Thursday, April 25, 2013

This needs some 'splainin

From Fred Kaplan, who, if memory serves, excoriated Bush for giving Saddam the bum's rush, in Slate:

At least five times in the last eight months, President Obama has declared that any such use of chemical weapons would cross “a red line.” These are fighting words, or very close to them. If a president describes a possible action as “crossing a red line,” then does nothing about it, no future declaration of red lines—no threat to respond with force to some horrible action—will be taken seriously by anyone, friend or foe.

So how is it that Assad's (possible) use of chemical weapons crosses a credibility threatening red-line, but Saddam's killing over 5,000 Kurds with chemical weapons did not? On what basis did Obama vote against invading Iraq?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Tilting to the Left. Just a Little.

My son, a freshman at Washington State University, is taking one of those courses that are the backbone of a university's core mission: to produce broadly educated minds. Or, to say it more concisely, a gen-ed requirement -- History 105, Contemporary Issues.

This the prompt, quoted in full, from his class's most recent assignment:

Some pundits, academics, and politicians often talk about the “unintended consequences” of global capitalism (Joyce Appleby uses this phrase in the final assigned section).  Others argue that there is nothing unintended about capitalism’s consequences – that those in power are fully aware of the potential results, including financial crises like the one that shook the global economy in 2008 and continues to plague people’s of all nations (Naomi Klein makes such an argument).

In a succinct, clearly written, three-page double-spaced essay that uses multiple historical examples from not only Appleby but from other readings, lecture notes, and discussion notes, answer the following question:

Why has the capitalism/socialism debate been so divisive?

Use the 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing global recession as a starting point for a discussion of the historical and very contentious “consequences” of and responses to capitalism – arguably one of the most defining historical processes of the modern era.

On taking a look at this, some questions came immediately to mind:
  • In what universe, no matter how distant in space or time, does Naomi Klein make an actual argument?
  • Others argue there is nothing unintended about capitalism's consequences. Are there other Others who argue that socialism's bugs are actually features?
  • Based upon the prompt, what is "arguably one of the most defining defining historical processes of the modern era?"
  • Again based upon the prompt, why would the students suspect the professor would be able to tell the difference between a succinct, clearly written essay and a pile of fish dead for three days?
  • Why does leaden, prolix and ungrammatical writing plague the collectivist professor's of all humanities?
  • What the heck is the question, anyway?
  • Is that even important to providing the correct answer?

Remember, this is a prompt for a writing assignment. What is the prompt prompting? On the face of it, that is easy — discuss some ways in which the intellectual divide between socialism and capitalism persists. And, for the clairvoyant students, not just the ways, but the whys, too. At some point, our entering arguments become axiomatic. In many cases, there is no proving that a greater degree of individualism is preferable to more collectivism, because the notion of "preferable" itself is also at stake.

So, if the prompt had gone on from the seemingly simple question and focused it by saying "Use the 2008 financial crisis to show why the argument between socialism and capitalism will continue", then the student could take the fundamental tenets of each, and show how the crisis both undermined and substantiated them. (The CRA was an instance of socialism, and, by ignoring risk, destroyed the housing market. The banks, through looking only at personal enrichment, privatized gain while socializing risk.)

But that isn't what the prompt says. Instead, it amounts to a non-sequitor. One might just as well ask "Why are the arguments between Yankee and Red Sox fans so divisive? Using the recent doping scandals in athletics, explain why baseball is bad."

And that is before getting to the ambiguous references. What, arguably, is the most defining historical process of the modern era, the 2008 financial crisis, the responses to it, or capitalism?

Then there is the fundamental viewpoint of the prompter, who really seems to be asking "why, since socialism is so obviously superior, how can there possibly be, absent those possessed of malevolent intent, any capitalists around with whom to argue?"

But wait, there's more. My son got his paper back today — he got a middling B. That's reasonably good, I suppose, unless you are one of those Others who suspects that, in the humanities, A's are already a seriously debased coin of the academic realm.

Here is the content portion of his grade:

Content 17/20 - You do a great job of outlining some of the key differences between the two ideologies and giving modern examples. There are a few key elements that are missing from your essay, however. YOu do not discuss the role of the Cold War and World War II in the assoctaion of socialism with communism and the major propaganda efforts to solidify this idea in the minds of capitalistic nations. You also do not talk about the Great Depression, which is one of the most important events that Socialists point to when condemning Capitalism.
Others who argue that academia hasn't tilted so far to the left that only its Wiley Coyote ignorance of physics has kept from long ago toppling over should hang their academic head in shame, should such an emotion still be available to them. This is a perfect example of the kind of shameless bias that comes with collectivists' unquestioned — and let's savor the irony here — religious beliefs. Yes, the banking sector stunk the place up. But the ways in which the financial crisis of 2008 continues to plague people’s of all nations, particularly those lashed to the Euro, can hardly be separated from that socialist paradise which is Greece.

At this point, though, I must say there is one particular area where capitalism is inferior.

In socialism, you don't have to pay for reeducation camp.