18 March 2006


Legal analysis on Counterpunch

When I presented this issue, my students at Riverside Community College were usually of the opinion that professors shouldn't "voice an opinion" in classroom discussion, but instead be "neutral" on all topics. I occasionally challenged this opinion in class, since, after all, the notion of "neutrality" or "balance" relies upon a completely mistaken notion of ethical reporting.

Imagine, for instance, a home invasion robbery. The robbers break into the home, murder the father, rape the mother, and steal thousands of dollars of stuff while kidnaping the children. So we're the "neutral" and "balanced" teachers/ reporters covering this event -- let's get a "balanced" report on this robbery. Whose sides are we going to portray. The mother, certainly. The children, to be sure, although they probably won't be available, having been kidnaped. They might be brainwashed by the robbers, too, so their perspective might not be worth much. But wait! We aren't being "neutral"! We should allow the robbers to spew their lies and venom, as if their opinion were equal to everyone else's.

Now isn't that pleasant! But, lest the reader imagine that I am being hyperbolic, let's look at the historical record. Uh-oh! There are several historical records! One of them, the one typically given in American history books, is given by the victors, the home invasion robbers of history. We can see how this works by examining, first of all, the matter of the Indian Wars. In this perspective, either the native Americans didn't matter much, or they weren't even there. Their genocide surely wasn't important. American history, for them, is the history of the rich while males who ran the United States of America.

There are of course many many other perspectives on history; these perspectives barely make it into the "alternative press" of the society. You have history from the underclass side (Zinn's A People's History), you have history from a black viewpoint (Alex Haley's Roots), you have history from a native American viewpoint (James Wilson's The Earth Shall Weep), etc., or rather you have history from those stepping in as proxies to assume the viewpoint of the oppressed peoples throughout history. The oppressed usually don't write history; they were illiterate, or their writings were confiscated and burned. All we have of classical history is the history written from the perspective of the social class that was gifted with literacy, paper, and writing implements.

So we don't, for instance, have the Taino viewpoint on Columbus' conquests -- we have Columbus, and we have Bartolome de las Casas. Oh, and of course we have Theodore de Bry's illustrations to de las Casas' works:

But these folks don't really see history from the Taino perspective. They're the folks dangling from the cords up there. That's lost. The stuff in the picture above probably happened; but it's all intermixed with perspective, ideology, what have you.

De las Casas, for his part, wanted to convert the heathens to Christianity, like all of the early Spanish colonial priests who discovered the New World for themselves. Do we hold his perspective anymore? No. His privilege was to be there to describe what you see in the picture, not to think "impartially." So no wonder there's lots of opinion in history. The folks who don't want history to reflect opinions, then, need to get over it.

Back to my argument. Objectivity, neutrality, impartiality, all are nonsense. What's left? Finding out what you believe. Discovering your own wisdom, for yourself. Teachers/ professors need to get students to engage this process. The whole "professors are indoctrinating students" crap you hear from David Horowitz and the like is a complete distortion of where students pick up ideology. Everything in our society is a piece of the puzzle we put together to construct an ideology. The things that count the most in our construction of ideology are the forces that control our lives. Professors indoctrinate students? The whole classroom situation, with students taking courses for grades, credit, degrees, careers etc., is set up to give professors control over the classroom, and to make them irrelevant outside of it. Professors give students a grade for work done in class; the students believe one thing in class to get a good grade, and something else in their own, "real," lives.

Good professors struggle against this system to be heard -- professors are generally not threatened by forces directing them to be ideological conformists so much as with irrelevance to the world at large. They therefore attempt to empower students to become wise, self-directed people. People like David Horowitz and the Cherry Creek School District are simply trying to impede that attempt by going on witch-hunts.

17 March 2006


see the Indymedia article here.... "law and order" is just a misnomer in some parts of the world today...
reading stuff like this makes you wonder when the dollar will crash... I am told the real situation looks like this... meanwhile the Republicans try to override the Bill of Rights...

16 March 2006


Tom Philpott's piece in Counterpunch has a lot of good detail... I'm reminded of the line in Paul Kantner's song "Let's Go Together": "Wave goodbye to Amerika/ Say hello to the garden" -- the problem, of course, is that property values bring the garden under the spell of Amerika...

this is an interesting exchange -- Eric Hobsbawm is an old marxist historian, and Jacques Attali is a capitalist, banker, and major author...

Interactivist Info Exchange

Here, Attali describes how inequalities under capitalism are increasing. But this was not always the case. The statistics, as they stand, typically describe a middle class rising in the 1920s, collapsing with the Depression, and rising again after World War II until the decline of the 1970s.

In an article titled "What is left of socialism?" now available in an anthology titled My Correct Views on Everything, the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski suggests that Marx was wrong on this matter, and that the middle class was growing. So there's the other side of it for you.  The problem with all such generalizations is that they seem to regard all stages of capitalist development as being basically "the same," whereas capitalism is a much more complex creature than can be outlined in a simple debate about whether Marx was wrong or right.

The marxist (and Gramscian) scholar of international political economy, Kees van der Pijl, outlined four "regimes of accumulation," marking stages of capitalist development, in his book Transnational Classes and International Relations. They are:

  1. an "extensive accumulation" stage, from the Industrial Revolution well into the 19th century,

  2. an "intensive accumulation" factory stage, characteristic of the United States after the Civil War and before World War I,

  3. a "progressive accumulation" stage, wherein a significant consumer society was erected (with the help of Keynesian economics) alongside industries in cars, airlines, chemicals, electronics technology, and

  4. the current "virtual accumulation" stage, in which the hypertrophy of finance capital and neoliberal economics exists alongside the nanotechnology, communications, and biotechnology industries (55-57, 63).
(You can use the Amazon.com link to search inside the book for this stuff -- type "accumulation" into the search engine.)

Each stage of capitalist development corresponds to a particular technological development. This is appropriate, as capitalism changes form with technological change.

Returning to our first two authors, we can see that Jacques Attali's prognosis is that
We cannot imagine the barbarism that will happen, but it is obvious that it will. The only way to imagine a solution will be to organise, on a worldwide level, a compromise between the market and democracy.
Now, Attali is a capitalist, to be sure. So his pronouncements on "the market" and "democracy" can perhaps be forgiven for their vagueness -- in this stage of capitalist development, government is fast becoming a conduit for the operators of "the market," meaning market ideology as a tool of the transnational capitalist class. (Please read Leslie Sklair's The Transnational Capitalist Class if you don't know what that is.)

But "old Marxism," in the person of Hobsbawm, did not suggest anything any less cryptic. Hobsbawm says:
For instance, the Marxist prediction that a growing proletariat in the industrialised countries would overthrow capitalism didn't work, because the progress of capitalism eventually does without the working class, as it does without the peasantry.
It's difficult for me to see in what sense Hobsbawm means that the progress of capitalism eventually does without the working class. The working class is still here, isn't it?

A rigorous and specific historical materialism, on the other hand, would recognize that the stage 4) that van der Pijl recognized, the stage of neoliberalism, is creating conditions that will soon result in catastrophe for world civilization as a whole, through global warming, peak oil, debt crisis, and so on. If we wish to theorize capitalism as it is rather than scratching our heads and wondering why the "socialist" revolution didn't succeed, we must pay a far more careful attention to the material conditions of existence than we have paid so far. The ecological crisis is unprecedented in its historical dimensions because the growth of capitalist exploitation, both of nature and of labor, has reached unprecedented levels. The neoliberal stage of capitalism has thus planted the seeds of its own doom, and those seeds are growing rather quickly.  We can afford to be vague about Marx or historical materialism no longer.  New theories must therefore arise to confront a new situation.

    One of the limitations of the "national system" within a world ruled by a transnational capitalist class is that when you have something like a general strike in a country like Greece, it affects only the Greeks, whereas a general strike across all of Europe or the world could bring the owning class to its knees... Spreading unrest in Paris? It's a matter for the French. Spreading unrest in Paris? It's a matter for the French. College professors in Ontario? I don't live there.

    (thanks to The Fall Of Humanity for ideas...)

    14 March 2006


    Just after a record-setting oil spill, the Senate attempts once again to open ANWR to drilling... no wonder the mainstream media barely covered this stuff... here is the output of the major papers on the spill: NYT -- LAT -- Post -- see for yourself....

    if the "Iraqi government" is itself admitting that it harbors death squads, how is the occupation "keeping the peace"?

    And Milosevic was recently murdered, says Paul Joseph Watson, and perhaps (says Henk Ruyssenaars), by professionals, and the rest of us are left wondering if he would have said something about this...
    FROM RUYSSENAARS' BLOG/ rense.com/ --

    Little Manchurian Candidates -- a concerned parent tries to figure out why kids are taught to hate reading -- and meanwhile the Arctic gets warmer and the ACLU discovers spying on antiwar dissenters as the FBI prosecutes animal rights website owners as the Arab central banks move assets out of the dollar... all of which begins to look bad for the US... the question is "what's happening next"...

    13 March 2006

    Slow morning for news... I guess we can always go to the housing panic blog for some fresh pessimism about capitalist society, or read Jeremy Scahill's obit on Milosevic for insight...
    Go to your local Food Not Bombs, so we can discuss being put on the FBI's terrorist watch list. Serving free food to homeless folk is "terrorism." How glamorous!
    Cursor has discovered that most curious of creatures -- someone with a realistic view of Iraq who nevertheless supports the US occupation. The only problem is, her conclusion is not supported by her premises. If "a sudden American withdrawal would result in a mess," then what do you call the current situation? And if the process of forming an Iraqi Army is fortifying the militias, then wouldn't it make sense to stop doing that, and broker a peace process while getting out?

    Also, from the local home front, the FBI's questioning of a Pomona College professor has got people on campus wondering if they've got First Amendment rights anymore. As usual, the folks who are working hardest to prepare America for the coming revolution are those pseudo-patriots who use the "War on Whatever" and their positions of power and secrecy to tear down everything America ostensibly stands for.