Open letter to unknown Z-Spacer and to G. Olson





Open letter to an unknown fellow-ZSpacer and to G. Olson 

Education-Correspondence-ZSpace

 

Recently I caught glimpse of a Z-Space article with a subtitle going like “…is anybody reading?” and when, after a couple of weeks, I thought of a related  point to make and I looked it up I couldn’t find it since entering “view all recent content” only gave me Znet and Zmag articles. Maybe it’s  my fault, I’m not a fluent user of search machines . Also, stating a question to the outlook of  “sysop…”, or whatever,  showed that an error made somewhere didn’t let the question be sent. All this I only state not so much to ask ZSpace to be easier for old timers not versed with machines,  as  to apologize to the writer of that article for not remembering his name or even his whole point and for only summarizing by memory what I retained  of it, namely that one possible reason for  the lack of answers and comments to Zspace,  or Znet, articles  is that not having an abstract in front of each article, but only a very short title, maybe people do not enter them at all to read (By the way, this is the reason the present article I post twice, once for each title above, since most probably at most one of them would appear whole, whereas now each acts a little like abstract for the other; also the reason for abbreviating  the second title in the ZSpace front page). Maybe the  diagnosis of lack of abstract as a reason for less communication is checked by the fact that the same article on Zinn  by Giroux after Zinn’s death had  33 comments in truthout (that does include abstracts) and (by February 1 again) one comment in Znet but I don’t think that either Giroux, or Zinn (especially right after  his death),  needed an abstract to be read, nor do I think that the difference is explained by the fact that ZNet posted Giroux a little later (and there was less time to comment or it was the same persons who would read and comment and they had already done it, etc etc). The similar point I wanted to make  was that in an effort to start on, or out of, the pages of ZSpace, a correspondence with people, whom I ran into through their articles there,  on issues related to the articles they had written,  it proved much much more difficult to even start anything with American readers than with non Americans (quantitatively this can be ascertained by checking just the numbers of  letters exchanged in  August-September-October, with letters exchanged in November-December, January,  when a fellow ZSpacer from Nicaragua and a fellow ZSpacer from Nepal joined. Except January, that still needs editing, the other months are already posted at the entrance of my site www.johnalevizos.net )  I don’t think this related very much to the fact that I myself was not an American (I’m a Greek) and neither do I think that the most essential points of   those exchanges dwell in the numbers of letters  and in the analysis of  possible  reasons for  their difference. Yet the name of ZSpacer G. Olson,  professor of political science, in the one of the above titles appears in exactly the  connection of maybe wanting to explain  this difference, since he finally did not participate in any discussion there (he answered that he would answer my  comment to his article after Fall’s midterms  but he didn’t. But since he teachers political science  he might leaf a little and decide if it’s worth assigning  2 or 3  students, both American and foreign, as a term project, the analysis of that difference. I repeat that I consider what they will learn through reading as infinitely more important than the reasons for that difference (but that analysis might be a good reason to start reading!). Also I think that finding  the reason why Znet readers write comments, or even read possibly, less than  the readers of web-places with abstracts, is secondary compared to  just starting to communicate even before pinpointing that reason. Now let’s start something much  more relevant, i.e. today’s article that we have in mind:

 

   Fans of either Marx or Guy Debord or both, often say that a theory or practice that doesn’t work anymore, although it used to, ends up as spectacle within the system that  it cannot change (and if they read physicists too they might also quote Gell-Mann’s aphorism “no amount of eloquence can save a wrong theory”). Educators often  ask themselves if education can still be of any value in pointing to ways of change  in times where globalization introduces parameters too big to handle in class-scales  or  even nation-scales; e.g. can it least help towards what Chomsky puts as “A more practical proposal is to help to change the culture of the domestic society enough so that what should be now done could at least be made a subject of discussion” in a society where , as Kojol and Fishbane  put it “…children do have to be prepared for the economic world—but the invasion of the public school by mercantile values has deeply demoralized teachers. I’ve been in classrooms where the teacher has to write a so-called mission statement that says, “The mission of this school is to sharpen the competitive edge of America in the global marketplace”.”? (all quotations are verbatim so as to be easily googled up for check or context); or in a society where  Mumford, after  his line of the early ’50s going like “Today humanity finds itself in a race between universal education and universal destruction” would not only repeat, from Vietnam years,  but would also be pained  to have correctly foretold: “the physical structure of the power system was never more closely articulated: but its human supports were never more frail, more morally indecisive, more vulnerable to attack. How long, those who are now awake must ask themselves, how long can the physical structure of an advanced technology hold together when all its human foundations are crumbling away? All this has happened so suddenly that many  people are hardly aware that it has happened at all: yet during the last generation the very bottom has dropped out of our life; the human institutions and moral convictions that have taken thousands of years to achieve even a minimal efficacy have disappeared before our eyes: so completely that the next generation will scarcely believe they ever existed”; and where Chomsky would add (about students too) “…there are really some moral truisms. One of them is that opportunity confers responsibility. If you have very limited opportunities, then you have limited responsibility for what you do. If you have substantial opportunity you have greater responsibility for what you do. I mean, that’s kind of elementary, I don’t know how it can be discussed. And the people who we call ‘intellectuals’ are just those who happen to have substantial opportunity. They have privilege, they have resources, they have training. In our society, they have a high degree of freedom—not a hundred percent, but quite a lot—and that gives them a range of choices that they can pursue with a fair degree of freedom, and that hence simply confers responsibility for the predictable consequences of the choices they make…”

Educators also ask themselves if it’s still possible to help students towards directions like those suggested by Einstein (e.g. his  well known line Always obey your conscience, even if the state allows you not to… Dare to take your ideas seriously, because it is them that will shape you (italics without quotation marks  probably not verbatim) or to help them in following  Mark Twain’s escape from feeling his mind victimized (e.g. his line If you want to rule address yourself to the idiot, they’re the majority…I would never entrust the state with my education). Moral support, but not a final solution, not even a solution in sight, is the following old, and maybe obsolete, addition (by Gauchet) to the well known educational slogan that used to go like “education is what remains when you’ve forgotten all you’ve learned”…(addition) …“provided what you’ve learned was in the following spirit: Enter a general’s or a soldier’s shoes not on the exposed ground of a battlefield but in the stage-like protected environment of a classroom; enter an inventor’s shoes not in lab-confined  vigilance on long nights of long months but in a few hours of stage-like conditions in a  school’s  lab; enter a hermit’s shoes ….., enter…., etc etc , and all that while knowing that most probably, when you get out of school and face non-stage-like conditions  none of that will ever be part of your everyday professional life ( nor of your personal life either, of course). 

This is still valuable for the education of younger pupils  but for students starting to enter processes that actively attempt changes,  the relevance of Marx/Debord and Gell-Mann’s aphorisms that we started with is often painfully felt as disheartening frustration by frequent ineffectiveness (if not triviality, futility, etc. At least to people raised in Greek tradition, and in poetic terms, it reminds the verse of an older  Greek rock song  going (in free translation) like “Gone forever are the old loves and banners/ideas and proposals even screams and howls/ have become the  toys of kids”). Immensely heartening are of course the examples of people like Zinn and Chomsky. Since due to his recent death Zinn  is still the talk of the day it would be redundant to add  anything to the wonderful things that have been said to pinpoint  how his work, both his books and his life, functioned. Let’s just quote (by memory) what Chomsky answered when in an interview (by Albert possibly, but I don’t bet) he was asked what he would do differently in his life if it was convincingly proved to him that none of his efforts would ever bring any change. The answer was “Nothing”. Let’s  also remind ourselves two of  his answers  to Navarro’s questions  in an interview in July (or June?) 2008 (easily googlable): Asked how being marginalized felt to him he answered “What do you mean marginalized? After this interview I’ll go home and I’ll sit for 5 hours answering questions on the web”. And asked what gave him his well known surprising drive and energy he pointed to a photo on the wall saying “to some this  might look as vague as a Rorschach  test but you yourself sure know what it’s about: Some workers, with their families, in… (somewhere in Latin America or Mexico)…demonstrated for a trivial increase in wages, they were invited into a schoolyard to discuss it, and were all machine-gunned. So I take a look at that and get energy”. Some time before that interview he had mentioned, in another interview, how mutually educational, and also educational to all their society, was the fact that some students in some other neighbouring country made speeches and theatrical skits about some similar event on memorial days (if I try a little I can even  locate more exactly that interview, if a reader asks me to). Which brings us both to the issue of futility or inadequacy of education in front of the present circumstances and to an interview of Chomsky [posted by ZNet very recently (Jan.  10  2010), titled “Direct participation in creativity”, given to Eric French of  Amauta” in Fall 2009 in Mexico]

even more detailedly pointing to the relevance of education through theatrical means making it more widely accessible. Let’s see that by including the beginning and the end of Chomsky’s one-before-latest interview posted by ZNet (the latest one was about  Zinn of course)     

 

 

"Direct participation in creativity"

 In the middle of September, Noam Chomsky was one of the guests of honor for La Jornada‘s twenty-fifth anniversary. Eric French of Amauta produced this interview.

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Amauta: …You said that to build a movement, media should be involved in building a movement. This is my thing [paraphrasing]. But to build a movement, you need "broad-based appeal," a "genuine radical culture can be created only through the spiritual transformation of great masses of people, the essential feature of any social revolution that is to extend the possibilities of human creativity and freedom." How can alternative media like Amauta push itself in building this "broad-based appeal" and go beyond just ‘preaching to the choir’? Because I feel that a lot of our media like, like I read certain things, I read La Jornada, but, do people like me read La Jornada only? Or other people read La Jornada? They don’t like to be challenged.

 

Chomsky: La Jornada is more widely read. Like you can go down the streets and see, somebody standing, sitting in a bar and reading it. But, you know, just media alone is not enough. You have to have organization. So take Mexico. I mean, I don’t claim to know a lot about Mexico, but I did talk to quite a number of left Mexican intellectuals, and they all said the same thing. That there’s a lot of popular, kind of, concern and activism, but it is very fragmented. That the groups have very specific, narrow agendas and they don’t interact and cooperate with one another. Ok, that’s something you have to overcome to build a mass popular movement. And that’s, media can help, but they also benefit from it, so you’re right, unless that happens, unless you get, you know, kind of integration of activists’ concerns and movements, it will be, each one will be ‘preaching to the choir’.

 

Amauta: So you think we have to involve people, but getting active participation in this…

 

Chomsky: It takes organization. Organization and education, when they interact with each other, they strengthen each other, they are mutually supportive.

 

Amauta: How do you envision having a network of people from all parts of society, but mostly the majority that needs to take their voice back, becoming experts themselves as citizen journalists or artists, while holding each other accountable in the news-making process?

 

Chomsky: A lot of ways to do it. I’ll leave, but I will give you just one practical example, among many others. I was in Brazil, about fifteen years ago, and I traveled around at that time with Lula a lot. He was still not the president. He took me once to a big suburb outside of Rio de Janeiro, a couple of million people, poor suburb. And it has, kind of a big, you know, open space, kind of plaza outside. It’s a semi-tropical country, everybody’s outside, it’s in the evening. A small group of journalists, from Rio, professionals, come out in the evening with a truck, park it in the middle of the plaza. It has a screen above it. And broadcasting equipment. And what they’re broadcasting [are] skits, written by people in the community, acted and directed by people in the community. So local people are presenting the skits. One of the actresses, girl, maybe seventeen, was walking around the crowd with a microphone, asking people to comment – a lot of people were there, and they were interested, they were watching, you know, people sitting in the bars, people milling around in the space – so they commented on what they saw, and what they said was broadcasted, you know, there was a television screen behind, so they displayed what the person said, and then other people commented on that. And the skits were significant. You know, I don’t know Portuguese, but I could follow them more or less.

 

Amauta: So, you see this as an active participation in this movement?

 

Chomsky: Absolutely, there were about serious… some of them were comedy, you know. But some of it was, you know, about the debt crisis, or about AIDS…

 

Amauta: But it allows a space for creativity, for people…

 

Chomsky: It’s direct participation in creativity. And it was a pretty imaginative thing to do, I think. I don’t know if it still goes on, but it’s one of many possible models.

 

Personally I find quite amazing why nobody (except …myself) commented on this interview.

One of the reasons( one of  the many but not more interesting than the following uninteresting reason) might be that Znet readers and writers  don’t believe in theater as much as Chomsky (or as much as Zinn who, as well known,  was himself a playwright and his famous play  “Marx in Soho” has been played in many languages in many countries and innumerable towns around the world), maybe they take the attitude “we have to see it with our own eyes, in Mexico or anywhere,  to believe it ourselves” or, (same one reason but more sophisticatedly expressed) they may think like: “Chomsky-or-non-Chomsky,  no-one, Chomskies and Zinns and Mumfords included, has thought up any solution to present  impasses , therefore education, especially through theater, is a depressing fulfillment of the Marx-Debord  thoughts about what happens to solutions to previous impasses (that we saw at the beginning).  So why take Chomsky’s marvel at such things as anything more than a predilection based on  psychological constitution not up to the usual rigor standards of the rest of his thoughts? Is there anything more rigorous on which to base hopes in such educational efforts? Is there, at depth,  any educational effort worth making other than educating brilliant youths to produce economists and environmentalists that can produce solutions to present impasses like physicists and physicians  produce new inventions, machines, cures etc? Isn’t a more thorough type of analysis needed?”  . Regarding, merely,  his own mere psychologically based optimistic  preferences the present ZSpacer might even well hope/wish   that Marx’s “History repeats itself only as farce” does not preclude making preemptive farces  of the events to come so that when they do occur they might have a chance to repeat themselves at decent and non-farcical level. But of course by such wishful thinking he would not expect to convince anybody. So let’s delete what we have started with, as a mere preamble,  and start again an analysis on other bases: Instead of positing as mottos for education the lines we saw by Marx/Debord and Gell-Mann, and the somewhat childlike point by Gauchet,  let’s posit, in their place,  the, more optimistic  but equally clear and less childlike, line by Mumford  Certainly, worship of  the past is not recovery of  history  but negation of history;  real history is not recovered  unless it enters a new life  in a new mould  and the line, by Feynman,  To examine  a new subject with an open mind is not to examine it with an empty mind (or just about). And before  those let’s put as, more specific,  motto a  set of excerpts by Chomsky (many of those borrowed from Paul Street’s Znet articles of summer 2009). But since we have already posted that analysis in a ZSpace article (google  September 16, Ioannis Alevizos’ Zspace)   here let’s just  quote its title and first motto.

                                                                                                                                                                                                               

One effort to answer

some of the questions of (Western only?) common sense

to the “Reimagining society project” that is hosted by Zcommunications

 

    “No new revolutionary movement has any chance of success, and deserves none, unless it can develop an understanding of contemporary society and a vision of a future social order that is persuasive to a large majority of the population1 … Goals and organizational forms of any serious revolutionary left political project must take shape through active participation in popular struggle and social reconstruction. A genuine radical culture can be created only through the spiritual transformation of great masses of people, the essential feature of any social revolution that is to extend the possibilities of human creativity and freedom2 A.. practical proposal is to help to change the culture of the domestic society enough so that what should be now done could at least be made a subject of discussion3     Noam  Chomsky

 

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Without analyses about theater,  we have also  said the same things as in that article in several idioms, shorter or longer. The most direct of them is correspondence with fellow-ZSpacers, hence the second word in the subtitle “Education-Correspondence-ZSpace”. But on that issue we have already talked in the introduction that, more or less, also explained why the present author would rather concentrate his efforts on trying to see if there’s anything he can contribute to anything relating to his country’s acute present problems (this by no way  means that he gives up on either the  less local or the  more American issues  analyzed here. It just means that he and his few correspondents have exhausted what they could contribute to these matters without collaboration with American fellow-Zspacers  , or at least feedback from them)   

 

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