“Climate Change in Trump’s Age of Ignorance” – The New York Times

“as an instrument of deception on issues like global warming.” I don’t think this topic gets the attention that it should. The successful campaigns of deception by self-interested corporations has had a devastating effect on the health and well-being of many people here in the U.S. and across the globe. It may be difficult to educate the general population on this subject in the “Age of Ignorance,” but we should at least try. Ignorance is particularly dangerous in this “Age of Deception.”

I also think that us educators need to seriously think about how we prepare our students to sort through all the nonsense they are bombarded with in the age of the internet. We also need to teach our students how, and why, science works, not just the basic findings of science.  This is one of the reasons why the testing craze that promotes rote memorization over thinking is so destructive.  If there ever was a time that critical thinking skills were absolutely critical to our well-being, it is now!

Excerpt from the article: “We now live in a world where ignorance of a very dangerous sort is being deliberately manufactured, to protect certain kinds of unfettered corporate enterprise. The global climate catastrophe gets short shrift, largely because powerful fossil fuel producers still have enormous political clout, following decades-long campaigns to sow doubt about whether anthropogenic emissions are really causing planetary warming. Trust in science suffers, but also trust in government. And that is not an accident. Climate deniers are not so much anti-science as anti-regulation and anti-government.”

Source: Climate Change in Trump’s Age of Ignorance – The New York Times

“Our gun myths are all wrong: The real history behind the Second Amendment clichés that have sustained our lethal gun culture” – Salon.com

Pamela Haag approaches the history of America’s gun culture from a unique perspective. By studying the history of the companies that manufactured and sold guns, she discovered that the gun culture was a product of clever marking. She insists that those who are promoting the idea that “America was born with a unique bond to gun culture,” are “peddling bad history.”

Here’s an excerpt from her informative article: “After World War I, saddled by massive wartime plant expansion and burdened by debt, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company (WRAC) had to push sales again, especially through what its executives shorthanded as an ambitious national “boy plan,” with a goal of reaching “3,363,537 boys” ages ten to sixteen. “When the boys and girls of your town arrive at the age of twelve years, they become your prospects,” the company’s internal sales letter explained. It was a new refrain in an old song. At this time the company announced the largest nationwide marketing campaign ever undertaken for guns “in the history of the world.” As it was in the beginning, so it was in 1922: gun markets and demand could never be taken for granted. It was the gun business’s business to create them.”

                                                      The Gunning of America by Pamela Haag

Source: Our gun myths are all wrong: The real history behind the Second Amendment clichés that have sustained our lethal gun culture – Salon.com

Book Review: “The Amazing Career of a Pioneer Capitalist by Martha Howell” | The New York Review of Books

Martha Howell’s review of The Richest Man Who Ever Lived: The Life and Times of Jacob Fugger provides an excellent overview of early capitalism in Europe. If you are interested in the history of capitalism you’ll find this review enjoyable.

Bringing the past to bear on the present, Howell points out a notable fact about capitalism:

“If Fugger was not the “first capitalist,” the story of his life perfectly exemplifies sixteenth-century capitalism and suggests a fundamental truth about many more forms of capitalism, one that was so monstrously embodied by the Dutch East India Company: wealth is won and preserved with the support of a state that is, in turn, dependent on the riches accumulated by the few who excel in commerce. In some periods, at some moments of technological history, the riches are typically extracted from ever more efficient production, invariably aided by ruthless exploitation of human labor and natural resources. In others the wealth comes principally from control of supplies, manipulation of demand, and management of distribution networks. But always the merchants grow rich because state power protects them or looks away when the time is right—and does so because in a world where commerce reigns, neither the state nor a powerful merchant class can exist without the other. We have Steinmetz’s book to thank not just for telling Fugger’s story so well but also for showing us how the partnership between state and commerce worked in the earliest days of European capitalism.”

Read the review here: The Amazing Career of a Pioneer Capitalist by Martha Howell | The New York Review of Books

“Donald Trump and the Ghosts of Totalitarianism” Henry Giroux

“Trump is simply the most visible embodiment of a society that is not merely suspicious of critical thought but disdains it. Trump is the quintessential symbol of the merging of a war-like arrogance, a militant certainty, and as self-absorbed unworldliness in which he is removed from problems of the real world.”

He goes on, “What is clear in this case is that a widespread avoidance of the past has become not only a sign of the appalling lack of historical consciousness in contemporary American culture, but a deliberate political weapon used by the powerful to keep people passive and blind to the truth, if not reduced to a discourse drawn from the empty realm of celebrity culture. This is a discourse in which totalitarian images of the hero, fearless leader, and bold politicians get lost in the affective and ideological registers of what Hannah Arendt once called “the ruin of our categories of thought and standards of judgment.”[5] Of course, there are many factors currently contributing to this production of ignorance and the lobotomizing of individual and collective agency. The forces promoting a deep seated culture of authoritarianism run deep in American society.”

Read Giroux’s thought-provoking essay here: Donald Trump and the Ghosts of Totalitarianism

“Don’t let ‘the market’ dominate the debate on university teaching” | Higher Education Network | The Guardian

“We applaud the government’s plan to bring in a Teaching Excellence Framework, but the language of business devalues it”

The author of this piece is referring to education in the UK, but it equally applies here:
“The traditional role of universities was, in many ways, to offer a counterbalance to the market, with an emphasis on social value rather than economics. The risk, however, is that with the introduction of the Tef, yet another regulatory regime will squeeze the intellectual dynamism, risk-taking, original thinking and vitality out of universities”

Source: Don’t let ‘the market’ dominate the debate on university teaching | Higher Education Network | The Guardian

An Act of Iconoclasm? “Where Adam Smith and Occupy Agree: Inequality” – Bloomberg View

Inequality: “The godfather of free markets feared it would undermine the system he loved.”

Adam Smith has become such an icon that few venture to shatter the simplistic version of his ideas (outside of academia) known to most Americans. Few who hold this vision dear have actually read Smith’s Wealth of Nations, and if they have they read it from a modern perspective outside of the context in which Smith wrote it. And as a result, they misunderstand Smith’s ideas and his goals.

When it is read in context and with his other great work The Theory of Moral Sentiments, a different narrative emerges. David Lay Williams, in his article at Bloomberg View, explains some of the challenges to the dominate theory of Smith’s capitalism (self-interest, lassie-fare, the invisible hand, etc.)  when the complexities of Smith’s worldview are factored in. In this article, Williams focuses mainly on Smith’s concerns about inequality.

What does Williams hope to accomplish by looking back on Adam Smith’s philosophy?

“First, it challenges arguments made by those who insist that inequality wouldn’t have been problematic for the intellectual founder of free-market capitalism. Second, Smith offers insights into the nature of economic disparity that should guide a more enriched contemporary discussion of the issue. Many of today’s critiques of inequality center on how it can stifle economic growth. This may be true. But as a professor of moral philosopher, this wasn’t the focus of Smith’s commentary. Third, Smith’s attention to inequality as opposed to poverty is a rejoinder to those who suggest inequality isn’t problematic in itself. Finally, Smith’s inability to offer a solution, one may argue, is manifested in our own failure to address inequality and its accompanying troubles. We have inherited a system that has made no provisions for a dilemma apparent at its very foundations.”

Please read the entire article here: Where Adam Smith and Occupy Agree: Inequality – Bloomberg View

adam smith

“Training for Neoliberalism” | Boston Review

In his review of Richard H. Thaler’s Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics, John McMahon takes to task behavioral economics for its complicity in propagating the neoliberal project (i.e. promoting limited government and free-market capitalism), rather than questioning its dehumanizing assumptions. “The implications of behavioral research are constantly constrained so that they actually buttress foundational assumptions about markets. Why? Thaler disavows the role of the ‘moral philosopher,’ refusing to ‘render judgment about what ‘is’ or ‘should be’ fair’, because economics is supposed to be a ‘purely descriptive exercise’—and thereby preempts interrogation of the fairness of the market itself.”

Read Thaler’s trenchant review here: Training for Neoliberalism | Boston Review.

The Making of Behavioral Economics misbehaving-web

“What Libertarianism Means Today” |History News Network

In Richard Striner’s final post on the history of Libertarianism, he examines the influence of Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek. Then he briefly examines the rise of the current movement in the U.S. from Barry Goldwater to the present. In conclusion, he questions the viability of the rigid libertarian worldview that is based on an extreme form of individualism: “We prize our own liberty, true, and we will obviously struggle to defend it —— fiercely if we must —— when it is threatened. But to elevate government above all other possible threats to our liberty is hard to do when push comes to shove. When a natural disaster devastates the region in which we are living and reduces our homes to a shambles —— what then? If vicious thugs invade our homes, what instincts take over as we rush to respond to the invasion? Do we immediately think of warning all the agents of government to watch their step and avoid messing with us? Or do we call 911 and hope the agents of government arrive just as quickly as they can?”

Leif  Parsons, The New York Times http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/the-taint-of-social-darwinism/

Leif Parsons, The New York Times


Social Darwinism: “When Libertarianism Became an Excuse for Plutocrats” Part II, History News Network

In part II of his series on libertarianism, Richard Striner reviews the role of Social Darwinism. Before delving into the history Striner reminds his audience that “Darwin himself —— a fervent humanitarian and opponent of slavery —— got a bum rap in this association, since he neither coined the term ‘survival of the fittest’ nor advocated a social system based upon ruthless competition. Both the term ‘survival of the fittest’ and the doctrine of dog-eat-dog competition were promulgated by the British philosopher Herbert Spencer.” It is unfortunate that Darwin’s name became associated with this movement, because it has led to so much confusion about Darwin and his theory of natural selection. The movement should be called “Social Lamarckianism” since it was Lamarck’s theory that was the basis for Spencer’s theory that became known as Social Darwinism. But Darwin’s name was much more useful than the long forgotten Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829). [For a great book on the relationship between Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the subsequent rise of Neo-Lamarckianism see Peter J. Bowler’s The Eclipse of Darwinism.]
After reviewing this history my students still get this wrong on their exams. The belief that Darwin came up with both Social Darwinism and the term “survival of the fittest” persists no matter how many time I remind my students that it was Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), after all Darwin’s name is in the title!
Read part II of Stringer’s series here:

History News Network | When Libertarianism Became an Excuse for Plutocrats.

Herbert Spencer

Herbert Spencer, proponent of Social Darwinism who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest”

Was Austerity Responsible for the American Revolution?

In The New York Review of Books, Steve Pincus argues that George III’s austerity policies were responsible for the Revolution. He writes,

“Today, we tend to regard the practice of using government spending to stimulate economic growth as an invention of John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s. But already in the eighteenth century, self-styled Patriots, followers of Pitt on both sides of the Atlantic, argued that what the British Empire needed if it was to recover from the fiscal crisis was not austerity but an economic stimulus. In the midst of the crisis one journalist wrote that Pitt and the Patriots believed that the burgeoning debt could be reduced by increasing ‘the national stock,’ or Gross National Product, whereas Prime Minister Grenville believed ‘that an hundred and forty millions of debt is to be paid by saving of pence and farthings.’” To read the entire article go here:

1776: The Revolt Against Austerity by Steve Pincus | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books.

Lewis Walpole Library, Farmington, Connecticut Detail from The Great Financier, or British Economy for the Years 1763, 1764, 1765, showing British Prime Minister George Grenville holding a balance in which debt outweighs savings, 1765

Lewis Walpole Library, Farmington, Connecticut
“Detail from The Great Financier, or British Economy for the Years 1763, 1764, 1765, showing British Prime Minister George Grenville holding a balance in which debt outweighs savings, 1765”