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“Brooklyn Existentialism: …” A Great Must Read Book – but Flawed by Authors’ Excessive Ambition and Confused Metaphysics

“Brooklyn Existentialism: …” A Great Must Read Book – but Flawed by Authors’ Excessive Ambition and Confused Metaphysics

Tom Verso (December 29, 2015)

Arthur DiClementi and Nino Langiulli, respectively of “St. Francis College” Math and Philosophy Departments; have written a book that should be the curriculum basis of the very first course taken by any student of any major of any college … a course called ‘Critical Thinking’. Sadly, such a course based on such a book is not taught, and tragically their book is largely ignored instead of the basis of a ‘Critical Thinking’ course curriculum. /// /// Indeed, it seems that the people who should be the most likely to embrace and promote the book have ignored it. One would think that a book with quintessential Italian author names, and titled with a quintessential Little Italy name, would be widely promoted by the Italian American literati. And yet I happened upon “Brooklyn Existentialism” at the website of a quintessential Irish American no-less (E. Michael Jones’ /// /// However, part of the reason why the book has not, to my mind, reached a threshold of discussion and pedagogy with the Italian American literati and the intelligentsia as a whole, lay with the authors themselves. /// /// More than once, the authors quote and cite as a virtue a line delivered by the Clint Eastwood ‘Dirty Harry’ character in the movie “Magnum Force”: “A man has got to know his limitations” (e.g. p.19). Sadly, they did not follow their own advice. They have attempted to provide critical commentary, historical and contemporary, on virtually every aspect of Western Culture: Education, Science (behavioral, biological, physical), Religion (Christian and non-), Philosophy (ancient and modern), Morality, Sexuality, Feminism, Marxism, Law, Art, Beauty, Technology, and more; much more – All in 197 pages with 1.5 line spacing (about 50,000 words)! I mean “REALLY”! Talk about not knowing one’s “limitations.” /// /// While, to my mind, the book’s overreaching is its shortcoming; at the same time it is a manifestation of the authors’ virtue – the depth and breath of their education, the cogency of their cultural analysis and the passion of their mission. Since reading the book, hardly a day goes by that I read some news article on any subject, which brings to mind “Brooklyn Existentialism”. Arthur DiClementi and Nino Langiulli have presented us with a “St. Joseph’s Table” of ‘delicious’ cultural issues to chose from, educate ourselves about and ultimately teach our youth. The ‘Book qua Book’ has some weaknesses, but the ‘Book qua Pedagogy’ is absolutely brilliant. There are untold numbers of what professionally trained and state certified public school teachers call “Lesson Plans” that can be developed from the critical thinking ‘Curriculum’ outline in “Brooklyn Existentialism”. /// /// But, of course, therein lies the problem. College so-called teachers are not professionally trained in and required to implement pedagogic concepts, methods and techniques. That’s one aspect of their critique of university education DiClementi and Langiulli failed to mention – i.e. college so-called teachers are not professionally trained and certified, ergo colleges are pedagogic wastelands where lessons presented by experts in the minutia of their PhD dissertations take the form of extemporaneous ‘off-the-top-of-their-heads’ riffs.


Interesting Book Title

The first issue that comes to mind with the DiClementi & Langiulli book is the very thought provoking title / sub-title. Unlike most glib cliché titles which one skips over and jumps into the text, this title gives pause. It’s pregnant with philosophical and cultural complexity. Instead of instantly opening the book, one is prone to contemplate the book’s title:
Brooklyn Existentialism: Voices from the Stoop Explaining How Philosophical Realism Can Bring About the Restoration of Character, Intelligence and Taste” [emp. +]
There four especially cogent words in this title: Brooklyn, Existentialism, Stoop and Restoration.
I have never been to Brooklyn (not brag’n – just say’n), however the word connotes the quintessential, indeed iconic, Northeastern urban milieu: ethnically, vocationally, economically and culturally heterogeneous.
More specifically, the authors tell us, Brooklyn has been associated with “tough guys”. For example, they quote Senator Charles Schumer who said “being from Brooklyn I like to fight”. However, the authors go on to say:
“The toughness we speak of here is toughness of thought… which is another name for common sense realism” (p 14)
Existentialism denotes a philosophy most commonly associated with French philosophers and literary artists such as Sartre, Camus, Genet, etc. Existential philosophy is to say the least, in the vernacular, very heavy. The expression “existential dread” (i.e. meaningless of life; no sense of purpose – e.g. Camus’ “The Stranger”) captures the raison d'être of existential philosophy, literature and attitude towards life. However, DiClementi & Langiulli disassociate Brooklyn Existentialism from what they call they call “the Frenchy kind”. (p. 80)
Nevertheless, even though they don’t give credit to the ‘Frenchies’, they embrace the most fundamental concept of Existentialism in all its various renditions – freedom. They write:
“A defining note of Existentialism is that a person who is free [and] exists for his own sake. He is his own man, She is her own woman.
“This means that a person who is free is master over his opinions and his passions and, of course, is not the slave of others or their opinions and passions. (p191)
Denials aside, that’s as “Frenchy” as it gets.
Accordingly, Brooklyn Existentialism is a philosophy that proposes the toughness of thinking that causes the individual to realize and actualize their intellectual potential even in the face of social forces that would subordinate them to mental slavery (e.g. politically correct public opinion).
A ‘Stoop’ is a “small porch, platform, or staircase leading to the entrance of a house or building”. Accordingly, the ‘stoop symbol’ narrows the particular Brooklyn population under consideration and its characteristics. Clearly, the upper class bourgeoisie do not live in housing having ‘stoops’. The ‘stoop’ is found in working class apartment buildings or attached single-family housing; for example, see the picture below of a Brooklyn Stoop residence. Thus, the words Brooklyn and Stoop identify the socioeconomic group to be considered in the book.
However, prima facia, the juxtaposition of Brooklyn / Stoop with Existentialism seems incongruous if not flat out contradictory. People of the stoop do not read existential philosophy and literature, nor do they, for the most part, experience anything like ‘existential dread.’ Indeed, the protagonist in “The Stranger” is psychologically estranged from the values of the working class population of Algiers. In short, students of existential philosophy would not likely associate it with the people and lifestyle of Brooklyn Stoop culture.
Accordingly, with the Brooklyn, Existentialism, Stoop juxtapositioning, the authors have created what, in journalistic parlance, is called a ‘hook’ (i.e. something that draws the reader in). If so, I can testify that it work with me.  Recently, while perusing the titles of books published by Fidelity Press, this book’s title stopped me ‘in my tracts’ (so to speak). There was no way I would continue down the list of books until I found out more about the DiClementi & Langiulli book.
Finally, the word Restoration obviously conveys the idea that something in the past has been denigrated or destroyed and needs to be restored; specifically Character, Intelligence and Taste.
In short, the title of this book tells the perspective reader that the intention of the writers is to describe and analysis contemporary cultural malaise, and make recommendations for its repair based on the Existential Brooklyn Stoop culture.
Cultural Malaise
There is virtually (literally?) no aspect of contemporary culture with which DiClementi & Langiulli do not touch upon, as the following list of chapter headings indicate.
1. The Madness in Education
2. Dysfunctional Behavioral Sciences
3. Science and the Bad Idea of Scientism
4. Derangements in Religion
5. The Lunacy in the Law
6. Art, Beauty and Technology
Clearly, they have overreached themselves in terms of the ability to provide in-depth analysis; however, the great virtue of the book is that it is an excellent compendium guide to cultural issues that students of culture may chose to pursue. There is also a bibliography of 180 entries for follow up research.
Each chapter consists of examples of the issues characterized in the chapter headings. For example in the first chapter on “Education” the authors write:
“ The cultural battle lines are drawn at the school house door … (p.25)
DiClementi & Langiulli coin the pejorative term “educrats” to denote educators who are having profound negative affects on students. For example,
“Students leave school illiterate, innumerate, and unintelligible. Educrats, bureaucrats, and politicians commercialize learning with such self-serving slogans as: ‘All children can learn’, ‘No child left behind,’ ‘Every child on grade level.’
Examples of Educrates and their pernicious affect on students:
“John Dewey and Charles Prosser, argued that the traditional four-year sequence was too academic … They reasoned that most students would not go on to college… (p.30)
According to DiClementi & Langiulli, the essences of education problems are:
“the psychological, sociological, and anthropological theories that supplant traditional education as the formation of character, intelligence, and taste as the goals of education” (p40-41)
Of course they have their own ideas about how to deal with education problems and what they would like to see changed. Most generally, they are believers in what they call “liberal education”, which brings us back to Brooklyn Stoops. They write:
Liberal education, which lies at the center of every institution of higher education worthy of the name, commits that institution to excellence.
“Liberal education begins with one’s family and one’s ethnic tradition [learned on the Stoop] without forgetting them, as a snob would do, and moves toward human heritage. (p.45)
Chapter after chapter, sub-chapter after sub-chapter, DiClementi & Langiulli identify a litany of cultural issues confronting today’s society. As noted, given the breath of the problems listed, it is not possible for them to provide much depth of analysis let alone solutions. Nevertheless, they give some very strong hints, and the reader is encouraged to ‘pick up the ball and run with it’.
However, there is one very fundamental core concept that permeates the whole of their analysis that to my mind is grossly inaccurate and constitutes a serious misguided weakness in their thinking.
Ruling Class vs. Ruling Ideas
Both DiClementi & Langiulli were interviewed about their book by Phillip R. Pignatelli on his television program “Life, Love & Philosophy” (see:
By way of an introduction Pignatelli says:
"I would like to read a brief introduction from the book which I believe sets the tone for the book.
He reads:
“The madness of our time is intoxicating.
“The madness infects the mind of the culture itself by virtue of the culture's ruling class.” [emp.+]
However, Professor DiClementi corrected him. He says:
“You said ‘ruling class’ but it’s ruling ideas  
In as much as Mr. Pignatelli was reading from the book, his substitution of ‘ruling class’ for ‘ruling ideas’ may have been an interesting Freudian slip. A student of history himself, he would be well aware that the history ideas through out the history of Western Culture from the Greeks down to the present is a perennial metaphysical debate of Ideology vs. Materialism. In the twentieth century that debate largely took the form of Democracy (ideology) vs. Marxism (materialism).
DiClementi & Langiulli are Ideological children of the Cold War. Throughout the book they are continually finding “Marxist” lurking in the shadows undermining the culture of the West – often where there in fact is no Marxism at all. For example, in the chapter “Lunacy in the Law” they write:
Two theories of law that appeared first in law schools and then received wider dissemination in Western culture during the ‘70s and ‘80s were the feminist theory of law and that of the Critical Legal Studies Movement.
Both theories, while Marxist in inspiration, did not appeal to the economic determinism and class warfare of orthodox Marxism.” (p. 135)
I would note that Marxism without ‘class warfare’ is like Christianity without ‘heaven and hell’. If there is no class conflict, even if it doesn’t rise to the level of class war, than there is no Marxism. Seemingly, the authors clearly understand this; thus the platitude “Marxist inspiration”
However, their preoccupation with Marxism is a manifestation of their ideological metaphysical supposition vis-à-vis materialism and that points to the fundamental flaw in there analysis.
For they as idealist never deal with the causes of mass prevailing ideology, i.e. the material modus operandi whereby the public is indoctrinated with and come to embrace a mass ideology. For example, in education, if as the authors contend, that the philosophy of John Dewey has had a negative affect on education, how is it that educators generally and the public more generally embrace that philosophy. Or, again, the above mentioned "theories of law that recieve wide dissemination"; what was the process or "mechanism dissemination"?
In matters of “ruling ideas”, they see Marxism that does not exist. However, in matters of “ruling ideas” indoctrination, the modus operandi of indoctrination (dissemination), they see what exists but refuse to believe it. They write:
“The madness of our time is intoxicating. It infects the mind of the culture by virtue of the culture’s ruling ideas. It is a madness that is omnipresent … It does so by virtue of the electronic technology of communication … capable of indoctrinating in falsity, evil, and evil
" There is nothing about technology and communication that dissuades ... the culture’s elite, from turning it into moral excrement. (p. 11)
Who controls this “indoctrinating electronic technology of communication”? In their own words – “the culture’s elite”.  Hello, are not the culture’s elite the ruling class?
Clearly, it is individuals of the “culture's elite ruling class” who own the technology and use the technology of communication to indoctrinate the masses in the ideas that the ruling class owners and controllers of communication want the masses to think and believe.
In short, DiClementi & Langiulli ignore the fact that an elite political-economic CLASS has control over the dissemination of  “ruling ideas”. In the Middle Ages that class was the nobility and the clergy. In the industrial age, that class has been known by various names; most recently the one-percenters.
Professors DiClementi & Langiulli have written a very significant and important book about the profoundly wrenching issues that are confronting Western culture. It is a litany of those issues. They presented us with a challenge, ‘thrown down the gantlet’ so to speak. They identify the issues and posited suggestions as to how they should be solved. They offered to engage us in dialogue. Sadly, in my experience, I have not seen any, especially the Italian American literati, who have ‘picked up the glove’.
But, then again, while the stoop metaphor is delightful, the fact of the matter is that conversations on the stoop are largely about sports, television, movies, romance, etc. The bottom line: call me a Marxist if you will but, unless and until the masses get off of the stoop and begin thinking about and acting on things other than pedestrian gradifications, the one-percenters will have their way, even with erudite Brooklyn Existentialist

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