Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Privilege or Responsibility?

I find the practice of assigning corporate guilt to any sociological segment of humanity to be despicable. Corporate guilt is the practice of attributing fault or responsibility to an entire (usually stereotyped) grouped based on the real or supposed actions of a few (or many). Corporate guilt has been partner of all atrocities that punish the whole group for the sins of a few, whether or not these sins were actual or only sins against the situational norms or mores of the elite. Examples of corporate guilt include South African apartheid, U. S. segregation, the Holocaust, and British and French colonial imperialism. From what little I have read, Peggy McIntosh advocates corporate guilt, and therefore has some strange bedfellows indeed.

Corporate guilt results in two diverse outcomes. For one, it hides the true guilt of the majority, for if everyone is guilty, in a sense no one is guilty. If I confess so many inconsequential sins and injustices and accuse my compatriots of the same, it is easy for me to cover my true failings. Secondly, corporate guilt provides a scape goat for the truly guilty, the oppressive, and tyranny. Nero escaped the blame for burning Roman by accusing and subsequently killing Christians to appease the anger of the mobs. Mob rule of this sort is true democracy in action. It is not the rational, but the emotional that win the day.

As a case in point, lets take McIntosh as our paradigm of hope. As she confesses all the guilt of whiteness, is she trying to hide a greater fault. Is it really the privilege of using a check rather than a credit card, or is it that she has chosen family instability and forced her choice upon both her children and partner? Now the one sin is theoretically partaken of by all the white, the second is her personal responsibility, but choice and consequences only lie with the second. And is it the greatest evil that McIntosh can cohort with those "of her own kind" at any time or is it a greater sin that she ignores a colleague or known face in the grocery store that happens to be a Republican, pro-lifer, or Evangelical? Is it privilege that McIntosh can walk into a store without being "watched" or is it privilege she walks out with a $100 bottle of Merlot to get into her BMW bought with her six figure salary from her tenured position. It is these last few items that privileges her above the majority of humanity, though she fails to either confess or bewail such gross luxury that exists between her and the rest of the world.

Let me bring the point home to each of us. The problem is not that we fail to provide for all the faceless unknowns of the world, but that I fail to help Johnny or Alan or Kim or Christi when I know they need me. I can not cry over the nameless needy and use that to justify ignoring those in need whom I know, even if they are white or black or red. It is not dedication to "the cause" that makes one just, but the dedication to real individuals with names and faces. What McIntosh calls privilege I call responsibility. I can either wear the hair shirt and flagellate my body for having it, setting myself up as a pseudo-saint, or else I can offer the same to those within my reach, starting the long pathway to true responsibility and authenticity.

How can people be so heartless
How can people be so cruel
Easy to be hard, easy to be cold

How can people have no feelings
How can they ignore their friends
Easy to be proud, easy to say no

Especially people who care about strangers
Who care about evil and social injustice
Do you only care about bleeding crowd
How about a needing friend, I need a friend

How can people be so heartless
You know I'm hung up on you
Easy to be proud, easy to say no

Especially people who care about strangers
Who care about evil and social injustice
Do you only care about bleeding crowd
How about a needing friend, we all need a friend

How can people be so heartless
How can people be so cruel
Easy to be proud, easy to say no
Easy to be cold, easy to say no
Come, on, easy to give in, easy to say no
Easy to be cold, easy to say no
Much too easy to say no.

(Three Dog Night, 1971)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Cover of Newsweek

No matter what our economic sentiments, we should all consider the February 9th cover of Newsweek and the contents of the article. What do you think?

Who's a Coward?

I thought the following news clip from the Attorney General was relevant as relates to the Tuesday discussion. I hope we as a class and as individuals will put an honest effort into getting off the cowards' list. --des

*******

WASHINGTONAttorney General Eric Holder described the United States Wednesday as a nation of cowards on matters of race, saying most Americans avoid discussing unresolved racial issues.

In a speech to Justice Department employees marking Black History Month, Holder said the workplace is largely integrated but Americans still self-segregate on the weekends and in their private lives.

"Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards," said Holder, nation's first black attorney general.

Race issues continue to be a topic of political discussion, Holder said, but "we, as average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race."

He urged people of all races to use Black History Month as a chance for frank talk about racial matters.

"It is an issue we have never been at ease with and, given our nation's history, this is in some ways understandable," Holder said. "If we are to make progress in this area, we must feel comfortable enough with one another and tolerant enough of each other to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us."

He told Justice Department employees they have a special responsibility to advance racial understanding.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Who looks in your soul?

I have read the blogs and seen the experiences that relate to color, to skill, and to disability. I do not know the challenges that faced Danielle, Joel, Johnny, or Alan. You see, I could always see (until about 45 anyhow), I could always sing, and I was never black. I would be lying if I claimed to understand those feelings. But there are some adventures that I did experience or suffer along the way, although I am a little uneasy of the political connotations of marginalization.

When I was a little boy, I tried out for little league. That's what you do, even though I didn't really like baseball and wasn't very good. As I was standing my post in the out field, I happened to pull a thread out of my knit shirt. The whole bottom half dropped down and made me look like I had a beer belly hanging out at 12 years old. The coach saw it and told be to take a couple of laps around the field for my health. I didn't make the team.

In the US, all young boys should play football. So off I went to try out for the 8th grade team. When it came to choosing who would start, I did not hear my name called. Those not called and chosen became the test dummies, the opposing side. As I attempted to play the part of the loosing team, I went in for a tackle, but somehow I ended up on the bottom with a broken arm. That was the end of my football career. From then on, I would play in the band (which was what I wanted to do anyhow). I am guessing, but I don't think Johnny every experienced this side of sports.

I remember when desegregation came to my county. There were no confrontations in the high school I attended, though there were in other local schools. I personally did not understand what was the problem, though before long I met some of the harsh realities. Some of you may doubt the fact, but I was a little rowdy in my youth. In that ancient time, a fellow could get a quart of beer for $.55 and a couple of those gave great courage to fools who go where angels fear to tread. On one adventure several of us decided to go party with the brothers. You see the brothers (black guys and gals) had a private club that served literally everything. There must have been three or four of us white guys to enter the black club, buy a couple of drinks (I'm probably a little younger than 18 at this time), and make ourselves at home listening to the music. We had only been there a matter of minutes before someone began calling us crackers, rabbits, and several other appellations denoting either our complexion or our failure to realize that we were in the wrong place. To make a long story short, we barley escaped with our hides. One of the black football players from our school help us to retreat from the establishment where some of the brothers had a different opinion on integration than we had come to expect.

Around the same era in my life, there was the tendency among my peers to dress, look, and act like hippies (to a lesser or greater degree). Long hair, partaking of the noble weed, and rock-n-roll were not as appreciated in that ancient time as they are today (well maybe not today either). Anyway, a lot of folks were trying to find themselves and its no wonder. Consider the things folks ingested, either orally or audibly, at least 50% of the country was wandering around wondering where we were. Nevertheless, hippies were not appreciated, were watched, were mocked, and sometime abused by red necks. Take the film Easy Rider for your paradigm of hope for that era. As good or bad fortune would have it, I felt the brunt of some of it, but chiefly from the local law enforcement who watched us like hawks. I spent more than one night in jail for just associating with hippies. They couldn't do it to you today, but they could then.

I have lingered too long, but one final story comes to mind. After my youth had past and I became an responsible citizen of these fair United States, I came under the false impress that all the B. S. prejudice, stereotypes, and censorship had gone the way of the Pterodactyl. After finishing a tour of duty in the electronics industry (professional audio, two way radio, and finally IT manager), I returned to the classroom. In the NC community college in which I taught, I had two women bosses: one white and one black. I offered the department something that had never happened, which was an online religion course. Everyone was delighted and dubbed me the guru of online humanities. That was great, but for some strange reason I was not assigned a course for one spring semester. I took it as cutbacks and though nothing of it, but after the semester started I began to get email from students. Come to find out, my online course had been given to a white female instructor lock, stock, and barrel, including my personal notes and profile. Since no online coursed existed in this area before me, this was my intellectual property. I threatened legal action, but settled with the equivalent of one semester's pay because I was really not interested in a fight. This was bad policy, bad manners, and bad form for a department head who had a Ph.D. in feminist studies from UNCG. The department chair was the only one who could have allowed my intellectual property to be taken without my sayso. To be frank, I was more qualified, had taught the course more times, and had more teaching experience. The only reason I can attribute to the adventure is bias and preference. Being a white male worked against me in an institution (higher education) that claims to play fair and support the cause of the disenfranchised. I don't believe it one minute. I never even got an apology from those in command.

So how do I feel about blacks, white women in positions of authority, and law enforcement because of my experiences? Well, I actually love all sorts of women (Platonic stuff here), although I trust very few, but neither do I trust law enforcement. I am afraid of the possibility of a police state which almost happened in the early 1990s and a feminist state that exists more and more. What about my experience with black prejudice? It's like this, people of all colors can behave poorly under the influence of alcohol. That was actually the easiest of all situations with which to deal. On the other hand I am not an anarchist by any stretch, and as concerns sociology and anthropology, I am an agnostic. I do not know all black men by my encounters with a few, nor do I know all women by my adventures with a few, nor do I know all whites, reds, democrats, republicans, Christians, Jews, or Hindus by my encounters with a few. I only know those who I have encountered, and that is what upsets me about some of the readings that judge and stereo type groups. Change whiteness et al to Jew, and it reads like Nazi propoganda of the 1930s and 1940s. This is not good, if indeed there is such a thing as good.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Neo-Liberalism

I have come to believe that the term neo-liberalism is a stereotype and pejorative term in the writings of Apple and Giroux. Therefore we do not have a true description of this category of individuals or this economic ideology from the readings. I think that the reason that this is a pejorative term is that some do not wish to admit that free markets (alias neo-liberalism) are a classic example of liberal democracy and laisssez faire economics. For if we confess that free markets are indeed part of classical liberalism, then authors such as Apple and Giroux are then opponents of liberalism and liberal democracy.

It is also interesting that the promotion of free markets, as far as the United States is concerned, is neither left or right of the political aisle. There are democrats, republicans, and libertarians that are proponents of free markets. If we use Giroux's example of Enron as an abuser of the markets, we may also need to know that the failed Enron contributed equally to democrats and republicans. If we look at another abuser of the markets, Global Crossings, we find out that it was under the control of the same man that was chairman of the DNC, Terry McAlliffe. On the other hand, we may look at Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, both proponents of globalization and free markets, but apparently also responsible citizens. Gates was opposed to many of the tax cuts proposed by the Bush administration and Buffett allocated tremendous amounts of money to health care in third world nations. It is said that the Gates/Buffett budget for health care in underdeveloped nations is in excess of the total budget of the World Health Organization of the United Nations.

Giroux in some of his writings also attacks conservative Christianity, opting for liberation theology (a Marxist revolutionary in a priest frock). But if we were to inquire into the amount of humanitarian aid that proceeds from Christian organizations (like Samaritans Purse and World Vision), we might discover that it exceeds any that comes from secular organizations. Christian groups were on the scene after Katrina faster than any government agencies, yet they received little credit for their labors.

With a sense of limited knowledge in global affairs and economics, I feel the need to be careful and to adapt the viewpoints noted by media literacy specialists: protection, pleasure, and preparation. I find Giroux a protectionist view and what would be considered censorship if applied to media. On the other hand, Thomas Friedman may tend more towards pleasure, how we can enjoy the fruits of free markets and globalization. As educators, we should be careful not to endorse opinions, lest we be charged with starting a new secular religion of sorts. It seems that environmentalists have received such a charge as recent as yesterday's news. The job of educators is preparation, which includes investigation of many viewpoints and options, and the sectarian promotion of none. It is not the easy way, but as Siddhartha Gautama might say, it is the middle way.

D. Smith

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

China: Not Flat by Choice

An internet news clipping follows:

Chinese Translation Cuts Out Parts of Obama Inauguration Speech
: Obama's inauguration references to communism and dissent veered into politically sensitive territory for China's ruling Communist Party.

BEIJING - The official Chinese translation of President Barack Obama's inauguration speech was missing his references to communism and dissent, while a live broadcast on state television Wednesday quickly cut away to the anchor when the topic was mentioned.

The comments by the newly installed U.S. president veered into politically sensitive territory for China's ruling Communist Party, which maintains a tight grip over the Internet and the entirely state-run media. Beijing tolerates little dissent and frequently decries foreign interference in its internal affairs.

At one point, Obama said earlier generations "faced down communism and fascism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions." He later addressed "those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent know that you are on the wrong side of history."

The Chinese translation of the speech, credited to the Web site of the official China Daily newspaper, was missing the word "communism" in the first sentence. The paragraph with the sentence on dissent had been removed entirely.

The censored version was carried by the state-run Xinhua News Agency and posted on popular online portals Sina and Sohu. Another portal, Netease, used a version without the paragraph mentioning communism, but retaining the part about dissent....

The full translation of Obama's speech could be viewed on the Web site of Hong Kong-based broadcaster Phoenix Satellite Television, which has a reputation as a more independent news source. The China Daily Web site posted Obama's full remarks in English only.

China has previously altered the words of U.S. officials.... In 2003, the memoirs of then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton were pulled from publication in China after the government-backed publisher removed references to the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protests and altered Clinton's comments about human rights activist Harry Wu.

(Source)

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Flat World: Is there a choice?

In the past year I have taken a class where my instructor lived in Poland while I sat in Hudson, NC. At the same time I taught a class where some of my students lived on military bases in Georgia and Europe, yet I still remained in Hudson. I once had a student who was deployed and finished a course on a naval battleship. I teach classes where the meekest of students now has a loud voice and anyone who desires the responsibility can have a seat at the table. In these classes, both students and teachers are oblivious to race, color, creed, nationality, sex, or any number of other contours that formerly made for a less flat educational world. I teach online, exclusively. All my courses are asynchronous and the time-space continuum is relatively non-existent. Some students can not adapt to such freedom, and neither can some teachers, just as some people do not seem to prosper in a flat world. I realize that this is only one avenue to a flat educational world, but it grows daily. There is a technology and personal discipline prerequisite, but I consider it little different than adapting to the invention of concrete or steel plows.

Now, on the other hand, do we have a choice of flat world or other? First of all, we need to be careful for what we ask, since it may come to pass. Most of us desired lower gas prices this past summer, and guess what? It happened! The same can be said for the US trade deficit and real estate prices. We were told that there would never again be cheap energy, but those prophets (or profits) were wrong. Those who demanded a lower trade deficit never told the public that it could come in the wake of a recession. We really can't have our cake and eat it too. But is there a choice, that depends.

Science does not know right from wrong, and I'm not sure that economics can tell the difference either. Although Marxism focuses on a narrow view of [economic] oppression of the [proletariat] oppressed, it does not really value individually oppressed persons. Marxism advocates the oppression of the [bourgeois] oppressors, or at least that is what happened in the 20th century Marxist experiements in Europe and South America. The oppression of the oppressors was also a key element in the French revolution and those who produced that famous document, The Declaration of the rights of man (D├ęclaration des droits de l'Homme et du citoyen). It got so bad that the rich could be condemned just for being the aristocracy, regardless of crime. Indeed, it was a crime to be French nobility or aristocracy under Robespierre. I guess the rich were not really human after all. So in the flat world, do we condemn those who prosper unless all the world prospers with them? In the guise of Nietzsche, let me ask what is wrong with political and economic natural selection? On what basis can one advocate the cause of the third world or anyone else that may suffer from a flat world? Is it not true that species which adapt are those who ultimately survive? Why do we war against the inevitable? We have no guarantee that a somewhat less flat world could either exist or would benefit the losers in the flat world. It could be another lower-gas-prices, lower-trade-deficit scenario.

So could the flat world descentors do better feeding the world, increasing the overall communication, facilitate a wider dissemination of education or quality of life for a greater number of persons? I don't know. I don't see why they don't go for it, show a better plan, do more good to more folks, and quit crying foul. I'm not sure the conflict model works, and I'm not sure there is even a choice to be made, but even if there were a choice, there are no guarantees. We might get lower fuel costs whether we like it or not. If the flat world destroys humanity as we know it, how would that differ from the extinction of any previous species? Why are humans any better than the 90% of species that have already passed into infinity? The whole good/bad thing is a little fuzzy.