The World’s Most Important Living Intellectuals

I wrote in an article in The Hawaiʻi Independent that most Americans couldn’t name a single intellectual. When then-candidate George W. Bush was asked who his favorite philosopher was, he famously answered “Jesus,” suggesting that he, like most Americans couldn’t name a single philosopher. In this post, I attempt a quick and dirty remedy to this. This is not a list for intellectuals, who will ask “where’s Agamben, or Ranciere, or [insert their favorite  theorist]?” but a list of intellectuals:

Cornel West

“Without the presence of black people in America, European-Americans would not be “white”– they would be Irish, Italians, Poles, Welsh, and other engaged in class, ethnic, and gender struggles over resources and identity. (p. 107-108)”
― Cornel WestRace Matters

West is an intellectual who manages to balance popular relevance (he was in one of the Matrix films and did the DVD analysis track, along with Integral philosopher Ken Wilber – see below) and intellectual weight – a tricky balance. A “jazz man in the world of ideas,” his Race Matters, remains a critical text for negotiating the politically-correct halls of academe. A theologian by training, West has specialized in African-American – Jewish relations. West does not only engage in popular formats, he speaks in pop culture terms: he said regarding Obama that progressives expected of him John Coltrane and got Kenny G. He called Hillary Clinton “the Milli Vanilli of politics” – there’s no bigger insult, as far as I am concerned, than to compare someone to the group that almost single-handedly destroyed pop music my Senior year in high school.

His battle with Neo-Conservative Harvard President Lawrence Summers precipitated a return to Princeton, breaking up the greatest Afro-American Studies department in history. There he was a colleague of…

Henry Louis Gates

“The thing about black history is that the truth is so much more complex than anything you could make up.”
— Henry Louis Gates

An Afro-American Studies professor of mine at Harvard once hinted to me, somewhat scornfully, that Gates had a 40-page CV (academic resume). When I mentioned this to another academic acquaintance, she said “that sounds about right, for him.” As much a documentarian as a scholar these days, Gates’s most recent history of Africa may be his Magnum Opus.

Slavoj Zizek

We feel free because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom.

A Lacanian Marxist from Slovenia: this strange epithet is surprisingly descriptive of the Elvis of Cultural Studies, and yet inadequate. His apprenticeship to the enigmatic psychotherapist Jaques Lacan partly accounts, in my view, for Zizek’s seemingly endless string of insights into the underlying psychological bases of ideology – his main object of study. Zizek has a magnetic presence, an entertaining style, even, by his own admission, a “half-clown” persona. These make him a star on YouTube, the world’s number one website. But Zizek’s constant attention to popular culture (Star Wars, The Avengers, etc.) belie his status as a true philosopher – his The Sublime Object of Ideology is a tome to Hegel, the philosopher to whom all other moderns are merely footnotes. In this Big Think video, Zizek encourages us not to act, “just think:”

Gayatri Spivak

“Can the subaltern speak?”

A translator of Jaques Derrida, Spivak is in a way his intellectual heir. Her contributions to subaltern studies (the study of the powerless) shows the class power dynamic functions in academia. To illustrate the concept of how the global South (the so-called “third world”) is silenced, she used footnotes to compose an entire “subaltern” text in the “South” of the paper. A famous question she asks is “can the subaltern speak?” Her answer in the negative shows the entrenched nature of the very power structure she examines.

Alain de Botton

“We will cease to be angry once we cease to be so hopeful.”

Some may scream here “pseudo-intellectual!” but I disagree. de Botton was in the process of getting a PhD in French philosophy at Harvard when he was unceremoniously kicked out of the program for writing How Proust can Change your Life, which the department saw as a self-help book (he has a Master’s in philosophy from Cambridge University). “We do not write self-help books” was the response; de Botton once said “under different circumstances I might have been an academic” – he never looked back and has probably laughed all the way to the bank (his account in which is considerable being the son of a financier worth 250 million pounds). After several best-selling books he started the School of Life, a YouTube channel with some of my favorite videos and which is an actual school of practical philosophy, with campuses around the world. One of his contributions is to bring back the value of stoicism and even pessimism, as the epigraph to this section shows. As I wrote in “Philosophy as Therapy:”

Alain de Botton wrote The Consolations of Philosophy, which became one of the best-selling books on philosophy in recent years. He certainly has a knack for making the  field of philosophy practical for everyday use. Along with an accompanying series of videos, de Botton shows us how Schopenhauer can help us with love, Seneca with anger and fear, Montaigne with self-esteem, Epicurus with happiness, and Socrates with self-confidence.


Judith Butler

“There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its results.”

Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990)

Winner of the “Worst writing award” from New Republic, which didnʻt like what it saw as her excessive use of jargon, Butler nevertheless remains central to the field of gender studies. The worst writing award may be taken by some (possibly Butler “her”self) as a badge of honor showing mastery of the word-play of academia. Similarly, a recent video from The Onion parodied her contributions, but in a way that actually explains them:

Ken Wilber

“The point is to unify the opposites, both positive and negative, by discovering a ground which transcends and encompasses both.”

– Ken Wilber

Like de Botton, some will definitely object to Wilber’s inclusion in a list like this, because while Wilber’s influence has been immense, it has been entirely outside of academia.


Wilber is the architect of Integral theory, and the reasons for his exclusion from the academy are hinted at in this passage I wrote for the post “Integral 101:”

Integral theory is a map that integrates the major domains of reality: the physical (biology, physics), the social (sociology, anthropology, political science), and what could be called our interior (psychology, religion, philosophy), into a meta-system. And here is where it collides with one of the prevailing approaches of academia: postmodernism. Postmodernism is a view that allows for the simultaneous existence of multiple worldviews, even within an individual. It is suspicious of meta narratives, or grand narratives that claim to be independent of their cultural context. Because Integral makes this claim to be cross-cultural, it violates postmodernism’s prime directive. And yet Integral sees postmodernism as a high level of consciousness development, and it is this development that makes up the next component of Integral theory – [what Wilber calls “evolution.”]

Wilber’s integral influence has extended to Bill Clinton and (former UK Prime Minister) Tony Blair, UNESCO and Whole Foods Market.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson*

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”
― Neil deGrasse Tyson

Director of the Hayden Planetarium Neil deGrasse Tyson has become a celebrity for skillfully using media, especially social media to bring popular understanding of science. His raison dʻetre:

“The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”

*This description is a place-holder while I wait for my colleague Robert Hutchison to send me his write up of Tyson.

Jurgen Habermas

Science can only be comprehended epistemologically, which means as one category of possible knowledge, as long as knowledge is not equated either effusively with the absolute knowledge of a great philosophy or blindly with scientistic self-understanding of the actual business of research.”

-Jurgen Habermas

The last remaining member of the classic Frankfurt School (Herbert Marcuse, Thodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer were the most prominent members), which began the ongoing analysis of popular culture. Habermas is, along with Badiou, Levy, and Chomsky, the last of the old-school intellectuals. He was adamantly opposed to postmodernism and had debates with Jaques Derrida, the founder of deconstruction. He had the following four critiques of postmodernism:

  1. The postmodernists are equivocal about whether they are producing serious theory or literature;
  2. Habermas feels that the postmodernists are animated by normative sentiments but the nature of those sentiments remains concealed from the reader;
  3. Habermas accuses postmodernism of a totalizing perspective that fails “to differentiate phenomena and practices that occur within modern society”
  4. Habermas asserts that postmodernists ignore that which Habermas finds absolutely central – namely, everyday life and its practices.

I started a group on Facebook called “Building an Intellectual Culture,” and in the description I cite Habermas:

The philosopher Jurgen Habermas came up with the idea of the public sphere, a public space in which ideas are informally exchanged – outside of universities and where coffee abounds. The idea for this group came out of a short article I wrote of the same name in the Hawaiʻi Independent. The group attempts to bridge the gap between the ivory tower and mainstream popular culture, which is increasingly anti-intellectual. The group holds Antonio Gramsci’s contention that an intellectual can be “any[one].”

Noam Chomsky

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

– Noam Chomsky


Chomsky’s influence is hard to describe – it is both massive and subaltern, suppressed. As I wrote in my review of his book Who Rules the World?

Chomsky is the founder of modern linguistics. It’s Einstein. And the linguist uses his field’s most powerful weapon: sarcasm. Politically, Chomsky is an Anarcho-syndicalist, or as he has confusingly put it: a “Libertarian Socialist” (most who know these terms would call that an oxymoron). Over time, I, like many others, have grudgingly come to respect Chomsky as perhaps the legitimate “world’s leading intellectual” – certainly he is the last of a great generation. He also may be the worldʻs most important ignored intellectual. While researching a piece I wrote for Summit magazine on Gore Vidal, I found a clip in which Vidal said that he and Chomsky tried to speak in Harvard Yard, put up flyers, and found them all torn down half an hour later – somehow, 3000 people still showed up. And there is the enigma of his celebrity – the love/hate relationship he has with his supporters and detractors may be precisely the sign of his greatness, or perhaps simply his breadth of thought.


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The Mānoa Academy: What Iʻve been up to

In a recent bio, I described myself as “Manoa Academy Scholar” mainly because this title combines two of the institutions Iʻm working at right now – Kamehameha Schools and UH Mānoa.

Over the past year or so, Iʻve been involved in a dual credit program in which High School students get college credit while in High School for courses taught by UH faculty. Being virtually the only Kamehameha teacher who is also UH faculty, I was at the vanguard of this program. Iʻm now about to begin my third course in this program, Ethnic Studies 221: Hawaiians (Intro to Political Science was offered previously). The video below describes the program, which is also partnering with the following schools:

  1. Henry J. Kaiser High School
  2. Kaimuki High School
  3. Kalani High School
  4. Kamehameha Schools Kapalama
  5. President Theodore Roosevelt High School
  6. Punahou School – Clarence T.C. Ching Pueo Program
  7. Saint Francis School

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Reading for Hawaiʻi Review #85 – “The Breach”

Hawaiʻi Review, the University of Hawaiʻi’s literary journal had a reading and launch on Saturday May 6th, 2017, for issue 85, entitled “Occupying Va.” The theme of a pair of issues (85 and 86) is the space between things, which has meaning for Pacific peoples. The readers included Kapena Landgraf, Lee Kava, the Hong Kong-based poet Wa Wa, Eric Paul Schaefer and myself.

My short story ‘The Breach” (read the full story here) is based on the true story of my motherʻs cousin, Charles Makekau Apo, a 1957 Kamehameha graduate who attended Harvard. As a veteran Kamehameha teacher and Harvard graduate, I thought I could get inside the head of someone who was very much a pioneer – it was extremely unusual for Kamehameha students, and Hawaiians to attend Ivy League colleges in the 1950s – and try to understand the struggles he may have been facing in terms of social norms, social class, and social capital. More generally, it is a story of the conflict, often internal, of Hawaiian, local and mainland haole norms and the imposition of one on the other, which, for Makekau (as he is called in the story), begins at Kamehameha and only continues at Harvard. Below is the excerpted version that I read from.

The Breach

By ʻUmi Perkins

This story first appeared in Hawaiʻi Review #85, Fall, 2016

Spring, 1952

The letter in the mail was thick. Addressed in pica type to Charles A. Makekau, the envelope read, “Harvard University – VERITAS” in Crimson, and was postmarked Cambridge, MA 02138. He’d been waiting all day, every day over spring break, doing nothing else. His heart pounded so hard he was sure his Japanese neighbors could see it beating in his chest. Back in the house, Charlie took his mother’s stainless steel letter opener and delicately sliced open the envelope, careful not to make any tears. The letter, on fine parchment, began: “Welcome to the Harvard class of 1956!”

The next day, feeling good, Charlie regarded himself in the mirror. He thought he looked Chinese with Hawaiian coloring and lips. His jet-black hair was slicked back and to the side. The overall effect was handsome enough. He looked at his body. His stomach was flat from youth but soft from indulgence and frailty. He thought of a girl he would see in Smith Library – something welled up in him, but he fought it off. He took a dress shirt off a hanger. He was appalled that men had recently started wearing florid blouses – he liked his shirts crisp and lily-white.

      In the last days of high school, he seemed to form an unspoken bond with the two boys who were going to Stanford, Jerry Kamoku and Randall Hoʻopiʻi. The popular boys gave him big grins and raised their chins toward him as they passed in the hallways of Paki and Bishop Hall, as if to say, “You’re one of us.” But they were athletes, going on baseball and track scholarships. Charlie was no athlete, nor was he on scholarship. He was going on brains, paying full tuition. But all agreed he was bound to be one of those success stories, a doctor in the new Honolulu, where racial boundaries were just beginning to loosen.

Fall, 1952

Charlie boarded the Clipper ship. Gaining speed along the water of Keʻehi Lagoon, the chopping ceased, and the pontoons lifted off the lightly rippled sea. He crossed the vast expanse of the Pacific. How could Hawai’i be a part of America if this separated it? It seemed endless, but he would come to know that it separated his home from another realm entirely, another world, not just far away, but alien.

A week later, Charlie got off a train in New York and took a bus to Boston. The campus straddled the Charles River, the first real river he’d seen. Old, but stately red brick buildings made the skyline jagged in a way not entirely different, he thought, from the way it may have looked in the seventeenth century. But the historic buildings were flanked and juxtaposed by Harvard Square, a mottled, steamy, miniature version of the more literate sections of Manhattan. He checked in to Elliot House. The common room had a grand piano. His suite had a Persian-style rug and a fireplace. His new roommates walked in gleefully, quickly pausing, seemingly taken aback by his appearance, and then just as quickly seeming to decide they would like him. “Hey buddy, I’m Alfred, Al…” “Harvey.” “I’m Charlie,” he said as he shook their hands haole-style, and a grin slowly appeared on his face, mirroring theirs. They were from Brooklyn and Long Island and had both gone to school in New Hampshire, at Exeter and St Paul’s. Harv Shapiro was the first Jew Charlie had ever met.

After an impossibly short time, Al said, “We’ve got to do something about your clothes!” They went to Brooks Brothers and got him fitted. He was dipping into monies he shouldn’t have this early in the year, but it was worth it. He would write to ma for more. After the measurements were taken and the suits ordered, Harv said “Now … to John Harvard’s!” and there was no refusing him. Charlie spent far more than he meant to on beer and whiskey that day. This became a Friday ritual.

There were two other boys from Hawaiʻi at Harvard, but they were from Punahou. He ran into one of them, Howard Brigham, at a finals club called The Fly. The young men there wore robes, smoked cigars, played pool and acted like kings. “Charles, isn’t it? From Kam School?” “Charlie.” Howard was with a group of other boys, and one of them said, “So you’re from Hawa-yah, eh?” Another said, “By the way, how are ya?” His laugh excluded Charlie. Howard laughed nervously. These Punahou boys were conflicted mavericks who rebelled against their families by not going to Yale. Noblesse oblige required them to be cordial to a Hawaiian, but networking meant sticking with the Blue Book families their grandfathers had met while lobbying for Hawaiʻi’s annexation. The kama’āina families cherished these connections above almost all else.

When he told Al and Harv of the encounter with Howard, Harv said, “Forget those goy snobs!” Al said, “Right. Besides, you’re almost there, Charlie …” Where he almost was he knew, and knew not. The next time Charlie saw him, Howard looked at him without recognition.

[Charlie] began to speak out in class about the inequities of life in Hawaiʻi and Puerto Rico, where they had taxation without representation. He even mentioned the unlikely rise of John Burns, a cop turned politician – actually he had lost every race so far – and how he had called Hawaiʻi’s system one of “economic strangulation.” He told the story of Joseph Kahahawai and the Massie Case, and how honor killings still took place in America’s fringes. His classmates, from Connecticut and Newport, downplayed his protests as anecdotal, not representative of American political life. But how could they know what life was like on the edge of American empire? How his hardscrabble Portuguese friends from small kid time, like Skippy Gomes, scratched out a living as newspaper boys in Kauluwela, their skin becoming wrinkled at eleven or twelve? Yet he was covetous of these scions of the East Coast establishment families. While he championed the Kauluwela boys, he grew unrecognizable and unintelligible to them, the last trace of Pidgin draining from his speech into the gutters of Harvard Square.

He got a D on a Zoology test and left the class feeling as if life was ending. It was his first D. He’d never gotten a C. When he complained to his roommates about his difficulties in his science classes, they tried to reassure him: “Small fish, big pond, all of that, old boy…” They were both business majors and had no academic troubles that would matter. They would go effortlessly on to Wall Street and summer in the Berkshires or on the Cape.

Spring, 1953

For the first time, he began to procrastinate. He erratically read philosophy – Descartes, Mill, Kant – in no order, with no plan, and when they weren’t assigned. It did help in barroom conversations to drop a philosopher’s name. (The ritual at John Harvard’s now included Wednesdays and Saturdays). “Kierkegaard claims…” made people think he was deep and erudite, and they began calling him “Charlie the barstool philosopher,” which gave him a certain perverse pride. It also made him feel phony, like the characters he’d heard about in Catcher in the Rye. He’d stumble home in the snow over the rough, uneven brick sidewalks, centuries old, questioning his own integrity aloud in front of Harv and Al, who gave each other significant looks over his stooped shoulders.

He bought a record player, and listening to music became an activity, not just background. Jazz was a revelation, especially this new jazzman John Coltrane. Charlie was thrilled to think Coltrane had been stationed in Hawaiʻi and made his first recording there. He felt sure that Coltrane had listened to the Kamehameha song contest in ‘46 – everyone in Honolulu huddled around their radios in those days to hear the classes compete on the Friday before Spring Break. How different his music was from those predictable songs! Every song ending in “Haʻina ia mai,” with no bridge or refrain. His roommates found Coltrane repetitive, but Charlie felt that in playing two adjacent notes over and over, back and forth, he was looking for the space between them. When A Love Supreme came out, it was obvious that his playing was a spiritual practice and Charlie wondered if that space between the notes was, for Coltrane, where God resided.

He began to work in the Elliott House gardens, though he had shown no inclination towards plants before. He was now taking Botany, but it seemed to bear no relation to real practice. He even learned how to weed the flowers and get the dead material off, revealing the fresh plant beneath, and casting off the chaff. The deadwood was tossed to the side of the building, forgotten. All this was to avoid his chemistry work, and it tore at his insides like a spade.

Summer, 1953

It took a week to make the trip, cutting his summer short on both ends. On the Road had come out and he thought of his cross-country train ride as a Kerouacian misventure. He was far too timid to hitchhike or even drive. Kerouac’s prose, though, burned with an intensity he felt but could never match.

America stretched out in its endless sameness, except for the Rockies and California, where vistas were breathtaking compared to his truncated island world. America wasn’t really states, as they’d been taught at Dole Elementary, he realized, but regions – the green and rocky East, the brown, flat Midwest, the grey Western plains. But, the Pacific! What was once simply endless now began to feel more like home than Cambridge or Honolulu. The breach, he called it. He felt he was crossing seas and centuries. He wasn’t entirely comfortable in his skin or his suit in the East or in the islands, but here, in this space that America claimed to bridge, but he knew could not, nothing welled up nor needed to be fought back.

Many years later, his cousin recalled that at family gatherings, in the heat, Charlie had worn his Brooks Brothers suit, a felt hat. And carried a walking stick.


Before Christmas, Charlie asked Al to drive him to the train station, since his trunk would be hard to take on the T with all his new clothes. Al demurred, making a lame and transparent excuse about his sister, who Charlie knew was at Wellesley and had her own car. Charlie felt an overwhelming nausea that was a kind of revulsion at the thought that everyone, despite all the “Buddy” and the “Hey pal,” was entirely out for themselves. It started at the bridge of his nose and sank to his stomach and made him feel seasick. He found it hard to breathe. It dawned on him that he’d been a project, one Al had now given up on. He felt he would never be there, and everyone, other than he, had known it all along.

Christmas, 1953

The letter in the mail was thin. It read “Harvard University – VERITAS” in blood-crimson. Veritas – truth. His nose turned up into a sneer as Charlie took the letter opener again and carefully slit the edge. Though he saw it coming – he hadn’t been asked to go home last Christmas – his head spun. This last time over the breach would be his last. The only part of the letter he remembered later was “You will always be part of the Harvard class of 1956.”

He fell into an abyss, and only left his room to raid the liquor cabinet or throw up in the bathroom. When the hards were gone, he went for the wine, some of it his father’s vintage. His mother only confronted him on Christmas Eve, when he chose to make one of his forays to the wine rack. She was beside herself and more disheveled than he’d seen her, making preparations for Christmas. She looked as if she scarcely recognized him. He was pale and bloated, his eyes shadows. “What you tink you going do now?” His lip curled into the kind of wicked smirk he’d seen at the finals club. “What I …tink?” Their eyes locked, and he knew what she was thinking. She had passed the English standard test to get into Roosevelt, only one in her family, and Pidgin only slipped out in the most fraught moments. He softened his look, and hers turned to a panicked beseeching. He turned into his room, sat on the bed he never left, and downed two glasses. He thought of the breach of his trust and the false bill of goods he’d been sold, for which he’d willingly paid his family and culture. He thought of the turmoil on both sides of the Pacific, and how neither side could ever understand the other. The unknowing innocents on this side and the clever wicked – unknowing of his world – on the other. And then, the Pacific between. The peace of it took his breath away and he fell, ineffably, into the breach.

Keola came over the next day. He went into Charlie’s room because his mother would not. He came out and, without looking at her, shook his head, wordlessly staring at the floor.

The official cause of death was an asthma attack. Everyone was at the funeral: Keola, Uncle Joe, Pop Diamond, Grace Lee, Jerry Kamoku, even Dr. Oleson. They offered their condolences to his mother: “He was a fine, brilliant and cheerful young man…” She wondered why they came if they didn’t know him. He was buried at Puea Cemetery in Kalihi, three plots over from Joseph Kahahawai. Kahahawai’s grave reads: “Born December 25, 1909, killed January 8th, 1932.” Charlie’s reads: “Born December 8th 1932, died December 25, 1953.”


Luriyer “Pop” Diamond’s book Images of Aloha is dedicated to two Kamehameha graduates, Randy Hoʻopiʻi and Charles Makekau Apo, “whose lives were far too brief.”


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The International Commission of Inquiry at the Permanent Court of Arbitration

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The Clarity of History

“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”

― Marcus Tullius Cicero

Yesterday, we had a training up at Kamehameha that at one point discussed the concept of Aloha ‘Åina, and used Kaho’olawe as an example. While there are some with varying opinions on the bombing of Kaho’olawe, most people today would agree, I think, that stopping the bombing was the right thing to do. And often, such matters are clear in hindsight – the Kamehameha trustee scandal comes to mind, the consensus about the result of which is rather stunning.


Forty years after the Kaho’olawe landings, even a fairly mainstream organization like OHA can see who was in the right

But there are issues going on today, about which there is a lot of debate – Mauna Kea is the most obvious example. In my view, a historical analysis of these contemporary issues can provide a lot of clarity as to how we should act in the present. Some of these issues (maybe not Mauna Kea, but certainly Makua Valley), become quite clear with just a little historical reflection.

While George Santayana’s quote about repeating history is a cliche at this point, the message doesn’t seem to have been received by most. But as Maya Angelou has put it:

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.

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My Remarks at the Panel on the International Inquiry – Permanent Court of Arbitration (at Kamehameha Schools)

On Monday, January 30th, Kamehameha Schools hosted a panel discussion on the Fact Finding proceedings taking place at the PCA. The panelists were Dr. Keanu Sai, agent for the Hawaiian Kingdom, and Professor Federico Lenzerini, counsel and advocate for the Hawaiian Kingdom, and professor of International law at the University of Sienna, Italy. I was the moderator, and below are my opening remarks:

Aloha ahiahi kākou and to all those who made this quite unique event possible, Mahalo nui iā ʻōukou.

The writer Thomas Pynchon wrote “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they donʻt have to worry about the answers.” This is a challenging idea that should make us think deeply about how we engage with, among other things, history, and make us ask ourselves if we have indeed been asking the right questions.


Iʻm ʻUmi Perkins and I teach Hawaiian history here at Kamehameha and Political Science at UH, so Iʻm no stranger to controversial topics. Iʻve been teaching many of the concepts weʻll be discussing tonight for nearly 15 years, and Iʻve managed somehow never to get in trouble. But I think thatʻs why I was asked to open tonight’s event. In fact, I was asked by another teacher recently who often gets in trouble for talking about the same things, how I do it – how I stay out of trouble. Which got me thinking – how do I do it? And I started to realize there are ways to discuss tonight’s issues without creating controversy, and one of them is to keep it more about law and less about politics. So for example, I was part of a student organization founded by Dr. Keanu Sai, one of tonightʻs distinguished panelists, when we were both PhD students at UH, it was called The Hawaiian Society of Law and Politics or HSLP, which was about discussing both politics and law, but in a way that was mindful of the separation between them. The Society sought, and to a large extent, succeeded, in integrating the idea of Hawaiʻi as a nation-state into curricula across the UH system and even beyond, so that now, for example, I teach a course on military occupation at UH Mānoa, which serves as a kind of testing ground for the idea of Hawaiʻi as an occupied country by comparing it with other occupations historically. This course was originally created by yet another member of HSLP.

More recently, I wrote an article on this topic in The Nation magazine, which is the oldest weekly magazine in the US, and I was hired to rewrite the Hawaiian history standards for the Hawaiʻi Department of Education, Dr. Sai has written a Hawaiian history textbook called Ua Mau ke Ea, Kamana Beamer (another HSLP member) wrote an award-winning book incorporating this view, No Mākou ka Mana, and several PhD dissertations and Master’s theses have been produced that have furthered this line of research, including one thesis by Donovan Preza (again of HSLP), which was named the best MA thesis in the entire Pacific Rim.

So a lot has happened since 2000 and I think it’s very significant and important that as this case returns to the PCA, this time for fact-finding, the level of understanding locally on this topic has been greatly expanded from the time of the original Larsen case.

One of the questions I’m often asked when I talk to people about these issues is :Is there really a World Court? Many think that law is a matter that is strictly domestic, that is, limited to [being] within countries. But yes, in fact, there is a world court, which has a few organs if you will. According to their website:

The Permanent Court of Arbitration, established by treaty in 1899, is an intergovernmental organization providing … dispute resolution services to the international community.

In the same building, The Peace Palace, in The Hague, Netherlands, where the proceedings weʻll be discussing tonight will take place, is the International Court of Justice, which, according to their website:

is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. It was established in June 1945 by the Charter of the UN and began work in April 1946.

Now the Courtʻs proceedings donʻt often make major headlines, theyʻre often about fairly obscure trade disputes. But one case that has made headlines is the case of the South China Sea, that region being a major global geopolitical hotspot right now. And in the ruling for that case, they cited the first Larsen v. Hawaiian Kingdom case from the year 2000.

So how did it come to be that I began teaching these ideas at a fairly traditional institution like KS. There is, in fact, a genealogy there.

Hawaiian history began to be offered at Kamehameha in 1971 but wasnʻt required until the 1980s. In 1987, when Ka Lāhui Hawaiʻi was formed, the former Hawaiian history teacher Kawika Makanani resolved to make Hawaiian history a course on Hawaiian sovereignty as it was understood at that time. In 1993, KS faculty, including Kawika Makanani, former principal Julian Ako, current English department head Kaʻimipono Kaiwi and others conducted a research project to discover and expose more about the 1893 overthrow. In the late 1990s, my predecessor, Kehau Abad, incorporated many of the concepts weʻll discuss tonight into her curriculum, which I subsequently inherited and continued to develop.

Just for comparison, the Hawaiʻi Department of Education began requiring courses in Hawaiian history in response to the 1978 Constitutional Convention, and the Departmentʻs Hawaiian Studies program began in 1980.

Tonight’s event is not about taking positions or taking sides. Tonight is really about educating people, and to that purpose, Iʻd like to conclude my remarks by suggesting what might be done in terms of educating a group of people we all care about – that is Hawaiian youth and the youth of Hawaiʻi more generally. There are serious structural problems in the delivery of Hawaiian history in schools. To name only one example, to become a certified Social Studies teacher, youʻd have to pass the Praxis test, which is very demanding in a number of topics, none of which is Hawaiian history. So if you were able to pass that test, itʻs unlikely – not impossible, but unlikely – that youʻd have a deep knowledge of Hawaiian history and vice versa. If you spent your time learning Hawaiian history, as a young teacher youʻd be hard-pressed to pass that test. This is only one of many such structural problems that result, in the end, in a society that really doesn’t know, and thus has not come to terms, with its own history. Seen in this context, tonight’s event can be thought of as part of a larger community effort to educate ourselves about these critical historical issues and their ramifications today by beginning to understand the international commission of inquiry at the Permanent Court of Arbitration.


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Reflective Practice 7: Performance and Development

I once saw a video from the Waldorf schools that has stuck with me ever since. In the video, one of the teachers says “People press down an adult consciousness on children in the name of performance.” That line has stuck with me ever since – focusing on performance rather than development is creating a generation of sociopaths- all so we can brag about our kids to our “friends.”

An article in Big Think entitled “Elementary Children are not Little High School Students,” makes the case for stopping the madness:

Public schools, terrified of losing funding due to low test scores, have moved to “teaching to the test,” where the goal is passing exams, not mastery of a subject. (In Michigan last month it was announced that 100 schools were to be shut down because their students fell short on these exams.)


The article goes on to say that homework for elementary school students is harmful to students, damages family relationships (cutting in to essential family time – drug use is inversely correlated with family dinners), kids need rest after long school days and they need time to be kids. Thereʻs no evidence homework, at least in lower grades, works – countries that pour on the homework, like Iran and South Korea, donʻt score very well on international comparisons, for example, compared to Finland, which assigns little to no homework even in the older grades.

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