Category Archives: Movement

Algo está muriendo

Something is dying. What is getting born?

Did something die long ago, and did I simply not recognize it?

Was the thing that died real? I think it was the realest thing that ever happened to me, but was it real? Some say not.

There is something I don’t want to die and don’t want to lose connection with. It may not be my choice and as I say, this may have already happened, I may be the last to know.

I do not want the truth to be as empty as it seems now — and I don’t think it is, actually. I also don’t want it to be past.

Something a fortuneteller said to me, though, was: “Stop knocking on doors and stop slumming. Raise your sights to where ‘things can be served on trays’.”

What do I gain by allowing myself to be overburdened with service to others? Evasion of self, or of my own value, surely.

Axé.

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Synopsis of Postman, “The end of education”

The “school problem” has two dimensions, as he sees it. One is the engineering aspect: the means by which young people acquire an education. The other is the metaphysical aspect: the underlying purpose or mission — the “end” — of education. Postman believes that the debate over the future of America’s schools focuses too much on engineering concerns — curricula, teaching methods, standardized testing, the role of technology, etc. — while very little attention is paid to the metaphysics of schooling. As the title suggests, he feels that “without a transcendent and honorable purpose schooling must reach its finish, and the sooner we are done with it, the better.” For education to be meaningful, Postman contends, young people, their parents, and their teachers must have a common narrative. Narratives are essential because they provide a sense of personal identity, a sense of community life, a basis for moral conduct, and explanations of that which cannot be known. The idea of public education requires not only shared narratives, but also the absence of narratives that lead to alienation and divisiveness. “What makes public schools public,” writes Postman, “is not so much that the schools have common goals but that the students have common gods.” As Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, John Dewey and other great educators understood, public schools do not serve a public so much as create a public. But in order to do that they depend on the existence of shared narratives and the capacity of such narratives to provide an inspired reason for schooling.

Axé.

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Postman on the intellectual vacuum in which a Trump arises

But television is a speed-of-light medium, a present-centered medium. Its grammar, so to say, permits no access to the past. Everything presented in moving pictures is experienced as happening “now,” which is why we must be told in language that a videotape we are seeing was made months before. Moreover, like its forefather, the telegraph, television needs to move fragments of information, not to collect and organize them. Carlyle was more prophetic than he could imagine: The literal gray haze that is the background void on all television screens is an apt metaphor of the notion of history the medium puts forward. In the Age of Show Business and image politics, political discourse is emptied not only of ideological content but of historical content, as well. Czeslaw Milosz, winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature, remarked in his acceptance speech in Stockholm that our age is characterized by a “refusal to remember”; he cited, among other things, the shattering fact that there are now more than one hundred books in print that deny that the Holocaust ever took place. The historian Carl Schorske has, in my opinion, circled closer to the truth by noting that the modern mind has grown indifferent to history because history has become useless to it; in other words, it is not obstinacy or ignorance but a sense of irrelevance that leads to the diminution of history. Television’s Bill Moyers inches still closer when he says, “I worry that my own business . . . helps to make this an anxious age of agitated amnesiacs. . . . We Americans seem to know everything about the last twenty-four hours but very little of the last sixty centuries or the last sixty years.” Terence Moran, I believe, lands on the target in saying that with media whose structure is biased toward furnishing images and fragments, we are deprived of access to an historical perspective. In the absence of continuity and context, he says, “bits of information cannot be integrated into an intelligent and consistent whole.” We do not refuse to remember; neither do we find it exactly useless to remember. Rather, we are being rendered unfit to remember. For if remembering is to be something more than nostalgia, it requires a contextual basis—a theory, a vision, a metaphor— something within which facts can be organized and patterns discerned. The politics of image and instantaneous news provides no such context, is, in fact, hampered by attempts to provide any. A mirror records only what you are wearing today. It is silent about yesterday. With television, we vault ourselves into a continuous, incoherent present. “History,” Henry Ford said, “is bunk.” Henry Ford was a typographic optimist. “History,” the Electric Plug replies, “doesn’t exist.”

Axé.

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No es fácil

I want to say that for 25 years I have been visiting a death row prisoner in Louisiana. This started as an offshoot of some activism — it was never my intention to become sole emotional support for a condemned man — but it has happened.

It has been pointed out to me that my position in this is unusual in a number of ways I am at this moment too tired to write out. One of the points I raised, in the call I made on the matter, was that when all of this began there was a community of support for persons in similar positions and that community has since evaporated. One of the ways in which my position is new is that, in the current climate this person, who is now 60 and has been on death row as long as I have been a professor, is more likely to die on death row than to be executed.

Being on death row is not the same as being in a punishment cell but it does mean 23 hour cell restriction. This is not good for the mental health of anyone, and specially not over decades.

If I had someone in town to talk to about this relationship, this activity, this experience, it would be easier. By “someone” I mean someone also doing what I am doing. There is so much to say about all of this.

Axé.

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Message to the DNC

“If fear of Trump is justified, and I believe it is, can someone please explain to me why the geniuses on the Democratic Platform Committee thought it was so god-damned important to play slippery games with the TPP plank? You all saw how Trump wielded that particular knife last night. Do you remember how we handed it to him? Dems voted it down last year, Obama put on enough pressure to get it through with mostly GOP votes.

“So why the HELL should Democrats own the TPP? To hell with Obama on this. Hillary says she opposes it. Why NOT put an exclamation point on it and adopt the Sanders plank on TPP? It’s not too late. And as an added bonus Pence voted for it.

“This isn’t about Hillary vs. Bernie. It’s about Hillary vs. Trump.”

Axé.

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The best Brexit article

If the EU worked well for any nation in Europe, it was the UK. Thanks to the skepticism and paranoia of Gordon Brown, Britain dodged the catastrophic error of the single currency. As a result, it has been relatively free to pursue the fiscal policies that it deems socially and politically desirable. The fact that it has consistently chosen neoliberal ones is not really the fault of the EU, the stability and growth pact notwithstanding. But in contrast to southern European members of the EU, Britain is scarcely constrained at all. Instead, it has benefited from economic stability, a clear international regulatory framework and a sense of cultural fraternity with other member states. One could even argue that, being in the EU but outside of the Eurozone, Britain has had the best deal of any member state during the 21st century.

This has been abandoned. Meanwhile, nations that might genuinely describe themselves as ‘shackled’, have suffered such serious threats to their democracy as to have unelected Prime Ministers imposed upon them by the Troika, and have had their future forcibly removed thanks to the European Union, might look at Brexit and wonder.

“Thoughts on the sociology of Brexit”, read it all.

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University of Wisconsin-Madison

A friend writes on this article:

Let me see if I understand. This state university is essentially becoming a for-profit academy. They can’t afford not to spend the money to keep the grant winners. Of course, that money spent to keep grants is public money being spent primarily to make money, not to educate. So that is the university as investment house. Research and learning are not really the point. Dollars drive knowledge, what gets to be known and what gets to reproduce its institutional status. The only legitimate use of public dollars is to make money. There is no public good beyond that to be served by higher education as such. That is the narrative in force right now and it is highly of cynical, especially given its power among nativists and a majority of voters.

Not enough people see the long term benefits of higher learning across the fields of knowledge and we are at that place where there is too little public support for knowledge that is critical or not supportive of commonplace understanding. The collapse of public faith in the inherent benefits of public higher education, while largely attributable to the activities of the Right since 1981, must be attributable too to some lack on the part of faculty. We and our immediate forebears witnessed these problems rising (adjunctification, exploding administrative ranks, corporatization, inability to engage in public rhetoric) and did too little to abort them. Now perhaps I expect too much. A small subsystem cannot control the whole. But I cannot escape the sense that too many faculty members abandoned the public and their students, because little of the market fundamentalist agenda is good for either the public or our students.

Axé.

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