decoding institutions

Today I presented at Tufts’ Science, Technology & Society lunch seminar series on how knowledge and power interrelate. My basic thesis was that knowledge is produced by institutions, which are fields of power. Assessing knowledge therefore requires analyzing institutions (not claims about facts by themselves).

The general model I am assuming works like this.

Actors can be individual people or (at larger scales) such entities as firms, bureaus, or even nations. They have goals; mental constructs such as philosophies, identities, or ideologies; and relations with each other.

They interact in an Action Space, such as a market, a democratic election, or a scholarly publication. Their interactions vary, but actors always make choices shaped by rules, norms, and goods.

A “norm” is a shared expectation that has a positive moral valence. For instance, Robert K. Merton’s CUDOS Norms for science are values that are widely expected. An actual “rule,” on the other hand, structures outcomes but may not have a positive moral valence. Merton also coined the phrase “Matthew Principle” for the general rule that, in science, the person who is already most famous gets the most credit. That rule conflicts with the CUDOS norm of Universalism.

Action Spaces affect, and are influenced by, biophysical conditions, general social circumstances (e.g., poverty), and other institutions.

The institution as a whole has Inputs and Outputs. Insofar as the institution involves knowledge, Inputs may include ideas, opinions, and knowledge-claims and it may produce new ideas, opinions, and knowledge-claims.

We can assess the whole process in terms of value criteria, such as justice. Such assessments not only influence institutions; they are also shaped by institutions. In fact, we don’t have information or values that we can use for assessment except for those that have emerged from institutions. The interaction is reciprocal.

Each element of the whole system is a target for power. To use Stephen Lukes’ Faces of Power framework: one “face” involves actors influencing other actors within an Action Space; a second “face” involves changing the rules of the Action Space; and a “third face” involves changing either norms or the actors’ mentalities, or both. But we could add many more “faces” as we consider each element in the diagram.

We rarely assess knowledge directly, because we are rarely in a position to have justified true beliefs all on our own. Instead, we must assess knowledge as the product of institutions. But that is not a relativist claim, because some institutions are better than others. Assessing the value of an institution requires taking it apart and assessing its components.

See also: adding democracy to Robert Merton’s CUDOS norms for science; is all truth scientific truth?; tools for the #resistance; and a template for analyzing an institution

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revisiting Against Deliberation in the age of Trump

In Introduction to Civic Studies, we recently discussed Lynn M. Sanders, “Against Deliberation,” Political Theory, June 1997 v.25 no. 3

Here are some illustrative arguments from her important piece:

“Appeals to deliberation, I will argue, have often been fraught with connotations of rationality, reserve, cautiousness, quietude, community, selflessness, and universalism, connotations which in fact probably undermine deliberation’s democratic claims.” (p. 2)

“Some citizens are better than others at articulating their arguments in rational, reasonable terms. Some citizens, then, appear already to be deliberating, and, given the tight link between democracy and deliberation, appear already to be acting democratically.” (p.2)

“Deliberation is a request for a certain kind of talk: rational, contained, and oriented to a shared problem” (p. 13). “Arguing that democratic discussion should be rational, moderate, and not selfish implicitly excludes public talk that is impassioned, extreme, and the product of particular interests. (p. 14)

“Prejudice and privilege do not emerge in deliberative settings as bad reasons, and they are not countered by good arguments. They are too sneaky, invisible, and pernicious for that reasonable process. So worrying about specifying what counts as a good argument, or trying to enhance reason-giving either via the formulation of better rules and procedures or by providing the time, money, and education necessary to become a responsible deliberative citizen, does not engage some of the most serious challenges to the possibility of achieving democratic deliberation. Some people might be ignored no matter how good their reasons are, no matter how skillfully they articulate them, and when this happens, democratic theory doesn’t have an answer, because one cannot counter a pernicious group dynamic with a good reason.” (p. 4)

I see these as serious concerns. Rose Marie Nierras and I found that many activists from the Global South felt them acutely. (Levine, Peter and Nierras, Rose Marie [2007] “Activists’ Views of Deliberation,” Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 3 : Iss. 1 , Article 4.)

But I also sense that the main problem has shifted, requiring a reevaluation of these arguments against deliberation.

It’s true that reason-giving can favor the privileged because they are good at it (or they can hire professional reason-givers, such as lawyers), and because they are basically OK with the social system in which reasons are exchanged.

But it is also a characteristic of privilege not to feel any compulsion to give reasons. It is the autocrat who says, “Because I said so.” Donald Trump is completely unwilling to give or hear reasons, and he may have developed that attitude as a result of extreme socio-economic privilege. His opponents and critics want reasons from him and are willing to give reasons for their demands.

Indeed, there is a long tradition of the people demanding reasons, and authoritarian elites trying to evade reason-giving. When we have that tradition in mind, it’s natural to equate deliberation with political equity. On the other hand, when we think about formal deliberative bodies within a stable but imperfect state–American juries, for example–we worry that deliberation and equity can conflict, because those with advantage prevail in such discussions.

As with many issues, Donald Trump reminds us of the positive case.

See also Habermas with a Whiff of Tear Gas: Nonviolent Campaigns and Deliberation in an Era of Authoritarianism; postmodernism and Trump;

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new chapter on Elinor Ostrom and Civic Studies

A newly published volume: Ostrom’s Tensions: Reexamining the Political Economy and Public Policy of Elinor C. Ostrom, edited by Paul Dragos Aligica, Peter J. Boettke, and Roberta Q. Herzberg.

I contribute a chapter entitled “’What Should We Do?’ The Bloomington School and the Citizen’s Core Question.”

I argue that Elinor Ostrom’s thought offers powerful resources for people who see themselves as active members of communities (“citizens”). I discuss her emphasis on means, not ends; her vantage point as a citizen, not a state; how she deals with value questions in policy; and her work as a complement to deliberative theory and non-violent social movement theory (Habermas and Gandhi).

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Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World, 1914-1948 by Ramachandra Guha

Guha’s biography is the essential work on Gandhi: much more detailed, better researched, and more persuasive than the earlier biographies that I know of. Volume Two, focusing on India, is 1,104 pages long but moves at a brisk pace. It’s detailed but never ponderous. The story is often suspenseful, even if you know how it will turn out in broad outlines. For example, just when all seems lost, Gandhi suddenly pulls off the Salt March. And the end of his life has the inexorability of a classical tragedy.

Guha generally proceeds chronologically, but now and then he pauses for an essay on a special topic, such as “Gandhi’s personal faith, his personal morality, as expressed in his words and actions in this decade of the 1920s.” The narrative is enlivened by numerous quotations from original documents, many never printed before. Along with Gandhi’s voice, we hear an amazing range of human beings who interacted with him or commented on him in one way or another, from Black American pastors to anarchists to the advertisers who used his silhouette as a brand.

One of the larger themes that emerged for me was Gandhi as polemicist. The Mahatma relished arguments, even though some of his opponents alienated and infuriated him. You could summarize his thought by capturing his long-lived debates with a few key rivals, especially B.R. Ambedkar and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. But he also sparred with many others.

For instance, I love to think of Margaret Sanger, the sex educator and popularizer of the phrase “birth control,” staying in Gandhi’s ashram and arguing with the celibate old man about first-wave feminism:

‘both seemed to be agreed that woman should be emancipated, that woman should be the arbiter of her destiny’. But whereas Mrs Sanger believed that contraceptives were the safest route to emancipation, Gandhi argued that women should resist their husbands, while men for their part should seek to curb ‘animal passion’. (p. 585)

Sanger was just one of scores of such visitors.

Guha is even-handed, judicious, and open-minded. Only at the end, in an epilogue on contemporary interpretations of Gandhi, does he emerge as a defender of his subject. By then, Guha has explored many flaws, errors, and vices, but he insists that Gandhi was far more complex and responsive than some of his critics have been. For instance:

[Arundhati Roy] presented Gandhi as a thoroughgoing apologist for caste, further arguing that this was in line with his views on race. Gandhi, she suggested, was casteist in India because he had been racist in South Africa. Roy claimed that Gandhi ‘feared and despised Africans’; this he certainly did in his twenties, but just as certainly did not in his forties and fifties. Reading Roy, one would not know that Gandhi decisively outgrew the racism of his youth, a fact that people of colour themselves acknowledged, and appreciated. … Roy has all of Ambedkar’s polemical zeal but none of his scholarship or sociological insight. … [She seeks] —by the technique of suppressio veri, suggestio falsi so beloved of ideologues down the ages—to prove a verdict they have arrived at beforehand.” (p. 876)

In contrast, Guha situates Gandhi in his time and cultural context, appreciates the Mahatma’s critics and opponents, explores his flaws and limitations (and occasional weirdness) at length, and paints a real-life portrait–which thereby emerges as a portrait of greatness.

Guha, Ramachandra. Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World, 1914-1948. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. See also: the question of sacrifice in politics (on Gandhi and Ambedkar); Gandhi versus Jinnah on means and ends; Gandhi on the primacy of means over ends; and notes on the metaphysics of Gandhi and King

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Event: The Role of Play in Human Evolution and Public Life: Work, or Play?

Please join us for this month’s Ludics Seminar at Harvard’s Mahindra Center to explore the role of play in human evolution and public life. Details are below:

Peter Gray, Boston College

Peter Levine, Tufts University

The Role of Play in Human Evolution and Public Life: Work, or Play?

Monday, October 28, 2019 – 6:00pm

Location TBA

PANEL SYNOPSIS

The Ludics Seminar, Mahindra Humanities Center, Harvard University will kick off its 2019-2020 series of talks with a panel discussion between Professor Peter Gray, Boston College, and Professor Peter Levine, Tufts University, on play and public life. Peter Gray will speak about his recent work on play and egalitarianism in hunter and gatherer cultures. Peter Levine will speak about Harry Boyte’s notion of public work, teasing out this binary between work and play in public life. If play is a corollary to egalitarianism as Peter Gray suggests, then why is the business of contributing to public life most often associated with work?

“The Role of Play in Human Evolution”
Peter Gray, Boston College
Humans are the only primate (apparently) that can live peacefully, or at least relatively so, in multi-male, multi-female social groups. From an evolutionary point of view, how did we manage that? I will suggest here, based on research among contemporary band hunter-gatherers, that we did it at least in part by expanding upon the general mammalian capacity for play and bringing it into adult social interactions.

“Civic Engagement as Public Work, or Play?”
Peter Levine, Tufts University
Often, acts of civic engagement are defined as acts that people undertake voluntarily without being paid, such as voting, protest, or discussing issues. The very definition of “volunteer service” is any work for other people that isn’t remunerated. This distinction between work and citizenship goes back to Aristotle. Harry Boyte and other proponents of “Public Work” have criticized it, arguing that it trivializes civic life by reducing it to after-work voluntarism and marginalizes the many ways that paid, employed people contribute to public spaces and institutions. The democracy of ancient Athens was not just a discussion among gentlemen; it was also a set of physical spaces–like the Pnyx, where discussions occurred–that people had built with their hands. However, we are not just public workers and artisans in the common world; we also like to play. We are homo ludens as well as homo faber. Designing civic engagement to be more play-like or game-like has been shown to make it more attractive and productive. So how should we think about the relationship between work and play in the civic domain? And what may happen to that relationship if work disappears for many human beings while opportunities for play expand?

BIOS
Peter Gray is a research professor of psychology at Boston College who has conducted and published research in neuroendocrinology, developmental psychology, anthropology, and education. He is author of an internationally acclaimed introductory psychology textbook (Psychology, Worth Publishers, now in its 8th edition, co-authored with David Bjorklund), which views all of psychology from an evolutionary perspective. His recent research focuses on the role of play in human evolution and how children educate themselves, through play and exploration, when they are free to do so. He has expanded on these ideas in his book, Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life (Basic Books). He also authors a regular blog called Freedom to Learn, for Psychology Today magazine. He is a founding member and president of the nonprofit Alliance for Self-Directed Education (ASDE), which is aimed at creating a world in which children’s natural ways of learning are facilitated rather than suppressed. He is also a founding board director of the nonprofit Let Grow, the mission of which is to renew children’s freedom to play and explore outdoors, independently of adults. He earned his undergraduate degree at Columbia College and Ph.D. in biological sciences at the Rockefeller University many years ago. His own current play includes kayaking, long-distance bicycling, backwoods skiing, and vegetable gardening.

Peter Levine is the Academic Dean and Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs in Tufts University’s Jonathan Tisch College of Civic Life. He has tenure in Tufts’ Political Science Department, and he also has secondary appointments in the Tufts Philosophy Department and the Tufts Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute. He directs the Civic Studies Major at Tufts. Levine graduated from Yale in 1989 with a degree in philosophy. He studied philosophy at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, receiving his doctorate in 1992. From 1991 until 1993, he was a research associate at Common Cause. From 1993-2008, he was a member of the Institute for Philosophy & Public Policy in the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. During the late 1990s, he was also Deputy Director of the National Commission on Civic Renewal. Levine was the founding deputy director (2001-6) and then the second director (2006-15) of Tisch College’s CIRCLE, The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
Levine is the author of We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: The Promise of Civic Renewal in America (Oxford University Press, 2013), five other scholarly books on philosophy and politics, and a novel. He has served on the boards or steering committees of AmericaSpeaks, Street Law Inc., the Newspaper Association of America Foundation, the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, Discovering Justice, the Kettering Foundation, the American Bar Association’s Committee for Public Education, the Paul J. Aicher Foundation, and the Deliberative Democracy Consortium.

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the “America in One Room” experiment

On the New York Times op-ed page today, James Fishkin and Larry Diamond report the results of convening 523 randomly selected registered voters for several days of deliberation. These voters were surveyed before and after the discussions. Their appraisal of democracy rose markedly. They also shifted their views in specific ways:

The most polarizing proposals, whether from the left or the right, generally lost support, and a number of more centrist proposals moved to the foreground. Crucially, proposals further to the right typically lost support from Republicans and proposals further to the left typically lost support from Democrats.

I have known Jim Fishkin and his work for 20 years and admire it a lot. These experiments are illuminating, and they open possibilities for reform. They also remind us that the politics we see around is the outcome of specific institutional arrangements that could be changed. For instance, we are not hard-wired to fall into two partisan camps; that is a feature of our electoral system. If we were randomly recruited into deliberative bodies, we would see very different results. If we can change something, we should consider changing it.

But I do have some worries:

  • Does the shift to moderate opinions demonstrate that deliberation is desirable? It could also be interpreted as a bias: putting people together in heterogeneous groups disadvantages the radicals and their ideas. I try to challenge myself by seriously engaging several opposing political movements with which I disagree. That is my own approach to deliberation, and it could be considered a form of moderation. But I don’t find myself shifting to centrist positions, many of which I find thin gruel and incommensurate to our problems.
  • What is the overall theory of change? If we like this alternative form of politics–much more deliberative, and also more moderate, than the status quo–how should we institutionalize it? The easy part is to invent policies that would make democratic deliberation mandatory. The hard part is figuring out who would fight for those policies, and why. More people are motivated by political agendas and identities than by procedural ideals, and especially procedures that favor the center.
  • What about people who are not invited to deliberate, or who don’t like the results of the deliberation? Do we see them as worse qualified to express themselves?
  • Is this experiment a form of civic education that teaches people to value interactions that are civil, professionally organized, calm, and “invited”–thereby implicitly devaluing such forms of politics as social movements, strikes, competitive elections, and litigation? If that is the lesson, is it an acceptable one?

See also: John Gaventa on invited and claimed participation; civic engagement and the incarceration crisis; saving relational politics; why study real-life deliberation?

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why I am optimistic about the impeachment process

I find myself less anxious than most friends and commentators. Here are my largely sanguine responses to several current concerns about the impeachment process:

It’s a mistake to focus on one specific scandal. Congress should persuade the American people to condemn a whole pattern of corruption in the administration. (See David Atkins, for example).

Congress can focus on one or two articles of impeachment in order to handle those charges well. (The best current guess is that the articles will involve: 1. Trump’s interaction with Ukraine, and 2. the administration’s obstruction of Congress across many issues.) Meanwhile, the press, presidential candidates, pundits, social movements, and regular citizens will inevitably conduct a wider inquiry and debate. I don’t think the big picture will be lost just because the articles in Congress are precise and narrow.

The Ukraine story also implicates Hunter Biden, and hence (in some way) Joe Biden. That either means that it’s a poor choice of a scandal for the Democrats to use in an election year, or that it’s bad for the public, because both parties will end up defending crony capitalism.

Joe Biden has an opportunity to make a case that he is truly blameless in the Ukraine matter. If he is persuasive, fine. If he fails to persuade, then it’s better that he should fail now, rather than during the general election. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren has every incentive to broaden the issue to encompass crony capitalism writ large. Her voice (and others’, too) will ensure that the whole Democratic Party is not soft on corruption.

Impeachment will drown out the Democratic primary campaign, overwhelming an important debate about our future.

During the primary season, a party wants its own faithful to pay attention to the rival proposals, critiques, counter-arguments, endorsements, gaffes, etc. It’s generally fine if other voters pay little attention until a nominee emerges to address the whole public. With vast attendance at primary campaign events and a lively debate online, there is little chance that core Democratic voters will tune out the primary. The intended audience is paying attention.

The impeachment debate will arbitrarily affect the outcome of the Democratic primary.

If it takes Joe Biden down, he was doomed anyway. If he turns it to his advantage, it will reinforce his best argument: his electability. If Warren benefits because she makes the sharpest critique of corruption–well, she is raising a real issue. And if someone else (say, Kamala Harris during a Senate trial) uses the impeachment effectively, it’s evidence of that candidate’s skill.

The Speaker seems to want a short, narrow impeachment process. That will not persuade the American people of the deeper problems with Trump. Pelosi is resigned to an unpopular process and doesn’t understand that impeachment hearings could change Americans’ opinions.

Don’t take what Speaker Pelosi says precisely at face value. I’m not saying that she’s lying; she would genuinely prefer a shorter and tighter process. But she knows that impeachment is likely to extend and expand. She wants unconvinced voters to believe that Democrats are trying to make this quick so that they can move onto other matters. She is also putting mild pressure on her caucus to move things along. I would be very surprised if things actually do wrap up by Thanksgiving, or if she believes that they will.

(By the way, I am continually surprised by strong partisans’ assumption that when someone on their side says something conciliatory about the other side, that person really means it. Do you really think Nancy Pelosi’s main reaction to this situation is to be “heartbroken and prayerful,” as she told ABC News? Are you sure Joe Biden actually believes the Senate Republicans are reasonable? It is not only the other side that sometimes doesn’t say exactly what they think.)

The Senate will acquit, Trump will survive, and as a result, not only will impeachment be further weakened as a tool for accountability, but Trump’s electoral prospects will improve.

Yes, the Senate is overwhelmingly likely to acquit, and Trump will still hold office on Election Day in 2020. But the American people should by then have a clear account of his criminality, which should weigh, at least mildly, against his reelection prospects. That is a sanction. Subsequently, he may face a federal jury on related charges.

If anything, I would have some qualms about actually removing him less than a year before the election. Who would the GOP nominate? What kind of mandate would a Democratic president hold? My ideal outcome might be for the House to impeach, a majority of US Senators to vote to remove Trump, for him to hang on because fewer than 67 Senators voted against him, and for the American people to finish the job in November.

Impeachment creates (at best) a tough vote for Democrats in districts that voted for Trump. Why “punish” the president by giving his party a boost in the congressional election?

This matter has received vast amounts of attention. My tentative takeaway is that any electoral impact will be small and may be a wash–a few Democrats losing in conservative districts and states (like Alabama), but a few Republican Senators facing very tough votes as a result of impeachment. There is a long tail of possible outcomes in either direction, but the best bet is a limited effect.

It’s a mistake to give many House committees a role in impeachment. One committee should handle it.

Pelosi is trying to build support by giving several leaders and groupings within her caucus a stake. Also, one of the articles is likely to be obstruction, and the Administration has obstructed several committees.

The Democrats grandstand amateurishly in hearings. They don’t know how to cross-examine and build a case.

True. And there’s a reason for it: individual politicians want to talk on camera, even though the inquiry would be much better handled by professional counsel. This problem is worth worrying about, but surely the Democrats will finally get it together now ….?

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only in America!

When informed that the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Ireland, was Jewish, Yogi Berra exclaimed, “Only in America!”

I was in the jury pool in Middlesex County, Mass. a couple of weeks ago. Of the dozen cases before the court that morning, 11 were settled with pleas, and one proceeded to a bench trial because the defendant waived his right to a jury.

The judge came out to thank us for our service, explaining well that our presence in the jury chamber was a reminder to both sides that they could face a panel of citizens. Warming to his theme, he informed us that only in the United States do we have a right to a trial by jury.

Actually, the number of countries in which juries play important roles is about fifty. Even in the USA, we have juries because England has required them since 1215. Some seminal American jury trials took place while Massachusetts was still a British colony: the libel case against John Peter Zenger, the Boston Massacre Trials.

The jury pool in a diverse American city is a beautiful thing: people come together from all walks of life and all nations of the earth to deliberate as equals. The instructional video was appropriately inspirational, showing diverse Massachusetts citizens at work as jurors. In the video, they even wear varied costumes in the jury box: a guy in a hardhat, an athlete in uniform, etc. It’s a symbol of equity + diversity.

But why the impulse to defend democratic and liberal institutions as unique to the USA? The most common claim of this type is that we are uniquely a nation of immigrants. By my calculation, the US ranks 67th in the world in the percentage of its people who were born overseas, just behind Germany and far behind the republic just to our north (which also uses juries).

Can’t something be good even if it also happens in other countries? What anxiety underlies this urge to claim exceptionalism? Could it be in the back of the judge’s mind that the US ranks below all comparable countries in both public safety and incarceration?

If patriotism depends on the empirical claim that we perform better than everyone else, it is a thin reed. One response is to assume that our form of government is literally unique: only in America! Then no empirical comparisons are needed. But that’s not a viable response, because often many other countries do the same thing. The right response is to be proud of the good things–like jury trials in Massachusetts–and to work to change the bad things (like racial bias in Massachusetts’ criminal justice). That is patriotism that isn’t contingent on exceptionalism.

See also: American exceptionalism and anxieties about American exceptionalism.

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community engagement and student success in college

You can now get the recording and associated slides for the AAC&U webinar entitled “The Confounding Promise of Community: Why It Matters More Than Ever for Student Success.” I was a bit of an outlier because I talked about college students’ learning in social movements, taking as my text a 1961 article by Martin Luther King, Jr. on that topic. My comments were based on my article, “Another Time for Freedom? Lessons from the Civil Rights Era for Today’s Campuses.” For me, “community” meant social movements that may target institutions for change.

The excellent other presenters mainly discussed projects that are based in their colleges and engage the communities around them: Ventura County, CA, San Diego, Newark, NJ, and Queens, NY. I thought they demonstrated that their institutions are components (or even “anchors”) of those communities. So instead of saying that their students “go into” communities, we might conclude that their students belong to communities and learn beyond the classroom.

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for Irina

Little Irina Antonovna, six,
Took it upon herself to write to her aunt,
Laboriously addressing it to:
"Region of Petrograd, Max Heltz factory."

Why did she write this letter? Well, her father:
Ten years in the camps for being a scholar,
Dead by now. Her mother: dead. Neighborhood:
Wall fragments, smoke, equipment shards, Nazi bombs.
Grandfather: died of rickets while walking
Irina to safety. Grandmother: same.

The letter worked; Irina lived. Married
Dmitri, who never asked her opinions,
But did write Number Nine for her and maybe
Heard her when he wrote the gentle cello drone
That supports the opening. Or the polka--
Why couldn't that frenzied part be Irina?
Why assume she was always soft, helpful?

A young, diverse American quartet
Exhumes Dmitri and Irina for us,
His black notes crisp on their iPads, their bows
Vibrating like cicadas, their eyes flashing
Recognition, assent: one to the other.

They are pillowed in layers of safety.
A clean, bright stage, a tidy concert hall,
An audience that has heard it before
And knows just when to leap up for applause:
White-haired burghers of this college and town.

Irina's professor father would have fit
Right in, if he hadn't been starved or shot.
Little Irina would have liked to hide
Beneath that concert grand, so solidly framed.
A campus cop waits, unworried, outside.

This place is not real. What's real is in the notes.
They know starvation, midnight knocks on doors,
Cities murdered from the sky, orphans' fears,
They know, too, the terrors of the audience,
Shrunken in their seats, nervous to drive home.

Phones still ring with sad news; death sentences
Come in biopsy results. And beyond this room
A billion new Irinas plead to be spared.

See Stephen Harris, “Quartet Number Nine,” “Interview of Irina Shostakovich by Alexandre Brussilovsky,” and also “voices,” and “a poem should.”

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