Anger, Fear and the Politics of Blame

Anger, Fear and the Politics of Blame


Susan Poser: Good afternoon and welcome to
the Campus Conversation. This is the fourth campus conversation of
this academic year. As many of you know the goal of the Campus
Conversation Series is to have faculty, students, and staff engage with each other about some
of the big issues of our time going on now and effecting all of us. As a community dedicated to social justice
and diversity, we come together to try to understand current events and talk about issues. Today’s conversation will l be followed next
month on March 5th by a lecture by Dean Erwin Chemerinsky of the UC Berkeley Law School
about free speech on campus. And in April the speaker will be Jonathan
Metzl from Vanderbilt University who will talk about race and health disparities. Susan Poser: Today we are honored to have
Dr. Martha Nussbaum with us from the University of Chicago. Dr. Nussbaum will speak for about 40 minutes,
following that she will be engaged in a conversation with Dr. Jennifer Brier who holds a join appointment
in gender and women’s studies and history at UIC and Professor Roderick Ferguson who’s
a professor in the departments of gender and women’s studies and African American studies
also at UIC. We will follow that by a Q&A session. Paper has been provided so you can write down
your questions and they will be collected during the talk. If you are a student and you have a question,
please put an S at the top of your piece of paper. Dr. Nussbaum would like to have time at least
to answer a few student questions before she goes on to other questions. So we will collect all of these and utilize
them during the Q&A session and we will adjourn at about 1:50. Susan Poser: So it’s now my pleasure to introduce
Martha Nussbaum. I am doing an extremely abbreviated introduction
to save time. So I will not do justice to the scope and
brilliance of Dr. Nussbaum’s career and her position as one of the great public intellectuals
of our time. Dr. Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished
Service Professor of Law and Ethics appointed in the Law School and Philosophy Department
at the University of Chicago. She’s an associate in the Classics Department,
the Divinity School, and the Political Science Department, a member of the Committee on Southern
Asian Studies, and a board member of the Human Rights Program. Susan Poser: Martha Nussbaum received her
BA from NYU and her MA and PhD from Harvard. She has taught at Harvard University, Brown
University, and Oxford University. She has received honorary degrees from 60
colleges and universities in the US, Canada, Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. She is an academician in the Academy of Finland,
a fellow of the British Academy, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,
and the American Philosophical Society. Among her many, many awards are the Centennial
Medal of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, the Kyoto Prize in
Arts and Philosophy, and the Don M. Randel Prize for the achievement in the humanities
from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She’s the author of many, many books as well. Susan Poser: So please join me in welcoming
Dr. Martha Nussbaum to present a lecture on anger, fear, and the politics of blame. Martha Nussbaum: Thank you so much. And I want to thank the two commentators for
taking time to be here. I’m going to begin with a Greek tragedy because
as you’ll see I think it sets up the problems that unfortunately are still with us in our
equally troubled democracy. So at the end of the Oresteia of Aeschylus
which was in the fifth century BC, two transformations take place in the city of Athens. One is famous. The other often neglected. Martha Nussbaum: In the famous transformation,
the goddess Athena introduces legal institutions to replace and terminate the seemingly endless
cycle of blood vengeance, setting up a court of law with established procedures of evidence
and argument and a jury chosen by lot from all the citizens of Athens. She now announces that blood guilt will be
settled by law rather than by the Furies, those ancient goddesses of revenge. But the Furies are not entirely dismissed,
instead Athena gives them a place of honor beneath the earth in recognition of their
importance for the health of the city and these same legal institutions. Typically, this move of Athena’s is understood
to be a recognition that the legal system and a democracy must incorporate and honor
the retributive passions. These passions themselves remain unchanged. They simply have a new house built around
them. So the Furies agree to accept the constraints
of law but they retain a nature that is dark and vindictive. Martha Nussbaum: That reading, however, ignores
the second transformation which is a transformation in the nature and demeanor of the Furies themselves. As the drama begins, the Furies are described
as repulsive and horrifying. They’re said to be black, disgusting. Their eyes are said to drip the hideous liquid. Actually as a young actress I had to play
one of these, so it was quite challenging. Apollo even says that they’re vomiting up
clots of blood that they’ve ingested from their prey. They belong he says in some barbarian tyranny
where cruelty reigns. Nor when they awaken do the Furies give the
lie to these grim descriptions. As the ghost of the murdered Clytemnestra
calls them, they don’t even speak. They simply make animal noises. When they do begin to speak, of course in
a play you have to at some point speak, their only words at first are, “Get him. Get him. Get him. Get him. Get him.” As close to a predator’s hunting cry as the
genre allows. Martha Nussbaum: As Clytemnestra says, “In
your dream you pursue your prey and you bark like a hunting dog hot on the trail of blood.” If the Furies are later given poetic speech
as of course they’ve got to do, we’re never supposed to forget this initial characterization. What Aeschylus has done is to depict unbridled
retributive anger. Is obsessive, destructive, existing only to
inflict pain and ill. As the 18th century philosopher Bishop Butler
observes, “No other principal or passion hath for its end the misery of our fellow creatures.” So Apollo’s idea is that this emotion belongs
somewhere else, surely not in a law abiding democracy. So unchanged these Furies could not be at
the foundation of a society committed to the rule of law. You don’t put wild dogs in a cage and come
out with justice. Martha Nussbaum: But the Furies do not in
fact make the transition to democracy unchanged. Until quite late in the drama they are still
their vestal selves, threatening to disgorge their venom on the land. But then Athena persuades them to alter themselves
as to join her enterprise. “Lull to repose the bitter force of your black
wave of anger,” she tells them. But of course that really means a change of
identity so bound up are they will anger’s obsessive force. She offers them some incentives to join the
democracy but only on condition that they adopt a new range of sentiments, substituting
future directed benevolence for backward looking retribution. Perhaps most fundamental of all they must
listen to the voice of persuasion. Martha Nussbaum: They accept her offer. And they say that from now on they’re going
to express themselves with gentle tempered intent. Each they declare should give generously to
each in what they call a mindset of common love. Not surprisingly they’re transformed physically
in related ways. They don’t crouch anywhere. They assume an erect posture for the parade
that includes the drama, and they’re given robes by a group of citizen escorts. So they’ve become Athenian women rather than
beasts. Their very name is changed. They’re not the Eumenides, the kindly ones,
and not the Furies. Martha Nussbaum: Aeschylus is trying to show
I think that democratic legal order can’t just put a cage around retribution. It needs if it’s going to survive to fundamentally
transform from something obsessive, blood thirsty, to something fully human, accepting
of reasons, something determined to protect life rather than threatening it. They still have to deal with crime. But they’re not wanted or needed in their
original retributive form. They must become instruments of justice and
future directed human welfare. Martha Nussbaum: Like modern democracies like
ours, the ancient Greek democracy had an anger problem. If you read the historians you see some things
that are not unfamiliar. Individuals litigating excessively against
people that they think have wronged them. Groups blaming other groups for their relative
lack of power. Citizens blaming prominent politicians and
other elites for selling out the dearest values of the democracy. Other groups blaming foreign visitors or even
women for their own political and personal woes. Martha Nussbaum: The anger that the Greeks
and later the Romans very similarly knew all too well was an anger full of fear at one’s
own human vulnerability. The Roman philosopher Lucretius in the first
century BC even says that all political anger is an outgrowth of fear of the terror of each
human baby who comes into the world helpless and like all the other animals can’t do anything
at all to ensure its own survival. Lucretius then says that his life goes on,
vulnerability continues and in a way increases since the knowledge that we’re going to die
hits us hard at some point and that makes us realize that we are in fact helpless with
respect to the most important thing of all. This fear he says makes everything worse,
leading to political ills that we’ll talk about in a minute. But for now let’s focus on anger. Martha Nussbaum: So the Greeks and Romans
saw a lot of anger around them, but as classical scholar William Harris shows in a fine book
called Restraining Rage, they did not embrace or valorize anger. They did not define manliness in terms of
anger. And indeed as with those Furies, they tended
to impute it to females who they saw as childlike and immature. However much they felt and expressed anger,
they waged a cultural struggle against it, seeing it as destructive of human wellbeing
and democratic institutions. The first word of Homer’s great epic Iliad
is anger. The anger of Achilles that quote brought thousand-fold
pains upon the Achillean. And the Iliad’s hopeful ending requires Achilles
to give up his anger and to be reconciled with his enemy Priam as both acknowledge the
frailty of human life. Martha Nussbaum: I believe the Greeks and
Romans are right. Anger is a poison to democratic politics,
and it’s all the worse when fueled by a lurking fear and sense of helplessness. But that idea is radical and invokes strong
opposition. For anger with all its ugliness is a very
popular emotion in America today. Many people think it’s impossible to care
for justice without anger at injustice and that anger should therefore me encouraged
as part of a social transformation. Many people also believe that it’s impossible
for individuals to stand up for their own self-respect and that of others without anger. That someone who reacts to wrongs and insults
without anger is finalist and downtrodden. Nor are these ideas confined to this fear
of personal relations, the most popular position today in the sphere of criminal justice is
what’s known as retributivism namely the view that the law ought to punish aggressors in
a manner that embodies the spirit of retributive anger. Martha Nussbaum: And it’s also very widely
believed that successful challenges against social injustice need anger to make progress. Still, we may persist briefly in our Aeschylean
skepticism remembering that recent years have seen three noble and successful freedom movements
all conducted in the spirit of non-anger. Those are Mohandas Gandhi, of Martin Luther
King Jr, and of Nelson Mandela. Surely people who stood up for their own self-respect
and that of others and who did not acquiesce in injustice. And of the three I’m only going to talk about
King today. Martha Nussbaum: But I’ll now argue that a
philosophical analysis of anger can help us support these philosophies of non-anger, showing
why anger is fatally flawed from a normative viewpoint, especially poisonous too when people
use it to deflect attention from real problems that they feel powerless to solve. So there’re going to be now four sections
and I’ll just tell you when each one is starting. Martha Nussbaum: Section one, the roots of
anger, rage ideas of unfairness. So let’s now return briefly to that baby who
Lucretius describes. So babies at birth don’t have anger as such
because anger requires causal thinking. Someone did something bad to me. Fairly soon however that idea creeps in. Those caretakers are not giving me what I
desperately need. They did this to me. And it’s because of them that I’m cold, wet,
and hungry. Experiences of being fed, held, and comforted
quickly lead to expectations, expectations to demands, instinctual self-love makes us
value our own survival and comfort. But the self is threatened by others when
they don’t do what we need and expect. Martha Nussbaum: Psychoanalyst Melanie Klein
refers to this emotional reaction in infants as persecutory anxiety since it is indeed
fear but fear coupled with an idea of a vague threat coming from outside. So I’d rather use ordinary language and call
it fear anger, or even fear blame. If we were not helpless, we would just go
get what we need. But since we are initially helpless, we have
to rely on others. They don’t always give us what we need. And then we lash out, blaming them. Blame gives us a strategy. Now I’ll enforce my will by yelling and making
a lot of noise. But it also expresses an underlying picture
of the world, the world ought to give us what we demand when people don’t do that, they’re
bad. So hold onto that idea because I’m going to
come back to that later. Martha Nussbaum: Protest and blame are positive
in a sense. They construct a purposive universe in which
I’m an agent making demands. My life is valuable. Things ought to be arranged so that I’m happy
and my needs are met. But retributive anger all too often infects
the thought of blame and even the idea of punishment. The people who haven’t done what we want ought
to suffer for what they have done or failed to do. Psychologist Paul Bloom has shown that retributive
thinking appears very early in the lives of infants even before they begin to use language. Infants show pleasure when they see the so-called
bad person who in the experiment there’s a puppet who has snatched something away from
another puppet when they see that one get beaten with a stick. Well, Bloom calls this an early sense of justice. I would prefer to call it the internal Furies
that inhabit us all and that are not securely linked to real justice. The infant’s idea looks like a variant of
what usually is called the lex talionis, an eye for an eye, pain for pain. And it’s not hard to imagine that that crude
idea of proportional payback has an early and maybe even an evolutionary origin. It’s a leap to call this an idea of justice. And I think we should not make that leap. Martha Nussbaum: But now to section two, defining
anger. So let’s now fast forward to human adulthood. People now experience and express not just
primitive anger but full-fledged anger. Okay, but what is that? Philosophers are fond of definitions which
are very good for clearing our heads. In this case helping us to separate the potentially
problematic aspects of anger from the parts that cause nothing but trouble. And back to the Greeks, let’s talk about Aristotle’s
definition because more or less all the definitions of anger in the Western philosophical tradition
are modeled on it and those in Indian traditions, which unfortunately is the only non-Western
tradition I know much about, are very, very similar. Martha Nussbaum: So according to Aristotle,
anger is a response to a significant damage to something or someone that one cares about
and a damage that the angry person believes to have been wrongfully inflicted. Aristotle adds that although the anger itself
is painful, it also contains within itself a pleasant hope for payback or retribution. So we have significant damage pertaining to
what one cares about and wrongfulness. Those two elements seem both true and pretty
uncontroversial. And they’ve been validated by modern psychological
studies. Those parts of anger can go wrong in specific
and local ways. We might be wrong about who did the bad thing
or how important it was or whether it was really done wrongfully rather than just accidentally. But they’re often on target. Martha Nussbaum: More controversial perhaps
is the idea that angry people usually want some type of retribution and that this is
a conceptual part of what anger itself is. All the Western philosophers who define anger
do include that wish for retribution as a conceptual element in anger. But we better pause because that’s not obvious. Martha Nussbaum: Now we should understand
that this wish for retribution can be a very subtle wish. I don’t need to wish to go out and take the
revenge myself. I might just want to the law to do that for
me or maybe even some type of divine justice. Or maybe even more subtly a person may simply
wish the wrongdoer’s life to go very badly in the future hoping for example that that
second marriage of your betraying spouse is a dismal failure. I think if we understand the wish in this
broad way, Aristotle’s right. Anger typically does contain a kind of strike
back tendency and that’s what differentiates it from other painful emotions like compassion
and grief. Contemporary psychologists agree. But we should understand that those two parts
of anger can come apart. We can feel outrage at the wrongfulness of
an act or an unjust state of affairs without wanting payback for the wrong done to us. So I’m going to be arguing that the outrage
part is personally and socially valuable when our beliefs are correct. We need to recognize wrongful acts and protest
them. Martha Nussbaum: And there is one species
of anger I believe that is free of the retributive wish. Its entire content is how outrageous that
is. Something must be done about that. Now I call this, I just make up a technical
term for it, I call it transition-anger, because it expresses a protest but it turns around
to face forward. It gets to work finding solutions rather than
dwelling on the infliction of retrospective pain. Take parents and children. Now of course parents often feel that children
have acted wrongfully and they’re outraged. They want to protest the wrong somehow to
hold the child accountable. But usually parents avoid retributive payback. They rarely think at least today, “Now you’ve
got to suffer for what you’ve done,” as if that by itself was a fitting response. Instead, they ask themselves what kind of
reaction will be firm enough to get the child’s attention and then they go on to think, “What
can we do about the future to improve the child going forward?” And of course usually the response will not
be a painful payback and it certainly will not obey the lex talionis, an eye for an eye. Martha Nussbaum: So loving parents typically
have the outrage part of anger without the payback part where their own children are
concerned because they love them and they want them to do well. This will be a clue to my positive proposal
for democratic society where I fear that we do not always love our fellow citizens. Martha Nussbaum: Retributive wishes however
are a deep part of human nature fostered by some parts of the major religions and by many
societal cultures although they have also been denounced by religious and social radicals
from Jesus and the Buddha to Mohandas Gandhi. They may have served us well in a pre-social
condition, deterring aggression, but the idea that pain is made good or assuaged by more
pain though extremely common is a deceptive fiction. Killing the killer does not restore the dead
to life much though the demand for capital punishment is endorsed by many families of
victims as if it did somehow set the world to rights. Pain for pain is an easy idea but it’s a false
lure creating more pain instead of rectifying the problem. As Gandhi said an eye for an eye makes the
whole world blind. Martha Nussbaum: This wish for payback arises
in all kinds of situations. Take divorce again. Portrayed spouses often feel entitled to seek
punitive divorce settlements and child custody arrangements as if that somehow would somehow
improve the situation going forward and restore the balance of power. But in real life the function of payback is
usually far less benign. Two people become locked in a struggle for
pain focused on the past and often inflicting great collateral damage on children and friends
and family. In the end, the betrayer may get what’s usually
called his come-up-ins. But what does that achieve? Typically, it does not improve the litigant’s
life going forward by focusing obsessively on the past. She often becomes closed to new possibilities,
and she often becomes bitter and unpleasant. Retaliation is ugly as Aeschylus shows in
his portrait of the Furies. What the payback seeker wants is future happiness
and self-respect. Payback by itself never gets you that. And it usually makes the world a lot worse
for all. Martha Nussbaum: But wait a minute. We all agree that wrongful acts if they are
serious enough should be punished. And punishment is typically painful. Yes, I think we should agree that punishment
is often useful but then the question is why and how. We might see punishment in a retributive spirit
as payback for what is already happened. That’s the attitude that I’ve been criticizing. And it does great social harm, leading in
our country to a gruesome pile-on the misery strategy of mass incarceration as if that
really compensated for the damages of crime. But there’s a better attitude more like that
of the good parent in my example. We might look to the future and try to produce
a better society. Using punishment when we do to express the
value we attach to human life and safety, to deter other people from committing that
crime, and we hope to deter that same person from committing another crime. Martha Nussbaum: But if we think this way,
trying to improve the future, we probably will have a lot of other thoughts before we
get to the thought of punishment. Like that good parent we will notice that
people don’t do wrong nearly as often if they are basically loved and respected, if they
have enough to eat, if they get good medical care, if they get a decent education, if they
see a future of employment opportunities. So thinking about crime should lead us to
think more broadly, to design a society in which people have many fewer incentives to
commit crime. When they do despite our best efforts if we
really would make them, then we would take that seriously for the sake of the future. Martha Nussbaum: Now then we go forward and
point to another problem with anger. I’m about to just focus on one of the further
problems. There’s several. Which is back to this idea of the orderly
world. We impute blame often even when we’re not
sure where the blame should go. The world is full of accidents and complicated
events, sometimes a disaster is just a disaster. Sometimes illness and hardship are just illness
and hardship. And sometimes as with economic calamities
the source is very obscure and hard to pinpoint. But in our monarchical way, we expect the
world to be made for our service. It gratifies people’s ego and is in a deep
sense comforting to think that any bad event is some person’s fault and that we can identify
that person and punish that person. That’s what the kids in Bloom’s experiments
are doing. So the act of pinning blame and pursuing the
bad guy is deeply consoling. It makes us feel control rather than helplessness. Martha Nussbaum: Psychologists have done a
lot of research on peoples’ instinctual views of the world and they call this the just world
hypothesis. They say people assume this and then they
try to blame whoever messed that up. So let’s say your parent dies in the hospital,
it’s very human to believe somebody did that. The doctors did that. And to deflect grief into malpractice litigation. Economic woes are sometimes caused by an identifiable
person or persons’ wrongdoing. And sometimes by clearly stupid or unfair
policies, but more often their cause is uncertain. We feel bad saying that. It makes the world look messy and ungovernable. So when we see things like automation, outsourcing
that are making a mess of people’s lives, why not pin the blame as the Greeks did on
groups that are easy to demonize? In place of their rhetorical category of barbarians,
we might focus blame on immigrants or women entering the workplace and so on. Martha Nussbaum: The Salem witch trials were
once thought to be the result of group hysteria among teenage girls, but now we know that
a preponderant number of the witch blamers were actually young men entering adulthood,
afflicted by the usual woes of an insecure colony in a new world, economic uncertainty,
a harsh climate, political instability. How easy then to blame the whole thing on
witches? Usually elderly, unpopular women who could
easily be targeted and whose death brings a temporary satisfaction to the mind. Martha Nussbaum: A lot of our earliest fairytales
have this same structure. Hansel and Gretel wander into the woods to
search for food. The problem in this story is hunger compounded
by the fact that their parents have to work at menial jobs and have no time to care for
the children. But the story tells us, “Oh, no. These very real problems are unreal. And the real problem is a witch who lives
in the woods who likes to turn little children into gingerbread.” So just push the witch into the oven and the
world is all right again. Martha Nussbaum: Red Riding Hood goes to visit
her grandmother, walking a long way in the woods alone. The real problem in that story is aging and
lack of care. Grandmother lives far away, and she’s not
doing well. And that problem requires a structural solution. But no, in the story we’re told, “It’s not
that problem. It’s a single wolf who has broken into Grandmother’s
house.” Martha Nussbaum: In both stories when the
ugly villain is killed, the world is just fine. Our love of an orderly universe makes these
simple fictional solutions tempting. It’s hard to wrap our minds around complicated
truths and it’s far easier to incinerate the witch then to live with hope in a world that
is not made to assuage our fears. Martha Nussbaum: So now the last section,
four, protest without payback. So what’s the alternative? It is I think that we can keep the spirit
of determined protest against injustice while letting go of the empty fantasy of payback. This forward looking strategy includes protesting
wrongdoing when it occurs. But not imputing wrongdoing where there is
instead the murky thicket of the global economy to manage, outsourcing, and automation to
reconcile with our fellow citizens’ welfare. Martha Nussbaum: So to conclude I want to
study just one example of protest without payback. The ideas on this subject of Martin Luther
King Jr who certainly contributed a great deal as you know to our society. But I want to show you that he was also a
major philosopher and thinker about these issues. Now King always said that anger had a limit
in usefulness in that it brought people into his movement rather than just sitting at home
in despair. But once they got there, he said repeatedly,
something has to happen to their anger. And he used two words, purified and channelized. And I think it’s clear from reading all the
things he says on this that what he meant was that people have to give up the payback
wish and yet keep the spirit of justified protest. Instead of retribution, they need hope and
faith in the possibility of justice. Martha Nussbaum: In an essay written in 1959,
he says that the struggle for racial integration will continue to encounter obstacles and that
these obstacles can be met in two very different ways. So I’m going to quote here. One is the development of a wholesome social
organization to resist with effective, firm measures any efforts to impede progress. The other is a confused anger motivated drive
to strike back violently, to inflict damage. Primarily it seeks to cause injury, to retaliate
for wrongful suffering. It is punitive not radical or constructive. Very interesting that he says not radical
because of course he does believe and I think rightly that it’s hope that’s radical and
not the retribution which is all too familiar. So King of course was characterizing not just
a deep seeded human tendency, but the actual political ideas of Malcolm X at least as he
understood them. Martha Nussbaum: King insisted constantly
that his approach did not mean acquiescing in injustice. There’s still an urgent demand. There’s still a protest against unjust conditions
in which the protestor takes great risks with his or her body in what King called direct
action. Still the protestor’s future must turn to
the future that all must work to create together. King ensured favors and exemplifies what I
called transition-anger. The protest part of anger without the payback. Martha Nussbaum: But to see this better lets
briefly study the sequence of emotions in the famous I Have a Dream Speech. So as you certainly know, King begins with
what looks like a summons to anger. He points to the wrongful injuries of racism
which have failed to fulfill the nation’s implicit promises of equality. One hundred years after Lincoln’s Emancipation
Proclamation, he says quote, “The life of the negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles
of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” But then the next move King makes is highly
significant for instead of demonizing white Americans, he calmly compares them to people
who have defaulted on a financial obligation. Quote, “America has given the negro people
a bad check, a check that is come back marked insufficient funds.” So here begins the shift to what I’ve called
transition-anger for it makes us think ahead in non-retributive ways. The essential question is not how whites can
be destroyed but how can this debt be paid? And in the financial metaphor the thought
of destroying the debtor is not likely to be central. Martha Nussbaum: The future now takes over
as King focuses on a time in which all join together pursuing justice and honoring obligations. But we refuse to believe that the bank of
justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient
funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. No mention again of torment or payback, only
a determination to ensure the protection of civil rights at last. So there’s stuff in the middle where he explicitly
repudiates wrongful deeds and angry outbursts. But now I’m going to go toward the end, the
famous part, the part where I Have a Dream takes flight. Martha Nussbaum: Now of course this dream
is not a dream of retributive punishment, although of course the Book of Revelation
could have been used in that direction. It is instead a prophetic dream of equality,
liberty, and brotherhood. In pointed terms, King invites the African
American members of his audience and his movement to imagine brotherhood even with their former
tormentors. I have a dream that one day on the red hills
of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able
to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state
of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat
of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that one day down in Alabama
with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words interposition
and nullification. One day right there in Alabama, little black
boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls
as sisters and brothers. Martha Nussbaum: There is indeed outrage in
this speech and the outrage summons up a vision of rectification which could easily have taken
a retributive form. But King gets to work right away reshaping
retributivism into work and hope. For how sanely and really could injustice
be made good by retributive payback? The oppressor’s pain and lowering do not make
the afflicted free, only an intelligent and an imaginative effort toward justice can do
that. It may seem strange to compare King to Aeschylus,
but actually it’s not strange at all given King’s vast learning in literature and philosophy
and his equal greatness as a creative thinker. He’s basically saying the same thing. Democracy must give up the empty and destructive
thought of payback and move toward a future of legal justice and human wellbeing. King’s opponents portrayed that stance as
weak. Malcolm X said sardonically that it was like
some coffee that has had so much milk poured into it, it’s gotten white and cold. Doesn’t even taste like coffee. But that was wrong. King’s stance is strong, not weak. He resists the retributive impulse, one of
the strongest and deepest human impulses for the sake of democracy and the future. Martha Nussbaum: One of the trickiest problems
in politics is to persist in a determined search for solutions without letting our fears
deflect us onto the track of anger’s errors. The idea that Aeschylus and King share is
that democratic citizens should face with courage the problems and, yes, the outrageous
injustices that we encounter in political and social life. Lashing out in anger and fear does not solve
the problem. Instead, it leads as it did in both Athens
and Rome to a spiral of retributive violence. So I’m just going to end with one more classical
example. Martha Nussbaum: Lucretius tells a grim tale
of human anger and fear run wild. He imagines a world not unlike his own in
which insecurity leads to acts of aggression, which do not quiet the insecurity. So at the time when he wrote the Roman Republic
was imploding and Julius Caesar would soon take over, so everything was influx. In order to quiet their fears, he imagines,
people get more and more aggressive until they think up a new way to inflict the maximum
damage on their enemies, putting wild beasts to work in the military. And here’s how it goes. They even tried out bulls in the service of
war. They practiced letting wild boars lose against
their enemies. They even used fierce lions as an advanced
guard, equipped with a special force of armed and ferocious trainers to hold them in check
and keep them in harness. Martha Nussbaum: It was no use. The lions hot with blood, broke ranks wildly,
trampled the troops, tossing their manes. In a poetic tour de force, Lucretius now goes
on for about 20 more lines describing the carnage the animals unleash. Then he pulls back and says, “Did this really
happen?” Maybe it happened in some other world out
in space. “And what,” he says, “Did those fictional
people really want to accomplish? They wanted to inflict great pain on their
enemies even if it meant that they would perish themselves.” Martha Nussbaum: Lucretius’s point of course
is that our retributive emotions are these wild animals. People may think anger very powerful, but
it always gets out of hand and turns back on us. And yet worse, half the time people don’t
even care. They’re so deeply sunk in payback fantasies
that they prefer to accomplish nothing so long as they make those people suffer. He’s science fiction fantasy reminds us that
we’ll always defeat ourselves so long as we let ourselves be governed by fear, anger,
and the politics of blame. There is a better alternative, Aeschylus knew
it and King both knew and lived it and of course died for it. Martha Nussbaum: Making a future of justice
and wellbeing is hard. It requires self-examination, personal risk,
searching critical arguments, and uncertain initiatives to make common cause with opponents. In a spirit of hope and what we could call
rational faith. It’s a different goal. But it’s that goal I’m recommending for both
individuals and societies. Now what we have to do is try to is produce
it. Thank you. Susan Poser: [inaudible 00:45:48] get some
water. [inaudible 00:45:48]. Martha Nussbaum: Thank you. Roderick Ferguson: All right. I think Jenny and I agreed that I would start. First I want to thank Professor Nussbaum for
really engaging address and also set of provocations. Part of the way in which I read this is your
interpretation of a kind of classical question around the relationship between rationality
and irrationality. And part of what was so provocative and so
interesting about the address today in terms of anger is the way in which it has a kind
of conceptual importance both in philosophy and also in social movements. So one of the things I was wondering if you
could do is to maybe just talk a bit about the relationship between the terms transitioning
and retributive anger. One, transition anger having to do with an
anger that transitions toward a greater concern with social transformation and then a retributive
anger that has to do with exactly what the category retribution suggest, vengeance, violence. How do we mobilize one without activating
the other? Martha Nussbaum: Well, thank you so much. First of all I guess I want to emphasize that
just the simple contrast between rationality and irrationality doesn’t really help us because
the emotions as I believe all of them, but let’s just focus on anger, have a conceptual
content. So they’re not irrational in the sense of
having no thought at all. And then the question is, is this thought
helpful or is it not so helpful. And in this case, I think anger has one part. Anger is standardly defined as much people
use the word of course different countries have different words and so on … It has
something in it that’s very right when our beliefs are correct namely we recognize a
wrongful act that’s been done to something important that we care about. And we say, “That’s wrong. That shouldn’t have happened.” Now of course our particular beliefs might
be wrong. We might have been mistaken about who did
it or we might be wrong about how important it is. Aristotle talks about getting angry when someone
forgets your name. Some of these things are age old. But when the beliefs are right, that’s very
helpful for society because then we have to fix it. Martha Nussbaum: But then the problem is the
retributive part is so closely bound up with it. And it really is probably evolutionary the
way our minds work. We think, “Oh, so now I got to clobber the
person who did that.” And that looks backward. It’s not always wrong to look backward, but
here killing the killer doesn’t restore the dead to life. And people often think it does somehow. There’s a kind of fantasy of cosmic justice. And so giving up on that doesn’t mean you
don’t punish people. But then you have to think, “Why are you punishing
them? What did you fail to do before they committed
the crime?” That to me is …
Martha Nussbaum: And so giving up on retribution means first of all focusing on why do people
commit crimes? Is it the fault of our whole society? Do we need to give better education, better
housing? So all those thoughts we’re not even going
to get on the table if we have this simple retributive paradigm. But if we have a foreword-looking paradigm,
then all of these useful thoughts come into view. But then what other emotions come into view,
I think then if we’re going to do anything better and fix the bad thing that occurred
we do need hope. And we need to be motivated by hope rather
than fear. Martha Nussbaum: Now of course it’s very difficult,
and then we have to ask ourselves, “How do we get people to feel hope? Especially when things are bad. It’s very hard, and why should they feel hope? Things are really bad.” Now I think actually hope and fear are quite
similar because they both require significant uncertainty. It’s just a question of how you view is the
glass half full or is it half empty. And so then why should you hope? I think here I would turn to Immanuel Kant. Kant says, “We have an obligation to cultivate
hope in ourselves because we have an obligation to do good in society and to do good for others. But we won’t do that if we don’t have hope.” And so the [inaudible 00:50:42] to have hope. So then at the very end of my book I try to
talk about how can people in Chicago try to work up … I think it’s very personal and
it’s very contextual. But there are lots of things. I do think that for many people religion is
a great source of hope. I think that for most of us the arts are great
schools of hope. I also think that rational arguments and debate
are sources of hope because it shows a respectful dialog with other people who disagree. So there are many things we could talk about
here. Martha Nussbaum: But frankly just joining
a protest movement, working for a candidate as so many people did in the recent midterm
elections. I think that was a huge school of hope. I worked for Lauren Underwood and I did see
so many people who were previously, “why,we can’t change anything.” But then the idea, “yes, yes, we can change
them.” So there’re all those things to talk about. Yeah. Jennifer Brier: Thank you very much. And it’s wonderful to have you here in a space
where we can have this dialog. Because for me one of the emotions that is
also sort of circling around is hatred. And I wonder so you’ve talked about fear and
you’ve talked about anger. I think hatred is a powerful emotion that
animates a great deal of political discourse. And then there’s the experience of different
kinds of pain. And I wonder if it’s worth sort of talking
about what you see as the relationship between hatred and anger. I guess also for me the question that has
been circling in mind as I was reading your work this weekend and then hearing you again
today is really who and what can we attribute these emotions to? So there’s a way in which there’s a conversation
about this at the individual level and we can talk about what it means to channel our
anger emotion into more transformative or as you call it transitional thinking. But then there’s also the reality of does
the state have emotion? Is it useful for us to think about the state
as an emotional or affective actor? And then what does that do for us and what
does it not do for us? Martha Nussbaum: Yeah. Both great questions. Hatred I guess people use words in different
ways but roughly speaking the thing about anger that’s actually pretty promising is
that it’s directed usually at an act, not at the whole person. I get angry at what you did to me. Now of course I can say I’m angry at you,
but it’s usually basically focused on some specific act. And that is of course the way it’s used in
the criminal law because our criminal justice system for all its flaws is based on an actual
criminal act. So that’s hopeful because you could think,
“Well, okay. You did something bad but maybe you’re not
irretrievably evil.” And that is what King is urging us to do,
to separate the doer from the deed. And that’s something that Gandhi talks a great
deal about too, that yeah, they did something bad, but then they’re not irretrievably evil. But now let me move to the second question. Martha Nussbaum: Yeah, absolutely the state,
and I want to talk just about the criminal justice system, can be an emotional actor. And when I say the dominant position in the
criminal justice in the US today is retributivism, I don’t mean that it’s full of ravening bestial
people who all want to get him, get him, get him, get him. But I mean that the ideas of punishment that
inhabit our legal tradition are largely retributive in spirit. And so people are brought up to believe that
the state should punish in that manner. Now of course it was contradicted by the utilitarians
in the 18th century. But the retributive paradigm is dominant. And now there’s a change but not so much in
the US toward a kind of restorative justice. Martha Nussbaum: I was in New Zealand for
a while last year and observed a very fine judge who’s also writing a book on this topic. Sentencing actual offenders and what he always
did in every case is said, “Well, this is why what you did was very bad.” But he says, “And I don’t believe that you
are bad. So let’s see what we can do to fix your life
going forward.” And in New Zealand a lot of the offenders
… Sorry, that’s yours I guess. A lot of the offenders, no, I guess that is
mine, are young Maori or Samoans who are new to alcohol and then they get hooked on alcohol
for a while and they mash up somebody’s car or they commit a burglary or something. And so these were minor crimes of young people
with a great possibility … You could lock them up and throw away the key. You could channel hatred in their direction. Let me say some more about that in a minute. Martha Nussbaum: But instead the whole system
and it’s built into the instructions for judges, encourages them to think how the punishment,
the sentence that’s given, could improve the person’s life going forward, such as not sentencing
them to a long jail term if they have a gainful job and the crime is minor. So all of that stuff I think we need to learn
much more about. And ironically we’re starting to with the
opioid crisis because all the offenders are white so people immediately think, “Oh, let’s
fix their lives.” Right? And now we’re talking about treatment and
not about punishment. Martha Nussbaum: Hatred by contrast I think
is directed at the whole person. That is you just want that person to go…
you want their life to go badly. Aristotle even says hatred means you want
them to disappear. And I think that’s basically right. So that would be very, very dangerous in society
because it’s incompatible with this forward looking thought about how can their lives
be made better. And when you have hatred of course it spreads
to anyone who shares similar characteristics. And then you’re not going to want to think
about how can they have better housing, how can they have better nutrition, because you
just want them to disappear. And I think that’s the problem with hatred
in our society. Roderick Ferguson.: Ok, I am staying with
this. I wonder if you can say a bit about the normalization
of retributive anger. And the role of the state because it seems
so much of why and how people are encouraged to adopt the retributive aspects of anger
is because here is a state that legitimately punishes, that can discern between rational
anger-violence, irrational anger-violence. It is the state and the courts that bring
closure to a case. I mean you use an interesting phrase a couple
of times bringing the dead back to life. And somehow we attribute the state with this
sort of magical, mystical ability to bring the dead back to life if there is justice
as the state defines it. So I wonder if you might talk about the normalization
of that aspect of anger and also the state’s implication in that. Martha Nussbaum: Yeah, well, as I think the
roots of this idea are evolutionary. So you have to work against it. And it’s an uphill struggle. And the Greeks and Romans were constantly
working against it but they didn’t really get rid of it. So you’ll see people writing letters back
and forth. Cicero’s brother Quintus is governor out in
Syria. And Cicero says, “I hear some quite good things
about you. But there’s one great flaw you have.” You get angry and you’re too punitive. And so that’s the kind of discourse that society
had but they still had the problem. Martha Nussbaum: But our society encourages
from the very get go the idea that anger is manly and there’s a lot of psychological work
on gender differentiation where they show that the very same baby who’s crying is labeled
as fearful if it’s a girl. If the person thinks it’s a girl, the experimenter
will say, “Will you hold her for me?” And then the subject says, “Poor thing. She is very upset.” But if the baby is labeled as male. They tend to label the emotion as anger and
think of it as good. “Oh, he’s really angry. He wants to get want he wants.” And the baby is bounced in the air. So in sports and in lots of other places manly
anger is strongly encouraged. I mean sports, I could go on and on about
because I am a sports fan. But I think it’s a very great source of retributive
spirit in American society. Martha Nussbaum: So then what about the criminal
justice system? How did it get there? Well, it got there partly because it’s deeply
ingrained in human beings partly because the dominant version of both Christianity and
Judaism endorsed it. Although as I say in Jesus it was quite a
different thing and there were always other views around. And so you know the idea would be you assume
the role of god for the time being add you just destroy the offender in the way that
an angry god would be imagined to do. As if of course you had the right to play
god in that context, but judges usually do think they have that right. Martha Nussbaum: So the utilitarians who tried
to counteract this and to say, “What on earth good does this do? How can we have a better society? We’re branded as weak and sensitive and so
on.” It’s been a struggle. It’s always been a struggle. And I think in our society what makes it a
particular struggle where we do see other societies turning away from the retributive
paradigm is racial hatred and other kinds of hatred where we have certain people that
we don’t regard as really worthy of respect, where the dominant group thinks, “Well, let’s
just lock them up.” And it’s fueled partly by fear and various
kinds of unsavory imaginings of the minority as predators and so very similar things. If you study South Africa under Apartheid,
a very similar emotional constellations fueled the rise in punitive justice there. And of course the antidote is to think about
criminal justice differently. But there too it faced great opposition. Martha Nussbaum: Alan Paton the novelist who,
Cry the Beloved Country, I think is one of the great, great novels about punishment. It’s about two fathers. One, the father of the victim and, one, the
father of the killer. One black, one white. And they give up retributivism. But the society, of course, does not. And it shows you and Paton was a juvenile
justice reformer, but he was fired from his job because he didn’t lock them up. He tried to reform them. And so then he became a novelist. And so anyway. This is very, very hard to change this when
people are frightened. Martha Nussbaum: Now to take one example of
how it’s gotten worse, we used to think that at the penalty phase of a criminal trial the
person who gets extra time to speak is the defendant and that the whole purpose of the
penalty phase is to put on the table new evidence of hardships that you have faced and pleading
for mitigation of sentence. That is part of our constitutional law, 1976
case says the defendants have an irretrievable and inextricable right to plead for mercy
at the penalty phase. However, recently and starting around 20 years
ago the demand for victim impact statements in criminal trials has been ramped up and
up. And when that first began in around, oh, I
think about late 1990s and I think scholars have played a role in this. And I won’t name the ones who were behind
this movement. But they certainly have convinced the public
very powerfully. Martha Nussbaum: But there’s one very courageous
scholar right here in Chicago, Susan Bandes at the DePaul Law School, she wrote again
and again fine articles showing that victim impact statements are deleterious for various
reasons. First of all they are unequal between victims
because some of them have outraged families and others don’t. But also because it gives the jury, who’s
likely to be more similar to the victim in race and in class, it gives the jury someone
to bond with that will distract them from their appropriate attention to the defendant. So she wrote all these things in excellent
law reviews. But the movement went spiraling on and on. And more and more people actually now believe
that they can’t get closure without making a victim impact statement at the penalty phase
to seek an enhanced sentence. So people can be bamboozled by movement. And I’m afraid this was academic in origin
and I think it’s very sad. That sometimes the bad academic movement takes
off because it feeds something the public wants. But I think we all have a responsibility to
work against that kind of thing. Jennifer Brier: I know Susan may come up,
but I want to sort of put one other idea on the table to just follow up on Rod’s question
which is of course Chicago is a site of very powerful, activated abolitionist politics
right now, whether it’s prison abolition, police abolition. Sort of a notion of returning to a position
that abolish of slavery or abolition is the only solution that other kinds of reforms
are reformist and not transformational. And of course also a site of incredibly powerful
led primarily by young black and brown people, notions of restorative justice and transformative
justice which make very different kinds of arguments about the criminal legal system
and what’s possible. And so I guess I wonder if that is really
… I mean all around us in this city very much between the two campuses that we inhabit
from the west side to the south side and on the north side as well but just like this
sort of notion that it’s not about … And those are profoundly based in a refusal of
anger. Not in a refusal of it as an animating … maybe
it is an example of your transitional anger. It allows for anger but then channels it into
a very different kind of response. Martha Nussbaum: It’s such a difficult question. I’ve just finished reading the wonderful new
biography of Fredrick Douglas which shows his struggle with that question. Because on the one hand of course he thought,
“No, compromise with slavery.” And he was a committed abolitionist and rightly. But he had to deal with Lincoln and decided
how to deal with Lincoln who was complicated on that issue. And in the end Douglas was willing to work
with the Republicans and Lincoln toward a better future even though he certainly didn’t
like everything they did on that question. I think slavery is one of those things. Abolition is the only right solution. I’m writing a book now on animal rights where
I have to constantly ask myself the question about what things should we be abolitionist,
what things should we be reformists? I think the factory farming industry is abolition. But maybe meat eating of humanely raised meat
might be more in the reformist. Martha Nussbaum: So it’s tricky. I do think that when women in the early stages
of the Feminist Movement took an abolitionist line. Women oriented women means that we’ll have
nothing to do with men. I couldn’t get into it because I was already
married and had a child. But I was called a capitulator and a reformist
and so forth. But that wasn’t in the end that productive
partly because what needs reform is the family and the gendering of the family. And if you give up on the family from the
get go then you sort of can’t help in that process. So I guess I think there was something to
be said on both sides there and trying to improve the future gradually is where we kind
of are today. And it’s sticky, and it’s not happening in
the way we would want. But to think of course just in terms of biology,
you’re not going to be able to have a society consisting of separated women. First of all, they’re not going to get to
adopt the children that they would have to adopt if they were going to have children. So anyway I guess being a reformist I feel
has been a choice that I’m not ashamed of on that issue. Susan Poser: Okay. We have a few minutes for questions. Facilitators: The microphone is on. Facilitators: Do you want this mic? Facilitators: I don’t know if your mic is
on. Susan Poser: Yeah. I’ll turn it on. So a lot of these have been covered. Part of them have been covered. So there’s two here that I think I can combine. Oh, there we go. So this is from a student that I’m then going
to add to it from somebody who appears not to be a student. Is there any place for retributive anger or
is it necessary to abandon all together? And that’s connected to another question which
says, “Do you think that retributive justice or anger might have utility in deterring bad
behavior? For example if you fear response, you’ll be
less likely to do something bad. For example nuclear weapons.” Martha Nussbaum: Yeah. I think there are some instrumental uses that
retributive anger does have. And the main one is the motivational one that
King talked about that if you’re just in a state of despair, you’re not going to join
the movement and maybe you’re not ready for hope and transition anger yet. But you might come to the movement because
you really want to bash the other people, then you have to learn something when you
get there. And that would be hard he thought and of course
he did this very carefully. But it’s better than sitting at home in despair. Another one is that it might wait you up to
the existence of injustice. Like I find myself wanting to get back at
my spouse and what’s that all about? And that might alert me to certain deeper
problems in the relationship that I hadn’t noticed before. So it could be a kind of wake up call. Martha Nussbaum: But the deterrent one that
you ask about, I think sometimes that would be true that you kind of get people’s attention. They’re afraid of an angry response. But I don’t think it works very well and not
for long. If you think about road rage, yeah, it may
be that if people think that this driver is going to respond in an angry way and cut them
off and so on they’ll be more cautious around that driver. But it doesn’t produce a good community at
all. I mean certainly true that in the gym when
I see certain guys that I think are in a kind of steroidal rage mood, I would refrain for
competing for a machine with those guys. But you know it’s not like I think that’d
solved the problem. I think it actually just saves me from unpleasantness
but doesn’t solve the problem. Yeah, that’s basically what I think of that. Jennifer Brier: That’s not where I thought
that was going to go. We have nuclear war Just now. Martha Nussbaum: Oh, nuclear war. Well, see I think nuclear war there I think
to deter, I’m always in favor of deterrence. And I think punishments of various kinds can
be used for deterrence. And in the case of nuclear war, I guess it
was the threat of a very terrible punishment that was used as deterrence. Now I guess it wasn’t the anger because anger
would have been likely to get out of control and come back to bite you. But it was the threat of a punishment. It was a very bad way to do it. I think you should accompany it at least and
let’s hope that that did happen. I think it did happen in the latter days of
the Soviet Union with a lot of deliberative talking and a lot of thought about how to
move forward together. But yeah, deterrence offer does have some
value. Yeah. Susan Poser: Thank you. There’s several questions talking about the
sort how difficult it is to adopt to transition anger when it goes against our natural human
impulses. I think you’ve answered some of those. But maybe slightly related to that is one
that, is it possible that the examples of transition anger are really, particularly
talking about Martin Luther King Jr, he really had no choice, no power. He couldn’t suggest the defeat of whites in
his I Had a Dream Speech because that wouldn’t work. And similarly this is kind of related. Do women have an advantage because historically
they haven’t had the option to use retributive justice on an individual basis? Martha Nussbaum: They have not had the option? Susan Poser: Well, in the sense that they
tend to be smaller and weaker I think that. Martha Nussbaum: Oh, well, I think women are
very retributive in many contexts. My examples of divorce. I mean I think it’s often out of weakness
and the false belief that you will achieve strength by retributivism that we get so much
punitive divorce litigation carried on by women who feel they’ve been betrayed and wronged
and so on. So I don’t agree that women are less retributive. They may be less physically powerful. But that doesn’t mean they can’t use the law
and so on. But anyway, no wait, what was the first part
of the question? Susan Poser: Just about going against our
natural human impulse and the example that Martin Luther King really didn’t have a choice
except to be- Martha Nussbaum: Well, I think it’s true that
King was a complicated strategist and that his reasons for rejecting retributivism were
both intrinsic and strategic. He knew full well. And actually he did believe that violence
and self-defense was perfectly legitimate. He believed that at least in the 50s and up
to late in his life. So I think his reason there for not having
self-defense violence was strategic. And yes, he didn’t have the power to use violence. But he did believe it also as the right way
to go to actually solve the nation’s problems. Martha Nussbaum: Now my other two examples
if we had more time to talk about them. Gandhi of course had a nation of a billion
people behind him who could get rid of the British by a violent revolution as many colonized
nations did. Or they could get rid of the British by a
nonviolent revolution. He didn’t stop all the violence of partition,
which has left its scars to the present day and has fueled new violence against Muslims
and Christians in India. But in so far as he did inhibit it and stopped
a violent revolution against the British, it was a tremendous boon to that nation because
they got a chance to start. Okay, we’re going to make a constitution. And they didn’t have to deal with the aftermath
of a bloody revolution. Martha Nussbaum: Now the most interesting
case was Mandela, because Mandela found that nonviolence did not work. So he justified the limited use of violence
against property and kind of very limited use of violence. But not in a spirit of retributive anger. He was very careful about that. He said that his 27 years in prison, 22 or
which were on Robin Island in these terrible conditions, a lot of that was very helpful
to him personally in getting rid of his instincts towards retribution for the wrongs he suffered
himself. And he tried always to discourage the ANC
from taking retributive tactics after they won. They could have done a lot in that direction. And of course a lot of people wanted to. And he stopped that because he thought that’s
not the way you build a nation. Susan Poser: And I think maybe we have time
for one more. In your opinion, how does the media contribute
to cultural anger and to what degree? Martha Nussbaum: Well, there’s media and media
of course, unfortunately even the fairly responsible media have gotten hooked on a kind of scapegoating
paradigm. And you can hardly get any news about anything
that’s not fueled by some kind of scapegoating either scapegoating of Trump, Trump, Trump
all the time or scapegoating by the supporters of Trump of minorities on the right. Now of course some of that is more supported
by the facts than other things. But I think scapegoating itself is dangerous. It does not solve the problem. And certainly if the democrats are ever to
win in the next election, they’ve got to move beyond scapegoating and have positive proposals
for making this country better. And I think they know that but it’s so … The
media have gotten distorted into a kind of, I don’t know, echo chamber of scapegoating. And almost all the media are like that. But certainly the internet, the blogy media
are the worst because it’s just a constant shrill attack. Martha Nussbaum: Now I’m not on any social
media myself, but I happen to have a family that some of whom are Trump supporters who
feed me every day things that are being said on the social media that they consult. And it’s very dispiriting because you see
that all kinds of … people are singled out for scapegoating. I mean Jussie Smollett is now a huge target
of the Trump right even when they don’t have the slightest idea of anything… There’s no real reason to doubt what he said
happened. But I say, “Oh, I thought you believed the
police?” And he’s the Chief of Police saying blah,
blah, blah. And they said, “Oh, no. We don’t believe the police in this case.” So it’s just the desire to pin blame. Martha Nussbaum: It’s so in the ascendant
on these media and campuses. I mean again and again they’re telling me,
“Oh, this is what happens to free speech on campus.” And I say, “Well, actually, I’m on a campus. And I’m going to tell you know what actually
happens on my campus.” But they don’t want to hear that. So I’m glad you have Chemerinsky coming in
and he’ll have a lot of good things to say about that. And I could certainly … I do think the campus
atmosphere itself is devolved into too much scapegoating and blaming and we really need
to try to get out of that. Martha Nussbaum: So I gave part of my Berggruen
Prize to set up a program of lunches. Well, it was already going on. But under, right, this program of lunches
where students, these are law students with opposite points of view politically, would
come together with faculty, with opposing points of view and spend 90 minutes discussing
some controversial issue. And it actually has worked very well in the
ones that I’ve been involved in. So I think we really need to promote listening,
rational dialog, and not demonizing the opposition. And then we need very badly on our campus
certainly what we most need are conservative faculty who can have the ear of the more conservative
students. It’s very hard to find conservative faculty
who will engage in this rational debate because they’re usually not interested in going into
the academy in the first instance. So in our whole law school, 38 faculty we
have 2 conservatives and they’re in great demand for these lunches because they have
to always be the other side. Martha Nussbaum: But we still need to do that
more and more. And I taught a course with one of them on
public morality and legal conservatism. It was the best teaching experience I ever
had because you had people who usually would have just demonized one another but really
listening and having a real dialog. So yeah, I think we need to promote that not
just in the media but on campus. Susan Poser: I’m not sure we have time. Do we have time for one more question? It’s 10 of. Martha Nussbaum: Yeah. We do have time. Susan Poser: Yes, go ahead. Martha Nussbaum: It’s 1:48. Audience: I’m wondering what is your stance
on these policies of safe spaces? [inaudible 01:20:16] or rationalize the [inaudible
01:20:18]? Martha Nussbaum: Well, it’s complicated I
think because I think we do know, and I remember this very well, that the classroom used to
be used in ways that heaped humiliation on women, racial minorities, gays and lesbians,
and of course they didn’t even know about transgender, they didn’t do it yet. So it comes from something real that we want
the classroom to be a place where everyone is treated with respect and the old term political
correctness was about that laudable goal, that the classroom would be a place of respect. But I don’t think that that means the classroom
should be a place where you’re not discussing ideas that make you feel uncomfortable. So the faculty is in charge of making that
space respectful. Martha Nussbaum: And boy, when I teach some
of these issues like teaching the whole question of same sex marriage along with a lot of religious
conservative students who are in our law school, because we do tend to attract a lot of religious
conservative students, you have to make sure that you set a certain tone. Like how do we talk to one another? But then these uncomfortable issues, it’s
very important to discuss them, because for one thing then they see that they can’t so
easily demonize their fellow students and think that gay students are just monsters
that are unfamiliar and unrecognizable as human. And the students who are gay and lesbian don’t
usually come out to the religious conservative students because they’re scared of them. So you have to produce I think that humanizing
confrontation. But you have to do it in a way that doesn’t
say, “In this class, you’re never going to hear an idea that you don’t like.” Ideas are one thing and treatment of individuals
are quite another I think. Susan Poser: Dr. Nussbaum has to go back to
teach a class. Martha Nussbaum: Yeah, I’ve got to teach. Susan Poser: So we’re going to let her go. Please join me in thanking her and Jennifer
Brier and Rod Ferguson. Jennifer Brier: Thank you. Martha Nussbaum: Thank you both very much.

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