Number 66 (2019)

Edited by Carmen Birkle and Maria Moss

Marrying Anthropocentrism to Ecocentrism: The Rising Voices of Dissent in American Environmentalism

In light of multiple significant incidents in its contemporary history, the American environmental movement (EM) seems to be at a crossroads as the national consensus on this movement—forged during the 1970s—starts to crack under the strain of rising challenges. Communities most adversely affected by environmental hazards—usually referred to as communities of color and labor—now seem to be estranged from and ignored by a mostly ecocentric movement they can hardly identify with. Against such a backdrop,I examine the emergence of new dissenting ‘anthropocentric’ voices within the American EM—most notably the Environmental Justice Movement (EJM)—and discuss the multiple facets of the anthropocentric-ecocentric divide and its bearing on the evolution of the movement. I will further analyze whether the emerging sustainability discourse will be able to contain this ideological divide and offer a reconciliation framework for a harmonization of these movements’ objectives, policies, and modes of activism.

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Leveraging the Hero: Witnesses and Personal Stories as Persuasive Devices in Trump’s 2018 State of the Union Address

Acknowledging guests during the State of the Union address is not a new practice; however, it has had a peripheral role in the overall architecture of the speech, with presidents typically acknowledging up to seven guests. In his 2018 State of the Union address, president Trump acknowledges no less than eighteen guests, transforming this otherwise marginal practice into an essential part of his discourse. This article analyzes, from a socio-rhetorical perspective, President Trump’s unprecedented use of real-life individuals for image-building purposes during the 2018 State of the Union Address. I use sociological, rhetorical and linguistic concepts such as framing, narrative persuasion and demeanor indexicals to analyze the way Trump portrays the guests as heroes, integrates each into a brief narrative, and finally positions himself as hierarchically superior to them. Finally, I suggest potential directions for further research into the sociological, philosophical, political and cultural implications of this uncommon persuasive strategy.

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“Let the World Know You Are Alive”: May Alcott Nieriker and Louisa May Alcott Confront Nineteenth-Century Ideas about Women’s Genius

This article examines the attitude of the nineteenth-century artist May Alcott Nieriker toward the concepts of talent and genius, two terms that were subject to debate and controversy among the Transcendentalists of her hometown of Concord, Massachusetts, especially as they applied to women. Her attitude differed from that of her elder sister, the writer, Louisa May Alcott, who had some reservations about the use of the word as applied to her literary efforts.

Nieriker (the model for the character of “Amy” in Little Women) embraced the term genius for women and eventually achieved success at the Paris Salon in 1877 and 1879. Nieriker’s last picture, La Négresse, is a rare, respectful treatment of a black subject. Nieriker’s choices in her life and work are evidence of her belief that women could reach creative fulfillment, even genius.

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Politics and Prophecy: Jordan Peterson’s Antidote to Modernity

One person’s prophet has always been another’s crackpot. Nowhere is this more obvious currently than with psychology professor turned public intellectual Jordan B. Peterson. Peterson has attained a large following online and is esteemed by centrist members of the American media. Yet few intellectuals are currently so reviled by younger leftists. This article argues for some conceptual and cultural-historical clarification of Peterson’s work. I suggest that Peterson and some (not all) of his leftist critics are actually on the same side of an effort to preserve the open-access order (the basic political-economic organization of the Western democracies). However, they focus on different problems endemic to such orders. While his critics focus on power imbalances and material inequalities, Peterson is a manifestation of the need to manage spiritual crisis while at the same time maintaining relative openness of access to political and economic institutions. Recurrent spiritual crisis, I argue, inheres in open-access orders. Because these orders depend on impersonality and value relativism, they provide no spiritual grounding for individuals. In open-access societies, spiritual crises get temporarily resolved by the development of ‘secular theodicies,’ modes of making sense of suffering in a world in which God is dead. Peterson is a purveyor of a secular theodicy, the contours and context of which are shown through consideration of Peterson’s writings and online videos.

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The Comic Vision of Saul Alinsky’s Community Organizing Tradition

In his time and since his death, Saul Alinsky (1909–1972) has cut a steady swath through American political culture. Given, though, that his name is invoked more frequently in partisan circles, his work and legacy is largely misunderstood. Alinsky was, and remains, a recognized provocateur against economic and political forces that upheld de jure and de facto discrimination: He took on powerful institutions like the University of Chicago, Mayor Daley’s Chicago machine politics system, the Eastman-Kodak corporation, and anybody else who stood in the way of a fuller realization of democratic principles. At his core, Alinsky was an educator who taught economically-disadvantaged Americans to confront systematic racism and classism and, most importantly, develop a set of public skills that allowed them to get what they deserved, namely, fair and decent housing, equitable pay, and basic city services. And, as I explain in this article, Alinsky did all this with a large dose of humor, irreverence, and ridicule toward authority figures.

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An Ecocritical Reading of Blood Meridian and Strange as This Weather Has Been

This article provides a postcolonial ecocritical perspective on modern American novels by relating and examining aspects of ecological and human violence in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian: The Evening Redness in the West (1985) and Anne Pancake’s Strange as This Weather Has Been (2007). While McCarthy represents examples of ethnic and racial violence and Pancake focuses on class violence, the two novelists articulate a particular awareness of the interconnections between economic and political hierarchies and different forms of ecological and human violence in different American contexts. The two novels, then, denounce the deterministic, colonial constructions of economy, power, and knowledge in modern societies on the one hand and the validation of antagonism and violence against otherness and difference on the other. Specifically examining daily experiences, psychological-mental challenges, and changes of the fifteen-years-old female teenager, Bant, in Strange as This Weather Has Been and the male teenager, the kid, in Blood Meridian, I will show how specific individuals and groups deconstruct deterministic, colonial constructions of patriarchy and violence through their ecological awareness. My analysis exposes that colonizing and colonized countries still suffer from discrepancies and contradictions of colonial culture and modern politics and ultimately reveals the limitations of white Americans’ freedom and equality within colonial and national frameworks. 

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