Sunday, December 4, 2016

Stephen Hawking and Martha Nussbaum Agree - Leftist Elites Need to be Nicer

Those of us on the Left know the electrifying surge of self-righteous indignation as we expound our views on inequality, discrimination or climate change and "other" those on the "Right" or "wrong" side.  But is it we who fertilise the ground for Trump and Hanson like politicians by destroying the space for polite discussion and applying a scorched earth policy to any basis of truth held by the other side?   If they hate us and won't talk to us, then we are part of the problem.
These themes run through a recent article by Stephen Hawking "This is the most dangerous time for our planet" and a recently published book by Martha Nussbaum "Would Politics Be Better Off Without Anger?". Both writers could be described as members of the liberal elite so this may be the beginning of a new liberal introspection.  Hawking calls for elites on the Left to recognise the massive social disruption brought by technological change and globablisation that falls mainly on unskilled workers - we should not be surprised by their support for Brexit or Trump.  He ends:"We can do this, I am an enormous optimist for my species; but it will require the elites, from London to Harvard, from Cambridge to Hollywood, to learn the lessons of the past year. To learn above all a measure of humility."

Nussbaum focuses more on the disutility of anger - acknowledging that at times it may be of some benefit for victims - but otherwise it is a destructive force that only clouds judgement and destroys political interaction and understanding.  The Nation's book reviewer doesn't like Nussbaum's total dismissal of the utility of anger in harnessing political action. But I am more convinced by Nussbaum - if we need anger (I certainly have at times), our motivation may be tarnished and our judgement sullied.  Would I judge anyone from a victimised group for being angry - no. But if I had to bet on whether the activist filled with anger or forgiveness would bring peace and resolution to their cause, I would bet on the latter.