Smile Politely

Listen Up: November 3 – 9, 2008

There are so many opportunities to hear world-renowned experts speak on different topics every week in C-U, but it’s tough to figure out what’s happening when and where. “Listen Up” is a new feature where Smile Politely will highlight a few of the most interesting speakers, authors and panelists coming to Champaign-Urbana in a given week.

Monday, November 3 @ 4 p.m.: “In the Trails of the Historic Diaspora: Africa’s New Global Migrations and Diasporas,” Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, University of Illinois at Chicago History Professor, Third Floor, Levis Faculty Center, 919 W. Illinois Street, Urbana

Dr. Zeleza will be sharing some of his research on the dispersion of African peoples throughout the world. After the jump, a brief interview with Dr. Zeleza, as well as previews of three other speakers coming to campus this week.

Smile Politely: What new African diasporas do you discuss in your talk? Are you talking about “new” in the sense of the past decade, or a longer period that that? In some of your previous writings, I’ve seen you refer to the current diaspora in the context of a longer history, and just wanted to clarify?

Paul Tiyambe Zeleza: Yes, by new/contemporary diasporas I often refer to African diasporas formed since the construction of current African states towards the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century to distinguish them from the old/historic diasporas formed out the migrations of enslavement between the 15th and mid-19th centuries. In my talk I will be making allusions to the 20th century, but the primary focus of the presentation is on the diasporas formed out of the migrations since 1960, that is, the postcolonial period, in which both Africa and the world system entered a new era marked by decolonization and transformations in the age-old patterns and processes of globalization.

SP: How often are you able to return to Africa? Do you still have family there?

PTZ: I return to Africa at least three to four times a year, occasionally more, either to attend conferences or give public lectures, and also to visit with family including my parents and siblings and other relatives and occasionally for holiday.

SP: Your blog has some excellent political content. How optimistic are you going into the election about an Obama victory?

PTZ: I hope Senator Obama wins for the sake of this country’s domestic well being and international standing, both of which have been battered during the last eight years of the Bush Administration. Senator Obama has not only run a spectacular campaign that has been extraordinary in its discipline and capacity to inspire masses of people and raise loads of funds, notwithstanding all the predictable attacks during the fierce primary and presidential campaigns, his policies and leadership qualities, and the symbolic implications of electing the first black president offer the best hope for reversing course and moving the country in new positive directions. The changes promised by Senator Obama will probably not be as substantive or profound as most of his diehard supporters expect, but the Obama-Biden ticket is infinitely better than the alternative of the McCain-Palin team which is too scary to contemplate. I really believe this is a pivotal election, one of those truly watershed moments that will make a significant difference for this country and the world at large. Of course the elections aren’t over until they are over, so we will only know for sure Tuesday night who the victor is. But all the polls currently indicate Senator Obama will win, possibly by a large enough margin to effect a political realignment. I hope they are right!

Monday, November 3, 8–10 p.m.: Author Roundtable: Eva Illouz, Hebrew University of Jerusalem Professor, Levis Faculty Center Music Room

Illouz, author of Oprah Winfrey and the Glamour of Misery, among other treatises on the self-help culture, will take part in a roundtable discussion.

Tuesday, November 4, 3:30 p.m.: “Doug Blodgett – Restoring natural ecosystems along the Illinois River – the Emiquon story”, Doug Blogett, Nature Conservancy, I-Building Room 1005, 1816 S. Oak St., Champaign

Blodgett, whose headed up a huge cleanup of a section of the Illinois River near Peoria, will discuss aspects of that work.

Friday, November 7, 3–5 p.m.: Colloquium: “International Toleration and the Burdens of Judgment”, Michael Blake, University of Washington Philosophy Professor, 213 Gregory Hall

Dr. Blake was kind enough to answer a few questions about his presentation:

Smile Politely: What’s the difference between tolerance and toleration?

Michael Blake: I don’t think there is one — people tend to use them in the same way to refer to the same phenomenon: putting up with things that we otherwise find objectionable. The core of tolerance is the idea that I really disapprove of what you’re doing — I think I have good moral reasons for condemning it — and still go ahead and allow you to do it, even if I might somehow effectively stop you. It echoes back to the wars of religion, and the brutalities that come from insisting that politics will enforce one true faith. Now, we tend to think that we shouldn’t stop people from practicing their own religions even if we could get a majority together to prohibit their exercises of faith. So, I can think you’re really wrong, and likely to be damned because of your false religion – and still think you have a right to practice your abominable faith in this world, here and now. People tend to use tolerance and toleration interchangeably to refer to that phenomenon. Some people try to make one word mean something more specific than the other, but I think those people are largely just making things up.

SP: If you could break down a description of your talk to a couple of sentences, what would it be?

MB: It’s about why we ought to tolerate some illiberal regimes, and why. We tend to think that other countries have — within certain broad parameters — the right to be less democratic, less free, than we think we deserve to be here. What justifies that? Some other people have argued that we don’t have a right to condemn other states for their lack of democratic institutions, because other forms of government are just as legitimate as democracy. I think that’s wrong. I think we ought to think that we shouldn’t interfere blindly with other countries in the name of democracy, but for different reasons: one, that we usually make things worse when we intervene; and, two, that we should be very modest in how much we think we have the unique right to decide what democracy looks like. In the end, I endorse being very careful about throwing your weight around internationally, while trying at the same time to argue that we don’t have to give any principled respect to the idea that totalitarian regimes have a moral right to non-interference.

SP: How’s the political climate in Seattle these days? How would you describe the mood heading into the election?

MB: Seattle is a reliably liberal city situated next to much more conservative rural areas; the split between the two is pretty sharp. We know that Seattle’s greater population will ultimately decide where our electoral college votes go, and so we’re pretty sure that the state ultimately will count for Obama. So there’s not much of a sense of drama as far as our own state goes. We’re more interested in following the swing states elsewhere, and seeing how they’re leaning. I think people are more interested in the gubernatorial race, which is getting quite nasty.

If you know of a speaker coming to town that you’d like to highlight in this space, email me at [email protected].

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