Sunday, October 30, 2011

The ring of Gyges and the murderousness of politics

This discussion takes up from the essays about Polemarchus as a philosophical democrat and four paths thrugh the Republic’s woods here and here. It also relies on an earlier account of previous (Herodotus) and subsequent stories of the ring of power here.

In a graduate seminar on the Republic, Justin Williams, a new student to the book, pointed out as we read the first two pages aloud, that Polemarchus’s image of a horse race, in which the participants pass a torch from horse to horse, foreshadows the several, deepening visions of injustice, named as justice, in the dialogue as a whole, and in the context of which Socrates’s question: what is justice? stands out.

The story begins with a mock arrest of Socrates by "the many" led by Polemarchus. But the race, the long dialogue of the night, the really good talk, will race into difficult places, take on fiercer and more fearsone arguments...

Dying and trying to bribe the gods, Cephalus suggests justice is paying debts. He is a well-to-do arms manufacturer; his money and his ability to pay come parasitically from violence. He cannot deal with Socrates’s questions (he has to go die), and hands the argument over to his heir – Polemarchus. The passing of the torch, as Justin rightly suggests, is vivid here.

Polemarchus defends the view of Simonides, that justice is benefiting friends and harming enemies. This is a standard view in politics, what the Republicans and Democrats as well as any tyrant does, as Socrates shows. In the Concept of the Political, it is the today much talked about view of politics of the Nazi, Carl Schmitt and his student and refiner of the time, Leo Strauss.

Strauss began his career in America with a commentary on Simonides in Xenophon’s dialogue Hiero [the tyrant of Syracuse] or on Tyranny. This is vital to his neocon students as William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, reveals in "What was Leo Strauss up to?," The Public Interest, fall, 2003. See here ).* Simonides says to a Hiero complaining about the isolation and but seeming pleasures of being a tyrant and yet who cannot give it up because others would kill him for his crimes: skip morality. Hiero, I will tell you how to become a popular tyrant. The problem in the Hiero is the one the interlocutors come to address in the fiery exchanges of the first and second books of the Republic: how to appear good while consuming others…

In Plato's two metaphors,Thraysmachus takes the torch from Polemarchos, springing like a beast into the gymnastics or wrestling ring with the thought: justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger. This is the view of – and an insight into the corruption of - the democracy which put Socrates to death, an intolerant or lynch mob view, today the view that the top 1/10 of 1% should steal everything from others (roughly being a Republican, but with much aid from Democrats), protested admirably by the Occupy movement. See here.

But in the conversation, Thrasymachus ends up blushing like a charmed snake, as Glaucon says. For Glaucon and Adeimantus, brothers of Plato, sons of Ariston (the best), military leaders of Athens and potential tyrants, take up the view and give it a memorable turn, one that has led to Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Grey and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. See here.

In the persona of Glaucon, Plato recasts the story of Gyges from Herodotus, and creates the ring of invisibility, the ring of power.

Gyges, for Glaucon, is a shepherd. Lightning strikes the earth one night and opens up a chasm. Intrepid, Gyges goes down (this is the motion of the first line and all the underworlds and caves that open in the Republic). He finds deep under the earth a wooden horse – here Troy, war and victory through deception, i.e. Simonides’s advice to Hiero, come to mind. In it is a large naked corpse with a ring on its finger. Gyges takes the ring.

When he is again among the shepherds, he turns the ring’s head toward himself and people no longer see him (this is where Tolkien gets the idea about Bilbo Baggins early in Lord of the Rings). He turns it out, and suddenly, he is there.

Gyges gets himself appointed to go to the Tyrant’s representative in Lydia to report the count of sheep, journeys to the capital, becomes invisible and jumps on the queen (she has no say in the matter apparently). Passive (implausibly since she was raped, a profound sexism on Plato's part), she helps him murder the king and become the new tyrant in Lydia.

In the Herodotus story, by contrast, the queen is the dominant figure whom the stupid king enables his minister Gyges to see naked (she is a Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, so he tells Gyges….). Gyges protests against this, but does it under orders…

But the queen sees him out of the corner of her eye. She is shamed. Next morning, she summons Gyges and says: you have seen what you should not. Either hide in the same place, kill the king and marry me or I will have you put to death. "No, no," Gyges protests. But he again follows orders and becomes – apparently she has great power in Lydia – the new tyrant and husband…

In Herodotus, Gyges protests to maintain his appearance as a faithful (seemingly just but only through fear) servant, is passive, and follows the King’s and Queen’s orders. Yet he comes to a "happy" end – becomes king, possesses the queen (perhaps), so it seems…

In the magic of Plato’s retelling, Gyges’s hidden or unconscious wishes come to the fore.** The ring of invisibility enables him to be active. He is everyman, a shepherd, not a high official. Shepherds, in most cities, Glaucon the aristocrat suggests, are not good but dangerous. They will seek out and murder whom they can, take what they can, if they possess a cloak of invisibility…

And the murder of Socrates is of course an implication both of Thrasymachus' view and the Gyges story...

In fact, this is a more brilliant version of the advice of Simonides offered in Xenophon's Hiero.

Glaucon and Adeimantus take the torch and make it more formidable (perhaps for Heidegger and Strauss...). They paint the picture that the charmed snake, Thrasymachus, was insufficiently lethal to imagine. Give to the unjust man every honor – the appearance of the beautiful and ageless Dorian Gray as the inner portrait betrays each new ugliness. (Dorian eventually stabs the portrait, dies himself, and his servants can identify the corpse only from the rings on his fingers…)

In contrast, give Socrates the hemlock; the just man must appear unjust, be poisoned or crucified (the later Christian resonances of the story, particularly in Greece where Greek Orthodoxy was neo-Platonist, are clear). Praise, if you can Socrates, justice here for its own sake, the reward being death, injustice acquiring, as in ordinary politics, the emperor’s new clothes and for a long time (consider the 29 years’ praise of Mohammed Hosni Mubarak in Egypt). The ornamentation of words (the definition of "punditry)", the ring of Gyges, conceals the rot...

Not just Xenophon’s Simonides as Strauss suggests, but the ring of Gyges in the Republic is the great forerunner of Machiavelli. Ancient and modern advice to princes – authoritarians though perhaps sometimes revolutionary republicans- is neither peripheral in the Greeks nor so different…

In fact, the Peloponnesian War, as described by Thucydides, became a civil war in which Athenian and Spartan factions slaughter innocents. In the gleaming of the ring, justice became, as in Corcyra, unmoored from its meaning, a garb of criminality (think of what the American elite, the Bush administration, abetted by the Democrats, has done with the Convention against Torture and the wanton torture and murder which it veils as "harsh interrogation" - and the point about Corcyra will open before your eyes...).

As I argued in chapter 4 of Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, the murderousness of every political view of justice (in Weber's misguided terms, merely legitimacy) is a compelling reason for Socrates to ask questions, not to espouse a view of justice. In this context, it is very doubtful that Socrates or Plato advocated the beautiful city, the city in speech.*** Socrates was, in this respect, as much as Thucydides, at the base of what we call great power realism. States garb themselves in legitimacy - the ring - while defaming and murdering enemies.

Socrates knows what unjust acts are. He will not participate in them by providing a ring (note the difference with his reactionary followers, Heidegger in the 1930s and 1940s and, for instance, in espousing in his May 1933 letter to Karl Loewith, the "principles of the Right, fascist, authoritarian, imperial," Strauss).

If one thinks about the the ring simply, many politicians and leaders become “legitimate” monsters, but the argument of the Republic – that one is poisoned to become such a monster, doomed to do and suffer all sorts of horrible things, as Hiero in Xenophon or many tyrants in Aristotle’s book 5 of the Politics seem to suffer – is actually decisive for Plato. Note: Aristotle’s profound account of friendship in book 7 of the Nicomachean Ethics - a mirror of the account of the just and the unjust man in book 4 of the Republic - provides a psychological key to this.*** The leader is insecure, always needs the applause of others, cannot be by or with himself, because his soul is a psychic civil war, his appetites always preying upon him. But Aristotle, of course, did not think this with Alexander…The question, as in his teacher Plato, is whether anyone can use the ring of Gyges and survive.

And that is the hidden message of the Republic that a tyrant of a certain kind become a philosopher-king (it would be perfect and a circle in the regimes, as Aristotle reveals in Politics,, book 5). Doing philosophy and coming into politics is the escape from the mere cycle of murder and ultimate self-destruction (Dorian Gray) into being a wise murderer, a seeker of a kind of common good.****

But of course, this stance reveals extreme hubris in Simonides or the "Platonic" philosopher who follows this path. It is the opposite of Socrates, who has but a "merely human wisdom" in the Apology: unlike others and in particular, politicians he does not know nor does he think he knows. The Republic is profoundly tied back into the Apology. Thus, as we shall see, the whole farce about censorship (books two and three and part of 10) is a mocking effort to clean up the gods so one may honestly speak well of them as the charge in the Apology demands of Socrates.

Though tempted in Syracuse, Plato, as I have suggested, chose a different way through the woods, with Socrates...

Having and more deeply, making enemies, becoming a wise (in seeming to oneself) tyrant is a dangerous path. As with much of the sentiment of Occupy Wall Street, one needs not to hate but to stop the top 1% and then as it were compel (some of) them to change. That is the idea of Gandhi, King and Tutu: even those who do evil have souls and if stopped, can be transformed rather than murdered; it is rooted in Socrates. That is the way out of the cycle of murderous politics, one particularly needed now where war and climate change threaten the earth as a habitat for humans...

That something is a simple and straightforward argument – amidst the grand architecture of the Republic, the greatest indictment of tyranny ever written, and the drama of the Apology – does not mean it is wrong.

*As the leading propagandist for the Iraq War starting in the Clinton years, Kristol's praise of Strauss and "regime-change" in this article was meant, for those who have eyes, to give his "philosophical" inspiration away.

**The book has a profound and articulate psychology. The unjust man is a civil war, the appetites dominating and compelling reason to do their bidding, the just man has all parts of his soul in a musical order (see the end of book 4). Greek psychology profoundly influenced Freud (i.e. Sophocles' Oedipus cycle) and has resonances which go in a different direction from Freud's discoveries.

***That Plato entertained aspects of it, for instance, participation of women or at times as in Syracuse, the philosopher-king is true. That the men and women wrestle naked together is sexual humor (and partly chauvinist disparaging of ancient Cretan rituals of young men and women vaulting over the bulls' horns). What arguments here are to be taken seriously and why is something Plato's students needed to think about, argue over, find a path...

****In book 3 of the Politics, Aristotle distinguishes between justice and a tyrannical kind of political justice as when a tyrant cuts down the outstanding men in the city to "prevent civil disorder." That this is, ultimately, a defensible view or desirable state of affairs is doubtful.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The earth cries out

On Tuesday afternoon, the American Indian Movement of Colorado held a demonstration against the Keystone XL Pipeline (the tar sands pipeline from Canada) at the University of Colorado at Denver and then the Pepsi Center and then the hotel where the $5,000 per plate fundraiser at which Obama spoke occurred. I was talking with Duncan and Edna Campbell (Edna is a cree indian whose people are from Canada). They had both campaigned for Obama (as had I) with the knowledge that being head of the Empire might lead to disasters. The XL pipeline is one.

As Glenn Morris put it, the tar sands excavation in Canada is already wrecking a territory (with many indigenous people living there) the size of Greece. It will go through 5 reservations in the United States including Pine Ridge. In addition, the Ogallala Aquifer provides water for 9 states including Colorado. The pipeline, built over this, must have no leaks (Keystone often has leaks in Canada) or it will poison the water supply.

According to the Congressional testimony of Energy Department Secretary and Nobel Prize winner in physics Steven Chu, this further danger to the fading water supply comes as the destruction of the climate means – if present trends continue and Obama is taking no steps to alter them (another disaster, among many) - that California will no longer produce agricultural crops, will be a desert in 2050…

I think of Pine Ridge. There is a deep movement to recover traditions; there is little work for the inhabitants to be paid for, and often bad food (the US government provides a variant of the "food-like substances," as Michael Pollan puts it, on which companies are poisoning ordinary people now). Many are affected by the larger legal/prison system. There is alcoholism. And yet this rapacious Canadian firm and the US State Department need to destroy the water, too...

An elder from Pine Ridge, Tom Poorbear was welcomed by Glenn. Poorbear had some difficulty walking on the platform. A wise man rather than an orator, he spoke slowly of the beating to death of a young native American man in jail (native Americans still encounter often lethal violence from the authorities and racists). He had a younger brother and a cousin killed after the second battle of wounded knee in 1973. He spoke of counseling his brothers in prison. Their bodies are in jail, they said, but he heals them in the spirit world.

Indigenous people, cordoned on reservations which have tribal governments, are outside as well as inside the often racist policies of the American government. He did not recognize, he said, state or federal rule (alien, genocidal rule).

Poorbear spoke of the spiritual tradition which the ceremonies of Native Americans and in a different way, this demonstration honor.

Given the scope of the genocide, the character of oppression and resistance in indigenous communities has been as fierce as in the black community (where there is also a powerful sense of eldering, ancestors and the spirit world - see here). Yet, there is a proud sense of freedom and a unique connection with the earth that perhaps no other people has.

Among the survivors, there is a sense of resistance, of a wholeness which comes through the greatest suffering…

Serendipitously, a striking National Public Radio investigative story in the evening spoke of the child stealing from indigenous people by the South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard and social workers at the so-called “Children’s Home” for resettlement in white homes today. South Dakota is a poor state and criminal bureaucrats get money from the federal government for stealing children, some 7,000 a year. None are resettled in indigenous homes. No one in the community fails to be touched by it. See below.

Ward Churchill has a very good short book Kill the Indian Save the Man (City Lights Press) on this stealing historically, presided over by Catholic and Protestant orphanages, in Canada and the Northwest. Then in the next phase of genocide after Sand Creek and other massacres (met with fierce resistance), the children grew food for the white towns nearby, were starved (these were “religious" establishments) and half died of tuberculosis before reaching the age of 15. This was a calculated stealing of the children's culture and murder. In 1978, such practices were recognized as crimes by Congress and barred by federal law. But some states have ignored or circumvented the law. That such practices continue today in Obama’s America and that the federal government pays for the kidnapping - the South Dakota government strives zealously for the money - is startling…

It is to NPR's credit, functioning as a genuine news organization in this respect, that they are doing this series, the result of a year-long investigation.
There is also the threat underlined by government climatologist James Hansen. He says that tar sands production, particularly unclean, will make global warming irreversible. He, too, was arrested doing civil disobedience in Washington.

This is a large, many-faceted cause...

Recently, administrations try, to some extent, to work with indigenous groups. To outsiders, this might not appear genocidal.

But the United Nations Convention against Genocide (1948, signed by Jimmy Carter only in 1978) bars forcible transfer of children from an attacked group to the belligerent group. It is the fifth major crime listed in the second and main article:

"Article 2

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

It does not take much time or knowledge to see that the reservations have long functioned to do c, d and e, and as a result b. Tom Poorbear describes some of a, in his experience, as well.

The UN Convention in 1948 was modeled on and outlaws Nazi practices, for instance, stealing 200,000 children from Poland and resettling them in rural German homes. It bars the fascist Franco’s related policy, still being unearthed in Spain, of lying to leftist parents about the supposed death at birth of their children – many thousands of them - and resettling them in fascist households as I wrote about this past January here and here. But it is just as applicable to blacks in the United States until the civil rights movement (and of course, a fierce oppression, notably in the prison/probation system for the young, has resurrected much of Jim Crow) and even more applicable to indigenous people.

Among native americans, there is an intense sense of community and connection in the spirit world through unimaginable loss...

A new generation of native American activists at the University of Colorado at Denver organized the rally. Three spoke briefly. As one young man said: I will stand up; if there are only two of us, it will be good.

This demonstration stood against Hillary Clinton’s State Department and Obama’s silence for what is right. When Obama spoke to a large audience at Auraria yesterday, activists stood up and protested the pipeline (it is in the sixth minute of the speech). Obama acknowledged them, said he heard the depth of their concern (a contrast with Clinton's State Department), and that "no decision had yet been reached." For so good a speaker, this was a Presidential vaporing: he meant, of course, that he had reached no decision.

The protestors stood for all of us (including 1200 people arrested for civil disobedience in front of the White House this summer).

That is a very good thing to do and one we should all honor…

Glenn Spagnuola sent the following mainstream report, in which the bearers of this cause are demeaned as "hecklers":

Obama speech interrupted by anti-Keystone hecklers
By Andrew Restuccia - 10/26/11

President Obama’s education speech took a slight detour into energy policy Wednesday when he was interrupted by critics of the Keystone XL pipeline. 

During the speech at the University of Colorado in Denver, a handful of audience members called on Obama to block the controversial pipeline project, which is undergoing review at the State Department.

 Obama stopped his speech and addressed the audience members’ concerns.

“All right. Thank you, guys,” he said. “We’re looking at it right now, all right? No decision has been made. And I know your deep concern about it. So we will address it.”

The audience members held a banner reading, "Stop the Keystone Pipeline Project.” They were escorted out of the room.

The outburst is the latest reminder of the politically thorny decision Obama faces on the $7 billion, 1,700-mile Keystone XL project, which would carry crude from Alberta’s oil sands to refineries in Texas.

Critics of the pipeline have mounted a vocal opposition campaign to the project. More than 1,200 people were arrested during a two-week protest outside the White House
in September. 

Environmental groups are planning a second high-profile protest outside the White House on Nov. 6.

 Opponents raise concerns about the environmental impacts of the project, including greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands production and possible oil spills along the pipeline route.[this does not name the seriousness of the concerns].

Meanwhile, more than a dozen Capitol Hill Democrats asked the State Department’s inspector general Wednesday to probe whether the administration's review of the proposed pipeline has been tarred by conflicts of interest.

 But Obama is also facing intense pressure from Republicans, the oil industry [is there a distinction here?] and some Democrats, who argue that the pipeline will boost the economy and create jobs.

The Obama administration is expected to make a final decision on the proposed pipeline by the end of the year. But Reuters reported Wednesday that the timeline could slip.


The protest and Obama's response were covered in the Times this morning, but censored - reprehensibly - in the Denver Post.


Native Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families

Derrin Yellow Robe, 3, stands in his great-grandparents' backyard on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota. Along with his twin sister and two older sisters, he was taken off the reservation by South Dakota's Department of Social Services in July 2009 and spent a year and a half in foster care before being returned to his family.[the photo did not reproduce]
October 25, 2011

Overview of a three-part investigation

Nearly 700 Native American children in South Dakota are being removed from their homes every year, sometimes in questionable circumstances. An NPR News investigation has found that the state is largely failing to place them according to the law. The vast majority of native kids in foster care in South Dakota are in nonnative homes or group homes, according to an NPR analysis of state records.

More From This Investigation

Part 1: Incentives And Cultural Bias Fuel Foster System
Native American grandparents like Janice Howe fight to bring children back to the reservation.

Part 2: Tribes Question Foster Group's Power And Influence
In South Dakota, Children's Home Society cares for hundreds of Native American children.

A Fight For Her Grandchildren Mirrors A Native Past
Suzanne Crow's struggle to bring home her grandchildren harkens her boarding school days.

Disproportionality Rates of Native American Children In Foster Care

A nation-wide comparison of the Native American child population in state child welfare systems.

Years ago, thousands of Native American children were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to boarding schools, where the motto opf the schools' founder was "Kill the Indian, Save the Man." Children lost touch with their culture, traditions and families. Many suffered horrible abuse, leaving entire generations missing from the one place whose future depended on them — their tribes.

In 1978, Congress tried to put a stop to it. They passed the Indian Child Welfare Act, which says except in the rarest circumstances, Native American children must be placed with their relatives or tribes. It also says states must do everything it can to keep native families together.

But 32 states are failing to abide by the act in one way or another, and, an NPR investigation has found, nowhere is that more apparent than in South Dakota.

"Cousins are disappearing; family members are disappearing," said Peter Lengkeek, a Crow Creek Tribal Council member. "It's kidnapping. That's how we see it."

State officials say they have to do what's in the best interest of the child, but the state does have a financial incentive to remove the children. The state receives thousands of dollars from the federal government for every child it takes from a family, and in some cases the state gets even more money if the child is Native American. The result is that South Dakota is now removing children at a rate higher than the vast majority of other states in the country.

Native American families feel the brunt of this. Their children make up less than 15 percent of the child population, yet they make up more than half of the children in foster care.

Critics say foster care in South Dakota has become a powerhouse for private group home providers who bring in millions of dollars in state contracts to care for kids. Among them is Children's Home Society, the state's largest foster care provider, which has close ties with top government officials. It used to be run by South Dakota's Gov. Dennis Daugard. An NPR investigation has found that Daugard was on the group's payroll while he was lieutenant governor — and while the group received tens of millions of dollars in no-bid state contracts. It's an unusual relationship highlighting the powerful role money and politics play in South Dakota's foster care system.

"They make a living off of our children," said Juanita Sherick, the tribal social worker for the Pine Ridge reservation.

Some children are removed from their homes for legitimate reasons. But in South Dakota very few are taken because they've been physically or sexually abused. Most are taken under a far more subjective set of circumstances. The state says the parents are neglectful. But NPR's investigation shows that even Native American children who grow up to become foster care success stories, living happy, productive lives, say the loss of their culture and identities leaves a deep hole they spend years trying hopelessly to fill.

Incentives And Cultural Bias Fuel Foster System

Janice Howe fought the state of South Dakota for a year and a half to bring her grandchildren back home after they were placed in foster care.
October 25, 2011
Part one of a three-part investigation.

The dirt roads on the Crow Creek Indian reservation in South Dakota blow dust on the window frames of simple houses.

The people who live here are poor — in a way few Americans are poor. There are no grocery stores or restaurants. There's only electricity when it's possible to pay the bill.

This is where Janice Howe grew up, on a barren stretch of land that has belonged to the Dakota people for more than 100 years.

"I'm the eldest of nine kids," she explains, settling into a chair in the kitchen. "I went to college and I got my bachelor's degree in nursing."

Her sister lives across the street. Her parents live across the road. Her daughter lives two doors down with her four grandchildren — two young granddaughters and two twin babies.

Key Findings Of This Investigation

* Each year, South Dakota removes an average of 700 Native American children from their homes. Indian children are less than 15 percent of state's the child population, but make up more than half the children in foster care.

* Despite the Indian Child Welfare Act, which says Native American children must be placed with their family members, relatives, their tribes or other Native Americans, native children are more than twice as likely to be sent to foster care as children of other races, even in similar circumstances.

* Nearly 90 percent of Native American children sent to foster care in South Dakota are placed in non-native homes or group care.

* Less than 12 percent of Native American children in South Dakota foster care had been physically or sexually abused in their homes, below the national average. The state says parents have "neglected" their children, a subjective term. But tribe leaders tell NPR what social workers call neglect is often poverty; and sometimes native tradition.

* A close review of South Dakota's budget shows that they receive almost $100 million a year to subsidize its foster care program.

And then one evening two years ago, Howe's phone rang.

It was a social worker from the Department of Social Services. She said her daughter Erin Yellow Robe was going to be arrested for drugs.

Howe couldn't believe it. She had never seen any sign of drugs or any other problems.

And then the social worker changed Howe's life. She said she was coming to take Howe's grandchildren away.

The next morning, a car pulled up outside Yellow Robe's house. Howe's daughter wouldn't let go of her one-year-old twin babies. She kept saying she hadn't done anything wrong.

The social worker buckled the babies into car seats.

"They were sitting in the cars," Howe says, choking up. "They were just looking at me. Because you know most babies don't cry if they're raised in a secure environment. So I went out there and took their diaper bags. And they left."

But as Howe watched the car pull around the bend, she realized the social worker took the two babies, but allowed Howe to keep her two granddaughters, 5-year-old Rashauna and 6-year-old Antoinette.

"I thought that was weird," Howe says. "I just thought, why can't I keep them all?"

A Mandate To Keep Children Connected

Howe, other relatives and other members of the tribe all wanted the children. And federal law says they should have gotten them. The Indian Child Welfare Act mandates that, except in the rarest circumstances, Indian children must be placed with relatives, a tribal member or at the very least, another Native American. It also says the state must make every effort to first keep a family together with services and programs.

The law was passed in 1978 in response to a century-long practice of forcing Native American children into harsh and often abusive boarding schools where they lost contact with their culture, traditions, language and families.

Except now a generation of children is once again losing its connection to its culture. This time it's through state-run foster care.

In South Dakota, Native American children make up only 15 percent of the child population, yet they make up more than half the children in foster care. An NPR News investigation has found that the state is removing 700 native children every year, sometimes in questionable circumstances. According to a review of state records, it is also largely failing to place native children with their relatives or tribes.

According to state records, almost 90 percent of the kids in family foster care are in non-native homes or group care.

State officials say they're doing everything they can to keep native families together. Poverty, crime and alcoholism are all real problems on South Dakota's reservations and in the state's poorest areas. But, state records show there's another powerful force at work — money. The federal government sends the state thousands of dollars for every child it takes.

Howe's twin grandbabies were taken to a white foster home about 100 miles away.

On the day they were taken, Howe says she and her daughter sat on the steps and cried as they waited for the police to come to take her daughter to jail.

Several hours went by and no one came. A week went by, a month, and then summer turned into fall, and still no one came.

To this day, Howe's daughter has never been arrested for drugs — or anything else. Department of Social Service officials told NPR they can't talk about individual cases or confirm the details of Howe's account.

But one source who has reviewed the department's file said the social worker believed Yellow Robe was abusing her prescription pills. But the same source also says the file notes the case was based on a rumor — from a woman who, the source says, didn't like the Howe family.

And yet not only did they take the two babies, two months later, Howe waited at the school bus stop. But when the bus came, the girls weren't on it. A social worker had taken them from school.

"They didn't even call and tell me. Nothing," Howe says.

The social worker in this case, like many the department employs, hadn't been on the job long and quit a short time later. She told Howe that the older girls had had too much contact with their mother - a woman who had never been charged with anything. And then Antoinette and Rashauna, they too were gone.

"It enrages me," says Crow Creek tribal council member Peter Lengkeek. "We're very tight-knit families and cousins are disappearing. Family members are disappearing."

The Crow Creek tribe has lost more than 33 children in recent years. The reservation only has 1,400 people. Last year Lengkeek asked social service officials to tell him where the children were and who they were placed with.

Seven months later, he received a list. Lengkeek says every single child was placed in a white foster home.

He says if the state had its way, "we'd still be playing cowboys and Indians. I couldn't imagine what they tell these kids about where they come from and who they are."

"It's kidnapping," he says. "That's how we see it."

Navigating State Policies

ICWA Timeline

Congress enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978, recognizing that the future of Native American cultures hinged on tribes retaining their children. It requires state agencies to exhaust every possible means of keeping Native American foster children within their own tribes.

1969 and 1974: Surveys by the Association on American Indian Affairs report 25 to 35 percent of all Native American children are being separated from their families and placed in foster homes, adoptive homes or institutions.

Jan. 2, 1975: Congress establishes American Indian Policy Review Commission, which is charged with reviewing U.S. Indian policy. In 1977, the commission issues a report with more than 200 recommendations. (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2)

April 1, 1977: Sen. James Abourezk (D-SD) introduces Senate Bill 1214, the Indian Child Welfare Act. After passing in the Senate, the House passes its version of the bill, H.R. 12533, on October 14, 1978.

Nov. 8, 1978: President Jimmy Carter signs the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) into law. It establishes federal standards for removing Native American children from their families and outlines proper procedure in regards to Native American children in foster care.

April 9, 1980: After a number of challenges to the new law, the Supreme Court of South Dakota determines ICWA is constitutional, saying interference in custody matters of tribal members threatens a tribe's right to self-governance.

April 18, 1988: The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Administration for Children, Youth and Families issues a report to assess ICWA implementation. It finds that ICWA has failed to reduce the flow of Native American children into substitute care. The report also finds the lack of funding fosters a negative climate of competition among tribes.

April 3, 1989: In Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirms the idea of tribal jurisdiction.

April 4, 1990: The Supreme Court of South Dakota finds a state court may deny transferring a child custody case involving Native American children to a tribal court if there is "good cause" to deny the transfer.

March 3, 2004: South Dakota passes Senate Bill 211, which establishes a commission is charged with examining South Dakota's compliance with the ICWA.

Dec. 30, 2004: The Governor's Commission on the Indian Child Welfare Act releases a report (pdf) that cites an overall lack of funding. They find tribal courts do not have the funds to assume jurisdiction in a case that would provide foster care and other services for children. They also find the Department of Social Services is not always following ICWA procedure when dealing with a Native American child. The report recommends passing a state ICWA bill to enhance compliance.

November, 2005: A second report (pdf) by the South Dakota Governor's ICWA Commission outlines how to implement the 30 recommendations cited in its initial report. The report emphasizes the state's need for more funding and establishes the "Collaborative Circle," a formal group which increases dialogue and partnership between Native American tribes and the Department of Social Services.

Sept. 27, 2011: The Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act passes both houses of Congress and is presented to President Obama. The legislation ensures that states successful in reducing their foster care caseloads do not lose federal funding. This legislation aims to create an incentive for states like South Dakota to reduce the number of children in foster care.

— Compiled by Quinn Ford / NPR

Virgena Wieseler, who runs a division of South Dakota's department of social services, says the department believes in the Indian Child Welfare Act and does its best to find relatives or tribal member placements for Indian children.

"We come from a stance of safety," she says. "That's our overarching goal with all children. If they can be returned to their parent or returned to a relative and be safe and that safety can be managed then that's our goal."

Department Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon says they're dealing with abject poverty and substance abuse and have to do what's best for the kids, which sometimes means driving onto a reservation and taking a child.

"Of course we think it's legal or we wouldn't be doing it," she says.

Malsam-Rysdon cited two laws. One is a federal statute that only pertains to emergency situations. The other is a state law that allows the state to remove children in danger.

But two South Dakota judges, two lawyers and a dozen tribal advocates told NPR that state law doesn't apply. Federal law says tribes are sovereign. The experts say a state official can't drive off with an Indian child from Crow Creek any more than a Crow Creek official could drive off with a child from Rapid City.

Some tribes have agreements with the state, which allows social services to operate on their reservations. Crow Creek, however, does not.

But the state has never been challenged in court on this specific issue, so Howe was stuck in a strange — but common — legal limbo.

Because she lives on a reservation, state courts don't apply to her. But especially on poor reservations like hers, tribal courts can be over-run, underfunded and operated only part time.

Howe didn't know how to get a hearing. She didn't know any judges or lawyers. She certainly couldn't afford one.

And social services told her they couldn't tell her anything. Letters to the state and governor went unanswered.

But even here in a place with few resources or computers, she thought there must be something she could do. And then she thought of one more person to call: a man named Dave Valandra.

Valandra's the tribe's Indian Child Welfare Act director. He's a federal employee, who is charged with making sure the law is being followed, namely that children removed by the state are placed with relatives or tribal members.

But when she called him, Howe says he told her: "'There's nothing I can do.' - that's what he said to me" she says.

Dave Valandra works in a square, gray building for the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. Valandra's official job is to help members who live off the reservation with their cases in state court. Many can't afford South Dakota's public defenders.

But Valandra can also help tribal members who are on the reservation. He can push for a tribal court hearing.

He doesn't do that very often, however, because he says he trusts the state to do what's best for native families.

"I get along real good with the state and I have a good rapport with them," he says. "I'm satisfied."

Tribal officials say they are not satisfied. They say he won't show up at their council meetings to answer their questions. Valandra says he doesn't need to appear because the Indian Child Welfare Act is being followed.

"The state does have Native American foster homes, so under the [Indian Child Welfare Act], they are following the law by placing the child in a Native American environment," he says. "So yeah, it's working."

But state records show only 13 percent of native kids in foster care are placed in native homes. In fact, Valandra admits that not one of the children in his almost three dozen cases is placed with a Native American family.

Asked if he's concerned these children may have been let down a bit, he seemed at a loss for words.

"Of my cases right now, I think they're all...right now, the placement of the children right now are...boy that's, huh," he said.

Tribal Foster Homes Remain Empty

With Valandra a dead end, Janice Howe asked the social worker to move the children to a native home where they could participate in cultural activities such as going to sweats and sundance. But nothing changed.

EnlargeJohn Poole/NPR
Marcella Dion lives on the Crow Creek reservation and has been licensed as a foster care provider since 2005, but the state has never sent her any children. Recently she took in her brother's granddaughter, Isabella.

Social Service's Wieseler said they would like all native children to be in native homes. But she says they've only got a few and they don't have room.

"We are constantly recruiting," she says, "constantly recruiting in all of our offices for all kinds of foster families and we are always trying to recruit them because we need more."

That comes as a surprise to Marcella Dion. She's a native foster home provider on the Crow Creek reservation and has lots of room.

Her home's been empty for six years.

"I was like, 'Whoa, what's going on,'" she says. "I got my [Indian Child Welfare license]. No kids."

Then there's Suzanne Crow, also from Crow Creek.

"I've been a foster parent here for over a year," she said. "They've never called me for any Indian kids."

In that year, hundreds of native children in South Dakota were placed in white foster homes. Officials on the Pine Ridge reservation, several hours away, also say they have 20 empty homes.

More From This Investigation

Part 2: Tribes Question Foster Group's Power And Influence
In South Dakota, Children's Home Society cares for hundreds of Native American children.

A Fight For Her Grandchildren Mirrors A Native Past

Suzanne Crow's struggle to bring home her grandchildren harkens her boarding school days.
A few months ago, Crow asked a social worker why she hadn't received any native foster children.

"He said well there's a long process this and that," Crow remembers. "And I said, 'You know what? The long process is there's no road from you to Indian people. That's the long process.'"

Howe and her daughter waited months just to see the kids. She missed braiding their long hair. They follow Dakota tradition that you don't cut hair unless there's a death in the family.

When they were finally granted a visit in December 2009, Howe says she burst into tears. Their hair was cut to their shoulders.

The girls also looked thin and had holes in their socks, Howe says. They begged Howe and their mother to take them home.

She recalls Rashauna telling her that she knew how to get to the river and said she was going to try to swim home.

"I just kept saying, pray," Howe says she told the children, tearing up at the memory. "Pray hard. Grandma's going to get you back. I don't know how but grandma's going to get you back. When you start feeling bad pray or look outside because we're both looking at the same sky. Ok? Ok, they said. And they left."

She wouldn't see them again for another year.

An Increasing Case Load

In downtown Rapid City, Danny Sheehan was digging around in a closet down the hall from his office pulling open file cabinets and taking out files.

"These are all the different people who had their kids taken away from their entire families," explains Sheehan, who works for the Lakota People's law office. "Not one of them has had their children left with a relative of any kind."

There are about 150 case files in all.

He hopes one day he can sue. He's been involved in cases like this in the past, including fighting Three Mile Island, the Ku Klux Klan - even representing a group that wants access to UFO records. But he says these cases are expensive, time consuming and fraught with legal hurdles.

"Maybe if we devoted all our resources to a particular case and said, look, we're going to land on you like a ton of bricks [social services] and make you give this one kid back and sue you and do everything else, they would probably just turn the kid loose," he says. "But it wouldn't change anything. It wouldn't stop them from doing it a hundred times again."

There are children in South Dakota who need to be removed from their families. But according to state figures, less than 12 percent of the children in foster care in South Dakota have been actually physically or sexually abused in their homes. That's less than the national average.

And yet South Dakota is removing children at almost three times the rate of other states, according to data from the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.

Culture, Poverty or Neglect?

There's one word that makes it possible for the state to remove Janice Howe's grandchildren and more than 700 other native kids every year: Neglect. The state says parents have neglected their children.

The problem, says Bob Walters, a council representative from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, is that neglect is subjective.

Walters, along with officials from seven other South Dakota tribes NPR interviewed, say what social workers call neglect, is often poverty — and sometimes native tradition.

"The standards are set too high for our people," Walters says. "We're family people. If there is 30 people in my home, that's fine. [When] I was raised, there was my mom, my dad and 12 kids. And I'm very thankful I grew up that way."

He says social workers are often young and there's constant turnover. He says many seem to have never set foot on a reservation before.

Walters says the workers don't understand that most tribal members don't have money to buy gas for a parenting class two hours away or that food is often shared among families.

State officials acknowledge that only 11 of their 183 case workers are Native American. But officials say they do yearly training to teach workers native practices.

Federal Financial Incentives For Removing Children

Sometimes, though, it's not just cultural differences. Jolene Abourezk worked for the department for seven years. She says when she worked there, removing kids was expected.

Department officials told her, "It's good, you are doing a good job for taking more kids," Abourezk says. "It's just the norm here. It happens so often people don't question it. So you know if something happens all the time the same way, people don't question it anymore. It's just how it's done.

Abourezk now works for her tribe, the Oglala Sioux, and reviews every case to help get kids back.

"When I look at the cases and read the police reports," she said, "it just seems like a lot of them are just minor offenses."

Few social workers would wish for more cases. A close review of South Dakota's budget shows there's a financial incentive for the department as a whole to remove more children.

Every time a state puts a child in foster care, the federal government sends money. Because South Dakota is poor, it receives even more money than other states - almost a hundred million dollars a year.

Bill Napoli chaired the state Senate Appropriations Committee until he retired three years ago. He says he remembers when the state first saw the large amounts of money the federal government was sending the Department of Social Services in the late 1990s.

"When that money came down the pike, it was huge," Napoli says. "That's when we saw a real influx of kids being taken out of families."

He said there was little lawmakers could do to rein in the department. This was federal money, and it went straight to social services.

"I'm sure they were trying to answer a public perception of a problem," he said. "And then slowly it grew to a point where they had so much power that no one — no one — could question what they were doing. Is that a recipe for a bureaucracy that's totally out of control? I would say so."

In an interview with NPR, department officials Wieseler and Kim Malsam-Rysdon say they strongly disagree, and that money has never influenced the department's decisions to remove a child.

"The state doesn't financially benefit from kids being in care," Malsam-Rysdon says. "The state is always paying some part of it."

She says it's true the department gets more money the more children it takes. But she says, "it's still state general dollars that have to match all those dollars that come in."

Except it's not exactly a match. According to state records, last year, the federal government reimbursed the state for almost three quarters of the money it spent on foster care.

Then there's the bonus money. Take for example something the federal government calls the "adoption incentive bonus." States receive money if they move kids out of foster care and into adoption — about $4,000 a child. But according to federal records, if the child has "special needs," a state can get as much as $12,000.

A decade ago, South Dakota designated all Native American children "special needs," which means Native American children who are permanently removed from their homes are worth more financially to the state than other children.

In 10 years, this adoption bonus program has brought South Dakota almost a million dollars.

Malsam-Rysdon says that money stays in the department and is used to help children.

"The key to that funding is that those dollars are to be used to support adoptive placements," she says. "So the state does not gain monetarily from placing kids in adoption."

But that money and a hundred million dollars more funnels into the state economy every year. The department employs a thousand workers. It supports almost 700 foster families who receive as much as $9,000 a year per child and 1,400 families who receive thousands in adoption subsidies. Dozens of independent group homes also receive millions of dollars in contracts to take care of children.

Governor Bill Janklow ran the state in the 1990s. Asked how important the federal money that goes to social services is to the state he said: "Incredibly important."

"I mean look, we're a poor state," he says. "We're not a high income state. We're like North Dakota without oil. We're like Nebraska without Omaha and Lincoln. We don't have resources. We don't have wealth. We don't have high income jobs. We don't have factories opening here hiring people in high wage jobs."

The federal government gave South Dakota at least $15,000 for Howe's grandchildren while they were in foster care. More than half of that money went to the department's administrative costs, according to federal records.

But even now as the money filters in, the federal government asks few questions about whether states are complying with the Indian Child Welfare Act. A 2005 government audit found at least 32 states are failing in one way or another to abide by it.

George Sheldon, who recently took over the federal Administration for Children and Families, is the man in Washington sending the money. He says the federal government needs to make complying with the law a priority for the states.

"I think we've got to do better and frankly to the extent we can provide some leadership I'd like to see us do that," Sheldon says. "When you have a financing system that pays states to keep kids in care, what's the incentive to keep kids out of care?"

A Conclusion For Janice Howe

Howe's grandchildren had been gone a year and a half. There was so much frustration. The family seemed to be falling apart.

EnlargeJohn Poole/NPR
Janice Howe's grandchildren, from left, Daylyn, 3, Rashauna, 6, and Antoinette, 8, play on the Crow Creek Reservation. The children were taken off the reservation by South Dakota's Department of Social Services for a year and a half after a social worker heard an unsubstantiated rumor about their mother's possible abuse of prescription pills. Their mother was never charged with anything.

Howe made one last desperate move. She went to her tribe's council meeting and told her entire story. She told them how the state was now about to put the children up for adoption. Many on the council nodded with familiarity.

And then they did something they had never done before. They passed a resolution warning the state that if it did not return the Yellow Robe Children, it would be charged with kidnapping and prosecuted.

Nobody thought it would work.

But a few weeks later, a car pulled up outside of Howe's house with Antoinette, Rashauna and the two twins, who were now 2 1/2 years old.

"Antoinette came in and said 'Grandma, Grandma. We get to stay! We get to stay!'" Howe says.

The state offered no explanation or apology. The social worker warned that this was a trial run and the state could take them back at anytime.

Howe thinks the babies were treated well. But Rashauna and Antoinette left a size 10 and came back a size smaller. Howe says they hoard food under their pillows and hide under the bed when a car pulls up.

"I feel like they were traumatized so much," Howe says.

The children don't remember their native dance, something Howe says is especially important for Antoinette, the oldest.

"We go to sweats," Howe says. "We have ceremonies at certain times a year. She's got to be getting ready to learn these things that she has to do in order to become a young lady. They took a year and a half away from us. How are we going to get that back?"

The Grandparents Group

Credit: John W. Poole/NPR
Howe now runs a support group in a church for families who have lost children to foster care.

On this day, 48 people showed up, and Antoinette and Rashauna played in the front room. Howe says they usually hide from outsiders and explained that like their mother, they are especially afraid of white people and do not want to talk to them.

Later, Howe asked Rashauna: "What was it like in foster care?"

"I thought we were going to stay there forever," Rashauna says.

And then suddenly Antoinette blurts out a story about how Rashauna wet her pants and the foster parents made her wear the underwear on her head.

Howe looked away, so they wouldn't see her eyes fill with tears. As the singing started, they slowly swayed, knowing that even now, social services can come back. Even now, at anytime, they can take the children.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Four paths through the Republic's woods

This post is linked to the one on Polemarchus as a philosophical democrat here and is part of a series of reflections on how to read the Republic which I will post on over the next few weeks. The posts suppose the Republic to be much more ironic and humorous – importantly, a comedy in relation to much that is weak or bad in Athens (though no comedy about the death of Socrates) – than philosophers and scholars have thought.

It is perhaps easy to come to read the Laws with some suspicion. The Athenian Stranger is the one who escaped drinking the hemlock, the one whom the laws, conjured by Socrates in the Crito (line 54b-c), warn is not to be taken seriously either in Athens or “the place of the dead.” He is Socrates and not Socrates. But how did Plato expect his students to read the sometimes conflicting arguments of his character named Socrates? Did he perhaps invite the same Socratic questioning of, the same testing out of each argument?

Is the Republic (and are other dialogues) supposed to be read as a book which reveals truths simply (to be read the way we read a not very bright textbook) or is the purpose of a dialogue veiled, both from the point of view of figuring out a) what is true and b) what Plato thinks (two not necessarily coincident matters, since Plato, like Socrates, often does not know what is true)? Philosophy is, after all, searching for the truth through questioning; every argument fashioned is provisional in some important respects notably in relation to the interlocutor(s), can be seen anew, surpassed...

I should note: about the idea of the good, Plato offers only a beautiful metaphor (it is the sun in the noetic universe). What Plato figured out about it – see Jay Kennedy’s interesting work – and whether Pythagorean numbers, serious enough for Plato, cast very much more light on it might be doubted.* In fact, one might think with Socrates in the Apology that though one knows some specific and important things about acts that are just or about numbers, one still is better off than others only in this – that about the truth as a whole, one does not know nor does one think one knows...

Perhaps Plato encouraged his present and future students to look for flaws and interconnections in the way that one might hear Polemarchos leaping into the dialogue as a witness and pointing to the weaknesses of Thraymachus’s argument in book 1 (see line 340a-c and here). In the first book, as the last post demonstrated, Plato underlines the progress of Polemarchus from democratic war leader (his name) and bully to doing philosophy. This thought is deepened by looking across dialogues (again, something fairly rare among modern teachers of political thought; one of Strauss’s insights is to read many dialogues and to think about them, to some extent, in tandem), Thus, Socrates celebrates Polemarchus, by contrast with his brother the orator Lysias, in the Phaedrus.

Polemarchus drank the hemlock as a democrat, one of the 1500 put to death by another of Socrates’s students, Critias, for opposing/fighting the Tyranny of the Thirty. The image of the philosophical warrior democrat fighting for the democracy to defeat the tyranny is one possible lesson – one Heideggerian way through the woods of the dialogues – that a student might find as Plato’s student Demosthenes, murdered by Alexander’s minion Archias - and thus, indirectly by Alexander's advisor Aristotle - did.

Another way of reading the dialogue, just under the surface, for the aristocratic boys, from up the hill in Athens, the great military leaders Glaucon and Adeimantus, brothers of Plato, and sons of Ariston (the best), is to be hungry but to have their hunger curbed through sometimes philosophical speech. That is the apparent action of the dialogue (one might speak, in this respect, a la Strauss, of The Argument and Action of Plato’s Republic).** If Glaucon is not fully taught virtue in the dialogue, if there is no sign, in contrast to Polemarchus, that he turns toward philosophy, he is, nonetheless, interested in it, and becomes a man of virtue. He is not known historically outside of this dialogue and a brief account in Xenophon; he does not become a tyrant, as his hunger, faced with the austere city, the city of sows as he names it, suggests he might.

A third way, on the surface of the Republic and in the depths, is the notion, tempting to Plato and other aristocratic students of Socrates, of the philosopher-king. The philosopher king rules tyrannically if “wisely,” expelling everyone over 10 from the city, killing children born out of season a la Sparta, cleaning up the gods of Athens through censorship, and leading a lean warrior/athlete regime – a vision of the beautiful city, the kallipolis, a la Glaucon, the military leader. Whether this is a chimera which is meant to outlast the dialogue with Glaucon is unclear (that it is the utopia Plato aims for, however, though grasped in this way by Heidegger, Strauss and with less insight Popper, is even less clear). Still, this vision is undergirded by hidden writing in the Republic as I suggested in "Do Philosophers Counsel Tyrants?," Constellations, 2009, here.

For the best regime, that of philosophical rule, declines through three others to the worst tyranny. But everything was a circle for the Greeks. As I discovered in book 5 of the Politics following Strauss’s 1967 lectures as reported to me by Mike Goldfield who heard them, Aristotle offers the criticism that it would be perfect and a circle (kuklos) if a tyrant of a certain kind became a philosopher-king:

"Again as to tyranny he [Plato, Republic] does not say whether it will undergo revolution or not, nor, if it will, what will be the cause of it, and into what sort of constitution it will change; and the reason for this is that he would not have found it easy to say, for it is irregular; since according to him tyranny ought to change into the first and best constitution, for so the process would be continuous and a circle..."***

In addition, as Socrates points out, extremes are nearest one another. A philosopher, misled by bad friends and corrupted, goes very bad. In contrast, the average monarch will do nothing very good or very bad (one might wonder about Bush, who urged by Cheney, seems to have done in the rule of law in the United States; perhaps these Socratic phrases “misestimate” what bumbling can accomplish…). Nonetheless, for Socrates, the potential philosopher who goes bad will become a tyrant.

As Socrates puts it in the Republic, “consider we know it to be true of every growing thing, whether seedling or flesh, that when it is deprived of the food, climate, or location suitable to its growth, it will suffer the greater damage, the greater its inherent vigor. For evil is a greater enemy of the good than of the ordinary” (491d-e,564a). He also suggests that a potential philosopher is most easily corrupted (488-489c, 492, 572e-573). “Great crimes and systematic wickedness are not the products of half-hearted natures but of the vigorous ones who have been corrupted by their upbringing. Mediocrity will never attain to any great thing, good or evil.” For the careful or esoteric reader, Plato links the potential philosopher by implication to the tyrant: “then the qualities we assumed in the philosopher’s nature will necessarily thrive and mature in all excellence, provided he is properly taught. But if sowing, planting and germination take place in the wrong environment, the contrary outcome must be anticipated – unless some god comes to the rescue.”

Socrates suggests that his inner voice, his daimon, what we might gesture at by calling his conscience but he sees as a more robust guiding spirit, helped him to continue questioning, to ward off the temptations of corruption that seize those “philosophers” who sit at the doors of the rich (Thrasymachus, for example, who speaks because the aristocratic boys throw money at him).

This image of the philosopher-tyrant - or the philosopher who counsels a receptive tyrant - is the view of Martin Heidegger, pioneered in the mid-1920s and proclaimed in his 1943 The Essence of Truth: Plato’s Cave-Metaphor and the Theatetus as the essence of Nazism. It is the philosophers who become guardians, set all the rules for the tyrant:

“We must now see if what has been said can be verified from Plato’s own presentation. With this intention we turn to the final section of book VI of the Republic. In regard to the ‘state’ (as we somewhat inappropriately translate polis) and its inner possibility, Plato maintains as his first principle that the authentic guardians of human association in the unity of the polis must be those who philosophize. He does not mean that philosophy professors are to become chancellors of the state, but that philosophers are to become phylaches, guardians. Control and organization of the state is to be undertaken by philosophers, who set standards and rules in accordance with their widest and deepest, freely inquiring knowledge, thus determining the general course society should follow.(paragraph 13, p. 73 - h/t Tracy Strong). See here.

This is the view imbibed from Heidegger by Leo Strauss, who is, by his own posthumous account, an under-laborer for Heidegger’s great philosophical – and grotesque political - insights. See here. Though a Jew, Strauss’s Nazism came from taking a wrong way through the woods – one that Plato’s aristocratic students were to test and, he hoped, be able enough, to overcome – with Heidegger (Note Aristotle took a version of this path as did Al-Farabi; twentieth century Germany was particularly unlucky soil, as Socrates says in the Republic, to be reared with reactionary prejudices…).

Plato’s subtle method of teaching, however, left it to the student to decide. He himself was one of the aristocratic boys - the brothers Glaucon, Adeimantus and Plato, sons of the best - who were tempted to advise tyrants. Unlike Socrates, he had a three year misadventure with Dionysios the younger of Syracuse. As the Seventh Letter reveals, Plato best student, Dion, became the ruler, a potential philosopher-king though on behalf of laws, and was swiftly murdered by a false friend, Calippus. Here Socrates’s questioning with Polemarchus in book 1 of the Republic, about whether friends are true or not in politics – whether the leaders can tell their friends from their enemies - takes on a far darker significance.

The semblance from the Republic as well is that Plato was taken with philosopher- tyranny and Heidegger hints at this with references to the Seventh Letter in The Essence of Truth.

Yet this depiction pits Plato, as a would be philosopher-tyrant, against Socrates, the civil disobedient. Strauss, for example, offers an arcane account of Socrates through Xenophon and ignores civil disobedience. In effect, for Heidegger and Strauss, Socrates disappears in an image – a (mis)interpretation - of Plato (or Xenophon).

But this interpretation misses the obvious. Was Plato not more loyal to Socrates than this? Socrates had gone to his death, providing a pattern for later satyagraha or civil disobedience, with the laws of the democracy speaking to him as the Corybants, the participants in the Greek mystery-relgions of whom Socrates was one, hear the flutes. In the Apology, he is surprised by the nearness of the vote (shifting 30 votes out of 500 would have acquitted him)**** and suggests modifying the laws of Athens to be like those of other cities, for instance, permitting four days for a trial with a potential death sentence instead of one.

Other possibilities for reform in a democracy might suggest themselves to students and questioners over time. For instance, protection of freedom of conscience and freedom of speech for each person might prevent other cities from murdering their wise women and men…

As the Apology warns and as readers of the Crito need to bear in mind, the instrumental consequence of Socrates obeying the laws and going to his death was to discredit democracy - those very laws - for 2000 years…That Athens killed its wise man – that what is “popular” may sometimes be the Ku Klux Klan, McCarthy or anti-Arab bigotry – is the charge against the democratic city (of course tyrannies, as the Tyranny of the Thirty proved, often do at least as badly…).

These possibilities of reform all suggest a way that Athens, pretty much as it was, could have avoided this fate.***** Nothing here requires the rule of a philosopher-tyrant (the tyrant who becomes a philosopher-king and rules without laws) to achieve justice (technically, I might say, it would have achieved an important aspect of justice, the toleration of questioning or philosophy, since no actually existing political regime is simply or mainly just or incarnates "the" idea of justice; a "more perfect union," to put it in an American idiom, is worth fighting for over generations...).

But, further, the particular city in speech or kallipolis in the Republic is a) doubtfully just - it accords with the psyche of the general Glaucon and persuades him not to become a tyrant, but is, broadly speaking, the argument of a day with a particular interlocutor,****** and is b) without a causal mechanism (just who is to expel everyone over the age of 10, the little band of philosophers?).

In addition, the whole point of the philosopher “going down” is to defend philosophy and democracy against tyranny. Philosophy and democratic dissent (what is admirable in democracy, for instance, Henry David Thoreau against the slave-owners and their “laws” in “Civil Disobedience”) have the exact same root: questioning. Democracy is that city of cities, one of which is the small circle of philosophers, who, fashioning arguments daily, seeing their limitations, fashioning arguments anew, defend it against tyranny. See here, here and here.

This idea in the dialogues, incarnate in Socrates and Polemarchus, and also Chaerophon (see Aristophanes’s Clouds and the Apology) and Plato’s student Demosthenes, is a real, surprising and admirable alternative.

Here are four, mutually inconsistent paths, requiring questioning, difficult to sort through, in the Republic.

One further note on the error in Strauss's idea of hidden readings. On his line of thinking, a conflict between a masterful argument against tyranny and a coded and message: that a kind of tyrant becomes a philosopher-king and rules tyrannically, should be resolved in favor of the coded – and hence, not much argued – message. Perhaps that is sometimes true, on reflection, but it is neither obvious nor philosophical (it makes the reader a decoder of texts, not a thinker about them).

Put differently, on Strauss's reading, the Republic, the greatest indictment of tyranny ever written, is self-refuting. It suggests that a tyrant can become a wise or philosophical tyrant. This is elaborated in Xenophon’s Hiero, as Strauss shows in his first book in the United States (1948) and in book 5 of Aristotle’s Politics (where tyrants can become popular by ruling, a la Xenophon’s Simonides, for a common good). To see the paths in this striking work contradictory, the hidden one a putative refutation, without much argument, of the surface, I found rather sad.

But thinking about it further, I realized that there was no reason to accept the slightly veiled pointing toward philosopher tyranny and the Republic offers many resources – for instance, the development of Polemarchos as one who turns toward philosophy, the image of going down to protect the city, the question of where a neophyte Socrates or Plato would fit in the “city in speech,” and the question of whether the censorship of Greek culture, in fact, a response to Athens' charge against Socrates of disbelieving in the gods and so Plato, in this respect speaking ironically through the character, Socrates, sets out to clean them up, is to be taken seriously. Does one become a philosopher by having all possible experience taken away? Think of the Buddha story, roughly contemporaneous with Socrates 800 miles away, where Siddhartha's father attempts to protect him from seeing pain and aging...

I will take up the last two claims - whether there is a place for Plato in the city in speech, whether censorship even of the poet Plato is really a "directive" of the Republic - in the next posts.

For Plato, I would suggest, the aim of the Republic and the Laws especially was to inspire further questioning in his students who read it. That aim is a danger to those who hope to absorb the master’s teaching literally. Strauss and Heidegger read some hidden meanings cleverly but slavishly (for instance, that Polemarchus turns toward philosophy is also a hidden meaning...). But there is no reason to do so.

*The just man's happiness is said to be 729 times the tyrant's in the Republic. 729 is 9 to the power of 3 (or 3 to the power of 6). 9 is an extraordinary number (with powers to the sum of 9 or in the hundreds to 18 - thus, 9 to the power of 4 is 6561 or added 18; in addition, 9 to the power of 5 is 59, 049 or added 27; 9 to the power of 6 is 531, 441 or added 18...) whose powers form unusual, mirroring patterns. That the dialogues reflect numbers and music, structurally is probably true. But that we learn something about the idea of eudaimonia from these patterns needs to be argued...

That the dialogues reflect numbers and music structurally could also reveal a Pythagorean theory about the universe (the dialogues could, in this respect, imitate or be a microcosm of the Pythagorean universe). That would be a terrifically revealing point about the origins of mathematics and scientific understandings (about what brilliant people believed who discovered these things, who saw further and more deeply than the rest of us...). That it would actually reveal or mirror the idea of the good needs some further work.

**See Strauss’s last book, The Argument and the Action of Plato’s Laws (1973), an interesting account which, however, takes the words of the Athenian Stranger too much at face value and goes whole hog for censorship and attempting to make everyone “have the same passions, the same tastes.”

***I eventually got the lectures from Nathan Tarcov, the new director of the Struass archive at Regenstein, and found the following telling comment on Aristotle, Politics, 1316a27-32. In the Chicago transcript of his fall, 1967 course on the Politics (lecture XII), Strauss says of this passage:

"The last point is of course, especially interesting. Does it stop when it has reached the bottom? Tyranny. Or does it not by a kind of rejuvenation, almost miraculous rejuvenation, have a new kingship emerge out of the tyranny. The question is posed by Plato, but is not answered there."

The transcriber mishears “imposed.” The answer to the problem Plato “poses,” hinted at by Strauss’s comment, is that a tyrant becomes a “philosopher-king” – Strauss carefully says “king” for students and drops philosopher – who rules without laws.

This was Strauss’s core picture of Platonism/Xenophonism in practice.

****His daimon, his inner voice or guiding spirit, had suggested that he would die and not warned him to avoid this fate.

*****And even this was not Athens at the height of its democracy, tolerant of philosophy and of Socrates during his long life (70 years). It was a diminished Athens, 5 years after its defeat in the Peloponnesian War (the trial was in 399 BC), applying, unusually, a despicable and phony "law" against speaking ill of the gods for only the second time.

******Consider the different psyches, loves and visions suggested in Phaedrus; that this kallipolis is Glaucon's but not Socrates's - despite the obscure add on of the philosopher-king - will become more apparent. The divide here between what satisfies Glaucon and what Socrates sees is yawning. It resembles a little what satisfies Crito in the "laws" confused speech in Crito here and - what is more hidden - why Socrates goes to his death hearing them as the Corybants hear the flutes.

Perhaps what Socrates sees is a gleaming idea of justice to be taken up against tyranny in the here and now of Athens and which questions the accompaniment of the ostensibly "just" hierarchical city in speech.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Protest Obama's vacillation on\collaboration with the Keystone XL pipeline Tuesday at the University of Colorado at Denver

At the Occupy Denver march yesterday, I spoke with Glenn Morris about the fierce opposition from Pine Ridge and among native american activists to the Keystone XL pipeline. One of Hillary Clinton's former campaign workers is the lobbyist for this project and has gotten the ear of the State Department which has issued a long, dishonest report (avoiding the larger environmental consequnces entirely). Some 1500 people, led by the climate scientist James Hansen who has warned against the devastating consequences to the environment of Tar Sands production, were arrested doing civil disobedience at the White House this summer. In addition, the pipeline will poison the Ogallala Acquifer (water for 9 states including Colorado).

There is widespread opposition in Nebraska (athletic director Tom Osbourne reversed himself, after wide booing, in advertizing this project at Nebraska football games). But as Glenn suggested, many are about to find out about eminent domain - something that native americans have long and more horribly experienced - if the pipeline is not stopped. During his campaign, Obama promised to do the right thing on these issues. But here is a very clear choice and he is silent (considering the pay, the lobbying).

Obama is in Colorado to speak of the American Jobs Act. This act would be good, though hardly enough (it would decrease the unemployment rate by roughly one per cent, some millions of people, if it were enacted). As opposed to the Republicans who are against jobs for the nearly 20% of Americans actually unemployed - the "Republicans" are the authoritarian party of the 1% - and some Democrats, this is good. Yet what Obama plans to do about this pipeline, unless stopped, like much of his war policy, for example, drones in Pakistan, is a great horror. The virtue of the Occupy movements has been to make clear that Obama's corruption as head of the Empire is not acceptable. This demonstration drives that point home with particular force. It deserves all of our support.

Show Obama: Indigenous Resistance to the Oil Sands Oct 25, Denver

Colorado AIM endorses, and will participate actively in, the rally below when Obama is in town next week. See here.

WHEN: Tuesday, October 25, assemble @ 1:45pm
WHERE: Tivoli Commons on Auraria Campus (900 Auraria Pkwy, Denver, 80204)
WHY: TransCanada has proposed a pipeline, the Keystone XL pipeline to come down from the Alberta Tar Sands (the largest industrial project on earth) to Texas, passing many states, at least five reservations and the Ogallala Aquifer which serves water to eight states. The State Department and Obama are sitting on the pipeline proposal right now and will be approving/denying it in November. We will remind Obama of his 2008 campaign promises, we will remind him that We, the People, are concerned over the oil sands and the pipeline, over our land and water that our next generations must depend on, too. Thomas Poor Bear, the Vice President from the Oglala Sioux Tribe will be bringing a delegation from the Pine Ridge Reservation to join in this struggle, and we hope you will join, too.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Statement against the war criminal John Yoo at the American Political Science Convention

John Yoo is an internationally notorious war criminal (as are most senior officials in the Bush administration, with the possible exception of Colin Powell). For fear of arrest, they cannot - except possibly to Canada and in the face of demonstrations - travel abroad.

Like Cheney, Bush and Gonzalez – see here and here for the recent protest at the University of Colorado at Denver - Yoo is invited to speak at various professional events or campuses or given soft-ball book tours. Yet the anger of ordinary people sparks at the annexing of professional activities like the American Political Science Association and the principled toleration it ordinarily accords, to perfume criminality.

What was done to the thousands of prisoners in American custody by the Bush administration, including murdering over 100 on the Pentagon’s own account, is not a matter of speech. Such practices are barred by American law (those which make the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture the highest law of the land – see Article 6 section 2 of the Constitution, the Supremacy Clause – and domestic statutes. See here and here. These are morally odious as well as legally abhorrent practices.

The Obama administration has also tortured. Yesterday, Juan Mendes, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, issued a report on solitary confinement as a form of torture. He refers especially to the case of Bradley Manning, tortured for 7 months and still yet to be charged for claimed involvement in Wikileaks. See below. The contrast between the Obama administration’s zeal to punish and torture heroic "leakers" – those who reveal and try to stop the crimes by or within the US government – and its protection of Bush and the leaders of Goldman Sachs and other banks is truly remarkable.

Perhaps the Occupy movements will force some hearings about and eventually charges for some of those who created collateral debt obligations and the like (this morning, the Times's lead story on the front page reported that Citigroup paid a $235 million fine for its corrupt practice with mortgages, but still no individual has been prosecuted). See here.

Only protests by those who care about restoring the rule of law in different settings, however, will help build sentiment for ending rather than renewing American crimes (consider closely the Republican field – notably Romney who wanted to double the size of Guantanamo in 2008. Only Ron Paul wants to abate militarism – mentioned Iran-Contra Monday night – and might move against torture).

Obama issued an order against waterboarding his second day in office. Nonetheless, the basis for restoring torture already exists in Obama’s practices toward Bradley Manning and sustained executive illegalities (last Friday, he had Awlaki’s teenage son executed - 17 years old - another American citizen eliminated by Presidential order….The Denver Post ran a cheerleading AP story on this last Saturday).

Jamie Mayerfeld at the University of Washington, who helped circulate the statement below, is working on an important book on human rights and torture. The others who signed the statement below (as I did) are acting to bar the honoring of crime in the American Political Science Association. Political scientists need to differentiate themselves sharply from stitching the Emperor's New Clothes for war crimes.

We have already seen the corruption of the American Psychological Association (members of whose executive council directly participated in torture and whose executive council defended it; it took a rank and file campaign and referendum to reverse this) and, in response to protest from below, the American Anthropological Association’s opposition to the Pentagon's use of anthropologists in the “human terrain project.” See here.

Consider the tape below of a woman courageously protesting against Yoo and read the statement of Douglas Overton-Bey about the group of (self-selectedly) reactionary political scientists present – it is a political Straussian crowd organized by the Clarement Institute for "Statesmanship" which invited Yoo – who sadly (as human beings) but smugly sat there.

The panel was on the subject of Lincoln's crimes during the Civil War -his abridgment of habeas corpus for Southern sympathizers. Defense of this as a precedent along with FDR's jailing of innocent Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during World War II - was a mantra of neocon talking heads during and after Abu Ghraib.

Unlike Bush and Cheney (and thanks particularly to the pseudo-legal patter of Mr. Yoo), Lincoln, however was attentive to Congressional support and the Constitution. So this panel was designed to give Yoo and others a chance to phony up an apology for torture given a slightly deeper understanding of what Lincoln did and offer a false suggestion that Yoo or Bush then made even the slightest effort in that direction. Had Bush succeeded in such a hypothetical effort and gained Congressional approval (the opposite of Yoo's "opinions" on Presidential or executive power), it would not have "legalized" torture or murder under international law and US treaty obligations. One cannot perfume a rogue state in this way.

It dignifies the crowd, which made no effort to answer the protestor's arguments but simply harassed her until she could be removed - she determinedly stuck it out for several minutes - to speak of the panel or its audience as engaged in other than neo-con ideology abetting criminality.

I urge others to sign this statement and to write independently to the American Political Science Association and the American Bar Association concerning John Yoo.

Subject: Statement Regarding John Yoo Appearance at APSA
From Jamie Mayerfeld at the University of Washington:

Dear members of the APSA Human Rights Section,

As some of you may know, John Yoo spoke at the recent APSA conference in Seattle. A group of APSA members put together a statement protesting his inclusion on the APSA program. Our statement, which appears below, is not a reaction to Yoo’s opinions, but to the fact that he was a leading architect of a policy of torture.

I am writing to ask if any of you would like to sign the statement. (Apologies to those who have already received this appeal.)

Here are two stories about Yoo's APSA presentation, including a 3-minute video of a protestor who denounced Yoo before being hustled out of the panel. See here and here.

As for the statement, there are thoughtful positions on both sides. Some people have declined to sign it on the grounds that APSA should continue to function as a pluralistic and inclusive forum representing divergent views and life experiences. I agree with that principle, but I think that John Yoo is a special case, and that given his role in authorizing torture, he should not receive the honor, privilege, and assistance of a slot on APSA's program.

If you would like to sign the statement, please send an email message, with your name and affiliation as you would like it to appear, to

And if you are so inclined, please share with friends and colleagues, and encourage them to sign it, too. Our new deadline for receiving signatures is Monday, October 17 [it is probably still possible to sign it; h/t Joel Pruce], after which we will present the statement to the President and Council of the Association. At present, there are just over 50 signatures.

Sincerely, Jamie Mayerfeld

Here is the statement:

We, the undersigned members of the American Political Science Association, were shocked and profoundly dismayed to learn that John Yoo was invited to speak at the 2011 APSA conference in Seattle. Mr. Yoo was a leading architect of the torture policy adopted by the George W. Bush administration. In drafting memos to his superiors that served to authorize acts of torture, Mr. Yoo, according to the Office of Professional Responsibility of the Department of Justice, "knowingly failed to provide a thorough, candid, and objective interpretation of the law." The Senate Armed Services Committee concluded that the Office of Legal Counsel “torture memos” to which Mr. Yoo contributed “distorted the meaning and intent of anti-torture laws” and “rationalized the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody.” In 2009, Mr. Yoo was placed under criminal investigation by Spanish authorities for torture and other war crimes.

Academic conferences should encourage healthy debates and a free exchange of ideas, and we do not support measures that constrain or censure scholarly discourse. But there can be no justification for giving a platform to someone who participated in the actual authorization of torture, a shameful and morally unacceptable practice and a crime under both domestic and international law. The record establishes that Mr. Yoo bears major responsibility for implementing a policy of torture, that he did so based on the purposeful manipulation of law, and that he proceeded on this course in violation of international treaties prohibiting torture and other war crimes. As political scientists and as Association members, we declare our support for open and free debate and discussion, we affirm our opposition to torture, and we protest the decision to invite John Yoo to speak at the APSA conference as an affront to the standards of our profession and of humanity.

To sign this statement, please send an email message to

Please state your name and affiliation as you would like it to appear.

From the Yoo Protest Statement Drafting Committee:

Michael J. Bosia

Associate Professor of Political Science
St. Michael’s College

Stephen Eric Bronner
Distinguished Professor of Political Science
Director of Civic Diplomacy and Human Rights
Institute for Global Challenges
Rutgers University

Michael Forman
Associate Professor of Social and Political Theory, Human Rights, and Labor Studies
Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences
University of Washington, Tacoma

Micheline Ishay
Professor of International Studies and Human Rights
Josef Korbel School of International Studies
University of Denver

Jamie Mayerfeld
Professor of Political Science
University of Washington, Seattle

Mahmood Monshipouri,
Associate Professor of International Relations
San Francisco State University

Julie Novkov
Department Chair, Political Science
Professor of Political Science/Women's Studies
University at Albany, SUNY

Yesterday, DemocracyNow had the following news story:

U.N. Torture Chief: Ban Solitary Confinement for Teens, Mentally Disabled

The top United Nations official on torture is calling for an end to almost all forms of solitary confinement. Juan Méndez, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, said solitary confinement should only be allowed in exceptional cases, and emphasized an absolute ban in the case of juveniles and people with mental disabilities.

Juan Méndez: "I am of the view that juveniles, given their physical and mental immaturity, should never be subjected to solitary confinement. Equally, in order not to exacerbate a previously existing mental condition, individuals with mental disabilities should be provided with proper medical or psychiatric care, and under no circumstances should they ever be subjected to solitary confinement. My recommendations are, first, to see if we can have a complete ban on prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement. And I more or less arbitrarily define that as anything beyond 15 days of solitary confinement, meaning someone being confined to a cell for at least 22 hours a day."

In his remarks, Méndez also commented on U.S. soldier and alleged whistleblower Bradley Manning, who’s being held in a Kansas prison following his arrest for allegedly leaking government material to WikiLeaks. Méndez says although Manning is no longer being held in solitary confinement, he is still monitoring the case.

Juan Méndez: "I want to stress that, on the one hand, he is no longer in solitary confinement, although he spent something like eight months in solitary confinement, but when he was moved to Fort Leavenworth, his regime changed, and he’s not in solitary confinement now. I’m not saying anything about whether his present regime violates other possible standards, but at least he’s—on a daily basis, he does communicate and socialize with other inmates in his same category."