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  This world of which I speak cannot be one in which market forces are the primary determinant.  The self

is lost that way, and so is the Good. Wisdom must teach -- no harmony occurs when chance determines who succeeds

and who does not. To have individual goodness we must have a corporate Goodness that is not hierarchical.



Need for a 21st Century American Philosophy

or Escaping the Black-Bible Belt


By Rudolph Lewis


Wisdom does not depend on literacy or intellectual elites. Wisdom has little to do whether one can read and write. Take for instance the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Founder of  a world religion, he could not spell or write his name. But was he not one of the most extraordinary men who ever lived. That is not to say he was infallible. 

But none can read the Quran without being impressed that this man knew something about what it means to live harmoniously in and with the world. Surprisingly, he  possessed an egalitarian streak. For Muhammad even a slave could be more righteous than his former master.

We of the West demand, however, that Jesus be literate, our way of separating and elevating ourselves above the vast majority of people who inhabit this planet.

Moreover, wisdom (philosophy) does not depend on wealth, military power, and the World Bank and the United Nations. The wisdom we seek, our neo-American philosophy, must be open and accessible to all regardless of IQ. It does not ride upon status to get where it needs to go.

In need of wise direction, why should we not create an American philosophy that aligns itself with a true and honest view of the facts and events of American history? With all the historical studies, sociological, psychological, and scientific discoveries in the last 50 years, we should be set and ready now, sufficient enough, to  write an American philosophy, an indigenous one, representative of its vast diversity and responsive to our betrayal of our better nature.

This new American philosophy must rise out of the muck and mire of our own shared experience. We have almost 300 million brains in America, a sample of every people on the globe—we can do it if we have the will.

We want to show in this philosophy how an American can live a life that is full, whole, and human. 

This world of which I speak cannot be one in which market forces are the primary determinant. The self is lost that way, and so is the Good. Wisdom must teach -- no harmony occurs when chance determines who succeeds and who does not. To have individual goodness we must have a corporate Goodness that is not hierarchical. There are no inherently “good guys and bad guys.” The Hollywood cowboy rhetoric of Ronald Reagan and his spawn cannot be ours.

Our American philosophy struggles against the ethic of “might makes right.” There ain't no justice in that.

All these extraneous philosophical pursuits, of we blacks, do our people and our ancestors (the creators of spirituals, animal tales, the blues, the twist) an injustice.

Some of us want African philosophy, others Afrocentric, still others this or that ethnic philosophy of East (Kwanzaa) and West (Yoruba) Africa. And then there are our industrial-minded brothers who want to relive the lies and mistakes of Marx and Lenin.

But we seldom have any talks about being American, about the responsibility of we blacks to have a vital involvement in the creation of an American philosophy. Who better knows what America should be than a self-aware slave who ain’t too anxious to wear his master’s hand-me downs?

Were not our ancestors, those unknown “black bards” who created the spirituals and the blues, animal tales, and work songs and voted with their feet, closer to our real sense of America than our present global economists, multinational corporations, and militarists?

Don’t you think these American culture creators and native philosophers were more critical than the leaders of the Southern slavocracy, of which Robert E. Lee was its primary defender. His American Dream included the establishment of a slave empire.

Did not our American Christian slave ancestors dream dreams that have risen to Carnegie Hall. Is it not the stored up and frustrated energy of their descendants that gives America its drive?

There’s no America without these enslaved Africans. There’s no America without the history  and tragedy of the Native American. There’s no America without Mexico, the Caribbean, the Philippines. America is not English. We are something unique and distinct and it could not have been so without its historical peoples. And we got to get that history right if we gonna get our philosophy right. 

Our urgency is greater than that of the 19th century, Webster and his dictionary.

This got to be a philosophy that makes demands on the individual.  If an American wants to live the Good Life, there must be always a striving towards utter sympathy with the Other American. I suppose that's Christian, even universal. It must be the heart of all true religions: Do unto others as you'd have them to do to you. . . . Oh, if we could only live such a simple life!

But there's always a tyrant, the demagogue, the bully who will challenge the Good Life—to have it for himself, only. Better-me-than-him ethic is barbarism and has little to do with what is called civilized. They will drag us along into their hell whether we desire it or not. We are better than that, all this Bush and Republican rhetoric. We got to stop playing Houdini.

That kind of magic has filled our globe with the hungry, the poor, dispossessed, diseased, and dying humanity. We here in the West—in America, we have tons of confessions that need to be made, and the confessional's empty. We have done this and worst and we have no shame about it. Yes, we tell ourselves – these Others, these poor niggers eating camel skin, are backward, tribal. They murder and starve themselves because of their flawed history, unlike our own.

That's why we must have philosophers. I ain't talking about scribblers, proselytizers. But rather men and women (all Americans) who are ready and willing to speak the truth, truly informed for the betterment of the Many.

Our ethics must know/remain always in the orbit of the Good: the Needs of the Many outweigh the Needs of the Few, and of the One.

I know this philosophy will be a radical turn for American history and philosophy. Ethics always trumps expediency in this neo-ethical American philosophy.

Profiteering and greed cannot be a constitutional guarantee. Corporations are not individuals, but rather mass concentration of power. With their millions and the need to secure it, they are willing to impose grievous measures on the individual, including the threat of violent repression, and its execution, if an individual objects on ethical grounds to its actions and immoral behavior.

They hire “contractors” – you know, Paladin (Richard Boone), Have Gun Will Travel. These men seek Profit unleashed from the demands of our American philosophy. These hired killers are all over the globe, every continent, every country, and town.

And we have suffered the whirlwind, as we continue to demean  and belittle the rest of the people of the globe, for our shallow pompous pride, for our HumVees.  

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Here are some figures from Philip Kennedy, O.P., "Dominican Spirituality and Liberation Theology" (Listening: Journal of Religion & Culture, Fall 2003, p.237-238). This article reveals the startling and shocking disparities that exist on Mother Earth. Yes, you are right, a philosophy of religion is also much in need. For ritual, and even doctrine, is only a tiny aspect of a living religion.

This is what Kennedy says:

The twenty-first century began with the following situation. In 1950, our planet was populated by about 2.5 billion people. That number had risen to more than six billion by 1999.

In other terms, the twentieth century was an era of breathtakingly massive population growth. In 1998, the World Bank concluded that by 1993, 1.3 billion people were living on less than $1 a day. The same bank currently concludes that 1.2 billion people now live on less than $1 per day while a further 1 billion eke out a living on less than $2 a day.

Hence, as the twentieth first century gestates, more than a third of the world’s population suppurates in poverty.  

In the last decade of the twentieth century, the World bank reported that 80% of the world’s poor live in twelve countries, and sixty-two per cent live in China and India.

Seventy-eight per cent of Nepal’s population live in dire poverty; 74% in Pakistan; 74% in Kenya; and 77% in Peru.

At the end of the twentieth century, life expectancy at birth in the United States of America was 76.7 years. In the United Kingdom it was 77.2 years. In Japan the figure was 80 years.

At the same time, life expectancy in Canada was 79; in Australia, 78.2; in Columbia, 70; in Balarus, 68; South Africa, 54; Botswana 47.4; Zambia, 40; and Sierra Leone, 37.2.

Meanwhile, a well-oiled global money market is doing what it does best—feathering the nests of a small cartel of super-rich globetrotters.

According to the United Nations Human Development Report 1999, $1.5 trillion is now exchanged daily in the world’s currency markets. The world’s two hundred richest people more than doubled their net worth in the four years in 1998, to $1 trillion.

The assets of the top three billionaires on this planet are more than the combined gross national product of all least wealthy countries and their combined 600 million people.

Ours is a global system that enables three people to accumulate assets that exceed the combined wealth of six hundred million people.

As the third millennium begins, a fifth of the world’s population living in highest income countries, enjoys 86% of the world’s gross domestic product, while the wealth fifth of humanity uses 80% of the planet’s resources, leaving 20% of the resources for the remaining 80% of humanity.

For the wealthy fifth of humanity it could be suspected that the age old five Cs of religion—Creed, Cult, Code, Conduct, and Community—have been replaced by the mundane five Cs of a new pseudo-religion: Cash, Credit Card, Car, Condominium, and Country Club.

The poor, of course, do not suffer exclusively from a deficiency of finance, but also from restricted access to heath care and education. They are further disadvantaged by a ravaged ecosphere. 

Leonardo Boff tellingly reminds us that not only people but the entire ‘Earth has been systematically plundered for centuries’.

Our American philosophy must know shame, what is shameful, and how to make restitution.

Our extravagance (of we few) is greater than any Roman emperor, Muslim potentate. Let it be known  that Saudi Arabia is an American necessary stereotype (our little private nigger joke). (Kuwaitis rape their servants in America and return home scot-free. But they just raping niggers, who come cheap, a dime a dozen.) On the vaudeville stage our sheikhs in their ethnic costumes conceal and make innocent billionaires like Bill Gates and Wal-Mart..

Gates and his ilk, we love to believe,  are an innocent compared  to sheikhs, princes, and kings of the Oriental Near East.

Here’s what we say: The source of American wealth was obtained by hard work and right living and a bit of ingenuity. The sheiks just got lucky—they got oil by just being in a geographical region and at a time that oil is prized as necessary for a post-industrial society. These sheikhs got black gold and don’t know what to do with it. These Moslems desperately need American ingenuity.

But what will we do with our historical baggage? We have yet to integrate it into our hearts and souls. You know, it can’t be legislated.

The unreconstructed Southern Republicans still know their Negroes and how to keep them in their place. Give them MLK & Black History Month. A museum and a few minority business contracts and our “coloreds” are satisfied and ready to vote for Bush.

We still turning the water wheel of racial philosophies, when we need to put out our wings and fly, creating a philosophical system that peculiarly represents the American historical urge which comes up from its very soil. Is Robert E. Lee really as important and as significant as Robert Johnson? Which one indeed represents the best of America’s democratic spirit, our hope and joy? Be honest, damn it.

Yes, we need indeed a philosophy of education. How are we now teaching 9/11? Are we leaving it to FOX News – to men and women who went to school to be tv and radio announcers, entertainers (bathed in conceit), the Hip Hop Empire, public (government) schools, npr and pbs (they too in the pockets of corporations, ask Tavis Smiley and Skip Gates—all mouth the government line for a salary, a career, for comfort.  As the folks used to say, “they slick as a lean dick dog.”

Socrates rolls over in his grave. Are these the people we will allow to teach our children? Pretty boys and pretty girls, with nothing between the ears but desire. Don’t our children deserve more?  Have we not had enough of the Jesse Jacksons, the NAACP, and such ilk with their ceos, the black Harvard and Yale establishment, bought-off niggers, white-folks experts on the black poor and Africa.

Living for the Now must be a living for the Future that is Now.

There’s something wrong with the picture that Father Kennedy paints. Something ain’t right about it. Even a former plowboy from Sussex County, VA – with my segregated education – knows this ain’t right.

I can’t get with these racial myths that we Americans create for convenience and exploitation of the weak.

How did all this suffering come about? Is it because we Americans work hard, live right, and God blessed us? Is that indeed the source of our power?

Can we ask such questions in any classroom in America, without the threat of being lynched, sent to the American gulag at Cuba, made a resident of Abu Ghraib?  (Let us leave Abu Ghraib as a monument, of monumental Iraqi and American stupidity and brutality – Bush and Saddam.)

Is that what awaits Americans who want more than billionaires and unreconstructed Southern Republicans?

We are desperate for a 21st century American Philosophy that is not determined by how well one’s pockets are greased.

Who speaks for the poor these days, except in patronizing tones and gestures? Even those who know how to ask the socratic questions, who know the Good, get greased. Poor niggers. Everywhere. We still rub their heads for Good Luck. God Bless America.

Here's a sample of how our American philosophy would reason: Let us allow that America should not encourage leaders like Saddam Hussein. And let us say we have done a good, however clumsily. Our pragmatic philosophy must pose the crucial question: Was there a cheaper way of doing it?

Without a philosophical rudder the Machiavellis of our time will overwhelm us and confuse us with minutia. We won't be able to see the forest for the trees. Prey to every demagogue that can rap or has cash in pocket. We cannot be a Super Power with revenge as our primary modus operandi.

America, my brothers and sisters, we are in crucial times. Millions of our global cousins are being crushed in our name, by such agents as America's pharmaceutical and gun industries. Some blood cannot be rinsed off even with bottled water. Let us be wise.

The times are urgent. We must develop an American Philosophy that liberates us from ourselves. Too often we are our worst enemy. The terrorist is a tertiary matter. Let us turn away from that which leads down; let's turn, and take the high road to global justice.

posted 25 May 2004

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By Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection's "lyric brilliance" and "political impulses [that] never falter." A New York Times review stated, "Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we're alone in the universe; it's to accept—or at least endure—the universe's mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith's pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the book’s first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant." Life on Mars follows Smith's 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet's second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans. The Body’s Question (2003) was her first published collection. Smith said Life on Mars, published by small Minnesota press Graywolf, was inspired in part by her father, who was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and died in 2008.

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

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Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)  / Gil Scott-Heron & His Music  Gil Scott Heron Blue Collar  Remember Gil Scott- Heron

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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