Saturday, November 01, 2008

Neoliberalism according to Harvey

One of the more popular reasons people visit this site is to read about neoliberalism, in particular my "review"/study guide for David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism.

Instead of having it spread out over a large number of pages, here it is as a pdf.  Enjoy!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Veni, Vidi, Vichy

The European Union will hold a meeting in Vichy

The world is a palimpseste.

I came, I saw, I tried to forget.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Monkey Bee, A short film by Jamie Hewlett - Wide Screen

I love this.

Lessons of The Immoralist

A student wrote me last night about L'Immoraliste by André Gide.   We're using it in our paired course on "Modern French History" and "Riots and Revolutions."  We chose it because it paralleled in a lot of ways turn of the century thought, and after reading Barrès' work and especially Jeunes gens d'aujourd'hui by Henri Massis and Alfred de Tarde, boy were we ever happy with our choice.

Now of course André Gide's politics had nothing in common with the proto-fascist, Catholic renaissance Youth of Today.  Yet, Michel's self-absorption, his movement away from the "sedentary," "intellectual," "unpatriotic," "defeatist," "universalist" generation of 1865 towards a "physical" "action-oriented" new generation overlaps Massis and de Tarde's (primitive and unscientific) poll of the youth born around 1890.

Massis and de Tarde is infinitely more obsessed with patriotism, war and Catholicism compared to Gide.  They write:

L'héroïsme et la guerre.
Et voici qui est plus significatif encore. Des
élèves de rhétorique supérieure à Paris, c'est-à-
dire l'élite la plus cultivée de la jeunesse, déclarent
trouver dans la guerre un idéal esthétique d'énergie
et de force. Ils pensent que « la France a besoin
d'héroïsme pour vivre ». «Telle est la foi, dit encore
M. Tourolle, qui consume la jeunesse moderne. »
Combien de fois, depuis deux ans, n'avons-nous
pas entendu répéter : « Plutôt la guerre que cette
perpétuelle attente ! » Dans ce vœu, nulle amer-
tume, mais un secret espoir. (31)
So the youth of the day (and by that they mean the youth of the Ecole Normale Supérieur and Henri IV--the important youth, the leaders of tomorrow...) say "[Let's have] War rather than this perpetual waiting," or "...the most cultivated elite says it finds in war an aesthetic ideal of energy and force."

On sport and travel, Massis and Tarde relate that

Le sport a exercé, lui aussi, sur l'optimisme
patriotique des jeunes gens une influence qu'on ne
saurait négliger. Le bénéfice moral du sport, j'en-
tends de ces sports collectifs, comme le foot-ball,
si répandu dans nos lycées, c'est qu'il développe
l'esprit de solidarité, ce sentiment d'une action
commune où chaque volonté particulière doit con-
sentir au sacrifice. D'autre part, les sports font
naître l'endurance, le sang-froid, ces vertus mili-
taires, et maintiennent la jeunesse dans une atmo-
sphère belliqueuse (1).
L'habitude des voyages, enfin, loin d'affaiblir
l'idée de patrie, l'a transformée et précisée. Ceux
qui voyagent sentent le mieux l'opposition des
étrangers à eux-mêmes : ils prennent conscience de
leurs différences : «Chaque fois que je me suis
trouvé à l'étranger, nous déclarait un jeune étu-
diant de lettres, j'ai éprouvé en moi la vérité et
la force du sentiment patriotique.»
Sport inspires discipline, "military virtues" and, to their delight, a "bellicose atmosphere." Unlike for Michel, though, travel is not linked to understanding otherness, to a quest for universal ideas, rather it is an opportunity to reaffirm the "truth and the force of patriotic sentiment."  Michel's need for the Other in his path of self discovery, as well as his more nuanced understanding of the world in general (with the exception of the lacunae regarding women and most practical matters), lead him away from the Nativist and Catholicized tract by Massis and de Tarde.  Yet, Michel's narrative abounds in words like "life," "energy," "force," etc.  His growing taste for self-realization and "action and thought" as Massis and de Tarde would say, clearly falls in line with the pre-war generation of the turn of the century.  [On a side note, it is truly incredible how much Young People of Today sounds like the republican party of the last 30 years.]

Thus couched, Michel's self-absorbed reality, though clearly a pathway to figuring out his marginal status, can also be seen as a symptom of larger societal ills and contradictions.

So my student writes:

Another work that I have read that really contrasts with those traditional views of The Odyssey is The Immoralist by Andre Gide. It is basically about a young man who gets married, contracts TB, decides the only way he can get better is to focus completely on himself, gets better, discovers he's attracted to men, creates a doctrine that despises morals as social conventions and stifling to individuality, and ulitmately is responsible for the death of his wife when she contracts TB from him and he drags her around the world wearing her out to satisfy his wander lust. Obviously, this is not a good guy (I could have guessed by the title). One thing that I found particularly infuriating about this book was the main character's (Michel) view on honesty.

"I detest these honest folk. I may have nothing to fear from them, but I have nothing to learn from them either. And they have nothing to say...Oh, these honest Swiss. Where do their good manners get them?...They have no crime, no history, no literature, no art...They are like a sturdy rosebush without thorns or flowers."

Here, Michel equates honesty with good manners, and makes incredibly broad generalizations about a people he honestly has very little contact with. First of all, good manners often leaves little room for honesty, so right away his hypothesis that honesty is a social convention is thrown out the window. If he actually paid attention when he was in society he would realize a lot is left unsaid or twisted, and that honesty is not so much an actual convention of society but just a front used to make people think we are all getting along and being adults. Isn't honesty supposed to be a particularly adult quality? All kids lie about brushing their teeth and how old they are and whether or not they snuck out. Adults are supposed to grow beyond that, yet I feel that most just grow more skillful in their facade. They have the seeming of honesty to allow them to function respectably in society and this is what Michel detests though does not articulate well and causes him to confuse honesty with social convention. After all, his attraction to evil and bad dealings is partly because he believes criminals have more sincerity than those that follow rules, those people he believes are just cookie-cutters from society's mold. However, you can say the same generalizing prejudices against criminals. In a criminal society, lieing, cheating, and stealing become the conventions. And how is one murderer different from another? If it is actions that define the person (like praying in church, stealing a pair of scissors) then aren't we all from one mold or the other? Can we ever be surprised at what someone does? No, especially in this day when we have witnessed countless wars, watched film of the atom bomb dropping, or studied the holocaust. Unlike Michel, I believe that what breaks molds are not actions that can be labeled as anti-social or the anti-citizen, but actually thinking and developping beliefs that do not autimatically reject morals because "everyone" seems to have them. I feel like this is what Michel does: he rejects what is perceived as "moral" because he wants to be an individual. However, the author prefaces the story by saying that "I don't pretend to have invented this "problem"--it existed before my book came along. Whether Michel prevails or not, the "problem" continues to exist, and does not in the author's view terminate in triumph or defeat." (8). Therefore Michel is coming from a mold whether he likes it or not. He is a part of the tradiotn of a "problem" of society and therefore cannot reject society completely or live comfortably outside of it. His philosophy, his doctrine and dogma, are pointless, because by trying to break his idea of the mold he is merely fitting himself to another: that of the marginal character. I think the title of the book says it all: The Immoralist, not Michel. He has become an archetype and is no longer a person, but an example of what is "bad." Is this not like Jesus, the Christian archetype of what is "good"? Marceline's death may be seen as Michel's final effort to kill that "good" inside him.

Okay, so to wrap things up: Michel's modern quest for individuality versus Odysseus's traditional values of goodness. Neither is a relativist. While Odysseus is a part of a large and predominant faith, Michel scorns faith. His quest for individuality is modern, but it is not relativist because he most certainly judges those who do not feel like him. He does not allow other people to have the comfort of their own beliefs but ridicules them for their blindness and "comfortable happiness." In this way, both characters judge, Odysseus with the bow, and Michel with scorn. So, at this late date I can barely remember what my point was, just that I was thinking about Whitney's contemplation of goodness and thought I would throw in my own contemplations. I can honestly say that I mostly despise Michel (I have some pity for him, though it is very little), and I admire Odysseus. However, I also despise the cookie-cutter and molds as Michel does, I just choose to see rebellion in a different light. For me, rebellion does not mean falling in with criminals and despising people for their goodness. Rebellion means adapting those old and powerful traditions to modern times. How can I be hospitable, or pious, or just plain good in 2008? Now I've gotten myself all tangled up because I wrote "For me" which is a very relativist beginning to a sentence! Oh well, I'm done for tonight. I've spent way too long on this and need to get to homework. I will be surprised if anybody reads this through.
 I have to say I was thrilled that she was processing a lot of the various issues surrounding Michel's development.  He is frustrating.  So I replied the following:

This book is indeed infuriating, and I think you strike the right note when you touch on the book's title.  He's not amoral, which would imply someone who is simply contrary to a certain moral framework, a binary framework.  Rather, he chooses "immoral," which is somehow slightly different and perhaps "less moral" because it posits the idea that perhaps there exist no morals at all, only conventions, politeness, social graces--all of which in his eyes become increasingly empty.  Ménalque (and perhaps Moktir, though we can only guess at what his philosophy of life may be), are iconic in the novel, but are they solutions to the problem?  I guess the questions this raises for me are the following: does Michel become Ménalque, or is something stopping him--a wariness perhaps that by trying to break out of the mold, he is, as you point out, "merely fitting himself to another: that of the marginal character"?  Is this why, in spite of his self-centered outlook, he still has a need to at least tell himself that he is dedicated to his wife?  Is this why he is stuck in Biskra and can't leave? I don't know the answer, but, again, I think you are on the right track when you say "he rejects what is perceived as 'moral' because he wants to be an individual."

His problem is a problem of becoming.  To become who he really is he cannot follow the typical pathways offered by society.  He is marginalized by definition, so then, how can he become a full-fledged person when rules and conventions already define and constrain him? (Of course, his striving for a total accomplishment of self is really that of all of us, but it is all the more pronounced given his "extreme" difference from others.)  Sloughing off the shackles of convention does not necessarily mean a total rejection of everything, though, and, on some level it is an immature and childish dream to think that one can accomplish such a feat.   But Michel, so focused on himself, on figuring out who he is, is not unlike a child. 

Can one totally reject language and still communicate?  Can one reject all morals and still be human since humanity is in part defined by the artifices of culture and relationships?  No, this is the price we pay to be social beings.  As a novelist and a homosexual, I think Gide was acutely aware of this.  He knew that "originality" was an impossible pipedream, that original novels like original individuals were, at best, only occasionally so, not intrinsically so.  As the author references the Bible, ancient history, etc., his is entering into a dialectic with them--defining himself, but with seeds planted long ago by others.  I think he recognizes himself as a torch-carrier rather than a "pure" creator.

The other part of the equation, of course, is not whether Michel has a problem, but whether in fact society does.  Are Michel and Marcelline not both victims of an "arbitrary" sickness as they are of "arbitrary" social conventions that put them in this relationship without really knowing why?  (I'm not trying to excuse Michel, but one does have to recognize his difficulty of becoming fully human in a society which defines him as grotesque and therefore, to some degree, forces his hand in pushing him away.)  Here, to me, is where colonialism offers some possible insights.  Outside of France, Michel can just "be" without restraints, but he can't just "be" because he is cut off, seperated, without the social ties that make him fully who he is.  He is caught.  Likewise, these colonial subjects are caught in a power trap as well, as they find themselves marginalized, objectified and imprisoned by a dominant system (culturally, in the French eyes, and militarily).  One can try to avoid the system, to live outside of it, or, more poetically, beyond it, yet it always comes back to define the potential escapee.  The "desert" is mere refuge, a mirage, not a permanent home, and I'm sure you get my reference here.

So it seems that Gide is exposing a problem where all the solutions are imperfect.  On the one hand, these problems are very real and regard the oppression of minorities and the very deep repression that those minorities develop.  On the other is the problem of the social individual, especially the Westerner, the Artist, who is locked in a battle to fulfill his/her true Self, to be unlike any other before.  The latter is futile, vain in both senses of the word, which is why the constant act of becoming and reinventing of the self and the retelling of stories become so important to us, why the process can eventually surpass the product.

Anyway, those are a few of my thoughts.  I really appreciate the time you spent thinking about this difficult novel and I think you have some really important insights....
And so ended my email.  Isn't it exciting when students are engaged!

Anyway, I have now written far too much and must, like my student, "go do my homework."

Recommended reading: The Immoralist and The Counterfeiters (Les Faux-Monnayeurs).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Just watched the Obama-mercial

It was good.  Very good.  It did what it was supposed to do.  He was more hawkish than I thought he needed to be, but such is life.  In a world of soundbites (and, yes, there were soundbites in the presentation), it still took the time to explain things, to back up arguments.  It made sense.  I appreciate that.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Diversity Makes You Smarter

Just came to my email box:

Do Faculty Interactions Among Diverse Students Enhance Intellectual Development?

A fundamental assumption that underscores the position of those who support incorporating diversity into the dynamics of the college classroom is that positive intellectual and social outcomes will occur. A growing number of studies support this finding (Astin, 1993; Chang, 1999; Goon, 1999); however, most did not use a strong research design. While surveys, focus groups, self-reported data, correlational designs, and ethnographic studies yield important information, what is needed are the results generated by an experimental design. A recent study that appeared in Psychological Science not only provides such an experimental framework but also reports results in an extremely valuable area - cognitive development.

Antonio et al. (2004) used a research design that permits examination of the effects of diversity on integrative complexity (IC), which refers to the degree to which students' cognitive style involves differentiation and integration of multiple perspectives. Low IC students take a simple, less complicated approach to reasoning, decision making, and evaluating information. High IC students evaluate, in a reflective way, various perspectives, solutions, and discussion. The researchers used small-group discussions and varied group racial composition and group opinion about a target social issue. Among the significant findings was that the presence of minority students in a group of White students leads to a greater level of cognitive complexity. In addition, the racial diversity of a student's close friends and classmates has a greater impact on IC than does the diversity of the discussion group. This latter finding implies that prolonged contact may have a stronger effect on cognitive complexity than does singular or intermittent contact.

The interaction among diverse student groups within a formal classroom setting forms the basis of mandatory diversity requirements that generally range from 3 to 12 credit hours on many campuses. For example, the University of California, Berkeley has an American cultures (AC) requirement for its undergraduates. Faculty thread comparative analyses of their teaching and research across complex discussions, and the AC requirement is treated as a living, evolving effort that expands in scope as the need arises. Unfortunately, on many campuses, the learning outcomes associated with such requirements are not always evident, nor are they linked to effective teaching strategies.

Concrete Success Strategies and Programs

While many institutions exhibit both symbolic and verbal support for the academic success of diverse student populations, a smaller percentage of colleges and universities have committed to long-term support of concrete programs with proven records of success. Such programs emphasize various aspects of the teaching/learning paradigm and are especially important for science, math, engineering, and technical courses-areas that historically have been problematic for diverse students. The consistency of such programs results from a merger of proven techniques and identification of the students' needs, weaknesses, goals, values, and expectations of diverse populations.

The programs share certain characteristics that establish the framework for the more specific approaches, including:

* They move students from individual levels of academic self-esteem to a sense of collective identity.
* They front-load their activities so that diverse students develop a firm foundation and are better prepared for the more difficult upper-level courses.
* They align entering students with upper-level students, graduate students, and faculty members, in many cases establishing formal mentoring efforts.
* They sustain program excellence by maintaining high standards, rigor, and scholarly nurturing.
* They use a developmental or phase-development process that moves students from lower to higher levels of analytical thinking, problem solving, reasoning, and active learning.

The University of Washington has supported a long-running successful program in physics and biology for students of color; Table 4.3 identifies the classroom strategies that are aligned with successful program outcomes.

This program recognizes that even students with good academic profiles can vary significantly in their conceptual and analytical abilities, critical thinking skills, and general level of academic preparation.
To commit to a model of diversity and inclusive teaching, faculty must accept the roles and responsibilities associated with transforming a classroom. The shift from a traditional classroom to one that is transformed is no easy task. Many factors can influence such a shift and they may not all converge at the same time. Table 4.4 compares how characteristics change in the transformative shift.

The move from a traditional to a transformed curriculum connects curricular and pedagogical change. Because such a shift engenders political ambiguity in many, it is important to keep the relationship between diversity and excellence front and center in all discussions.
You can read more here...

Nothing here would shock me, that is, it confirms what I've thought for a long time. I suppose this is just preaching to the choir since those who spout off about diversity-enhancing programs such as Affirmative Action are not looking at the research much anyway, or they are possibly looking at partial research..

Update and other thoughts...

As a prof at the most diverse private liberal arts school in the country (Whittier College), I can only agree that diversity is good. I see it every day on an anecdotal level. Yes, it has its challenges--diversity is the opposite of factory schooling, uniformity--but that is also why it is so effective.

Alternate Solar System Just In Case I Need it.

It looks like there is a solar system 10.5 light years away that may very well have the right ingredients for life.

You might need this just in case John McCain wins--he keeps saying he will--and even the press says the race is tightening.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Racism at John McCain Rally--Denver, CO

Still more racist Republicans at a McCain Rally.

Sunday, October 26, 2008