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Philosopher Discusses New Media’s Threat to Democracy

By Sarah BallardFig 2- Professor Gregory Pappas explains two different types of democracy, what he calls thin democracy and thick democracy (Photo-Sarah Ballard)

AUSTIN, Texas – In a lecture on Oct. 25, Gregory F. Pappas, a distinguished fellow for the Latino Research Initiative at The University of Texas at Austin and professor of philosophy at Texas A&M, discussed how new media technologies inhibit deeper learning and threaten the health of democracy.

Pappas is well known for his work in pragmatism, which understands philosophical thought as a means of solving problems. He is the author of “Pragmatism in the Americas” and “John Dewey’s Ethics: Democracy as Experience.”

During his lecture, Pappas explained how the internet and social media allow people to avoid critical thinking and social interaction. He said that the instant gratification new media provides interferes with learning at a deeper level.

“With such a dependence on computers, students technically do not even need to go to class, and technically there isn’t a need for universities at all,” said Pappas. “However, this type of learning is lacking quality. It is not a meaningful learning experience as the students are missing out on the process of learning.”

Pappas went on to discuss how democracy is affected by this, explaining that most people think of democracy as “thin,” which refers to the simple act of voting in elections. However, he explained how democracy needs to be more in order to become “thick” democracy.

“Thick democracy is so important, yet it is hard to achieve with the Internet grabbing our attention constantly,” said Pappas. “With thick democracy, you develop citizens who think critically, think on their own and challenge authority.”

Pappas explained that, in contrast to thin democracy, thick democracy involves fraternity, which includes both communication and community. As our society has become incredibly dependent on the web, the Internet has polarized people and taken away the community aspect.

“I thought Dr. Pappas was very enthusiastic about the issues technology has created, specifically with education and democracy,” said Morgan Malouf, a senior public relations major. “He called to the audience to become more aware of the negative impacts [of] our everyday technology.”

Pappas’ research includes Latin American traditions of philosophy. His current project is called “An Inter-American Approach to the Problems of Injustice.” He is vice president of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy and the editor-in-chief of the online scholarly journal The Inter-American Journal of Philosophy.

This lecture, which took place in the Jesse H. Jones Building, was a part of the Media Ethics Initiative lectures series. The Media Ethics Initiative supports research that explores topics relating to communication and the media.

Ambedkar, Social Justice, and Buddhist Right Speech

The Media Ethics Initiative Presents:

Who Speaks for Ambedkar? The Debate over Navayana’s Edition of Annihilation of Caste and the Buddhist Teaching of Right Speech

     Dr. Christopher Queen, Harvard Universityposter1950s

January 24, 2017  —  1-2:30PM  —  Room: BMC 5.208

Following the 2013 release of Navayana’s annotated critical edition of B. R. Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste with an introductory essay by Arundhati Roy, Dalit (ex-Untouchable) activists angrily charged that Roy and the publisher were unqualified to write on Ambedkar by virtue of their high-caste backgrounds. We examine this war of words in the context of Ambedkar’s career as the leading voice for Untouchable human rights and as principal draftsman of India’s Constitution. We compare the attack on Navayana’s Annihilation of Caste to the original attack on Ambedkar’s 1936 speech (original speech here).

Given Ambedkar’s historic conversion to Buddhism, along with millions of this followers, we examine the teaching of Right Speech, the fourth step on the Eightfold Path, found in the early sayings of the Buddha. We learn that criteria for choosing speech or silence do not include the caste, gender, ethnicity, or expertise of the speaker, but rather the truth, timeliness, tone, and benefit of the words. Whether the words need to be “gentle” or “harsh” depends on the situation, according to the Buddha.


Christopher Queen lectures on World Religions and Buddhist Studies at Harvard University Extension and Summer Schools, where he also served as Dean of Students and Alumni Affairs for Continuing Education for 20 years. His holds degrees in religion, theology, and the history and phenomenology of religion from Oberlin College, Union Theological Seminary, and Boston University. His

publications center on socially engaged Buddhism and the Buddhist liberation movement of Dalits, the ex-untouchables of India, spearheaded by B. R. Ambedkar – scholar, activist, and father of the Indian Constitution. Queen co-edited four anthologies on contemporary Buddhism and has published numerous articles, chapters, and reference entries on Ambedkarite Buddhism and Socially Engaged Buddhism. He is the former board president of the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, and co-founder of the Dharma Chakra Mission and Academy, serving low-income citizens in Bodhgaya, India.


Supported by:

Ambedkarite Buddhist Association of Texas

South Asia Institute (UT Austin)

Free and open to the UT community and general public

Closest Parking Garage

For further information, contact Dr. Scott Stroud

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