News and brain candy for the philosophy community
I popped open my laptop after breakfast to catch up with the latest news. To no surprise, Donald Trump’s face was plastered all over Internet. This time Trump had posted a picture on social media, eating tacos from Trump Tower, wishing everyone a Happy Cinco de Mayo, and exclaiming that he loved “the Hispanics.” Seriously? How could someone so blatantly insensitive be a legitimate candidate for the office of the President of the United States?
Suppressing an overwhelming urge to post a nasty, personal comment on some website about this picture, I instead surfed over to a poetry site where I reread these profound lines from that most philosophical poet, T.S. Eliot, one of my favorites:
We are the hollow men/ We are the stuffed men/ Leaning together/ Headpiece filled with straw.
Alas! / Our dried voices, when/ We whisper together/ Are quiet and meaningless
Vowing to resist the mindless tide of angry Trump-related polemics, which has swamped any effort to restore even the most minimal rationality to the American political conversation, I decided to act appropriately (rationally), and begin this calm philosophical study of Donald Trump: What is his relationship to knowledge and language? What is the nature of his mind? What is his relationship to other persons qua moral agents?
Eliot’s verse certainly goes a long way to answering these questions: Trump is a Hollow Man, whose mind is filled with nothing but “meaningless”, dead clutter –no poetry, no wit, no knowledge, and no empathy for other persons. This taco stunt revealed not only his ignorance about Spanish culture—Spain and Latin America have a varied ,often European, non-Mexican cuisine—but a blatant willingness to crudely stereotype others that has become his trademark— a failure of empathy, or emotional intelligence. Trump helps us answer the fascinating philosophical riddle posed by Eliot’s opening lines: a mind can be “hollow” yet “stuffed”– that is filled with emptiness (lack of moral feelings, absence of knowledge etc.). Donald Trump is the abyss Nietzsche warned us against.
The one apparent trait described in Eliot’s profile of Hollow Men—they speak in “quiet” ”dried” voices like the elderly—that Trump does not seem to fit actually is appropriate. His trademark bellicose, bullying style masks his hollowness. George Orwell in 1984 captured the emptiness of this demagogic mind. The Orwellian dystopian state mixes political rallies filled with rage and bullying directed at crude political stereotypes, with a political language –Newspeak—that has been emptied of any references to “freedom” or “human rights.” (Significantly, Trump never refers to the language in the Declaration of Independence, or any other key historical document that defends freedom, though he has advocated torture, which is Big Brother’s standard operating procedure).
When I mull over of all of these traits, as well as that cringe-worthy, taco-related photo-op, I think immediately of another philosophical concept: Solipsism.
British philosopher, A.E. Taylor defined Solipsism as the doctrine in “which I have no certain knowledge of any existence except my own, everything else being a mere state or modification of myself.”
Though philosophers long ago refuted this theory—how can I communicate the theory of Solipsism to other minds if the latter are problematic?—“Solipsism” actually serves another important goal, namely as a conceptual framework useful to profile the emerging privatization of the self as a culturally, politically, and socially significant trend. What a privatized self/ solipsistic self is was described nicely in this blog about Donald Trump posted on Huffington Post—though the author does not use those terms:
[Donald Trump is an] “emptiness [filled] with a sound and fury meant to gratify his needs in the here and now,” … “others exist only as an extension of himself.”… [His] “behavior… “reflects the hollowness within… the humanity of others [being] of no concern.”
In this taco photo-op Trump is immersed only in his own consciousness; the independent humanity of his ‘Hispanic’ audience is problematic. In other words: a portrait of unsullied solipsism.
These are exactly the representative traits that I profile in my CrossCurrents essay as generally emblematic of the privatized Hollow Men, who lack empathy with the suffering of others, while dominating them for their own personal gratification and private ends. As I observe in this essay, such selves occupy every level of contemporary society. Donald Trump is not unique.
About the Author
Thomas White is an independent scholar, who has published essays, poetry and fiction , both in print and online journals, in Canada, United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. White is also the founder of the Takoma Park (MD) Socrates Cafe discussion group, facilitating from 2008 to 2013. He loves the Socratic adventure, and specializes in demonstrating the perennial relevance of philosophy to every aspect of the human condition.
Enjoy White’s CrossCurrents article, “The Hollow Men: Moral Evil as ‘Privatized Self’“ freely through June 30.
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