American Pragmatism

Hence, both American academia and the real world are reciprocally metaphorical of one another, in the sense that the chaos and cruelty of the real world have extended into the world of American academia, and then the chaos and cruelty of American academia is in turn reflected into the real world. The input of one into the other has led to the same outcome for both, namely, chaos and cruelty. The erection of admission barriers, getting stonewalled by individuals from a university twice, exorbitant costs, and the fact that foreign students have been getting the perks of an American education for decades while Americans themselves have been pushed into a populist corner all show that American academia can serve as a metaphor for the real world and vice versa. 

And in terms of the political consequences of this reciprocally metaphorical relation between American academia and the real world, Allan Bloom noted: “The apolitical character of the humanities, the habitual deformation or suppression of the political content in the classic literature, which should be part of a political education, left a void in the soul that could be filled with any politics, particularly the most vulgar, extreme and current.” 

As mentioned before, the alternative philosophical outlook in the academic world to the neoliberal cruelty and chaos which all of us have become accustomed to lately is known as “Pragmatism.” In turn, American pragmatism is more a byproduct and outcome of experience than anything else. Once a pragmatic outlook is garnered through experience, it then becomes a resolute and unshakeable method of rational inquiry for the rest of one’s life. There is also the issue of whether truly rational inquiry is borne out of philosophy or if philosophy is borne out of rational inquiry, which in turn is the “Chicken or the Egg” question at the heart of this method. And as William James noted: “The pragmatic method is primarily a method of settling metaphysical disputes (and notions) that otherwise might be interminable.” James added:

“The pragmatic method in such cases is to try to interpret each notion by tracing its respective practical consequences. What difference would it practically make to anyone if this notion rather than that notion were true? If no practical difference whatever can be traced, then the alternatives mean practically the same thing, and all dispute is idle. Whenever a dispute is serious, we ought to be able to show some practical difference that must follow from one side or the other’s being right.”

The ultimate aim of any method is to get to the truth, and the pragmatic method gets to the truth in a way by which the chaotic and cruel neoliberal method has been unable to achieve, namely, through the resolution of disputes in the public sphere which seem to have no end and have gotten out of hand. Also, another major difference between the pragmatic method of rational inquiry and intellectualism and the chaotic and cruel neoliberal method is that the pragmatic method which has first been validated by experience is then elucidated through action, whereas the neoliberal method gets the spotlight in places like the ‘Chatham House’ where armchair blabber and ivory tower thinking that is detached from reality are put on display in order to boost and inflate each other’s brittle egos.

As a result, pragmatism is about getting a sense of reality and truth through action and experience rather than monopolizing the public discourse and the public sphere in order to assert that one’s own beliefs and one’s selfish attempt to correspond one’s own narrow beliefs to a broad and complex reality are the basic standards for a legitimate notion of reality and truth which should then be imposed on others in an authoritarian manner through the monopolization of the public discourse and the public sphere. 

And as John Dewey noted, American pragmatism developed from the fact that America is “no longer a colony of any European nation nor of them all collectively. We are a new body and a new spirit in the world.” Pragmatism is not only a philosophical outlook and state of mind, but it is also a manifestation of true American culture and an American way of life which in theory should transcend racial and religious differences. As far as its importance as a method, it stems from the fact that pragmatism is “a method for bringing intelligence to bear on the problems of moral and social life and as an antidote to the often ‘unreflective and brutal’ individualism which pervades American life.”

Any resurrection of American pragmatism will occur as a result of the epochal and tectonic shift in world history itself, namely, the transition from a two-hundred or so year modern age to a postmodern age which has just begun and seems to have no end in sight. And as Cornel West argued, there are three basic and fundamental “historical processes” which underlie this seemingly eternal and infinite postmodern age. For one, the “European Age” is now over as a result of the “demystification” of European cultural hegemony for both political and social reasons. Second, the United States is now the most important place for the shaping of a Western public discourse and intellectual public sphere because of its economic clout, not Britain and Europe. And third, there is the issue of “decolonization” in the Third World and the rise of China. 

Arguably, these three “historical processes” which underlie our current age and epoch of world history will essentially serve as the “saving grace” for a “prophetic pragmatism” which has long been cruelly and chaotically repressed and suppressed in the Western public discourse and Western public sphere as a result of the standard and status quo neoliberal approach and method over the course of the last few decades.  

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