Democracy, Education, and Community in Vermont: A Barnard Manifesto

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/19/2017


“The competence of the exploiter is in organization; that of the nurturer is in order…The exploiter typically serves an institution or an organization; the nurturer serves land, household, community, place. The exploiter thinks in terms of numbers, quantities, ‘hard facts’; the nurturer in terms of character, condition, quality, kind.” – Wendell Berry


“No substantive sense of civic virtue, no vision of political community that might serve as the groundwork for a life in common, is possible within a political life dominated by a self-interested, predatory, individualism.” – Jean Bethke Elshtain


“If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the union and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.” – Calvin Coolidge


Unfortunately, recent debates around education in Vermont have demonstrated that we are losing the battle to preserve the spirit of liberty Coolidge invokes. A pernicious vocabulary is being imported from other parts of the country – performance, value, efficiency, choice, accountability – are among the most common terms. These words have their origin in an equally pernicious worldview that sees economic questions at the center of human society, rather than questions of ethics or democratic governance. The exploiters are slowly displacing the nurturers and civic virtue is being sacrificed for the allure of individual achievement.

State government in Vermont is following a familiar path that seeks to centralize decision making into fewer and fewer hands. Proponents speak of modernizing, of expertise, of metrics, but they fail to acknowledge that a citizenry that can’t be trusted to control its own educational decisions is not comprised of citizens at all. And they fail to acknowledge that an education imposed by bureaucrats is not an education, it is indoctrination. Most importantly, they fail to acknowledge that the idea of education being relegated to administration by experts has failed throughout the country.

The model of education the state is attempting to impose might produce tremendous gains for some, but will relegate many more to the margins. School consolidation driven by a market mentality simply reproduces for students the same inequality that the market produces elsewhere. Equality of access, a liberal dream, is not equality. Thus, although everyone is, in theory, free to compete in the market, that freedom is curtailed by large structural inequalities. And given that school consolidation and increased curricular offerings have been instituted throughout the United States, it should be clear, given that economic inequality has skyrocketed, that any talk of educational equity is just cover for the centralization of power. Educational administration serves primarily to preserve the institution, the organization rather than the community and the will of its people. It serves itself, not the spirit of liberty.

Of course, education entails much more than schooling. As Vermonter John Dewey said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” Thus, the resistance in Vermont to Act 46 is educational. Communities standing up for their right of self-governance is educational. Townspeople fighting to change the law, rather than simply caving into it, is educational too.

These are not mere philosophical disagreements, they are fundamental philosophical disagreements. It is an argument about whether education is a vehicle for individual accomplishment, or a community resource. It is an argument about whether education is meant to train future participants in the global economy or to nurture civic life. Of course it can be all those things, but the worldview of economic rationality so permeates the discussion, that one is considered a fool to argue against such hallowed concepts as “increased choice,” “flexibility,” or “economies of scale.”

Sadly, many of our democratic institutions have been eroded by a consumerist mentality that privileges convenience, standardization and cost efficiency over complexity, diversity and intrinsic value. Democracy, is inherently connected to education, and education to community, and all of them to scale. Democracy, education, and community are more than mere institutions, they are ways of living.

Thus, human life and human values must always be at the center of the discussion, rather than the operational needs of administrators. “Get big, or get out,” was a famous admonishment to farmers from the Nixon administration. That policy served agribusiness and government agencies quite well, but has been a disaster for our food system and environment. Vermont has been a leading voice for the value of human scale farming. It should do the same for education.

Vermont thrives, not despite its small size, but because of it. If it is to continue to thrive, rather than merely survive, we need to protect what makes Vermont different from other places, not eliminate those differences.

A matrix of possibilities for food, leisure, democracy

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 06/29/2016


Intensification without representation – a recipe for collapse

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 06/20/2016

Inspired by M. Jahi Chappell (title above), Ivan Illich (relationship of energy consumption, social/economic inequality, and specialization) and Joseph Tainter (quote below). Needless to say the arts are subject to the same law of declining marginal returns. Also note that there is immense energy consumption involved in administrators maintaining the social coercion necessary for institutional buy in from the administered.


Social practice and ecological democracy

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/18/2016

David Granger’s “John Dewey, Robert Pirsig, and the Art of Living” – Chapter Five

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/10/2014

…To “unweave a rainbow” and treat its components as ontologically superior is, within Dewey’s and Pirsig’s metaphysics to commit *the* philosophical fallacy.

[Martha Nussbaum] Philosophy has often seen itself as a way of transcending the merely human, of giving the human being a new and more godlike set of activities and attachments. [An] alternative…sees it as a way of being human and speaking humanly. That suggestion will appeal only to those who actually want to be human, who see in human life as it is, with its surprises and connections, its pains and sudden joys, a story worth embracing. This in no way means not wishing to make life better than it is. But…there are ways of transcending that are human and “internal” and other ways that involve flight and repudiation.

…If human inquiry is conceived as a natural event- something that goes on in nature – there is not ontological division between self and world in which the skeptic can open a radical cleft of some kind.

…a nonskeptical attitude necessitates that we relinquish the idea that our primary relation to the world is one of knowing or not knowing. The world’s contingent presentness to us, the way it is disclosed to us…is not principally a matter of knowing. Rather, it is a function of those immediate meanings emerging from our shared forms of life…”attunements” or “alignments” – and the intrinsic significance that people and things come to possess over time through the part they play in various life activities.

philosophy is much more a discourse about culture, about the funded meanings of everyday life, than about knowledge per se…these thinkers [Emerson, Dewey, Pirsig, etc.] all perceive the emptiness or even danger of continuing to wrestle with the problems of epistemology, and so they work to undermine the attenuated (skeptical) picture of human experience that helped give birth to, and in some quarters continues to nourish, the convention of asking questions about foundations and certainty. In other words, they do not so much evade what Dewey calls “the industry of epistemology” as attempt to undercut “the claims of its questions.”

Marriage, for Wordsworth, is foremost a way of being in the world. It entails a continuous (re) affirmation and (re) acknowledgement of the conditions of our humanity, something more pervasive and primordial than a scripted rule – or precept-bound relationship. This marriage is not so much an event (like a wedding ceremony) as an attitude toward events – an attitude of care, mindfulness, fallibility, and adventure. And here we can detect strong resonances with Dewey’s and Pirsig’s accounts of artistic engagement…resonances suggesting that aesthetic or high-quality experience is a prominent and recurring feature of this Wordsworthian marriage. It represents the possibility of an ever renewable intimacy with an infinitely meaningful environment, a revitalizing devotion to the everyday. With it, Dewey says, we shed our indifference to the qualitative uniqueness of things. We begin to crack the shell of mundaneness that often accrues around everyday objects so as to “share vividly and deeply in meanings to which we have become dumb.” Such experience also calls attention to the fact that this marriage requires emotional as well as intellectual responsiveness ( a “feeling intellect), and therein it reminds us of the skeptical withdrawal or torpor that can very easily make us feel as though we are not at home in the commonplace world.

…”Ultimately there are but two philosophies,” Dewey concludes, “One of them accepts life and experience in all its uncertainty, mystery, doubt, and half-knowledge and turns that experience upon itself to deepen and intensify its own qualities – to imagination and art”. In short, it takes the limits and liabilities of the human condition and turns them into poetic affirmations. The other philosophy is that of the Cavellian [Stanley Cavell] skeptic.

If this journey is to consist of more than observing, redescribing, and mapping from a distance, it must be an adventure in living no less than thinking, and a personally challenging one at that.

…Thoreau, however, understands reading (as well as writing) as the demanding process of engaging with the complex energies and movements of language.

…Thus do we see the Emersonian poet-philosopher alluding to great scholars, writers, and artists. But they are to be taken more as inspirational progenitors than models to be imitated. Their creations are to be appropriated and put to work, used to expand our present and future horizons of meaning rather than passively assimilated. “Around every circle another can be drawn,” runs the Emersonian credo.

Dewey holds that unimpeded participation in social activities, shared interests, and open communication are the basic ingredients of democratic life, More than that, they are inherently educative. Common, community, and communication are inseparable in his view. A critical-creative culture, along with supporting institutions – educational institutions chief among them – are crucial to obtaining and safeguarding those goods amidst the precarious struggle for a meaningful existence. Taken together they share the responsibility of nourishing and sustaining the conditions necessary for cultivating ***the art of experience*** – the principal measure, as I have suggested, of Deweyan democracy. This means that it is the frutiful practice of democracy in the everyday that Dewey holds most dear, not a specific set of institutions or political arrangements. Deomcracy, he says repeatedly, is something continually to strive for, a never-ending experiment in associated living rather than a static achievement or legacy to be bequeathed. As such it requires strong, educated, imaginative individuals. [Democracy as a way of life – Art as a way of life]

Dewey’s conception of individuality differs frome Emerson’s and Pirsig’s in that it rejects *in principle* the prospect of individuality without sociality…He claims that individuality can only be actualized through a sustained period of overt participation in social life, whether in the form of active approval or disapproval. This means that Emrson’s so-called original unit is really a product of years of varied association. As Dewey argues in Individualism, Old and New:

moving and multiple associations are the only means by which the possibilities of individuality can be realized..To gain an integrated individuality, each of us needs to cultivate his own garden. But there is no fence about this garden: it is no sharply marked-off enclosure. Our garden is the world, in the angle at which it touches our own manner of being. By accepting the…world in which we live, and by thus fulfilling the pre-condition for interaction with it, we, who are also parts of the moving present, create ourselves as we create an unknown future.

***1. art as experience holds out the possibility of an ever renewable intimacy with an infinitely meaningful lived world;
2. the creative impetus of art as experience imbues the things of everyday life with enhanced meaning and value;***

3. in cracking the shell of mundaneness that often accrues around the things of everyday, art an the aesthetic reconnect us with those objects and people that we have come to take for granted, renewing our appreciation for their significance in our lives;
4. the feeling intellect of art as experience allows us to turn the limits and liabilities of the human condition into poetic affirmations;
5. art as experience helps us to explore the creative possibilities of our inheritance in culture, developing new ends and goods (or values) of our own design;
6. in utilizing a both/and logic, art as experience overrides inherited dualistic patterns of thinking, acknowledging the reality of irony and paradox, the contingency and fluidity of boundaries, and the possibility of alternative – though not always valuable perspectives;
7. the general prospects for art as experience provide a measure of attainment of democratic forms of life.

The Constitution: great for a politics of intending, but bad for a politics of tending – Ratification and the transition from participant, to specatator democracy

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/31/2013

Presence of the Past by Sheldon Wolin – Book Review by Scott London

…After a brief introduction, Wolin looks at what he considers “the main paradox at the center of the American Constitution”: the dual principles of restrained and divided power, on the one hand, and the sovereign power of “the people,” on the other…”Tending and Intending a Constitution” outlines the distinction between what Wolin conceives as two fundamentally different forms of politics, the “politics of tendance” and the “politics of intendance,” the former associated with a decentralized and diverse democratic political vision nurtured by actively caring citizens, the latter characterized by a centralized and homogenized administrative authoritarian vision controlled by expert professionals, which the Framers dressed up as republicanism.

At bottom, these essays all express a deep concern about the “anti-democratic thrust” and “the steady de-democratization of American society.” Wolin traces this trend to the ratification of the Constitution in 1787 which he says betrayed the spirit of the Revolution. He presents the issue in terms of the loss of democracy (as it was embodied in the Declaration of Independence) as a result of the rise of the state (following the ratification of the Constitution). The American contribution of 1787 was that the Framers chose a state and a Constitution both at the same moment. This act laid the groundwork for the development of the “megastate” by subordinating the local power structures necessary for a genuinely democratic politics. The Constitution, in other words, was a modernizing, centralizing document designed to suppress decentralized, popular forms of politics. Its essential purpose was not to limit power but to generate it — to unlock “access to power, making it available to the state.” The Founders’ determination to reduce popular influence in government and to avoid the “weakness inherent in democratic states” also had the effect of creating a new role for citizens as “watchers of how their powers are being used rather than as participants in those uses.” In this way, “the citizenry was conceived in terms that allowed the American political animal to evolve into the domesticated creature of media politics” — a passive, depoliticized spectator of politics as carried out by technocratic elitists, bureaucrats, and ideologues. Today, with the rise of “a postmodern politics in which democracy serves primarily a rhetorical function with little or no correlative in official institutions and practices,” we have “virtually ceased to think of ourselves as a political people.”

Measuring liberal education – Andrew Delbanco

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 04/09/2013

A Conversation with Andrew Delbanco – Joseph E. Davis

In this context, purveyors of liberal education, including the humanities departments in leading universities, have not done a very good job of articulating the value of what they do.

So for a variety of reasons, I think there is, as you say, a legitimation crisis, and it’s up to us to be more persuasive about why liberal education matters. It’s a difficult task because we’re in a cultural moment where quantifiable metrics of assessment, correlations between inputs and outcomes, are all the rage, and it’s very hard to quantify the effects of liberal education. How do we assess when it works? Should we measure the income of graduates of a college with a liberal arts curriculum versus the income of graduates who have taken an exclusively technical curriculum, and thereby draw some conclusion about which is the better or more worthy institution? Any kind of reductionist thinking along those lines is dangerous, but it’s also tempting and increasingly widespread.

We don’t want to be a society where things we can measure are going in the right direction while things we can’t measure are going in the wrong direction. I try to argue in my book that the college classroom at its best is a very good rehearsal space for democracy. It’s a place where students learn to speak with civility, listen to each other with respect, learn the difference between an argument and an opinion, and most important, perhaps, learn that it’s possible to walk into the room with one point of view and walk out with another—or at least with some fruitful doubt about the perspective with which you began.

I think everybody, regardless of where one stands on the political spectrum, can agree that those are qualities we could use more of in our public discourse. We need a citizenry that can tell the difference between a demagogue and a person trying to make rational arguments about complicated problems. I think there’s good reason to believe that when college works as well as it can—and it certainly doesn’t always—it’s an institution that contributes to the general welfare in this way, among others.

So there’s an argument for liberal education as essential to citizenship. But in any conversation like this, we should also try to be clear what we mean by “liberal education.” It can be confused with a certain kind of very traditional curriculum, whose virtues I happen to believe in; it can be understood as meaning exclusively the humanities, but it should be obvious that the benefits I’ve just been describing can also be derived from, for example, the study of science.

It would be a travesty, a disaster, if the kind of education I’m talking about were to become restricted to the coddled and privileged and denied to everyone else. That’s the whole point of the argument for access. We don’t want to become a society where a small handful gets this elite education, and everybody else is tracked into a vocational program of one sort or another. There’s no reason why the two can’t go together.

Slow Democracy – The Scale of Time and the Scale of Size

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/09/2012

Slow Democracy – Susan Clark and Woden Teachout

Slow food celebrates diversity and local traditions: briny seafood from Maine, wild rice from the shores of Lake Superior, artichokes from the dry, hot hills of California. Similarly, slow democracy applauds the range of regional democratic practices. New England town meetings don’t need to be spread like frosting across American townscapes. Other, very different examples of slow democracy have taken root from Oregon to Georgia, and from downtown Chicago to coastal New Hampshire—each with its own regional flavor. Slow democracy celebrates the terroir of community process.

Slow food has shown that in the interest of efficiency and cheap food, policies often are skewed toward corporate agriculture and consolidation, resulting in food and food systems that are unnatural and unhealthy. Similarly, slow democracy observes that we have moved increasingly toward centralization and privatization of public resources and decision making. In the name of efficiency, we often give only lip service to citizens’ wisdom, and as a result, we wind up with unrepresentative, unsustainable decisions and a discouraged, democratically anemic citizenry.

Finding a place in the life of the already overburdened and underprivileged—such as single working parents, or low-wage workers who string together two or three jobs—is one of the greatest challenges of slow democracy. But these are the populations most often shut out of the democratic process, and most in need of what it has to offer. Slow democracy incorporates people from all walks of life and the full range of the human condition: from talkers to doers, from those who value charts and graphs to those who love chatting over coffee. It makes room for those who like to talk at microphones but also celebrates the vast majority of us who would, frankly, rather die than make a speech. It builds on the already-existing web of relationships that form a community, recognizing that some of our best ideas come while taking a walk with a neighbor. And it forges new relationships, introducing us to people we might have avoided but come to appreciate.

Putting the social back in socialism – Erik Olin Wright – Why a truly “social” practice needn’t be anything other

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/23/2012

Taking the Social in Socialism Seriously – Erik Olin Wright

Lots to extrapolate here in terms of seeking justice and equality not necessarily through (explicit) political activism, but through strengthening civil institutions/society or being a good neighbor (Neighborhood Power! as Karl Hess would say). Long, somewhat pedantic, but worth a slog:

Civil Society is the sphere of social interaction in which people voluntarily form associations of different sorts for various purposes. Some of these associations have the character of formal organizations with well-defined membership and objectives. Clubs, political parties, labor unions, churches, and neighborhood associations would be examples. Others are looser associations, in the limiting case more like social networks than bounded organizations. The idea of a “community”, when it means something more than simply the aggregation of individuals living in a place, can also be viewed as a kind informal association within civil society. Power in civil society depends on capacities for collective action through such voluntary association, and can accordingly be referred to as “associational power” or “social power.”

The idea of “democracy”, in these terms, can be thought of as a specific way of linking social power and state power: in the ideal of democracy, state power is fully subordinated to and accountable to social power. The expression “rule by the people” does not really mean, “rule by the atomized aggregation of the separate individuals of the society taken as isolated persons,” but rather, rule by the people collectively organized into associations in various ways: parties, communities, unions, etc. Democracy is thus, inherently, a deeply socialist principle. If “Democracy” is the label for the subordination of state power to social power, “socialism” is the term for the subordination of economic power to social power.

The potential scope for the social economy could be enhanced if the state, through its capacity to tax, provided funding for a wide range of socially-organized non-market production. One way of doing this is through the institution of an unconditional basic income. By partially delinking income from employment earnings, if an unconditional basic income existed voluntary associations of all sorts would be able to create new forms of meaningful and productive work in the social economy…

…the idea of extensive and robust economic democracy through creating conditions in which social power, organized through the active participation and empowerment of ordinary people in civil society, exerts direct and indirect democratic control over the economy. Taken individually, movement along one or another of these pathways might not pose much of a challenge to capitalism, but substantial movement along all of them taken together would constitute a fundamental transformation of capitalism’s class relations and the structures of power and privilege rooted in them. Capitalism might still remain a component in the hybrid configuration of power relations governing economic activity, but it would be a subordinated capitalism heavily constrained within limits set by the deepened democratization of both state and economy. This would not automatically insure that the radical democratic egalitarian ideals of social and political justice would be accomplished, but if we were somehow to successfully move along these pathways to such a hybrid form of social organization, we would be in a much better position to struggle for a radical democratic egalitarian vision of social and political justice.

Mark Slouka – Humanities vs. STEM – Educating for the Spirit rather than the Market

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 06/20/2012

Dehumanized: When math and science rule the school – Mark Slouka

In our time, orthodoxy is economic. Popular culture fetishizes it, our entertainments salaam to it (how many millions for sinking that putt, accepting that trade?), our artists are ranked by and revered for it. There is no institution wholly apart. Everything submits; everything must, sooner or later, pay fealty to the market; thus cost-benefit analyses on raising children, on cancer medications, on clean water, on the survival of species, including—in the last, last analysis—our own. If humanity has suffered under a more impoverishing delusion, I’m not aware of it.

…Still, capitalism’s success in this case is particularly elegant: by bringing education to heel, by forcing it to meet its criteria for “success,” the market is well on the way to controlling a majority share of the one business that might offer a competing product, that might question its assumptions. It’s a neat trick. The problem, of course, is that by its success we are made vulnerable. By downsizing what is most dangerous (and most essential) about our education, namely the deep civic function of the arts and the humanities, we’re well on the way to producing a nation of employees, not citizens. Thus is the world made safe for commerce, but not safe.

Triply protected from criticism by the firewall of their jargon (which immediately excludes the non-specialist and assures a jury of motivated and sympathetic peers), their economic efficacy, and the immunity conferred by conveniently associated terms like “progress” and “advancement,” the sciences march, largely untouched, under the banner of the inherently good. And this troubles me.

It troubles me because there are many things “math and science” do well, and some they don’t. And one of the things they don’t do well is democracy. They have no aptitude for it, no connection to it, really.

Not content with trivializing itself through the subjects it considers important, nor with having assured its irrelevance by making itself unintelligible, the study of literature, for example, has taken its birthright and turned it into a fetish; that is, adopted the word “politics”—God, the irony!—and cycled it through so many levels of metaphorical interpretation that nothing recognizable remains except the husk. Politically neuter, we now sing the politics of ocularcentric rhetoric. Safe in our tenured nests, we risk neither harm nor good.

Amateurs – Democracy – The Problems of Professionalization

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/15/2012

Democracy Is for Amateurs: Why We Need More Citizen Citizens – Eric Liu

The work of democratic life — solving shared problems, shaping plans, pushing for change, making grievances heard — has become ever more professionalized over the last generation.

When self-government is dominated by professionals representing various interests, a vicious cycle of citizen detachment ensues. Regular people come to treat civic problems as something outside themselves, something done to them, rather than something they have a hand in making and could have a hand in unmaking.

we need to radically refocus on the local. When the evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson launched the Binghamton Neighborhood Project, he broke down that city’s many paralyzing problems into human-scale chunks of action — turning an empty lot into a park, say, or organizing faith communities — and then linked up the people active in each chunk. Localism gives citizens autonomy to solve problems; networked localism enables them to spread and scale those solutions [emphasis mine].

Citizenship, in the end, is too important to be left to professionals. It’s time for us all to be trustees, of our libraries and every other part of public life. It’s time to democratize democracy again.

Gregory Pappas – Dewey’s Ethics – Democracy as Experience [Part VI – final]

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/14/2012

“Morality is a social, creative, imaginative, emotional, hypothetical, and experimental process to ameliorate present situations.”

“What should be dethroned are not moral generalizations per se, but a way of using them that discourages moral sensitivity and precludes the genuine exercise of moral judgment…Dewey invites us to drop legalistic or absolutist models of moral conduct and to look instead to art as the paradigm of an activity that can steer between living aimlessly and living mechanically.”

“It is not under our direct control to create a more intelligent, aesthetic, and democratic way of life…but we can provide conditions for their emergence. We can only prepare the soil, and reconstruction must come from within everyday interactions. Continuous inquiry about indirect means and present conditions is the key to finding the way we can democratize experience.”

“With regard to democracy, what we believe and defend philosophically must be tested in the classroom, in the workplace, and everywhere there is human interaction.”

Gregory Pappas – Dewey’s Ethics – Democracy as Experience [Part V]

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/10/2012

“Having faith is a type of commitment, an insistence on a possibility, and a tendency to act upon it, fully aware of the risk involved in a particular context. Faith is necessary and important in all dimensions of life and not something confined to religion.”

“…determining the reasonableness of a faith in democracy is different from determining whether democracy is true or false, and different from validating a knowledge claim.”

“A failure to take the risk involved in having faith in democracy (and surrendering to skepticism and cynicism) is not altogether to avoid risk, but to take a different kind of risk, namely, the risk of losing things that might depend on believing in the possibility of democracy. One of the things lost may be democracy as a way of life. Democracy requires faith for its own realization.”

“The intelligent and aesthetic characters of democracies are mutually dependent. The community most capable of learning from experience is also the one that has all the features that define aesthetic activity, which for Dewey is the most inherently meaningful type of activity in experience. The democratic way of life is able to maintain the kind of balance and rhythm in its everyday doings and undergoings that, for Dewey, characterize aesthetic experience: a balance of tensions with rhythmic variety. Ideal activity is a merging of playfulness with seriousness that allows richness and flexibility without sacrificing stability. Democracy signifies for Dewey this possibility at the social level. The democratic community is also the aesthetic community because it is constituted by relationships that are neither fixed, routine, or mechanical, nor anarchical, capricious, or arbitrary.”

Gregory Pappas – Dewey’s Ethics – Democracy as Experience [Part IV]

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/07/2012

“Dewey used philosophy to make his hope reasonable, which is different than seeking a foundation or a rationalization for a way of life.”

“A philosophy of democracy is an imaginative effort to articulate in a coherent fashion the most salient traits of the most worthwhile experiences and possibilities of human interaction for the purpose of ameliorative criticism. Democracy rests on experiencing and discriminating better and worse forms  of interactions in daily life. It is precisely because meaningful and enriching relationships are hard to come by that we need to set them up as ideal and inquire into their conditions.”

“The art of listening needed in a democracy is a matter of embodied habits. Without a cadre of people with certain imaginative and emotional capacities there is no hope for democracy.”

“The recent interest on deliberation is a good corrective against narrow views of democracy, but political theorists must avoid the intellectualist temptation that has plagued the history of philosophy: the reduction of experience to the cognitive realm…How we experience each other in our everyday local and direct interactions is something more inclusive than how we talk and inquire together.”

“Intelligence for Dewey is not a faculty, but a general way of interacting…”

“You can guide but not reason someone into having the experiences that can validate democracy…the empirical philosopher must provide arguments, but she should also guide others (through descriptions and other means) to have the experiences that may confirm their hypotheses.”

“Dewey wanted to shift the focus of democracy to the present striving or democratization of experience instead of toward future results…There is no grandiose or ultimate war for the sake of which the piecemeal present battles are fought…Trying to transform everyday activity to make it richer and fuller relative to concrete present problems and possibilities is what we do in democracy as a way of life.”

The reasonableness of an ideal way of life is to be tested in lived experience by trying to live it…we can test our hypotheses only by living them. Participation can only be tested by participating. There is, then, no theoretical justification of democracy that can replace the support provided in favor of democracy by living and embodying democratic habits in our everyday interaction.” [emphasis mine]

Gregory Pappas – Dewey’s Ethics – Democracy as Experience [Part III]

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/02/2012

“The foundations of democratic respect are, for Dewey, a certain way of experiencing everything, not an exclusive and abstract regard for human rights or justice that is independent of nature. For the truly democratic character, ‘every existence deserving the name of existence has something unique and irreplaceable about it.’ This is the sort of natural piety that Dewey hoped for as a consequence of abolishing hierarchical ways of looking at the world.”

[quoting Dewey] “…the local is the ultimate universal, and as near an absolute as exists.”

“…a warning against taking the usual abstractions about democratic society as antecedent to the unique, direct, and qualitative relations people hold with each other in situations. It would be more accurate to say that a democratic society is one that is composed of democratic associations than to say that a democratic association is one that exists because of a democratic society.”

“…it is through and by the local that I can acquire this sense of connection with what is beyond it…Democracy must grow from within, that is, from what is local, spontaneous, voluntary, and direct. This includes neighborhood, family, classroom, workplace, and grass-roots movements…we must avoid sacrificing the quality of what is had locally merely for the sake of reach [emphasis mine].”

“Genuine listening, especially of those who speak against our beliefs, does more on behalf of participatory democracy than voting.”

“Local communities must be sustained by loyalty and solidarity while also remaining receptive to continuities within the larger context of a pluralistic society.”

Gregory Pappas – Dewey’s Ethics – Democracy as Experience [Part II]

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/01/2012

“Criticism and reflection, the examined life, are important constituents of moral life because they are capable of enriching its immediate quality and not because they lead us to the Truth or to actualize some essence.”

“…the most important learning a person can acquire in a situation is not information (or rules), but the indirect cultivation of the habits that are going to affect the quality of future situations.”

“Making the goodness of our character the conscious object of our moral concern can in fact be counterproductive. Too much concern for our character can become a distraction…The best way to improve our moral characters is to attend to what we ought to do in a particular situation. Dewey thought that just as there is a hedonistic paradox, there is a moralistic paradox: ‘the way to get goodness is to cease to think of it – as something separate – and to devote ourselves to the realization of the full value of the practical situations in which we find ourselves.’ ”

“Product-oriented views of morality overemphasize our acquisitive capacities at the expense of the creative ones. if the best we can do with our present moral struggles is endure them for the sake of some remote end, then present experience is a mere means, and moral life is experienced as unaesthetic drudgery.”

“Given the variety of forms open-mindedness takes, and since it is not merely an intellectual trait, it is more appropriate to describe this virtue in terms of a general attitude, one Dewey describes as and attitude of hospitality toward the new.”

[quoting Dewey – emphasis mine] “When the thought of the end becomes so adequate that it compels translation into the means that embody it, or when attention to the means is inspired by recognition of the end they serve, we have the attitude typical of the artist, an attitude that may be displayed in all activities, even though they are not conventionally designated ‘arts.’

“What good is my negative freedom to do and consume when I am unable to intelligently reflect and choose? Democracy requires more than the capacity to go to the mall and choose between varieties of goods.”

“The shift from democracy as a political system to democracy as experience means that there is more to equality than legal and institutional guarantees. It has to go beyond judging others according to some impartial standard. Equality is an abstract name for something that can be qualitatively and directly experienced in our relations with others…Democratic respect is not only about how we treat others (a doing) but also about how we experience them (an undergoing). It is, in effect, the most generous experience we can have of others. In our deliberations and judgments of others we must be as sensitive as possible to their unique characteristics. This is the key to democratic generosity.”