Archive for January, 2010

Howard Zinn

Jan 27 2010 Published by under borderland,commonplaces,curriculum,politics

Howard Zinn died today of a heart attack. He was 87. The AP published a short biography in memorium.

Published in 1980 with little promotion and a first printing of 5,000, "œA People"™s History" was, fittingly, a people"™s best-seller, attracting a wide audience through word of mouth and reaching 1 million sales in 2003. Although Professor Zinn was writing for a general readership, his book was taught in high schools and colleges throughout the country, and numerous companion editions were published, including "œVoices of a People"™s History," a volume for young people and a graphic novel.

"œA People"™s History" told an openly left-wing story. Professor Zinn accused Christopher Columbus and other explorers of committing genocide, picked apart presidents from Andrew Jackson to Franklin D. Roosevelt and celebrated workers, feminists and war resisters.

A full-text HTML version of A People’s History can be found at History is a Weapon.

I’ve been listening this evening to a talk he gave at Reed College, November 20, 1995 which I found at pdxjustice, a good source for social justice-themed media productions. Zinn’s talk at Reed, You Can’t Be Neutral On A Moving Train is laced with quite a bit of humor; it’s an entertaining exposition of his belief that a story, truly told, can not be divorced from a point of view.

One response so far

The Corporation – A Legal “Person”

Jan 25 2010 Published by under borderland,commonplaces,politics

Maybe you’ve heard that the Supreme Court ruled there should be no limits on corporate campaign contributions, finding that “the government has no business regulating political speech.” This follows from the corporation’s status as a person, and money’s ability to talk, legally speaking. Consequently, a movement to legalize democracy is taking shape.

The video clip below is from chapter 3 of The Corporation:

Having acquired rights of immortal persons, what kind of person is the corporation? By law, the corporation can only consider the interests of their shareholders. It is legally bound to put its bottom line before everything else, even the public good.

Watch or download the whole movie, uninterrupted, at the Internet Archives.

From The Corporation’s Wikipedia page:

Topics addressed include the Business Plot, where in 1933, the popular General Smedley Butler exposed a corporate plot against then U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt; the tragedy of the commons; Dwight D. Eisenhower’s warning people to beware of the rising military-industrial complex; economic externalities; suppression of an investigative news story about Bovine Growth Hormone on a Fox News Channel affiliate television station; the invention of the soft drink Fanta by the Coca-Cola Company due to the trade embargo on Nazi Germany; the alleged role of IBM in the Nazi holocaust (see IBM and the Holocaust); the Cochabamba protests of 2000 brought on by the privatization of Bolivia’s municipal water supply by the Bechtel Corporation; and in general themes of corporate social responsibility, the notion of limited liability, the corporation as a psychopath, and the corporation as a person.

Take a few moments to see what a class of 8th graders in Ontario did with the film.

Worth noting in Chapter 6, psychologist Robert D. Hare offers a diagnosis of the corporation’s psycho-social “personhood,” and finds that “The corporation is the protoypical psychopath.” (See Hare’s complete diagnosis [pdf].) According to the Personality Diagnostic Checklist, corporations exhibit:

  • Callous unconcern for the feelings of others
  • Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships
  • Reckless disregard for the safety of others
  • Deceitfulness: repeated lying and conning others for profit
  • Incapacity to experience guilt
  • Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors

Examples are all-too common. Alaska, my home for the past 30 years, depends entirely on the oil industry to fund our state government. We are a single-client state. Our situation is typical of any community that depends on resource extraction, agriculture, tourism, or any major corporate interest for jobs and a tax base. In the end, people figure out where they stand. Riki Ott, author of Not One Drop, speaks about the oil spill:

We thought that the worst thing that could happen to us was the spill, and killing the physical environment in Prince William Sound, and killing off our fisheries. But we have learned since 1989 that really the worst thing that happened was tearing apart our community – the mental health effects on our community. And this wasn’t just with the spill; it was with the clean-up effects, with the money coming into town, the very divisive atmosphere….This has been 18 years. And there can be no closure to an emotional trauma when there is this much upheaval still being generated…

How did corporations get this big, where their values count more than the values of ordinary people and ordinary communities? We’ve got to rebalance power. And we’ve got to give power back to the people and make people’s values count. Community values count.

Twenty years after the spill, Exxon has still not made things right.

Wendell Berry, in The Idea of a Local Economy offers some thoughts on rebuilding communities, seeing that we’ve mostly given away our ability to feed, clothe, shelter, care for, entertain, and educate ourselves because we’ve delegated these cultural practices to others. Berry sees that as people begin to take back portions of their economic responsibility, they discover that “the ‘environmental crisis’ is no such thing; it is not a crisis of our environs or surroundings; it is a crisis of our lives as individuals, as family members, as community members, and as citizens.”

The idea of the global “free market” is merely capitalism’s so-far-successful attempt to enlarge the geographic scope of its greed, and moreover to give to its greed the status of a “right” within its presumptive territory. The global “free market” is free to the corporations precisely because it dissolves the boundaries of the old national colonialisms, and replaces them with a new colonialism without restraints or boundaries. It is pretty much as if all the rabbits have now been forbidden to have holes, thereby “freeing” the hounds.

The loss of the idea of vocation is a critical cost of the globalized economy, says Berry. As economic determinism replaces vocation, people are encouraged to mold themselves into whatever form is called for according to current economic conditions rather than each of us being given the opportunity to work at the task for which we are best suited and inclined. Contrary to what Arne Duncan says, education for “economic security” is not the “civil rights issue of our generation.” The issue is a human rights issue, and it hinges on each person being given the freedom to explore who they are, and what they might wish to become. When we honor human freedom and dignity in our schools, in our workplaces, and throughout our communities, then corporations might find their rightful place in our service, not the other way around.

5 responses so far

Critical Readings

Jan 07 2010 Published by under borderland,curriculum,literacy,politics

The Public School in Los Angeles is a school with no curriculum. Someone proposes a class, and when enough interest builds, a teacher is found to teach whoever signed up. The school isn’t accredited; there are no degree programs. It’s a project of Telic Arts Exchange, an organization that “emphasizes social exchange, interactivity and public participation to produce a critical engagement with new media and culture.” More on the history, here.

Of interest to me is a partner site that functions as a library for The Public School; AAAARG.ORG is a goldmine of academic texts – hundreds of them. I’ve been subscribed to the RSS feed for a few weeks, following what is posted, and I’ve watched the site grow steadily. Topics generally concern philosophy, politics, media theory, economics, sociology, art and architecture, and… more.

Sean Dockery runs the site and also serves as one of the Directors at Telic Arts Exchange. He says that AAAARG used to be more discursive, but now he sees that reciprocity in sharing texts is, in itself, a form of discussion, and he claims that “there is still a discussion happening, but it"™s not really in the words.” OK; whatever. Everything is a conversation now. He also says that people use the site as a library, which is how I see it – way cool, with loads of great stuff to read. There’s not a search function, though, as far as I can see. You can browse the index or search with Google.

And yes, the stuff is mostly copyrighted. Janneke Adema, who is doing research on Open Access Academic Publishing for the OAPEN project has some things to say about academic text sharing in an article that serves as an introduction to a budding movement, Scanners, collectors and aggregators. On the "˜underground movement"™ of (pirated) theory text sharing. Adema looks at a few examples and offers some reasons why publishers are not more upset about these kinds of websites. She challenges the idea that there is harm done to “producers (scholars) and their publishers (in Humanities and Social Sciences mainly Not-For-Profit University Presses),” and she also says:

Still, it is not only the lack of fear of possible retaliations that is feeding the upsurge of text sharing communities. There is a strong ideological commitment to the inherent good of these developments, and a moral and political strive towards institutional and societal change when it comes to knowledge production and dissemination.

I just figure that a bunch of anti-corporate left-wing radicals would not want to gripe about copyright.

I’ve been reading a lot there, lately, and I’ll probably link to it from time to time. So, for starters, I want to mention an article by Paulo Freire on critical reading called, The Act of Study. I found this after Mike Klonsky and Stephen Downes both linked to an article about Freire, written by Henry Giroux, Rethinking Education as the Practice of Freedom. After I read it, I wondered if there was anything by Freire on AAAARG, and there it was.

The Act of Study is really a primer on how to read critically. Freire made his case against what he called “banking education,” the view of teaching and learning as a function of depositing information into the minds of students, which they are then expected to store for later retrieval or personal enrichment. Freire maintained that this form of learning kills our creativity and our curiosity, since the point is memorization, as opposed to comprehension.

Rather than seeing ourselves as “vessels to be filled” Freire recommended that we become “subjects of the act” and attempt to recreate the text for ourselves. He saw critical reading as the expression of an attitude toward the world, and not just a relationship to a book or an article. “To study,” he said, “is not to consume ideas, but to create and to re-create them.

As an example, Clay Burell’s recent post touched on this very problem. He wrote about the challenge of teaching history, noting that his students understood the text without understanding the issues. He says:

And the issue, to put it in a nutshell, is this: Knowing all this stuff is worthless, if all you"™ve done is learn it. You seem to think that we"™re teaching you Western Civilization because gee, it"™s a great civilization.

It"™s not. Like all civilizations, it has its strengths and it has its flaws. Just because it"™s part of the dominant culture today doesn"™t make it good. Maybe the dominant culture today would be much better if certain aspects of Western Civilization were different "” or even non-existent.

Most of your essays saddened me because they were so full of cheer-leading for the West. Civilizations, Western or Eastern, Northern or Southern, don"™t need cheerleaders. They need critics.

Agreed. Read well. The main idea is yours.

6 responses so far