A Market-Driven Soulcraft

A recent report from Matthew Albright on Dr. Cornel West’s recent speech at University of Delaware, originally posted at The Delaware News Journal:

America is facing a “Westspiritual blackout” because of its obsession with money and must recommit to “soulcraft,” Cornel West preached to a crowd at the University of Delaware in Newark on Tuesday.

“A society ruled by big money, big banks, big corporations, the commodification of culture, the commercialization of our culture,” he fired off. “How do you talk about integrity in the face of that ubiquitous cupidity?”

West, a provocative Harvard professor and activist, gave a searing keynote address in the Clayton Hall auditorium that kicked off a four-day symposium called “Ecce Homo,”Latin for “This is a Human!” Through film screenings, lectures and panel discussions, the symposium will address human rights and dignity in both the present and the past.

West said the biggest threat to human dignity right now is that “we are living in an age of cupidity, the love of money.”

West bemoaned “pastors running churches like CEOs” and schools focused on “skills accusation to get you a cookie-cutter career.”

“A market-driven soulcraft cuts through every institution, every sphere, every site,” West said. “Young people have begun to see themselves as bundles of desires to be manipulated by markets, commandeered for profits.”

West is known not only for his scholarship at Harvard, Princeton and Yale, but for his activism, which has sometimes proved controversial. He was arrested in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, while participating in protests in the wake of the police shooting of Michael Brown.

The professor has also been a lightning rod because of his political commentary. In his speech Tuesday, he blasted both President Donald Trump and Barack Obama for wars, bombing campaigns and drone strikes, calling both Obama and predecessor George W. Bush “war criminals.” He said those who oppose Trump should not “fetishize him” and pin all of America’s injustices of him.

“Donald Trump is as American as apple pie,” West said. “He’s an expression, an articulation, an extension of so much of the worst of American’s past and present.”

West’s sermonlike speech ping-ponged throughout history, from Socrates to the Civil War to Martin Luther King Jr.

That was appropriate for the seminar he was kicking off, which will feature discussions of human rights ranging from Ancient Greece and Persia to the Holocaust to the present.

The goal is to learn lessons about human rights from that might be applied to current issues like the migrant and refugee crisis, conflict in the Middle East and upheaval in Latin America.

Annette Giesecke, chair of UD’s department of languages, literatures and cultures, organized the seminar, and summed it up as a series of questions: What sort of perils does a society evoke when it dismisses the concept of human dignity? What constitutes a violation of human rights? To what extent are societies ethically bound to defend them?

“These questions are likely as old as humanity itself, but at the same time they are very pressing,” Giesecke said.

Giesecke acknowledges that the symposium is unlikely to answer the questions, but argues it is important for humanity to wrestle with them.

“If we don’t ask hard questions, we’ll never get answers,” she said. “Humanity doesn’t move forward if it doesn’t imagine an ideal.”

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