Archive for March, 2010

People’s park in Berkeley, CA

March 25, 2010

Professor Mackin talked about a short incident that happened in the city of Berkeley in class today. UC Berkeley was one of my top choice schools and a big incident like People’s Park Controversy instantly drew my attention. The University originally bought the land in 1956 to build student housing and offices. But due to the lack of funding, a plan stopped for a year. Then, the University changed the plan to build a student parking lot. Once again, the University ran out of funding, ultimately, they stopped whole development of expanding the school. Residents and students of the area wanted to make use of the unused land: a public park with a free-speech microphone where anyone can speak feely. However, because of Governor’ Reagan and his greed to use the park as his campaign promises, polices and highway patrol end up clearing the park. With this, few violent fights between citizens and polices continued. A student, James Rector, was killed with gun shot and minor injuries among many innocent bystanders and policemen. After “Bloody Thursday” with all violence, 3/10 of the Berkeley citizens marched through the barricades of park. During the march, citizens displayed their desire for non-violence action by young girls put down flowers on National’ Guard’s rifles. Ultimately, five-year University/City lease agreement ended in March 1996, the land became real “People’s Park.”

Feminism, Marxism, Lady Gaga

March 22, 2010

I came across a blog about Lady Gaga’s new music video ‘Telephone’ and read a section on feminism that reminded me of Marxism.

The blog can be found at

The section on feminism interested me because it discusses how Lady Gaga attacks ‘the whole taxonomy of gender itself.’ The idea of attacking the whole taxonomy of gender as a way to approach feminism is a strategy that I find very Marxist. When Marx talks about how to resolve class struggles, he calls for a revolution and a deconstruction of the class structure as a whole. Creating laws that state that everyone is equal and has the same rights, political emancipation, is really ineffective as it keeps the class structure in place- the proletariat will still be under control of the bourgeoisie. I see feminism acting in a similar way. Feminism supports the gender dichotomy that created the inequality between and gender roles for men and women. Just as Marx calls for a removal of the class structure as the only way to achieve true human emancipation, true gender equality can only be achieved by removing the concept of gender from society.

Removing gender from society would require that people realize that gender is a social construction- it is made up. In our society, biological sex, male or female, determines an individual’s gender. Male and Female is a dichotomy that I see as true, as it is purely biological. Guy and Girl, Man and Woman, He and She, Him and Her are dichotomies that I see as false.  I think that even the words guy and girl bring to mind different images than female and male.  It is this difference that I would see useful in exploring. I also think it is very unfortunate how deeply gender is ingrained in our language: have you ever came across a person who you couldn’t tell their gender? Or perhaps you can tell their sex but not really their gender? I believe that this person would probably be closer to liberation and equality in gender because there are no stereotypes to attach to their gender. A genderless society seems far more valuable and effective than women’s rights and women’s interests. A genderless society would create true equality for males and females. It truly allows everyone to be individuals and doesn’t make species out of people.

Here are some examples of how Lady Gaga attacks gender in her new video (these examples can be found and explained further in the blog): Lady Gaga’s sexuality can be intimidating- it is androgynous, powerful, and aggressive. It is as if she puts her body out there and dares the viewers to objectify her.  By daring the viewers, she takes on a masculine role. She does the same thing with her make-up, outfits, and dancing. There are also lesbian themes in the video. However, as opposed to much of the lesbianism in pop culture, the lesbianism in Lady Gaga’s video is not one for the “sexual gratification of straight men” – it is androgynous and butch. I feel that Lady Gaga’s sexuality challenges what is sexy. It is definitely not a conventional sexuality. Another aspect of feminism in the video is the prison (a space traditionally associated with masculinity) full of glamorous women. By challenging the taxonomy of gender as a whole, I feel that Lady Gaga moves beyond expression within a system and is able to create something truly original.

Power and Violence

March 21, 2010

In lieu of reading questions, I have decided to link to and comment on this post by Rob Farley (let me add that you won’t really be able to understand what I’m writing about in this post without reading Rob’s first; I won’t be offering an extended reconstruction of his argument).  Farley is a relatively well known blogger and International Relations Scholar (he currently teaches at the Patterson School at the University of Kentucky).   He’s also a good friend of mine from graduate school.  He wrote this last June, primarily as a response to the recent protests in Iran.  Farley’s main point, I want to argue, is fundamentally Arendtian, though perhaps not in the way he thinks it is.

Farley’s main argument has to do with the fact that, in a confrontation of violence between the people and the political state, the outcome is almost never in doubt  (cf. Arendt, On Violence, p. 48).  The problem for the nation-state emerges when its police or soldiers refuse to exercise this violence, which for Arendt, is an example of why the effective use of violence crucially depends upon power, even as violence constantly threatens to destroy this power.  This is dramatically exemplified in the Tiananmen Square protests in China (from 1989), and in particular, in the event in which the lone protester stood in front of and stopped a column of tanks.  In this dramatic confrontation, we see that violence is of no use at all without power, that when the power of a protest confronts violence, it confronts not other men but men’s artifacts (see Arendt, p. 53), and that the exercise of violence might be “successful” but might also become counterproductive (see Arendt pp. 53-55).

Interestingly enough, then, I think Farley’s specific allusion to Arendt, wherein he discusses the state in terms of bureaucratic violence, is somewhat beside the point.  Arendt’s core idea, I want to argue, is not that the state has become bureaucratic and so responsibility has become defused; rather, her most important insight is this relation between violence and power–between action in concert and the continuing efforts of the state to contain it without destroying it.  Thus, what is of interest to Arendt is not just that the state has enormous capacities to kill lots and lots of people, but also that this activity is of only of limited use.  Killing millions of Vietnamese in the Vietnam war, one of Rob’s examples of state capacities, ended up being pretty much useless, because the one thing that cannot flow out of the barrel of a gun is power.

Anyway, let me highly, highly suggest that you go read the post and watch the videos he links to.  It’s long but well worth your time.

America’s Fitness Plan

March 21, 2010

Post by Conrad Smith

As an extension of an earlier classroom conversation, I found it interesting to compare the spending and attention of the United States government to the regimen of a body builder. In doing so, I hope that this countries spending and all countries for that matter, can be looked upon more critically and generate new ideas for money distribution. According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, in the 2009 fiscal year, the United States government spent 23 percent of its budget on defense, 20 percent on social security, and 19 percent on medicare and medicaid. The other 38 perfect is used on none specific government needs. The government spends its highest percentage of money on defense, yet our military is arguably one of the most powerful and well equipped in the world. We posses more nuclear missiles than it would take to destroy the world over several times. Yet the government continues to spend itself in defense after defense that our government does not necessarily need. The day where physical force is the most effective means of defending the country are drawing to an end. The government should consider defending itself with more effective means. The days of cold wars are beginning. It won’t just be an economic race to build bigger armies, but to better education, and better societal health.

Consider the body builder. If he only exercises his muscles, will he not die of a heart attack for lack of taking care of his body? The body builder has to take into account the balance of his strength, with endurance, healthy diet, education, and creativity.  Some of the greatest warriors to survive and best battles won were not won by sheer strength alone, but by an understanding of balance. Great warriors do not survive simply by becoming stronger than their opponent physically. To win in a one on one battle, one must be more balanced than the opponent. Most importantly, a weaker opponent, perhaps with less endurance, will most likely win if he is smarter and more experienced in battle than a stronger less experienced warrior. Great battles can be easily won, and have been, by a superior use of knowledge and tactics over brute strength. Take for example the myth of the renowned swordsman Musashi. The man killed so many in tournaments that he began searching for a new challenge. After many battles he soon realized that he didn’t need to kill his opponent to beat him. With a superior knowledge of tactics and battle experience, Musashi could simply move out of the way of his opponent’s sword. He became so good at it that his opponents conceded admitting that it was impossible to hit him.

It’s high time the United States of America and all countries in the world embrace a new form of warfare. It is not sheer strength that wins battles, in fact sheer strength often looses battles when knowledge and innovation is involved. The United States has plenty of weapons. Let them now build an army of educated well fed healthy citizens with pride in their country and visions to innovate the future. The United States is doomed to die of a heart attack, or worse, if it does not begin focusing on the education and well being of the citizens rather than just defending them. A body builder is not just muscles, he is a brain and a heart.

Mass Protests

March 21, 2010

Post by Gabe Condon

The theorists we have studied thus far all seem to emphasize that the true power lies within the masses (the people).  Marx argues that the proletariat must break out of from under the power of the bourgeoisie.  Weber tells us how the Protestants took power collectively by individually having the Protestant ethic.  However, both theorists, in different ways acknowledge that there are other sources of power operating in society than those which come directly from the people themselves.  Marx’s idea of systemic power is very important in the pre-communist stages of society.  In fact, it represents a power that controls everything.  To get rid of this power, the entire economic and social system needs to be completely overturned.  Weber, while acknowledging that it is the people with the protestant ethic who create their own position of power, also puts God in a position of power, as he is the drive for all of the people’s activities.  Furthermore, Weber cites the power that replaces God as society has evolved.  This power is similar to Marx’s systemic power.  It is the “iron cage” that the people have created for themselves that generates this sense of meaninglessness.  This leads to the class stratification and exploitation that both theorists argue occurs in the capitalist system.

It seems like the most principal consequence of this social evolution is the separation of the upper class and the middle/lower classes.  Marx explains how, for the bourgeoisie to make a profit, they must exploit the proletariat, which only expands this class divide.  I believe that this concept is evident in the ineffectiveness of mass protests today.  The separation of people in power from those who are not in power is what makes most protests, pickets, walks, and strikes completely ineffective.  This is because the people who are doing the protesting are usually not in power.  If they were, they could just change the laws themselves.  These mass protests are, in effect, a plea from the masses to those people in power.  These kinds of protests are never guaranteed to have an effect.  The only way that a group of the underclass could guarantee a consequence is to have some leverage or some way of assuming power.

This is largely the reason why the marches protesting the war in Iraq were very ineffective.  The people did not have any leverage on the government.  They could walk all they wanted, but until the people assumed some power, no change would be made.  And little change was made.  This growing stratification of classes can also account for the relative effectiveness of protests in the past, say in the 1960’s, as compared to today.  The classes have recently become so separated that they do not listen to one another as they once did.  The people in power simply do not care if a few people from the lower class walk on Washington.  The government officials do not feel threatened by them and the upper/middle classes, while feeling slightly sympathetic, do not care enough to actually do anything.  They are living comfortably, so why should they make the effort to change something that will not affect them?  This is one of the key consequences of this class division; many people are living in comfort while some are living in terribly dire conditions.  The classes do not relate to each other and act solely in their own interest.  This is a major change that has happened in recent years which I believe has contributed to the ineffectiveness of mass protests.

Besides these overarching social changes, there are other related changes in our society that I think have also recently made mass protests ineffective.   Changes in technology and media that have occurred in the past few decades have contributed to this.  There is a huge emphasis on money, aesthetic value, comfort, and laziness in the media these days that seems to be especially targeted toward the upper-middle class.  This creates the attitude that I mentioned above; “why should I help you change if I’m not experiencing any hardship?”  Another cause that I see is the expansion of the number of special interests in today’s society.  There are so many different causes that there are not enough people to support them to make it effective.  So many of these interests are so specialized that they can only pertain to a small group of people.  Besides only being able to gather a small following to begin with, theses special interest groups turn many people away from joining causes in general, just because of their ineffectiveness.  As you can probably imagine, this creates a cycle of less and less people joining interest groups, leading to less effective protests.

To anyone who has read just read this, feel free to post about what reasons you think there are for the decreased effectiveness of mass protests, particularly in the past 40 years or so.

The modular mansion

March 11, 2010

This past week I came upon an article in the Washington Post about the latest trend in home building, the modular mansion. The article can be accessed from this link:

It reminds me of the growing industrialization Marx spoke of in his manifesto, and also of the “mechanized petrification” Weber discussed.  It is a much faster and cheaper method of building than its competition, the stick-built custom home.  Buyers can order their homes from a set of stock designs, and parts are usually built on the assembly line.  The pre-fabricated parts are then trucked to the site of construction and stacked atop one another by a crane.     

This method of building is being favored by elite architects because it is cheaper in a time of recession.  At one point in the article Jerry Smalley, president of one of the companies, states “The goal is more volume”.  The concern lies in producing as many of these homes as possible, rather than making a few quality ones.  The lower cost is made possible by cheaper labor and a shorter construction time.  A modular home can be built in only 7 months whereas its stick-built competitor takes 17 months to construct.  As Weber recounts Benjamin Franklin saying, “Time is money”. 

There seems to be a few parallels between this story and Chapter 5 of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.  Steinbeck’s story also takes place in a time of economic recession.  The government favors cheap mass production of crops as opposed to paying individual tenants for working the land.  The tenants are replaced by the more efficient mechanized farming with tractors.  Likewise in this story modular mansions are becoming more popular than the stick-built individualized homes.  In Marx’s manifesto he bemoans the loss of specialization in labor as a result of increasing industrialization.  Modular mansions are often assembled in parts by factory workers, rather than built by one master architect.

The article also recounts the effect these modular mansions are having in small neighborhood communities of Bethesda, MD.  It speaks of residents and neighbors-to-be of the incoming modular mansions in admiring the aesthetic beauty of “lush woodland garden around the property’s original house for 70 years”.  They were outraged when the developer came in, bought the plot of land, and tore down the house and gardens in order to put in three new modular homes.  One resident even refers to Leibovitz (the developer in this article) as “such a rapacious developer”.  This is reminiscent of Steinbeck’s reaction to the industrialized machine-farming.  He describes the tractors as “methodically raping” the land.  There are also recurrent themes in the destruction of individuality and tradition in favor of a standardization in the means of production.  Individual stick-built homes surrounded by nature in this article were unique and held meaning to members of the community.  They had also been standing for at least 70 years.  This is quite similar to the tenant farmer in Steinbeck grieving the loss of his property and everything that made it special to him.

In addition to all this, there appears to be a large disparity between the incomes of the workers and that of the people that must be purchasing these colossal mansions.  To allow for the mass production of these modular mansions on a cheaper scale, factory laborers are also being paid even less.  This is yet another example of the exploitation of the proletariat as Marx discusses.  Even though the modulars are less expensive than their custom-built competition, they are still selling for anywhere between $400,000 and well over $1,000,000 a piece.  The fact that a market for so many of these mansions can exist during an economic recession seems ironic.

Reading questions for Malcolm X’s speech, “The Ballot or the Bullet”

March 1, 2010

1. Malcolm X calls himself a “Black Nationalist.”  What does this mean?  List a few of the characteristics of this ideology.

2. Why is Malcolm X so skeptical about whether white politicians and white liberals can be trusted to help the cause of Black Americans? 

3. Is Malcolm X advocating for violence or is he merely predicting it, should voting rights not be successfully implemented?

4. Consider the following passage from the “Declaration of Independence”: 

 We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.

 Does Malcolm X agree with this passage?

5. Consider the following statements, and then determine which one most accurately summarizes Malcolm X’s thesis in his speech:  (a) Whites have systematically exploited and duped Blacks throughout American history; therefore, Blacks should use either the ballot or the bullet to organize and overthrow this system of exploitation.  The goal of this political revolution should be a free society that genuinely protects everyone’s rights. (b) Whites have already organized themselves as a “nation” or race that merely looks out for its own interests; rather than integrate into this organization, Blacks must do the same things in their own community by maintaining separate political and economic institutions.