Is Obama Just a Spectacle?
Cornel West is a prominent and provocative democratic intellectual. He is a Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at Union Theological Seminary and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. He has also taught at Yale, Harvard, and the University of Paris. Cornel West graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard in three years and obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy at Princeton. He has written over 20 books and has edited 13. Though he is best known for his classics, Race Matters and Democracy Matters, and for his memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, his most recent releases, Black Prophetic Fire and Radical King, were received with critical acclaim.
Question: Has Obama mastered the art of the spectacle?
Cornel West: I mean, I think the most effective use of the spectacle is brother Barack Obama himself. He's such a masterful televisual figure that he can appear on television late-night shows, five morning shows, have the kind of steadiness and sturdiness that does not really get at the degree to which the White House has not really stepped forward when it comes to this health care deal and standing up for public option, not showing the kind of backbone, sitting back trying to negotiate here, testing here, testing there. So not giving people a sense of not just what it is, but where they themselves are headed, because they want to cut a deal rather than take a stand. And of course, politicians are known for cutting deals, but when it comes to issues of life and death, if you're Lincoln, if you're FDR, you're not just cutting deals. Lincoln wasn't just cutting deals. FDR was not just cutting deals when it came to protecting the rights of collective bargaining, the workers and so forth. He had to cut against the grain and take a stand. And I think that the spectacle allows you to avoid taking a stand, showing backbone. That's what statesmanship is; that's what leadership is. It's the difference between a thermostat and a thermometer.
Question: Do you see our current period as a time of progress?
Cornel West: I think we have to draw a distinction between the symbolic and the substantial. The issue is symbol and substance: that we cannot deny the unprecedented progress when it comes to breaking glass ceilings. It can be Skip Gates at Harvard; it could be President Barack Obama in the White House. It could be Dick Parsons; we can go on and on. But to break the glass ceiling ought not to lead us to overlook so many locked into the basement, locked into the middle levels. And those issues are structural; they're institutional. So when you're dealing with increasing wealth inequality, you're dealing with a weakening working class and expanding poor working class and weak poor working class, then you've got some structural transformations that are taking place in which there's unprecedented opportunities at the top, from White House to Harvard, to even Princeton, myself, and yet you've got these dilapidated houses, you've got decrepit school systems, you've got unavailable health care, unavailable child care, depression-like levels of underemployment and unemployment.
So you've got this imbalance that it's hard to keep track of, especially in corporate media, you see. So that on the one hand you want to say, thank God that the age of Obama has begun; the age of Reagan is over; the great running amok, especially at the top, is over; the indifference to the poor is being called into question, we hope. And then the politics of fear has ended. So the question becomes, okay, in face of the greed, will there be serious talk about fairness? In face of the indifference, will there be serious talk about compassion, especially for the poor and working class? And in face of the fear, of course, there's hope, hope, hope, hope, hope. That's the mantra right now. And it's a good thing that the age of Obama is over. I've put in sixty-five events for my dear brother; he knew I was going to be a Socratic and critical supporter.
I've always felt that he's not progressive enough. I always felt he didn't have enough backbone. I've always felt that he didn't draw lines in the sand the way he should. But he is who he is, and he's a masterful and very charismatic politician. I want him to be a statesman and focus on poor and working people. He's still a politician very much in the neo-Clintonite mold. Economic team: recycled Clintonites. Foreign policy team: recycled Clintonites. And so there's no real history of a focus on poor and working people domestically, or no serious focus on trying to seriously focus on poor people and working people in the Middle East. And we're not just talking about Palestinians and Israelis, but working-class and poor Israelis, working-class and poor Palestinians, both of whom are suffering even though one is under occupation and one is not. So that those are the kind of perspectives that for me are very important in this age of Obama.
Recorded on: November 3, 2009
Or will he finally show backbone and take a firm stance? Cornel West hopes for the latter but fears the former.
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If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
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