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The Monarchy of Fear, Martha C. Nussbaum

"There's a lot of fear around in the US today, and this fear is often mingled with anger, blame, and envy."


"What is today's fear about? Many Americans feel themselves powerless, out of control of their own lives. They fear for their own future and that of their loved ones. They fear that the American Dream--that hope that your children will flourish and do even better than you have done--has died, and everything has slipped away from them. These feelings have their basis in real problems: among others, income stagnation in the lower middle class, alarming declines in the health and longevity of members of this group, especially men, and the escalating costs of higher education at the very time that a college degree is increasingly required for employment. But real problems are difficult to solve, and their solution takes long, hard study and cooperative work toward an uncertain future. It can consequently seem all too attractive to convert that sense of panic and impotence into blame and the "othering" of outsider groups such as immigrants, racial minorities, and women. "They" have taken our jobs. Or: wealthy elites have stolen our country."

p. 1

"These facts tell us two things my students need to know. First, the America for which they are nostalgic never existed, not fully; it was a work in progress, a set of dynamic aspirations put in motion by tough work, cooperation, hope, and solidarity over a long period of time. A just and inclusive America never was and is not yet a fully achieved reality. Second, this present moment may look like backsliding from our march toward human equality, but it is not the apocalypse, and it is actually a time when hope and work can accomplish a great deal of good. On both left and right, panic doesn't just exaggerate our dangers, it also makes our moment much more dangerous than it would otherwise be, more likely to lead to genuine disasters."

p. 3

"Philosophy means many things in many different historical traditions, but for me philosophy is not about authoritative pronouncements. It is not about one person claiming to be deeper than others or making allegedly wise assertions. It is about leading the "examined life," with humility about how little we really understand, with a commitment to arguments that are rigorous, reciprocal, and sincere, and with a willingness to listen to others as equal participants and to respond to what they offer. Philosophy in this Socratic conception does not compel, or threaten, or mock. It doesn't make bare assertions, but, instead, sets up a structure of thought in which a conclusion follows from premises the listener is free to dispute."

p. 10

"Philosophy doesn't all by itself dictate very many concrete policy choices, because these must be contextual, the fruit of a partnership between philosophy, history, political science, economics, law, and sociology. But it gives us a sense of who we are, what problems lie in our path, and where we should be heading. And as I said, its methods, involving equal participation, respect, and reciprocity, also model some important aspects of where we should be going. It is a part of the study of our political moment, not the whole, but it can help us all to lead the "examined life.""

p. 13

"Our narrative of fear tells us that some very bad things can easily happen. Citizens may become indifferent to truth and prefer the comfort of an insulating peer group who repeat one another's falsehoods. They may become afraid of speaking out, preferring the comfort of a leader who gives them a womb-like feeling of safety. And they may become aggressive against others, blaming them for the pain of fear. To this fear-blame dynamic we now turn."

p. 62

"Psychologists have done a lot of research on people's instinctual views of the way the world works, and they find that people have a deep-rooted need to believe that the world is just. One aspect of this "just world hypothesis" is the tendency to believe that people who are badly off cause their own misery by laziness or bad conduct. But another related aspect of this "just world" belief is the need to believe that when we encounter loss and adversity it isn't just loss, it is someone's wrongdoing, and that we can somewho recoup our loss by punishing the "bad guy.""

p. 82

"So, people keep running up against themselves, however hard they try not to. However: if people can't keep entirely clear of the disgusting in themselves, they may be helped by a further stratagem that is all too common in human life. Here's the "bright idea": what if we could identify a group of human beings whom we could see as more animal than we are, more sweaty, more smelly, more sexual, more suffused with the stench of mortality? If we could identify such a group of humans and subordinate them successfully, we might feel more secure. Those are the animals, not us. Those are dirty and smelly, we are pure and clean. And they are beneath us; we dominate them. This type of confused thinking is ubiquitous in human societies as a way of creating distance between ourselves and our problematic animality."

p. 110

"Misogyny, as I'm defining it here, is a determination to protect entrenched interests. It may use sexist beliefs as a tool, but the tool sometimes turns into a double-edged sword, so the misogynists typically won't rely on it too much. (Thus, in the parallel case of anti-Semitism, people rarely tried to say that Jews could not do the intellectual work of lawyers in "white-shoe" firms, or could not do the work at Yale. They would substitute some other "arguments," such as the common claim that Jews were vulgar and socially obnoxious, a claim virtually impossible to falsify.) Similarly, someone can be determined to keep (most) women in the roles of wife, mother, and sex object without really believing in female inferiority."

p. 180

"Hope is not and cannot be inert. It requires action, commitment. These events were small and hardly earth-shaking. But we all derive emotional sustenance from small daily things more than from large abstractions. And it seems that this emotional sustenance is crucial if our lives in general are to produce anything that is good and useful. The sustenance was what I was after, as I steered my thoughts, on June 15."

p. 201

"If you don't have love for others, then the life of Stoic detachment or even cynical despair will make more sense than the life of hope, with is many demands. So, there is a kind of base-level of love that is needed, even before people take an interest in hope. But as habits of hope develop, they are sustained by, and further sustain, habits of love, a generosity of spirit that practices seeing good in others and expecting good things, rather than expecting the worst. As King often noted, this sort of love is assisted by learning to separate the doer from the deed. Deeds may be denounced unequivocally. People are always larger than their deeds, capable of growth and change."

p. 216

"The subtext of my idea is that young people would see the diversity of people in their country, as soldiers in World War II learned to do during their service, only my young people would be trying to help, not to kill. In the course of those valuable acts of service they would also know the country in a new way. Stigma is typically founded on lack of close association; that's why the stigma attaching to gays and lesbians has diminished so rapidly with the coming-out of young people all over the country. Now that same de-stigmatizing needs to happen, or happen more, with race, class--and also age."

p. 242

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