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Democracy’s Island Beacons—Hong Kong and Puerto Rico

While we here in the United States are bombarded daily with smoke screens of a propped up economy and innumerable divisive tactics, two island cultures are putting up the good fight for democracy. Puerto Ricans demonstrated against a corrupt government refusing to implode on itself that must have greatly disappointed real-estate developers standing in the wings. The shadow of the Tiananmen Square massacre looms large over the Hong Kong protestors who knowingly are putting their lives on the line in the island’s fight to preserve the democratic autonomy promised it in its handover to China by Britain.

In the past, islands have been the preservers of culture such as the persistent activity of the monks in Ireland who laboriously copied illuminated manuscripts by hand beginning with the Book of Durrow in the seventh century when Europe was in the Dark Ages, that would be followed by other Medieval Christian artworks such as Carolingan and Byzantine illuminated manuscripts in due course. When Buddhism was persecuted on the Asian mainland in the ninth century, Japan sheltered Buddhist monks and preserved the artifacts of its religion becoming a nation of temples and virtual living museum of Buddhist sutras and art.

Meanwhile here at home, the endangered species act has been lifted so that endangered species could thrive under its protective laws: in my state of New Jersey, no longer sheltering the bald eagle’s nest will give way to the development of farmland for yet another  Amazon warehouse. And climate change be damned with the free-for-all gas and oil drilling taking place on public lands. The land of Lady Liberty who has greeted the downtrodden to her shores in the past harboring religious freedom and asylum seekers now is witness to children being separated from the arms of their parents and put into cages—Walls, Walls, Walls.

Unfortunately, we in the states are fed a daily diet of distractions as headliners taking the focus off of ongoing activities that have been eroding democracy before our very eyes: gerrymandering, voting poll purges, voter suppression, Russian election interference, packing of the federal and supreme courts (intentionally not capitalized), and downright obfuscating the wheels of legislation, Muslim bans, vile attacks on elected officials of color, undocumented workers’ raids (who hired them?) in a nation that has permitted the NRA’s buyout of politicians who are now all implicated in the mass murders of innocent babies, children, adults, unarmed black men, women etc. Ironically, these same politicians are the loudest voices in current nationwide “trigger” laws (note the irony) all in the name of the “sanctity” of human life.

The choice is ours: either we continue to be entertained by our many distractions—streaming TV shows, stock market earnings, buying into claims of “fake news” etc. or, we can be witness to the demise of global human rights and the lives of those who will be punished, or murdered,  for their “crime” of hope and aspiration in the American dream. Are these democracy’s beacons or are they its last gasps?

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Nurturing a Global Consciousness

I will be attending the 2019 GlobalMindED Conference June 5-7, Denver CO. “Collaboration is at the heart of the GlobalMindED conference – among educators, entrepreneurs and business leaders, policymakers in government and nonprofits, and first-generation college students themselves.” https://globalminded.org. In reviewing my research I came across the following unpublished article written in 2004:

Books contain capital,” wrote Thomas Jefferson to James Madison in 1821. It took more than 175 years, but we are beginning to see what he meant. World economies have shifted from those focused on industrial productions to those centered not only on knowledge, but also creativity. (Global Literacies, 355) In the 21st century, creativity will drive commerce, employment, trade the way natural resources and industries have influenced economies and societies in the past. (Bradford, 12)

At the same time, two seemingly contradictory forces in operation observed at the dawn of the 21st century are the interdependence or interconnectedness of the global village, as well as a strong desire for individual roots. In the global village there is not a single global culture; instead, there are various global cultures, with their own languages, codes and world-views. (Bradford, 343)

If community can be defined “by modes of participation and engagement, through local gatherings in a specific physical space or through the electronic media of the World Wide Web, then though there is not a single global culture,”(Pitman, 26) there is a New World Community. With the meeting of world cultures together in real time, can the wealthier segments continue to ignore the current trend of increasing inequality? As one educator observed, the very education students and their families aspire for in order to get good jobs and succeed in society, is also an essential contributing element to the dilemma of globalization. That is, the operating dynamic that is rewarding a few while miring the majority in killing poverty, greater and greater inequality, social unrest and ecological degradation. Preparing students—even poor or minority students on scholarship—to take their places in most of society’s major institutions and to succeed in carrying them forward in their current directions will actually increase economic and social injustice. (Hug, 16)

An important question for the Globalminded attendees: as educators in the 21st century, how will we meet the challenge to not only prepare our students for the borderless e-marketplace, but more importantly instruct on humanity, both of the individual and that of community, that is vital in forming a “global consciousness?”

Sources
Bradford, GiGi, Gray, Michael and Wallach, Glenn, eds. The Politics of Culture: Policy Perspectives for Individuals, Institutions and Communities. New York: The New Press, 2000.
Hug, James E. “Educating for Justice: Any University’s Major Mission is to Work for Global Transformation,” in America, Vol. 182 No. 18, Whole No. 4488, May 20, 2000, pp. 16-22.
Mestenhauser, J. A. and Ellingboe B. (Eds.). “Portraits of International Curriculum: An Uncommon Multidimensional Perspective,” in Reforming Higher Education Curriculum: Internationalizing our Campuses. Phoenix: American Council on Education/Oryx, 1997.
Piro, Joseph. “School-Museum Collaboration: A Passage to Asian Study.” Education About ASIA. Volume 2, Number 2, Fall 1997. http://www.aasianst.org/EAA/piro.htm.
Pitman, Bonnie. “Muses, Museums, and Memories,” in Daedalus, Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Summer, 1999. Pp. 1-30.
Rosen, Robert et al. Global Literacies: Lessons on Business Leadership and National Cultures. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.

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Homage to Henry Rosemont, Jr. Confucian scholar, mentor and friend

 

Anyone who knew Henry Rosemont, Jr., who passed away July 2, 2017, saw in him a standard bearer for Confucian Role Ethics as husband, father, grandfather as well as China scholar, teacher, mentor and friend. Henry placed a particular emphasis on the interactions of the role-bearers, not on their individual qualities. There are those said to be kind; role-bearing benefactors perform kindly acts towards and with beneficiaries: individuals are said to be brave, role-bearers perform brave acts and so on. (Rosemont, 2105, p. 96). I was such a beneficiary from the very first occasion I met Henry and JoAnn a decade ago in NYC (China House Institute) where he gave a talk on Confucius. I asked him for a resource and he gave me his card and from that point on we corresponded regularly.

Reacting to the rise of nativism and an ever-widening gap between the “haves” and the “have nots,” Henry published Against Individualism: A Confucian Rethinking of the Foundations of Morality, Politics, Family, and Religion in 2015. With a presidential election hanging in the balance, I wrote in my review that Against Individualism could not be more timely reading for addressing the Herculean economic, social, political, and environmental challenges ahead (pg.116). Just as the unchecked free market has spawned “too big to fail–too big to jail” corporate behemoths that brought about the global financial crisis, the “invisible hand” myth is seeing also to the unraveling of social justice. Despite US corporate revenues at their highest point in 40 years, increased profit margins have only translated to greater income inequality.

To help us think in new ways about these challenges, philosopher and China scholar Rosemont holds up an old model for re-ordering our society: the Confucian “Way of Humankind” (pg. 93). In contrast to the free market’s emphasis on the rational autonomous individual, the Confucian Way foregrounds the family.

Granted Confucius (Latinized honorific name ”’ K’ng F’z’, literally “Master Kong”) could not have conceived of a concept such as “democracy” in the China of 2500 years ago, but his enduring vision of wise governance guided by sage administrators rested solidly upon the foundation of the people—all the people. Confucius did not believe that government should control the people by meting out punishments: people should and could control themselves. But he understood that such self-regulation takes effort. If human beings did not attend to their own personal cultivation with diligence, then constraints were necessary to rein in greed and other passions.

For Rosemont, the essence of Confucian self-cultivation comes through grounding our feelings and deepening our intuitions within the social milieu of rituals, customs, traditions, and manners (pg. 113, n# 19). Personal cultivation involves constant re-defining of what is means to be fully human. That is best measured through our interactions with others, dynamically relating as “role-bearers” to members of one’s family, community, city, state, nation and world. Such an undertaking is a continuously evolving process of life-long learning and growing and manifesting all that goes into being human. It is an “art” that is marked by respectful deference to those above, engaging harmoniously with peers and serving as an upstanding exemplar to youth.

Respectful deference, however, does not imply walking in lockstep with a leader who discharges his duties without regard for others, either locally or globally. On this, Confucius is unequivocally clear in The Analects: “To see what is appropriate to do, and not to do it, is cowardice” (2:24). Using the Confucian compass, Rosemont concluded, “in the contemporary world free and rational autonomous individuals hinder the achievement of social justice, even in purportedly democratic societies” (pg.80). Could we not then as a nation a mere 200 years old do any better than to sit at the feet of the “Master” for the wise counsel that has guided Chinese civilization for more than two millennia and “has probably seen to the feeding and housing of more human beings than any other in human history.” (pg.121)

Purchasing information: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/against-individualism-henry-rosemont-jr/1120878497?ean=9780739199824

 

 

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MOMA Itemizes Fashion

“Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life.” ~Bill Cunningham, late longtime NY Times fashion photographer .

IMG_4940

I think Bill would have enthusiastically embraced “ITEMS: Is Fashion Modern?” the Museum of Modern Art’s current exhibition that examines selected iconic “armor” items as stand-alone objects to demonstrate their evolution such as the power icon of the 20th century—the proverbial three-piece suit. Once the mainstay of the executive boardroom it later morphed into the ‘zoot suit’ worn by blacks and Hispanics during the Jazz Age’s heyday. As the numbers of women advanced in the corporate world, the transgendered suit became both her fashion staple and pièce de résistance of power especially in the hands of designers such as Donna Karan’s soft-power Seven Easy Pieces. If you didn’t know initially Apple’s mastermind Steve Jobs, you could have been forgiven of overlooking the most powerful executive in the world who more resembled a Beat Generation holdover famously wearing  the same black mock turtleneck, blue jeans and New Balance sneakers every day. What signals power today? …the winner is none other than the ubiquitous white T-shirt—paired with a hoodie and jeans even in the boardroom—that had a former life of humbler beginnings being worn by early 20th century laborers and later the defining garb of defiant teens rebelling against conformist 1950s (think “Rebel without a Cause”).

What was eye-opening for this viewer that in taking the long view, MOMA’s exhibit in an even way gives the uneven history of the ubiquitous T-shirt—its cotton harvested by black slaves, its cutting and sewing and assemblage by low-paid laborers, at home and abroad, and its environmental footprint throughout its lifecycle.

IMG_4941The People’s Studio

The brilliance of MOMA is the direction of current education director, Wendy Woon, in re-creating its People’s Studio, an all out hands-on studio, the brainchild of MOMA’s first educator, Vincent D’Amico.  It is on a separate floor from the actual exhibit but is not to be missed for its sense of inventive and creative community. However, don’t overlook another community forming at the exhibit terminus–a  congregative space to view colorful wall graphs as a score card of sorts for the fashion industry related to The UN ‘s Sustainable Development Goals. Yes, folks are looking at their devices. Yet there is also an element as a space once-removed from live theater, at least to me, what Ayad Akhtar, Pakistani-American playwright defines as an ‘antidote’ to digital dehumanization. Akhtar challenges American individualism by pointing out that “we herding animals are programmed at some very profound level to think and feel as one.” In the mix with my fellow viewers  I did have a sense of oneness with a museum audience. Perhaps a stretch of live theater oneness that Akhtar describes but still….

NYTimes, Sunday December 31, 2017. Arts, page 5.

https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/1638

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A Primer on Nobility and Civility

Summer 2017 saw the passing of two Asian scholars–giants in their field–Wm. Theordore de Bary and Henry Rosemont, Jr. Below is an excerpt from the preface of de Bary’s 2014 book Nobility and Civility : Asian Ideals of Leadership and the Common Good that should be required reading for those in leadership and those conservatives who recently back-pedaled on once staunchly held moral values that they are required of a religious leader and not a world leader.

Any serious education should prepare one to understand the ultimate claims made not only by Muslim suicide bombers but also by their Hindu and Buddhist counterparts, as well as the Japanese samurai warriors or the suicide pilots Mishima Yukio wrote about. It is a lot to do, but this book tries to make a start at sorting out some of the key civilizational issues. From this learning process we may hope to understand the appeal of different concepts of nobility as shared human ideals, the special attractiveness and lurking dangers these can hold for extreme forms of communalism and nationalism, and the civilities that in the longer run have helped to contain these dangers. On this basis we may also realize that there need be no inevitable clash of civilizations from irreducible cultural antagonisms but that from these diverse cultural and social traditions resources can be drawn on to cope with the challenges of environmental degradation, unrestrained economic competition, vicious political chauvinisms, and, more fundamentally, the deeper moral collapse and cultural despair that threaten world civilization in the twenty-first century…these features of society cannot be controlled simply by the charismatic force of noble individuals alone. But in early times the example of the truly noble leader was recognized as crucial to the restraint and containment of violence, insofar as that example spoke to the conscience of all, not just to the ruling elite. If I use the word “conscience” here, regardless of how human consciousnesses may have differed from age to age and place to place, it is because in the midst of cultural differences these concerns are recognized also as constants in human life, and are in some sense shared— as indeed common “human” concerns. Confucius spoke of this selfawareness as a sense of shame or as its corollary, a sense of self-respect, to which the ruler, if he be truly a leader, must appeal if he is not to rely on coercive means that eventually undo themselves. For Confucius this concept of true nobility and genuine leadership was a high calling. He did not underestimate the demands it laid on the educated person or man of learning who also bore the burden of leadership in society. In the Analects, he calls on the class of well-bred aristocrats known as shi in ancient China (somewhat like the knights or gentlemen of the medieval West) to put on the shining armor of moral virtue and public learning. It is said: “The shi must be stout-hearted and enduring, for his burden is heavy and his Way is long.

Humaneness is the burden he takes upon himself. Is it not heavy? Only in death does his Way come to an end. Is it not long?” (Analects 8:7). If today the concept of the public intellectual is upheld in contrast to the academician isolated in an ivory tower, we may draw some lessons, and possibly some inspiration, from the Asian ideals that survive, not as abstract ivory- tower ideals, but as having endured something of the long, conflicted struggle Confucius foresaw for the scholar “stout of heart” and “enduring” in the Way. Although one may well question whether such ideals can be taken as universals or eternal verities, one may still recognize the cases cited here as inspired attempts to grapple with perennial issues or persistent human dilemmas, worthy of our consideration even now in their very conflicted contexts. The “globalization” much talked about today is a case in point. Most often it refers to the persistent trend toward the unification of the world economy and the homogenization of culture in response to a spreading technology. But the universalization of values and standards of culture has been a feature of expanding civilizations since the dawn of history, and the problems attendant upon it (as well as the response to these) offer a perspective on the dilemmas of our own era.

If modernization is not simply to mean the extension to other peoples, in an unquestioned and uncritical way, of current trends in the West, then the globalization of knowledge must take into account the values and experiences of other major civilizations. Today, unfortunately, these values are poorly understood even in their original settings or homelands, because of the long disruption of native traditions and the radical reorientation of the educated leadership to other immediate goals or European ideologies. Generally speaking, such classic values have been known in modern times, if at all, through the revered classics and scriptures of major traditions, but their relevance and adaptability to modern circumstances remains unclear if these values are conceived simply in the abstract, without any understanding of the difficulties experienced historically in applying or practicing them. In other words, traditional values need to be understood as historically evolving, and in that process as marked by much ambiguity and contestation— contestation that has arisen especially in multicultural encounters, wherein ideals are almost always compromised by messy human complications.

The Asian ideals discussed here are thus seen as conflicted human values, conflicted in the same sense as in my earlier book, The Trouble with Confucianism. This book, which ranges widely over several civilizations and historical eras, can only be suggestive of how evolving concepts of leadership (“nobility”) and public morality (“civility”) in several Asian traditions may contribute to the humanizing of the current globalization process. It does not propose exact prescriptions for present problems, but may serve the purpose of general education in the face of the modern rush to find technical solutions, ready at hand but often oversimplified, to our current dilemmas. Without an awareness of people’s past experience in the implementation of their own ideal values, it will be difficult to see how anyone could be expected to recognize and cope with similar problems in the present. And unless some such awareness becomes part of the education of all, one can expect that the globalizing process may well be degrading, dehumanizing, and destructive of the earth, beyond anything seen in the past. My treatment of this theme includes reflections on the views expressed in classic texts of the major Asian traditions in India, China, and Japan. (Preface x-xi)

De Bary, Wm. Theodore. Nobility and Civility : Asian Ideals of Leadership and the Common Good. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University Press, 2004. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 14 October 2014.Copyright © 2004. Harvard University Press. All rights reserved.

 

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The Intergenerational Museum: Towards a Century of Dialogue

Museums are many things to many people, yet at their best museums offer up quiet spaces for looking and pondering. It should come as no surprise then that museum professionals, too, occasionally take a step back to look and assess their museum’s inner workings related to diversity, inclusion and equity. Last month, Greg Stevens, Director of Professional Development for the American Alliance of Museums, hosted “Getting Started With Working Across Generations,” a webinar on the intergenerational workplace covering five generations with the acknowledgement that the most recent, barely out of middle school, is “on deck”.

Museum colleagues Marsha Semmel, a Baby Boomer, and Millennial Sam Moore also joined Stevens, a self-described Baby Boomer/Gen X Cusper. The webinar’s guiding questions asked how to align the intergenerational workforce with the museum’s mission and at the same time acknowledge employee assets that sustain a flourishing workplace. The three skillfully modeled a collaboration marked by multi-directional cooperation, that of back and forth, as well as bottom up. For example, Millennial Sam Moore, in putting forth the concept of “reversed mentorship” expanded the conversation to imagine a workplace with individuals attuned to not one, but multi-directional flows of knowledge. The presenters deftly wove the strands of information from the latest research with those colored by personal experience—or as Moore summarily noted, relationships.

In the lead up to the museum webinar, I happened on a podcast of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s talk titled “Embracing the Beauty of Diversity in our World.” In it His Holiness said that although we cannot change past, we can learn from it in order to change the future. He pointed out that in the past century obstacles were often met with force. Now we are seeing a resurgence of the same in this century, which His Holiness attributes to past mistakes and negligence. Despite differences and conflicts that will always exist His Holiness insists that the 21st century can be the Century of Dialogue, one in which people come together in love as brothers and sisters. Only by working together will we find the means to reduce differences through dialogue stewarded by actions of mutual respect.

Museums lend themselves naturally to a stewardship model given their mission to collect, preserve and display the guiding “ideas” of the past for both the present and future generations for re-seeing, re-creating* their world. The webinar mirrored what His Holiness described as “genuine respect, genuine love” that goes into building trusting friendships. What then would the intergenerational workplace look like? It would be one that welcomes the “fresh eyes” brought to it by its youngest members with the more experienced members committed to guiding the younger generation as “elders” who support the younger generation emotionally.** In this way our young adults can take their rightful place in the workplace and globally in fulfilling what His Holiness envisions as the Century of Peace.

https://www.dalailama.com/videos/embracing-the-beauty-of-diversity-in-our-world
*Malcolm McIntosh notes this in his Thinking the Twenty-first Century: Ideas for the New Political Economy, pg.33.
** Doors drummer, Boomer, John Densmore. On “the 50th Anniversary of the greatest band, The Doors!” http://wapo.st/2y2UWEg

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The Beacon Dims on Women’s Rights, Human Rights

When candidate Trump promised to drain the Washington swamp who would have expected it would instead get an infusion of former Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil executives bolstered by clean coal and fossil fuel lobbyists. With tax cuts coming for the rich including tax breaks from healthcare costs, women, children, the poor and older Americans can now expect to shoulder the burden.

Moreover, women are suffering fresh assaults on their safety and dignity worldwide, a warning sounded by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the opening of a two-week conference and annual gathering of the Commission on the Status of Women. Where the United States has historically been seen as a beacon for Human Rights globally, just days into his new administration President Donald Trump’s “global gag rule” cut US funding to groups that offer abortion services. No surprise that this emboldened his Russian counterpart a few weeks later to ease punishment for domestic violence. Jail time is now reserved for the seriously bloodied woman whereas a ‘less’ serious assault or first offense now only results in a fine.

With its focus on women’s economic empowerment, particularly in the changing world of work, the Commission on the Status of Women will turn its attention to pay inequality and paid parental leave. Under the umbrella of gender quality, the United Nations has set its global goal for 2030. Otherwise, according to the International Labour Organization’s recent labor study, without stronger measures it will take 70 years to close the gender wage gap (1).

As for the American poor who stand to lose health coverage in the revised healthcare bill, Republican Jason Chaffetz proffered a solution: give up your phone and pay your health premiums. And if there is still not enough to pay that premium the House Oversight Committee Chair might also recommend a scaled down diet. Just as the GOP administration dishes American poverty, and science on climate change, it also dismisses in the name of ‘big government’ worldwide poverty and famine. As the UN reports today “in a perfect storm, the Trump administration is reportedly seeking deep cuts to UN relief programs, just as 20 million people face famine.” Once the largest funder to the UN contributing $10 billion to various UN agencies as UNICEF, World Food Program and the UN Refugee Agency, it is reported that President Trump wants to cut that amount by 50% taking away the last lifeline of the world’s most vulnerable (2).

There are important marches on schedule: please get out there and participate. Make an action plan to call and write letters regularly to your legislators. Get a copy of Sam Daley-Harris’ Reclaiming Our Democracy and follow his advice on activism. Finally, print this quote and read daily:

We’re not passengers on Spaceship Earth. We’re the crew.
~Rusty Schweickart

1.http://www.thedailystar.net/world/north-america/womens-rights-under-assault-un-1376200
2. http://www.undispatch.com/cuts-un-20-million-face-unprecedented-famine/

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