JP Singh - Ethics Matter, Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs
Journalist Randall Pinkston interviews Professor JP Singh on the Ethics Matter, a program of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.
RANDALL PINKSTON: Hello. I'm Randall Pinkston. Welcome to Ethics Matter, a program of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.
Our guest today is Professor J. P. Singh, the chair of culture and political economy and director of the Institute for International Cultural Relations at the University of Edinburgh. Did I get all of that?
J. P. SINGH: You did. Thank you for having me here.
RANDALL PINKSTON: You've published dozens of scholarly articles, edited three books, and you've written several books yourself. The most recent is Sweet Talk: Paternalism and Collective Action in North-South Trade Negotiations. Welcome to Ethics Matter, Professor Singh.
J. P. SINGH: Thank you.
RANDALL PINKSTON: Before we talk about the details of the institute at Edinburgh and your book, I'd like for you just to take a few minutes to get our audience oriented to what you mean when you talk about cultural studies. It is a relatively new discipline in academia, is it not?
J. P. SINGH: Right. For a long time we ignored cultural issues, except for a few academics who focused—anthropologists, for example. What the anthropologists were trying to investigate were ways of life. That's what an anthropological understanding of culture is. But political scientists, economists, and many other social scientists didn't go near that. Perhaps the reason that is often brought up is because of what happened during the Nazi era, that culture got mixed with a particular type of political economy. So culture was sort of laid aside.
Since the 1980s, perhaps as a result of social movements which began to focus on cultural identity issues and the impetus that was building up toward culture, culture has made its way back into the social sciences. People like me, who work on the intersection of culture and other social sciences—in my case, culture and political economy—what we are looking at are those ways of life and the symbolic representations of those ways of life and as they then bleed over into our politics and our economics.
So I focus a lot on cultural relations. What I am interested in is the ways that communities interact with each other given their understandings of themselves as to who they are—because that's what culture is: "Who am I?" Then, depending on who I am and what the power equations might be in terms of telling me who I am, I would have my set of symbolic representations, which could include museum displays, films, and especially popular culture.
RANDALL PINKSTON: When you talk about "who am I?" are you talking about a collective I, that is to say a nation-state; or are you talking about individuals; are you talking about clubs?
J. P. SINGH: All of the above in terms of what you said. But one thing which is very important is that when we're talking of culture we are talking about a we-ness of culture. It has to be a collective. So one could speak of a libertarian culture, but the cultural aspect of their libertarianism would be that all the members of that entity want to be left alone and are individualistic in their value systems. But being a culture of one would be hard.
RANDALL PINKSTON: In terms of the symbolism that indicates or defines a culture—I'm thinking you and I both have some experience with my home state, you as a professor at the University of Mississippi and me having lived there much of my life—I'm thinking about the flag. Is that a symbolic representation of a cultural identity for some people?
J. P. SINGH: Absolutely, yes.
RANDALL PINKSTON: The flag of course was very controversial. It contains, within the state flag, the Confederate flag.
J. P. SINGH: Right. Also, when we say symbolic representations, they don't stay constant in time. The myths around the rebel flag, which came up when—and I was there at the University of Mississippi in the early 1990s when this issue really began to blow up—some of those myths have to do with the way that culture anywhere around the world gets constructed, that people start to speak of an originary myth, that this is what it was supposed to cater to, and then there is usually opposition to what it was supposed to cater to or what it wasn't.
I think where cultural relations comes in oftentimes is to point out the context of that. In the case of the rebel flag, it was that it was unused for a very long time. It was only during the Civil Rights Movement that all of a sudden it got resurrected and came back.
RANDALL PINKSTON: I should clarify for those people who don't know. My reference to the state flag and the rebel flag within it is different from the discussion that occurred on the campus of Ole Miss back in the 1990s when the chancellor at the time—Robert Khayat I believe—decided that the students would no longer be allowed to wave the "battle flag" at football games and other sporting events, so he said "no more," and some people, I understand, wanted to fire him on the spot, or do worse.
J. P. SINGH: Right. Yes. It just goes to show how important symbolic representations are for people, good or bad. It is just that once those rituals and those symbols are there, people feel tied to them, as we should. July 4th is a symbolic representation, and I can imagine how a whole set of people would be upset if somebody said, "You're not going to be able to have hamburgers on July 4th." So in that sense one can understand it.
But that's not the same thing as what that symbol means to people. I'll give you a very different example. Gandhi told his followers not to protest on Sundays because he said the British would be in church and they would have to come out of church to arrest them. He said, "Please wait until they have stopped praying and then protest." That speaks to a very different way of handling symbolic politics than saying "I'm going to wave this flag because this is what it means to me." I understand that.
RANDALL PINKSTON: So within Gandhi's protest there was compromise of a sort, or an accommodation?
J. P. SINGH: Or principle, I think. Also accommodation and principle, saying it's not about the British, it's not about destroying them; it's about them understanding. And you see how that shows up in Martin Luther Kingand others as well in the Civil Rights Movement, in that the conduct itself has to be principled in standing up to what might be an oppressive practice.
RANDALL PINKSTON: Last year in America there were some cultural clashes surrounding the political campaign for president. How would your studies analyze what happened in America compared to what happened with Brexit in the United Kingdom? What's the interplay there?
J. P. SINGH: I think where I would connect it back to the conversation we've been having is that any time any person's cultural ritual or symbol gets threatened, that is going to produce anxiety. We don't like our neighborhoods to change.
I think of my mother, for example, as a really open, courageous person. But every now and then, she will say, "You know, I'm 84 years old and I'm not going to change." But I think we all say that: "I'm 300 years old and this is how it is, and I'm not going to change."
The flip side of that is an enormous amount of cultural anxiety we feel when things begin to change around us. We get these cultural politics in the United States and the United Kingdom. It's not the same as 1930s Germany, for example, where there was an enormous amount of cultural anxiety but we could relate it back to Germany having had a very hard economic time. By all indicators the U.S. economy is flourishing and was flourishing—if not flourishing, it was highly stabilized in 2016, more than it had been, say, in 2008 or 2009. So we get a whole lot of people with a whole lot of cultural anxiety which we can tie to economics, in that there were a lot of political leaders saying, "Oh, we're just not doing well."
But I think at some basic level people knew that unemployment rates were way below where they were earlier. So the question is: Where did it come from?
RANDALL PINKSTON: Yes. What is your assessment?
J. P. SINGH: I think we live in a world where we are open to the world. You open up your Facebook page and you're confronted with different points of view and different pictures that you may not have experienced before. I think this is not the 1950s where you open up The New York Times and all of a sudden you see one picture from the Sudan about the famine. Now all of a sudden you are seeing pictures of migrants, of refugees, of governments around the world, people—
RANDALL PINKSTON: And of attacks where people are killed in theaters and restaurants.
J. P. SINGH: Exactly. And so you live in this maelstrom of cultural images. The equivalent of my mother's "I'm 84 years old and I'm not going to change" is to then find like-minded people. Fortunately or unfortunately, that is also easy to do with technology. It's what we researchers would call homophily effects and stovepiping effects. I can go out and find 1 million people just like me who say: "Let's build a wall, let's keep these images out, let's keep these sets of peoples out, because then we can return to that same mythological originary way of life."
RANDALL PINKSTON: I don't want to get too political with our conversation, but is there any connection at all to the phrase that became part of the candidate who won, "Make America Great Again"? What did that really mean in terms of how his supporters identified themselves culturally and the kind of anxieties that they were expressing?
J. P. SINGH: I would say that culture is about myth-making. We need myths. We need the myths of the hero; we need our religious myths; we need our fictional myths. We need all sorts of myths. The American myth has been that of greatness. It is a heroic myth of a conquering hero goes out. It's not very different from the Greek myths or the myths in the India, Mahabharata, etc. In order to convince people that you needed this person, you had to first convince people that they weren't great.
RANDALL PINKSTON: Which is sort of counterintuitive based on what you were just saying about the economy, about—well, forget the stock market. My goodness. It's going up still, but it was going up before the election.
J. P. SINGH: That's probably the story that historians will be analyzing forever. As I said earlier, this is not the 1930s. It is not easy to turn around and say, "Look at the humiliation that Germany had suffered after World War I."
RANDALL PINKSTON: America has not suffered.
J. P. SINGH: We had not. But the discourse at times was similar. Nobody said "we're humiliated," but they said, "Look what's become of us. We used to be great, and here we are now."
RANDALL PINKSTON: But what were the indicators that people were using to make that assertion?
J. P. SINGH: Exactly the ones that we were talking about. When you look at what they were talking about, they were talking about, "Our borders have been opened and people have come in and threatened our way of life." So the two that came up over and over again were: one, our neighbor to the south of us, Mexico, and the things that were said about Mexico; and the other one was our neighbor in religion, from the very same place that Christianity arose, Islam.
And if one goes back and starts to look at, not just the fact that we are all human, but just the geographical contiguity of people next to each other, knowing each other—Christianity and Islam, born of the same place; and Mexico and the United States, born of the same land—you would think that there wouldn't be any cultural differences. But I think that is where our technologies have played a role, our media have played a role, various kinds of media, and our anxiety I think. As researchers, I think cultural relations and cultural studies have come forth to speak of these globalization anxieties that people are feeling.
I would say, since you mentioned cultural studies, that a lot of people from cultural studies have said, "This didn't have anything to do with culture; this had to do with class." That is going to be an unending debate, too, that the shift of the white worker from voting for a very different president eight years ago and four years ago to now voting for Trump signaled that that was the class of people that wasn't doing well.
For me, as a researcher, that leaves too many unanswered questions as to why still the defection was race-based. Why not the other workers?
RANDALL PINKSTON: Of course, some early analysis of the voting results have pointed to the fact that a lot of people who voted in 2008 and 2012 did not vote in 2016 and, theoretically or likely, those voters would have voted Democratic had they gone to the polls. But as you say, for another time, for the researchers.
In announcing the continuation of your Institute for Cultural Relations, you wrote, "It is time to defend the liberal world order from the threat of fragmentation" and you track the development of this world order from World War II. Give me some examples of what we now refer to as the "liberal world order" and then tell me how you see it coming apart.
J. P. SINGH: That is the Liberal world order—with the big L—of Enlightenment, a very Western concept, with the idea being that if we talk to each other, we will learn about each other's ways of life and we will get along. It is a very idealistic point of view, that if I have neighbors who are different from me and if I baked cookies and we started to talk on our lawn, that there would be no borders; there would be understanding.
It is the kind of Liberal world order that people from the Scottish Enlightenment believed in—David Hume, Adam Smith. Adam Smith was talking about his pin factory and saying, "If you have one person making pins, you are going to get a few pins at the end of the day. But if you have eight people who specialize, they would make boxes and boxes of pins because they can specialize in different tasks." And he talked about how it is not the benevolence of the butcher or the brewer but through regard to their self-interest that we get our meat and wine. As liberal thinkers, what they were thinking was that it is not that when we talk with each other we lay aside our personal selves, but that there is a greater good that comes out of this, and that greater good could be what Rousseau would have called the "general will," the idea of a society which then has a polity and believes in that.
The birth of democracy is in that form of liberalism. Whether you were a Hamiltonian or a Jeffersonian, whether you were pro-Europe or anti-Europe, at the heart of it was: how do we get a political order based on us interacting with each other?
What I mean by defending the liberal world order is a liberal world order where we are talking with each other. Because a world which is separated by walls and borders, where we are not allowed to talk to each other, or that we have self-selected into groups where we are just not going to have a conversation, goes against what de Tocqueville was noticing about America, that neighbors talk to neighbors here. That is what he noticed, coming from France, which is a hierarchical society.
RANDALL PINKSTON: That kind of separation automatically leads to conflict, doesn't it?
J. P. SINGH: Yes. That is the liberal belief, that it would.
Now, there are other points of view. Somebody from the left would say, "You can talk as much as you want, but unless your material wants are satisfied, if you are poor, it is not going to happen." A liberal answer to that would be, "Yes, the very rich and the very poor are not going to talk about democracy much." But that is where we are having the discussion. Ostensibly, in the United States we do have that healthy middle. The median voter for Trump was close to $70,000. That is a healthy middle.
Then you wonder: Why do we get these divisive politics when we have a healthy middle? So something else is going on about these liberal processes, and so the liberal order is at stake here, which is what I was referring to in the article from the Scottish newspaper that you were quoting.
RANDALL PINKSTON: So then, how do you begin to set up a way of measuring the causes behind the fragmentation? What kind of metrics do you use? What kind of questions do you ask?
J. P. SINGH: Good question. Off the top of my head, there are a couple of things that we've been doing already. One is to actually go back and speak to how we had processes that produce the kind of democracy that was healthy and produced prosperity for people. Whether it is surveys speaking to types of democracy, types of prosperity, the effects that they have on people, I think we need those, because it may be that we've forgotten some of those earlier surveys.
I'll give you an example of something that we did for my institute: The British consul wanted to see the effects of soft power, because we speak a lot to how countries can be very attractive, but oftentimes we mix in the causes and the effects. So we've done a study, mostly statistical, looking at what might get constituted as soft-power resources—the health of a democracy, the prosperity of a country, its cultural institutions—to then try to measure what effect they might have.
The kinds of things we looked at were the number of international students coming in, number of tourists coming in, foreign direct investment in the country, or its political influence. What we found from the study, which would be a very useful antidotal moment to, say, Brexit, of the kinds of divisive cultural politics, is that countries which have healthy pluralism, countries which are relatively prosperous and have open transparent cultural institutions are much more likely to attract foreign direct investment, have global political influence, have international students come to their country, and tourists come to their country, than otherwise.
Anecdotally I would say that there is now evidence coming out that the number of tourists to the United States has declined in the last couple of months and that we are finding stories of people who don't want to travel.
RANDALL PINKSTON: Anecdotally do we know why there has been a drop?
J. P. SINGH: Ostensibly what these stories are hinting at is that the politics of the country are changing.
RANDALL PINKSTON: The travel ban?
J. P. SINGH: Right. It could be not just the travel ban; it could be that they don't want to go there.
I was just at the International Studies Association in Baltimore in February 2017, and there was great concern that researchers from those seven countries couldn't be in Baltimore. But there were others also who boycotted. There was a person on my panel from the University of East Anglia, and she said, "I grew up in apartheid South Africa and I am not going to participate." So we brought her in by Skype. And there were many others who stayed away. I know of another faculty member who is from Morocco, which is not one of the seven banned states, and he also decided not to come.
I read a story today in The New York Times—I am of Indian origin. It was about Indians saying they're not going to come study in the United States because of what happened in Kansas, where a person of Indian origin was shot in a bar with the assailant saying, "Get out of my country." These are the stories that also circulate now in the world.
So we need to do studies to say, "What are the kinds of circumstances under which a tourist, a student, a foreign direct investment person, would come and say, 'this is a safe place for me to come to'?"
RANDALL PINKSTON: That incident that you mentioned, it had all to do with the shooter's mistaken belief that the person was of a certain religious belief, which was not the case at all anyway. Basically he shot the person based on appearance.
J. P. SINGH: And even if he was—
RANDALL PINKSTON: And even if he was, that's no reason to, yes.
J. P. SINGH: I think your original question there was about what can you do from the institute. One is studies like that.
I think the other thing that institutes of international cultural relations can do—and which is where I think a large part of my institute's agenda is going to be—is to do an exhumation of when we had these liberal values, why didn't they work out? If they were so great, then why do we find ourselves in the middle of the second decade of the 21st century, when we thought we had gotten past, why are we back to that moment where the politics culturally has become so divisive? So what happened?
One of the ways I think we can do that is by perhaps questioning where the earlier values came from. Were they values born of everyday interactions—I think that was what de Tocqueville was referring to when he said "neighbors talk to neighbors"—or were they values which were dictated on from high and perhaps didn't trickle down as well as we thought they had?
RANDALL PINKSTON: That of course means that you need a leader who will believe in those values and transmit them, in the case of a politician, to the voters.
J. P. SINGH: It can.
RANDALL PINKSTON: If it's from on high, that is to say.
J. P. SINGH: Right. I think that's how we did it in the past, that we had leaders who propagated a certain set of values. Fortunately for us, they tended to be the sort of universal values of brotherhood and universal values of sisterhood, universal values of humanity. So we came up with a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
At the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) they had a World Heritage Program. It wasn't going to be "somebody's" symbol; it was going to be the world's symbol. So the Taj Mahal was no longer just a place in India; it was humanity's heritage. So we espoused a set of universal values.
The United States, by the way, in terms of UNESCO, stood aside because we had the sense of "wouldn't it become the UN symbol? This is an American symbol." And so we hesitated to join bodies like UNESCO for that very reason, that somehow we would be giving away our heritage.
RANDALL PINKSTON: Even though the liberal order is in part what brought the League of Nations and then the United Nations into being, correct?
J. P. SINGH: Exactly.
RANDALL PINKSTON: Supported by American leaders of that era.
J. P. SINGH: Exactly. We wouldn't have had a United Nations were it not for the United States. The conference started in Dumbarton Oaks, next door to now what is the White House, in some ways and it ended in San Francisco.
UNESCO's preamble begins with, "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed." Those lines came from the U.S. Poet Laureate Archibald MacLeish. Clement Atlee, who was the prime minister of Britain at that time, borrowed Archibald MacLeish's words. So even UNESCO's preamble, the most famous words that anybody in UNESCO can recite, came from the United States, from a poet right here.
RANDALL PINKSTON: Let's turn for a minute, if you don't mind, to your book Sweet Talk: Paternalism and Collective Action in North-South Trade Relations. That work is focused on trade relations between what we generally refer to as the industrialized nations of the world—although "industrialized" is sort of a passé term now, isn't it; we're beyond the industrial era, aren't we?—into the so-called "developing" nations where the natural resources are gathered, harvested, and sent to the North for development.
What prompted your interest in that relationship, and how does cultural relations inform what you think should happen between those two?
J. P. SINGH: As a researcher, I was trained to look at particular things, our political events, and then ask myself the question "What is this an example of?" and try to infer something from that.
I'd always felt that there was a dark side to international interactions, and behind that liberal world order was a sense in the industrialized West to maintain its position of superiority. I just couldn't believe the fact that in 1947 or 1948 when the United Nations—in this particular case what became the General Agreements for Tariffs and Trade [GATT], the International Trade Organization, was coming into being—that all of a sudden the so-called colonial powers said, "Oops. Okay, we're done with this colonial oppression, and now we believe in the global liberal order where we are all going to be better off." So I wanted to look at that history because what was getting suggested to me from the developing world, having grown up there, was that they had been manipulated over and over again into signing international trade agreements which were not in their favor.
This book is actually a very pro-trade book. What I trace in this book using all kinds of methods is a history which shows that the developing world wanted to be a part of the same international trading order that the North wanted. But what they got instead was a position on the side—"We'll give you this much, but don't ask for that big plate in the middle."
So what they got, for example, were preferences for certain goods which would have no customs duties rather than getting tariff reductions, which is how the United States and European Union would negotiate. It was almost as if the industrialized West was saying, "We'll reduce tariffs vis-à-vis each other, but these other countries we'll give them handouts."
RANDALL PINKSTON: But no tariff reduction?
J. P. SINGH: No tariff reduction.
RANDALL PINKSTON: So if you're making goods in, say, Country X in the South and you wanted to export the good into the United States, your good was charged a tariff?
J. P. SINGH: It was, unless you were exporting raw materials. Raw materials would have very low tariffs. If you exported just copper, you would have lower tariffs, but if you made it into copper wire, then you would have high tariffs. And that's what kept the developing world in a position of being a primary producer. So leaders from the developing world in the 1950s were saying, "We want some protections for our industry to grow so we can export you copper wire because we know we'll always be in a position of poverty if we only export copper."
What I do in the book is to show a cultural story of how there was a kind of collective mindset which acted against that. So while we were talking about these liberal values, this universality, the dark side that I'm interested in uncovering is how colonialism continued in a different sort of guise, and that was by keeping people in a state of poverty by always giving carve-outs rather than allowing them to play in the same field as everybody else was.
And then I do a quantitative study, too, so I do studies from a very granular level dealing with particular kinds of cases, such as cotton, sugar, or textiles, to services trade, high-tech services trade, to show over and over again how the developing world has not allowed tariff reductions. The preference from the West has been to give them carve-outs on the side.
RANDALL PINKSTON: Meanwhile, the developing world—let's just talk about the South and cotton. Cotton farmers in the South continue to receive subsidies.
J. P. SINGH: You mean the U.S. South?
RANDALL PINKSTON: Yes. Whereas the cotton that could be exported into the United States because it costs less to produce costs more because of the tariffs?
J. P. SINGH: It is such a convoluted story. We produce some of the cheapest cotton in the world in the United States because we give subsidies to our cotton farmers, who have very high disposable incomes. So essentially to give subsidies to someone is to give them a welfare payment from the government.
RANDALL PINKSTON: From the taxpayers.
J. P. SINGH: From the taxpayers. So we are making huge amounts of welfare payments to very rich farmers in Mississippi, Arkansas, California, and Texas, states which produce cotton, and then we send that cotton to China. When the Chinese manufacture it into cloth or T-shirts—and one of my colleagues at Georgetown, Pietra Rivoli, wrote a book called The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade—when that T-shirt shows up in the United States, then we start blaming China.
It is such a strange story. We first throw cotton farmers around the world out of jobs in West Africa or Brazil by subsidizing our own cotton farmers, and then we scream at China because then they dared to manufacture that into a piece of cloth and exported it to us. But every cotton farmer in Lubbock, Texas, knows that their job depends on the Chinese buying that cotton.
RANDALL PINKSTON: And American taxpayers subsidizing that cotton farmer in Texas.
J. P. SINGH: Absolutely. And at one time—and I tell that story in Sweet Talk as well—from 2004 to 2014 or so, Brazil took the United States to task at the dispute settlement in the World Trade Organization and won. Our answer was to start subsidizing the Brazilian cotton farmers rather than buy from them. The final deal was that the United States a couple of years ago, in 2015—I could be mistaken on that—decided to give $300 million in payments to Brazil to set up a Brazil cotton institute rather than import cotton.
So, in effect, to keep our cotton farmers in their jobs, we are in effect subsidizing cotton farmers, not just here but around the world, rather than provide a livelihood to people. So we go to great lengths to do that.
I tell the sugar story, which is similar. There are only about 70,000-90,000 people involved in the sugar trade, but it is one of the most highly protected industries in the United States.
I tell the story in Sweet Talk of when we had the Caribbean Basin Initiative during the Reagan times, and the idea was to keep out communism from the Caribbean. At that time, the sugar lobby said, "We have to put tariffs against sugar coming from the Caribbean," which threw 30,000 sugar farmers out of jobs in the Dominican Republic. So, if we were trying to thwart communism, then throwing 30,000 farmers out of their jobs is counterintuitive.
But those are the lengths to which we would go because we have lobbies which have historically operated in a particular way. The story I tell in Sweet Talk is a part of understanding the cultural glue which holds these interest groups together is precisely what culture tells us, those representations, those rituals, which make things grow and continue to be a certain way regardless of what the outcomes are going to be for in this case the global humanity.
RANDALL PINKSTON: Tell us more about your Institute for International Cultural Relations at Edinburgh. How exactly will it go about its work? And have you already identified your first priority, your first project?
J. P. SINGH: Yes, I have. Part of it came from a lot of conversations around the university. The institute sits across various departments and schools, so I interface with the Edinburgh College of Art, for example, which is one of the biggest schools of art in the United Kingdom; I am also in touch with people from the school of infomatics; also social and political science, literatures, languages, and culture. The idea was to have conversations about culture as symbolic representations or as ways of life which intersect across all of these boundaries. But that is just within academia.
It was also to start conversations about culture, about who we are as a people. We now have a couple of programs in place that will be starting. The input that we are bringing to it in terms of its methodology is to start to have more participatory conversations, more structured conversations about who we are and why we might be in the present time in global humanity where we are.
One of these participatory conversations has led to a program called Global Cultural Fellows. We will be inviting 30 fellows to join the Institute for International Cultural Relations. In particular, we'd like these 30 fellows appointed from around the world to come to Edinburgh in August, where we would have a set of conversations around cultural identity.
RANDALL PINKSTON: Will these fellows be academicians or from the field of business? How will you identify them?
J. P. SINGH: Hopefully not the first one, because I think academics have the privilege of being able to have these debates within their departments and their organizations. So we are looking for a set of people who are very engaged with their organizations or their communities, be it a business, a museum, or social activism, people who are pro-globalization, and those who are anxious or anti-globalization.
We want to bring them from around the world to Edinburgh in the summer to start this program because that is when the Edinburgh Festival is going on. That is the biggest culture show in town in Edinburgh, and I want to be able to use the arts as a platform for starting some deep and meaningful conversations. Because arts raise all these issues for us about who we are, where we can go, where we have been.
We will curate our own program. Edinburgh Festival is actually 12 different festivals put together—the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is one of them; Edinburgh International Festival is another; the Book Festival is one of the biggest book festivals in the world. Those are just three of those 12—but we will curate our own program and use that to start these conversations.
RANDALL PINKSTON: Will you identify the fellows, or will there be a request for fellowships as it were?
J. P. SINGH: There is a request out already. This program will be launched in the summer of 2017. We are now a few months before that. We are taking in applications. There will be a committee to review them, and we want to be able to ensure especially diversity of viewpoints from around the world. We want the fellows to come from around the world, but we also want them to have different sorts of viewpoints. Then we'll bring them to Edinburgh in August of 2017 to have the first of these conversations about cultural interests and values.
RANDALL PINKSTON: You mentioned that the arts will be sort of a gathering point for what you're trying to do. I assume cinema would be one form of art that you would be looking at. That brings to mind a rather renowned moviemaker in America at this point who has found himself as a chief strategist in the White House, Steve Bannon. Would he possibly be the kind of fellow you would want to attend this initial gathering?
J. P. SINGH: One little correction there. The Edinburgh Film Festival is in June. They actually have a film festival. We are going to start a program in August, but we might have other multimedia works in August.
We would like a Steve Bannon-type person to come. We would want our fellows to be as respectful of him, and we would ask him to be equally respectful. I think "deliberation" means representing various points of view in a very structured, thoughtful, and respectful way.
Hopefully we will also find a type of fellow who doesn't dominate the entire deliberation; and if he or she does, hopefully there will be fellows there saying, "You know, I haven't had a chance to speak as yet." Because the worst kind of politics we would have is if only Steve Bannon spoke and everybody just had to listen, and if when Steve Bannon speaks those who didn't listen had to be kept out of that room.
We have already had instances around the world where people are being shut out of rooms because they dared ask a question that needn't be asked. So our idea in a participatory exercise is not just a Disneyland view of "let's all get along," but the idea that we have to be respectful of different points of view. So Steve Bannon would be welcome if he's as willing to listen as he is to speak.
RANDALL PINKSTON: I do want to leave on a positive note if I possibly can. Do you have any examples in your research of how cultural relations and studies are producing positive results with respect to—I don't know—the decisions that our politicians make, the elected officials? Has there been any glimmer of hope in recent years? Because what you're describing is a moving away from a we-ness, and it is all about exclusion; it is keeping people out, keeping goods out, limiting trade.
J. P. SINGH: I think that what we've also seen in our cultural politics in the last six years is that for every one person who says "build borders" there's another person saying "don't." The Oscars in 2017, the entire show, was about not building borders. That is a powerful—if we want to call it that—lobby. Because who takes care of our country's stories? It is the people who are artists. And they are basically saying, "We're not going to tell a story which is divisive. We're not going to show up"—despite somebody saying, "They were all there. I saw them. There were a million people there. They were all there singing my song." But is somebody going to sing that song of divisiveness?
My hopefulness would be where are you going to find that poet who is going to sing your song about dividing the world? Who is going to paint that on a wall for you? Even if you built that wall, who will paint something which reminds the world of who we are?
At the end of the day you need the poet. And I'm sorry, but the divisiveness of this cultural politics is that there are no poets; and once a nation loses its song, once a nation loses its poetry, you're not going to get there. So my hope is that there are a whole lot of people out there, millions out there, who are going to mobilize against this. However, I say it plaintively because before we get there do we have to suffer the kind of mayhem we did in the past or can we get there in a better way?
I hope that what we can be able to do it through places like my institute, to have the kind of conversations which allow us to foster the kind of poetry we would like to see where we memorialize cultures.
RANDALL PINKSTON: Professor Singh, we wish you great success with this initial iteration of the Institute for International Cultural Relations at the University of Edinburgh. Thank you for being with us on Ethics Matter.
J. P. SINGH: Thank you so much for having me. Thank you, Randall.