Sorry, Owen Jones, but your British history is not mine (or anyone else’s)

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Owen Jones is a political activist, an atheist and a secularist. That’s a kind of people who traditionally receive a lot of training – should we say programming? – in set thought from an early age from various institutional power settings, such as school, college, university, party, NGO and other parts of the establishment.

It’s a very frustrating environment – the activist scene – and a field of ossification. New ideas, approaches and, democracy forbid, free thought is not allowed.

Owen Jones writes in The Guardian that “Sorry, David Cameron, but your British history is not mine“, but Owen Jones has got the wrong end of (at least) one stick: the Magna Carta. Now, the Magna Carta is commonly thought of across the intellectual and leftist spectra of thought as a declaration of rights of barons et al. to do whatever they please and with time it came to be seen as nothing other than the beginning of what is nowadays called industrial capitalism. And only that.

Cameron probably sees it like that, since he wants it pushed into the minds of children in “his” realm. And Owen Jones sees it like that, he rhetorically provokes his readers, repeating a dogma he once heard in a meeting or read in an liberal, academic book, perhaps: the Magna Carta is the beginning of evil, the work of exploitative nobles. What a shame and what admission of ignorance: Owen Jones and David Cameron do indeed share views on British history: they both have false assumptions of the Magna Carta and mislead people with their rhetoric.

Why are they wrong? Simple: Charter of the Forest (Thanks Peter Linebaugh!). Further information available? Yes, of course….

Read the rest of this entry »

Against the grain: Crops, Towns, Government by James C. Scott

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This is a post with a bunch of quotes and an introduction to an informative book review.

First of all it is time recycle an old school statement:

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.” – William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

There is a world out there for us to see. Not made of the stuff they told you in school. (By the way, did you see the new film by Erwin Wagenhofer called Alphabet? It’s tagline goes: “98% of all children come into this world highly gifted. After school it is only 2%”.)

Indeed, “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught”, as that Wilde Oscar said. Recently an EU Parliament Report told us that “Europe Has 880,000 Slave Laborers” – they didnt say that in school, in fact they always said that we were the great liberators of the slaves. But there is more to it than that :”including 270,000 victims of sexual exploitation”.

Once the fog they filled our heads with has cleared, we see that we’re in a haze.

“The fact is that slaving was at the very centre of state-making. It is impossible to exaggerate the massive effects of this human commodity on stateless societies. Wars between states became a kind of booty capitalism, where the major prize was human traffic. The slave trade then completely transformed the non-state ‘tribal zone’. Some groups specialised in slave-raiding, mounting expeditions against weaker and more isolated groups and then selling them to intermediaries or directly at slave markets”.

Consider these words…

“Before, say, 1500, most populations had a sporting chance of remaining out of the clutches of states and empires, which were still relatively weak and, given low rates of urbanisation and forest clearance, still had access to foraged foods. On this account, our world of grains and states is a mere blink of the eye (0.25 per cent), in the historical adventure of our species.” (James C. Scott, 2013)

The work of James Scott is some of the finest that the academy has to offer. That doesn’t say a lot, of course, but it is certainly worth a read. His books are all interesting, even if some basic ideas are recycled, as is common in (academic) writing. Here is a selection:

  • Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play. Princeton University Press, 2012 ISBN 0-691-15529-1
  • The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. Yale University Press, 2009 ISBN 0-300-15228-0
  • Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale University Press, 1998 ISBN 0-300-07016-0
  • Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. Yale University Press, 1990 ISBN 0-300-04705-3
  • Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. Yale University Press, 1985 ISBN 0-300-03336-2
  • The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia. Yale University Press, 1979 ISBN 0-300-01862-2

It is a review of a book by someone called Jared Semiprecious or something like that. Apparently not really that interesting in the end, but the review has some golden nuggets:

Crops, Towns, Government

James C. Scott

The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? by Jared Diamond
Penguin, 498 pp, £28.99, September,

It’s a good bet a culture is in trouble when its best-known intellectuals start ransacking the cultural inventory of its ancestors and its contemporary inferiors for tips on how to live. The malaise is all the more remarkable when the culture in question is the modern American variant of Enlightenment rationalism and progress, a creed not known for self-doubt or failures of nerve. The deeper the trouble, the more we are seen to have lost our way, the further we must go spatially and temporally to find the cultural models that will help us. In the stronger versions of this quest, there is either a place – a Shangri-la – or a time, a Golden Age, that promises to reset our compass to true north. Anthropology and history implicitly promise to provide such models. Anthropology can show us radically different and satisfying forms of human affiliation and co-operation that do not depend on the nuclear family or inherited wealth. History can show that the social and political arrangements we take for granted are the contingent result of a unique historical conjuncture.

It might also be worth taking a look at Richard Manning’s ““Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization”. “The End of Capitalism”, who says that “A new world is on its way. We are building it, one day at a time”, says this about Dick Mannings musings:

“The book begins by exploring the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, in many ways superior to our own even at the height of industrial capitalism. Hunter-gatherers, it turns out, ate a wider variety of tasty foods, worked far less, and lived much more sensually and connected than “civilized” humans. About 10,000 years ago, certain groups of humans traded all this in for security, namely the ability to stay in one spot and harvest grain to be stored for future food.

What this crop manipulation produced, however, was the first wealth inequality known to the species, as leaders left working the fields to their followers. In time, these stationary and hierarchical societies expanded and conquered/killed their hunter-gatherer neighbors. Soon enough crops like wheat, corn, and rice spread across the globe through violence and disease.”

Battling the Neoliberalization of University Life: A List of Strategies

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- from:  anarchist.academics mailing list

"My sincere thanks to all who responded to my query. The tips that you sent
were wonderful, and really quite inspiring.  Below is an initial
compilation, divided under the six subheadings of: "On Unions and
Organizing," "On Faculty Rank," "On Bureaucracy and Governance," "On
Teaching," "On Student Tuition, Fees and Support," and "General Advice."  A
shorter top ten list will be published in the January 2008 edition of
Anthropology News.  I can already imagine that it will be difficult to edit
down the expanded list of strategies that are included below.  The
below list has no copyright or individual authorship and you should feel
free to distribute it widely, to post it to wiki sites and blogs, to invite
your friends and students to expand upon it, and of course to encourage
your departments and colleagues to implement its contents."

   ------------------- Wikified here:
Battling the Neoliberalization of University Life: A List of Strategies

On Unions and Organizing:

* The No. 1 way is faculty unionization.  Unionize tenure-track faculty,
adjunct faculty and graduate students who teach.  Your efforts will not be effective
if adjunct and graduate teaching staff are not organized.

* Resist the destruction of solidarities (e.g. see David Harvey, The History
of Neoliberalism).

* Support unity. As an adjunct instructor and a graduate student, I can tell
you that management is WELL AWARE of the contempt that most full-time
faculty has toward us part-timers.  During contract negotiations, I've also heard
GA's and adjuncts undercut the contracts of the full-timers.  Management
disciplines full-timers with the knowledge that they can be replaced
instantly by the army of the underemployed.

* Invite part-time and adjunct faculty, as well as support staff and
research staff, to departmental meetings. Make the minutes available to the
entire community.

* Join professional organizations that will lobby in opposition to the
lobbyists for privatization: NEA higher education organizations, AAUP, AFT.
Pay your dues or be prepared to be sold out.

* Participate in faculty governance and advocate strongly for resolutions
and policies that promote an academic community built on shared values and
scholarship instead of a corporatized institution built on entrepreneurship
and external overhead.

* Form parallel autonomous institutions that meet people's needs in a
collective, non-hierarchical fashion.  At my old school, SUNY-Binghamton,
the campus was served by an excellent bus system that was owned and run by a
collective of the drivers, funded by student fees.

On Faculty Rank:

* Reject the implementation of "benchmarks" or any other form of "standards"
for merit raises or promotions that are predicated on quantified output.
Rather, draw upon such ideas as those of Ernest Boyer (Scholarship
Reconsidered) []

* Reject merit raises all together and rather spread the total raises due
the entire faculty of a department evenly to all faculty.

* When 65% of the professoriate is part-time, why have tenured positions at

* Refuse to sell ourselves as "stars" to highest bidding institutions. This
reproduces the neoliberal self-made "man," reinforcing gender and class
hierarchies within the academy.

* Don't refer to enthusiastic younger members of faculty as "junior"
scholars.  It annoys them intensely and makes them feel small.

* Allow complete transparency, re: salaries paid to all faculty in all

* Identify and monitor the behavior all 'frumps' (formerly radical upwardly
mobile professors).

* Use the growing 'sustainability consensus' discourse to push for a
democratization of academia - as sustainability centrally implies

On Bureaucracy and Governance:

* Expose and oppose corporate control of academia.

* Resist the process of turning universities into institutions of management
rather than places of "higher learning" by refusing to accept administrative
positions that are newly created and not really necessary for "learning."

* The university can be run by the faculty, but the faculty must organize in
constant vigilance.  Professors could collectively attend administration
meetings and repeat the demand, week after week, to stop the metastasized
growth of bureaucratic bosses.  Use the saved funds to create more professor
positions, course offerings, and library books, and to establish student
scholarships grants.  The heart of the university is here, not in creating
ever more layers of office managers to govern this and that for a bottom
line value that is set by the new MBA bosses.

* Rip up parking lots. Implode student housing. Stop all construction
projects not related to safety. Make students get gym memberships elsewhere.

* Demand accountability for the university practices in hiring faculty,
labor, etc. in the construction of new campuses abroad (i.e. NYU's global
expansion to Abu Dhabi).

* Resist the temptation to outsource to private companies, especially big
non-local multinationals, tasks which the university could do by itself.

On Curriculum:

* Resist the neoliberal transformation of the curriculum (there is an
excellent article--chapter 6--by Aihwa Ong in Neoliberalism as Exception:
Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty. Durham: Duke University Press,

* Restore a system whereby intellectual inquiry is valued for its own sake,
and not just seen as a means toward increasing capitalist productivity.  If
the government's current proposal to fund all research on the basis of
"relevance" were carried out, it would be the end of virtually all
Humanities research as we know it.

* Resist the homogenization of university studies that is taking place all
over Europe. Anthropology, in order to survive, is being asked to
demonstrate demand from the job market. And its courses are oriented towards
market demands.

* Avoid strict degree completion deadlines. Returning students bring
valuable professional experience, but they also need the time to balance
professional, work and personal responsibilities.

* Make research findings and publications freely and publicly accessible on
the web.

On Teaching:

* Teach students about neoliberalization (its history, its impacts on
individuals, etc.).  They are the ones who can stop it.

* As teachers, we have a unique opportunity to relate the material we teach
to the everyday lives of our students.  Hold seminars on campus on the
impact of neoliberalism on campus life and learning. Use critical pedagogy -
encourage critical thinking

* Create a course that studies the University as an anthropological project.

* Link with activists, community groups, etc., beyond the academy.  Carry
out critical (including participatory) research. Develop more experience
based learning courses, including internships and community service learning

* Make the world your classroom. Teach in parks, bars, restaurants, homes,

* Offer courses on weekends, evenings, and on-line, so that working students
and students with child and eldercare responsibilities can take courses/make
progress on degrees.

* Encourage team-teaching.

* Conduct and assess instructor evaluations in a manner that reflects that
students are scholars, not consumers.

* Avoid grade inflation.  In a context of grade inflation, instructors that
seek to honestly assess performance find themselves at a disadvantage,
especially if they are adjunct staff.

* Develop undergraduate programs that pay particular attention to
non-anthropology majors, since they are the ones that fill your large
classes.  Increase the pressure for small classes for introductory courses.

* Make classes last as long as they need to be. Stop with the micronization
and fetishization of time. Some days I have a lot to say, some days not so
much. Some days students need to practice and drill, and other times one
profound sentence might do it.

* Quit giving standardized tests and grades. Pass/Fail. Get rid of students
who don't want to be there. Tell them to come back when they know what they
are there for. If we stop treating students like cash cows, maybe they will
actually appreciate learning.

* Assign primary texts instead of textbooks.

* Make your students do the work - have them explain concepts to each other.
Have them create materials they think are useful. Grade them for effort
rather than results - they are there to learn.

* Spend less time preparing, and more time getting to know your students and
their individual needs.

On Student Tuition, Fees and Support:

* Don't use standardized testing as a measure to determine student
admissions or funding.

* Make applying for college more affordable.  Applying to graduate programs
is increasingly expensive. Transcripts (often in duplicate) are required
from each school. The cost of transcripts is inflated (averaging $5-$10 per
order, for regular mail). Applications fees are $50-$95 per school. GRE fees
increase by roughly $10 per year (and this test should be banned, anyway,
since it only tests your ability to learn test-taking strategies, not true
knowledge or ability to succeed in a program).

* Use course packets, blackboard pdfs and next-to-last edition textbooks in
introductory courses to decrease student book costs.

* Fund all students who are admitted into your program equally. Since
Thatcher (and Reagan), efforts to turn higher education into a vocational
finishing school for industry have been much more systematic and blatant.
Under this model, if you're funded you get money to live off, to pay fees,
and to attend conferences etc. If you're not funded, you get nothing and you
have to pay fees.  So one person has masses of help, while another is
hindered and must struggle. This is one of the central ideological maxims of

* Organize student mutual aid networks.

* Do not permit university programs to let graduate student instructors
teach without compensation, merely for the experience of it or for credit.

* Do not burden Ph.D. candidates and recent Ph.D.s with the heaviest
teaching loads.  The abusive practice of using younger scholars as
workhorses keeps a new generation from reaching its potential, in
scholarship and as practioners.

* Pay health care benefits and tuition fees for graduate students, if

General Advice:

* Be a happy person. Stop with the bitterness.