Skip to comments.Socialist Professor Responds
Posted on 07/08/2002 4:52:12 PM PDT by commieprof
An open letter to my critics:
Let me please take this opportunity to thank you for your feedback and to clarify a few points that seem to be at issue. Thank you to those who have sent messages of support, and to those of you whose criticisms are based in argument and reasoning, rathern than in name calling and death threats. Thank you to those of you who noticed that I took care in my pledge not to identify with terrorists, suicide bombers, or Islamic regimes, but with the ordinary people around the world, including those here in the United States. And thank you, I guess, to those of you who are praying for my salvation. I tend to see a better world as being possible here on earth and am not waiting for the second coming so that the meek can inherit their due. But at least you aren't threatening my life, and I appreciate that.
To those of you who are sending me hate mail equating me with the enemy, however, let me attempt to make the following clarifications. It is true that the format of a pledge does not allow one to present arguments full-blown. People may have misunderstood my meaning and intent because of the brief and condensed nature of the genre.
I take my freedoms to dissent in this country very seriously. I do not want to live anywhere else in the world, your invitations to exile notwithstanding. I am a citizen with the right to protest what I see as unjust and inhumane policies, both economic and military. You are correct that I am relatively privileged; I would not have the same rights to dissent and protest in countries like Afghanistan, although if I lived there, I would be part of social movements to resist oppression whether in the form of Islamic fundamentalism or U.S. bombs. Activists in the countries I named often stress the importance of critique and dissent here in the belly of the beast. I feel a certain obligation, an obligation that comes with freedom, to speak out alongside of those with less freedom to speak. I pledged solidarity not with any nation's leaders or terrorist organizations, but with the ordinary people, who are not being liberated by U.S. sanctions and bombs or by U.S. support for the Israeli occupation. I see the people in Afghanistan who were bombed as they celebrated a wedding two weeks ago as being as human as those who died in the World Trade Center, for whom I also have tremendous compassion.
I should add that people in developing countries are not being liberated by the opportunites provided by U.S.-dominated world capitalism. I do not have space to go through all the evidence for these claims, but if you have an open mind, I suggest you read some Howard Zinn, especially People's History of the United States and his more recent Terrorism and War. Suffice it to say that if you have read any history you know that the U.S. either put in place or supported with money and guns the very dictators you decry today, including the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. The United States has taken part in the undermining of democratic (defined as supported by the majority of the people, not in terms of the free market) regimes in Latin American and the Carribean almost as a matter of course (Chile, Haiti and the Philippines for example), not to mention in Asia and Africa. The list is too long to recite here.
Those of you who are offended that you might have to fight and die for my freedoms clearly have misunderstood my anti-war stance. I do not want you to be sent to other countries to die or kill, because I think those actions are not in defense of our freedoms; more often it's about protecting oil profits (even Bush Sr. admitted as much about the Persian Gulf War, which resulted in more than a million and a half civilian deaths). I don't want you over there killing civilians in my name, when my freedoms are not what is being defended at all. Neither are yours. Even though you may hate me, I don't want to you die for someone else's profits.
I do not agree with the analysis that "our way of life" offers hope and salvation to those living in other countries under dictators and in poverty. When four percent of the world's population controls more than 60% of the world's wealth, when the nation states that harbor the strongest enterprises defend those interests with force, when U.S. foreign policy and economic policy are designed to drive countries into unsalvageable debt or rubble, it is impossible for me to remain uncritical. Too often, it is not the fault of bad leaders, bad values, wrong religion, or corrupt people in other nations that brings them ruin, but the policies of production for export over meeting human needs, the support of the U.S. for dictators like the former Suharto in Indonesia, who massacred more than 200,000 people but was, according to the state department, "our kind of guy" because he supported Nike and Freeport MacMoran's exploitation of the people there. I could go on. When Madeline Albright said that the deaths of 5,000 children a month in Iraq as a result of U.S. sanctions were a reasonable price to pay for U.S. foreign policy objectives, I reacted with the same level of disgust that you are bombarding me with now.
I think we have to face these hard realities about "our way of life" if we are truly to understand "why they hate us" and to prevent acts of desperation and hatred targeting civilians in the future. I am not defending terrorism (which, if defined as the targeting of civilian life in retaliation for political and economic grievances, would apply to U.S. conduct in every war it has fought). But it seems reasonable to consider that "they" (Iraqis, Palestinians, Muslims in general) might hate the United States for the havoc it has wrought in the Middle East. Some examples: First supporting and arming Hussein when he was fighting our enemies and killing the Kurds, then slaughtering Iraq's civilian population and bombing the country back to the stone age. First supporting and arming Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan when they were fighting "the communist menace," then bombing their civilian population. . . You get the idea. The support for Israel and its wars and occupations against Palestinians against United Nations resolutions and international law doesn't win our government any friends, either. It is always wrong to terrorize civilians in response to such abuses. Yet the history is part of the answer to the question and a change in U.S. foreign policy must be part of the solution.
If you cherish the freedoms of the United States, it would be hypocritical of you to be intolerant of the expression of opinions that differ from yours. I am a well-educated, thoughtful human being. I am well qualified to teach at the University ("universe"-ity), which should be a place for thoughtful and respectful sharing of diverse views. My students get trained in critical thinking: the capacity to take in a number of perspectives and weigh evidence and reasoning on their own, which they would not be able to do if there were not at least a few dissenters among us here. I mean, the business school gets the big bucks and military- and corporate-funded research dominate the campus. It's a rare class where a student would find points of view that challenge the corporate and geopolitical hegemony of the United States. So I feel sorry for the students whose parents would keep them from attending my classes or the University of Texas because of what I wrote. Don't you have faith that your children can think for themselves? Don't you trust them with a range of positions and approaches to knowledge? Haven't you prepared them to defend your family's values? Any viewpoint is welcome in my classes so long as the arguer can provide evidence and reasoning in support of claims. Contrary to popular mythology, I do not routinely fail conservative students; I do welcome their voices in class so long as respect for others and standards of argumentation are sustained. Actually, the smarter conservative students tell me that they enjoy a good challenge, which they take as a sign of respect. And believe me, I am a member of a tiny political minority on campus that is nowhere near acting like the "thought police" envisioned by the hard right. The kind of fear I hear in the emails I am receiving and on the conservative listservs I have been monitoring is based on a complete overestimation of any single professor's influence.
In sum, I am not the enemy of freedom; to the contrary, I am among its staunchest supporters. I think freedoms should be expanded, not curtailed, in this time of crisis. I worry that now with the modified Patriot Act (which allows security agencies to perform warrantless searches, detentions, and wiretaps, among other things) and the new mega- security-intelligence agency consolidation, that we may not have these freedoms to dissent very much longer. I will raise questions about U.S. foreign policy and corporate globalization as long as I can. It is my prerogative, my right, and, as I see it, my responsbility.
A brief comment on patriotism, or nationalism: To me it seems untenable to say that I have more in common with George W. Bush, Martha Stewart, or Kenneth Lay than I do, say, with a teacher in Afghanistan or a student in Iraq or a UPS driver here at home. Likewise, they might share interests with me and have little in common with Saddam Hussein or Al Quaeda. As a socialist (not a Stalinist, and there is a difference), I have a positive vision of international solidarity and struggle against greed, war, exploitation, and oppression on a world scale. In my view, patriotic fervor dehumanizes people around the world so that their deaths or their hunger or their homelessness can be blamed on them and forgotten.
It's not like me to base an argument on the words of the "founding fathers" but let me remind you that it was Thomas Jefferson (leaving aside his fondness for slaves for a moment) who believed that criticism and dissent were at the core of democracy. He even thought that the citizenry should take up arms against a government when they thought it was becoming too tyrannical. It took a revolution to make the democracy you cherish, and in my view it will take another to make real democracy (political and economic) for the majority of the world's population.
Ben Franklin wrote that when a nation prioritizes security over liberty, the consequences could be dire for democracy. Contrary to my correspondents, I do not believe that order is the ground from which all liberty springs. History teaches quite another lesson--it took a civil war, for example, to end slavery. And "order" is a god term not of democratic societies but of fascism. Unfortunately, I believe that in this extremely sensitive time people are all too willing to embrace a notion of security--not only against terrorists but also against critical ideas and thoughtful dialogue--over liberty.
I hope that this set of expanded arguments makes for more thinking and fewer personal attacks. Of course, I hoped to provoke a response and I welcome debae and dialogue. I do not feel like a victim and I am not complaining about being criticized. However, I hoped to get a *real* response, not just hate and intimidation in the name of freedom.
I encourage activists with views similar to mine to come out into the light of day. The urgency of speaking now far outweighs the flak we will get for standing up.
With best regards,
If you will do the math you will see that our oldest daughter gets 15 votes while my wife and I have 88 votes.
Actually they learn to get all the facts first. They are not so dumb to realize that they are getting a valuable lesson.
In fact my 21 year old who has left the house thanks me for those lessons now that he is in the real world.
Now and then I can be commenting on something and they will give me an answer that warms my heart because I know they are paying attention to all the things I am trying to instill in them.
It's like that commercial....
"Mom, when I was growing up, you were the meanest, most strict mom ever. You gave me NO PRIVACY. I hated you..(etc .)..Thank you."
Yet, how can I ensure that Pops is going to give me all of the facts when I ask for them?
If there are "conditions" there could be an unstated condition such as the condition that all facts will not be submitted, even when asked for.
Yes, but we value her input.
Just like a liberal, hit and run, and tell your buddies that "you got them conservatives good".
Just like the real world.
And always in the back of your simple, me-versus-the-world mind is the disturbing feeling that your students don't give a damn what you think (you already know that the outside world looks upon you with amusement), and that instead they simply want a good grade in your class so that they can graduate and buy a nice car. How frustrating that must be.
I doubt that you are very objective at all, and I suspect the above reasons are why you insist so strongly that you are open to all points of view. Color me sceptical.
It depends on her arguments. We have been known to change our minds but even when she knows its hopeless she is encouraged to continue arguing. We critique it as she goes along.
She is encouraged to suck up to her parents at all times but she knows it doesn't change our decisions unless she presents facts or provides add'l info.
The difference between a Stalinist and a socialist is that a Stalinist knows what he is doing.