract. This is for your benefit, and for the the other party’s benefit: everyone’s expectations are clear, as are the consequences of failing to meet those expectations.

Plato’s Crito: When should we break the law?

By |January 11th, 2019|0 Comments

Plato’s Crito describes a conversation that takes place in 399 B.C.E. in an Athens prison, where Socrates awaits execution.Not long before, an assembly of more than 500 Athenian citizens convicted Socrates of corrupting the youth and impiety, essentially failing to respect the gods of the city.

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ARTS & LETTERS

Freud, Woodstock, and Crowd Behavior

By |July 25th, 2019|0 Comments

When you have a master or a leader, there’s always another master somewhere fighting them off or trying to contest them. The masters of other people can look pretty annoying to you, if not contemptible, irrelevant, reprehensible. I think about Beatlemania, where people were just horrified — What the hell is going on? These four guys with weird floppy haircuts. Or with Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, or any of the other rock stars. The disgust and terror that people have that others are caught up.

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