Saturday, February 23, 2008

The dilemma of defining a Public Intellectual

What is a public intellectual? How do you become one? Who decides who is or is not a public intellectual? These are some of the question that I have pondered on for the past couple of weeks. Trying to wrap my brain and come up with a simple explanation of a “Public Intellectual.”
In my quest for unveiling this mysterious title I came across various essays and articles, where the writes explain or try to explain in a various ways what a Public intellectual is. So is the case with John Lukacs who brought some historical fact about the word “intellectual” he writes “intellectuals have become recognizable not because of their schooling but because of their opinions.” Still with this simple explanation the matter should be put to rest, on the contrary this opens up new avenues of discussion why their opinions matter more than the other person. Confused already, my head still hurts from thinking about it.
Ok, let us try to make this as simple as possible we need to Jeffery R. Di Leo referred to the public intellectuals as “one sided argument.”
Di Leo comments “From the public point of view they are either Republican or Democrat; liberal or conservative; left-wing or right-wing… Public intellectuals signify or are reduced to nothing than a position, and usually an extreme one-on a topic of contemporary social and political concern.”
This explanation seems very simple enough, Di Leo also separates the concept of public intellectuals into two different spheres the academe and the public-private sector.
“Public intellectuals play crucial role in the circulation, production and identity of knowledge though to the two world they inhabit-academe and the private-public sector-both compete for their allegiances and affiliation. The interests of these two worlds are very different, academe privileges highly specialized modes of discourse, whereas the public-private world favors generalized one.” In a way Di Leo has separated the Public intellectuals into two different spheres the academia that are driven by their ideas whereas the public-private sphere that are driven by selling ideas, he is basically bringing the notion of quality in the academic sphere vs. quantity in the public-private sphere.
He also bring a key component in public intellectual that of public, the size of the public plays a very important role in the value of the public intellectual “ the greater the public the greater value that is ascribed to the public intellectual.”
In a way this separation makes a lot of sense to me. Think about, the academic intellectuals will be talking about thing that matter their field of knowledge and expertise, as for the public-private sphere well their discussions are generalized one to a level that is very simple to an ordinary citizen to understand and relate to.
Although Di Leo has shed some light on the Public intellectuals and separated them into two different spheres he still has not clearly defined what a public intellectual is.
The best example comes from Alan Lightman in his article “The role of public intellectuals”
Lightman bring the example of Ralph Waldo Emerson and his essay “The American Scholar” in this essay Emerson describes the meaning and the function of the intellectual.
In this essay Emerson describes the intellectual as “preserves great idea of the past communicates them and creates new ideas. The intellectual does all of these things not out of obligation to his society, but out of obligation to himself.”
The idea of the intellectual that is described by Emerson feels more of a noble idea, but a very true one, what Emerson describe as an intellectual is by far the most tangible idea ever.
To add to the above notion but with a more political character Edward Said describes “the intellectual’s mission in life is to advance human freedom and knowledge, this often means standing outside of society and its institutions and actively disturbing the status quo.”
With these two ideas combine together we draw a very distinct picture of what a public intellectual is, although some may disagree with this idea.
Lightman also bring a hierarchy of levels of public intellectuals
-level one: speaking and writing for the public exclusively about his/her discipline, example Brian Green’s book The Elegant Universe.
-level two: speaking and writing about his/her discipline and how it relates to the social, cultural, and political world around it, example James Watson’s the Double Helix.
-Level three: by invitation only. The intellectual has become elevated to a symbol, a person that stands for something far larger than the discipline from which he or she originated. According to Lightman these intellectuals is asked to write and speak about a large range of public issues. Example Einstein was asked to give public addresses on religion, education, ethics and world politics.
As we can see there is a trend in Lightman’s level’s and where these intellectuals stem from, they all come from the academic field with focused public and move on to more general and wider public. As an academic in the field of astronomy he later started to write essays about the human side of science.
The is another aspect of the public intellectuals that we did not cover is the religion side, in his essay “Wicked Paradox” Stephen Mack brings another component to the Public intellectual which is religion. He quotes Beinart “These men and woman have been intellectuals of a special kind-people whose religious training and experience shaped their vision of a just society and required them to work for it.”
Although public intellectuals with religions background in my view are the most beneficial intellectuals to our society but sooner or later their ideology seems to shift to more personal gain rather the greater good.
Those public intellectuals with religious background connect with the public on the levels of harmony, kindness to other and equality in society.

The process of defining public intellectuals may seems very simple, but the fact is that it is more complicated that a physics problem, but thing is with a physics problem there is only one right solution. In the problem of public intellectuals the matter is subjective. For me who I consider as a public intellectual may be a ranting person for someone else.
So before you decide who you think is a public intellectual think about his/her responsibility towards you and your fellow citizen.
As a last though I will leave you with a poll that the Prospect a British magazine did for the top 100 public intellectuals in the world and guess who is number one?
These are the top 10 only:
1-Noam Chomsky
2-Umberto Eco
3-Richard Dawkins
4-Vaclav Havel
5-Christopher Hitchens
6-Paul Krugman
7- Jurgen Habermas
8-Amartya Sen
9-Jared Diamond
10-Salman Rushdie

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Waterboarding is back! Where is my bucket?

The White House on Wednesday said that “the interrogation technique known as waterboarding is legal and the president could authorize the CIA to resume using this technique.”,1,3156438.story?ctrack=1&cset=true

This statement by this administration has surprised many … after all that they have done!
There is a tug-of-war between the president who thinks he is above the law and Congress that wants to restrain him from going postal. This is another page of this battle, even though Congress has passed two laws: the Detainee Treatment Act in 2005 and the Military Commissions Act in 2006, which ban the use of harsh interrogation methods and require all agencies to comply with the U.S. Constitution and the Geneva Convention in their treatment of detainees. According to Tony Fratto, White House spokesperson, “the Justice Department had reviewed waterboarding and made a determination that its use UNDER SPECIFC CIRCUMSTANCES AND SAFEGUARDS WAS LAWFUL.” Of course we know that every situation and circumstance is of upmost important to the security of the nation - you can’t argue with that!
Spreading the notion that this nation is in imminent danger from terrorist attack at any time these measures have to be put in place to deter and prevent such attacks. The idea of scaring the American people may have worked once or maybe twice. Hell, it will always work. This administration has worked its magic in hypnotizing the people so well that every time it says “terrorist attack” the whole nation just follows like sheep to the slaughter house, looking away as they kill, torture or invade other nations.
Senator Dianne Feinstein put it so eloquently when she said, “ This is a black mark on the United States …it says to others that we are prepared to use the same kinds of tactics used by the most repressive regimes.”


Saturday, February 2, 2008

Corprotocracy and Globalism two faces of the same coin

According to Wikipedia corprotocracy is defined as “A neologism coined by proponents of the Global Justice Movement to describe a government bowing to pressure from corporate entities.” In the case of the US government, this description is clearly visible in the pressure put on the politicians through corporate lobbyists and especially evident in their control of the government agencies which were specifically created to regulate these big corporations.
While the US government governs under the banner of democracy, in actuality, it is the big corporations with their inconceivable wealth that are pulling all the strings and calling all the shots on our foreign and domestic policies.
The history of corprotocracy in the US can be traced back to the Spanish American War of 1898, where the government, influenced by greedy corporations, blamed the explosion of the warship USS Maine on the Spaniards. Even though later the tragic event was attributed to an accident, this political and corporate tactic caused the invasion of Cuba, stripping it of its government and wealth. This is one of the many examples that are recorded in the pages of history, and one only needs to read between the lines to learn the reasons for the aggression of corporations as embodied in the actions of the US government against other countries.
In the process of defending democracy, protecting U. S. interests, and fulfilling our responsibilities as the world leader we see the influences of the corporate war machine in our government’s decision to invade and attack foreign lands. Corporations are driven by profit, and unfortunately, war is profitable for these entities.
The war in Iraq represents one of the most transparent events exemplifying the concept of corprotacracy. It was based on the false pretence of Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, which was widely exposed to the American people by the President, who proclaimed the ties between Al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein, exploiting people’s fear and preoccupation with the tragic events of 911. Although purely humanitarian and patriotic on the surface, the invasion of Iraq by the US military translated into a lucrative opportunity for the American corporations; the same ones that contributed heavily to the Presidents campaign a few years earlier. Having been given card-blanche, employees of companies like Blackwater are exempt from being prosecuted and from being held accountable for murdering innocent civilians.
After approximately five years of occupation and loss of over four thousand American soldiers, the cost of the war continues to rise into the billions even after the facts are exposed.
One of the most controversial books about corprotocracy is “Confession of an Economic Hit Man” by John Perkins which provides an insider's account of the exploitation or neo-colonization of third world countries
by what Perkins portrays as a group of corporations, banks, and the United States government.
The book illustrates in detail how the big corporations go into third world countries like Panama, Indonesia, and even Saudi Arabia, where under the pretence of building the infrastructure of the country, they inflate economic prediction and in turn secure loans and funds through various international banks, which put the country in great debt that it will never be able to pay-off.
Perkins also casts some light on the relationship between the house of Saud of Saudi Arabian and the Bush family and their extensive financial collaborations.
Perkins also talks about the current President’s failed ventures in the field of energy and how through a merger with Spectrum 7, his own failing company, Arbusto, was rescued and later purchased by Harken Energy Corp; the same company where the president serves as a board member and a consultant with an annual salary of $120,000. (Perking, p194)
This book illustrates how corporate America has its influence in the policy making, not to mention their strong hold of the White House and how they influence the presidential elections.
The past several presidents have been chairmen and CEO of fortune 500 companies. Now wouldn’t that be considered a conflict of interest?
Where is the loyalty of our presidents – in the American people or in the corporations?
In this perspective, the campaign contributions that a presidential candidate accumulates while running for the White House are more of a bribe than a contribution. The special interest groups that give hundreds of thousands of dollars to the candidate are not supporters of a cause but are companies that are paving the road for pushing a bill or a policy that favors them.
(link)white house for sale web site posts: “This Web site allows you to follow the money trail of campaign bundlers
– or people who funnel money to campaigns – as they collect thousands, and sometimes even millions, of dollars from other people for the 2008 presidential candidates.”
so what is the solution?
the Corporate machine is working 24/7 ecumulating wealth and robing countries of their natural resoucres.
i think it is a time to have another tea party!