In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay. And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it.
One of the fun (and frustrating) things about moving between countries and cultures is discovering that things are done differently than you have come to expect. This is particularly true of language. Some of it is local dialect – every time people in Philly say water (pronounced wuder, or wooder) I cant help but smile. Some of it is spelling (the famous aluminium or aluminum discussion) and some of it is just different words for similar things; do you say car boot or trunk? And in my house the biscuit/cookie & muffin/cupcake discussions can take epic proportions.
But there is one word that fascinates me and that is Folks. Originally I heard it being used by people of color, but once I recognized it I heard it being used by activists from many communities. Usually when I hear the work folk in english – I think of folk dancing:
As I am not big on folk dancing it doesn’t play an important part in my life. But a more possible reason the term seems unusual is that it is reasonably common in Swedish (same spelling). It refers to people but it also refers to race and, in part, to nation. This is understandable as its etymology is, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary
Old English folc “common people, laity; men; people, nation, tribe; multitude; troop, army,” from Proto-Germanic *folkam (source also of Old Saxon folc, Old Frisian folk, Middle Dutch volc, Dutch volk, Old High German folc, German Volk “people”). Perhaps originally “host of warriors:” Compare Old Norse folk “people,” also “army, detachment;”
Its germanic roots and use in modern german is what makes it a bit jarring. The term Volk has strong connections for me with the Nazi race ideology where the focus on volk was key – and its definition included elements of race, geography, and culture. The idea of volk was used heavily in their propaganda. They spoke of herrenvolk = master race; and volksgemeinschaft = racial community. And so much more.
Naturally, the american use for the term doesn’t come from these roots, and as far as I can tell american nazis seem to favor race over volk/folk. The american use, as far as I can tell, is more connected with family, relatives, relations, and kinfolk (where are your folks from?) and is a word more used in casual conversation (think of sportscasters addressing the crowd -other terms would be too formal). Naturally it is also strongly connected to the rural world where folk music, folk art, and folk medicine stand in contrast with the urban experience.
Aside from its folksy roots and its casual usage, the word folk (with its vaguely unnecessary plural: folks) is being used among activists in settings that are not intended to be folksy or particularly causal. Here is a quote by Heather Cronk of Showing Up for Racial Justice from the transcript from Bitch Media’s episode A Guide to Trump Resistance
Not all white folks are experiencing this election in the same way. So I identify as queer. I come out of LGBTQ organizing. And for a lot of queer folks, especially a lot of trans folks, even if you’re white, especially if you’re queer and trans and poor, you’re experiencing this election and experiencing having these kinds of conversations with friends and family in different ways. So I would never say to folks you have to have this conversation. For a lot of folks, that isn’t safe for a whole lot of different reasons.
Here folk is a group that shares a common interest that may be defined by race/color, but could also be defined by gender/sexuality.
Its difficult to say that the word is being re-appropriated since the germanic volk seems not to have been a strong connotation in American English. But it does seem like the word is evolving to become a central term in activist circles which does make it a marker of resistance to traditional norms of white, cis gender power.
So the term has already started and teaching is on! Since I am fortunate enough to teach topics that excite me I am always energized by the beginning of term. This is good since it masks my stress at getting everything together in time before the first day of class. The latter is more of a goal than a reality but for the most part it seems to go pretty well.
This term I am teaching New Media Society and my activism course, Communication and Social Mobilization, the links are to the syllabi. Check them out and feel free to send me feedback as I am always trying to update my courses in almost every way.
This semester I’m teaching one of my favorite courses on social movements! Teaching is always a tricky thing but it gets easier when what you say in the classroom can be connected with the world around the students. So teaching people about activism and social movements in the current political climate is going to be awesome!
Last weekend was the Women’s March which gathered huge amounts of people all over the world – even in Antartica! The main event was, naturally, in Washington but the sister marches were well attended. While the big marches are spectacular and easy enough to join I am always impressed by the smaller marches. You are very visible in a small march. Think about the town of Onley (Virginia) it has a population of 516 and still 50 people marched! Thats impressive!
Here are some pictures from the Philadelphia march
One of the goals of my course is to teach how a group of people with similar ideas form into a more permanent body and become a social movement. The Women’s March is an excellent example of how emotions like anger and concern can become a protest – and there is an ongoing discussion about what happens next. Will this become a movement?
Like I said – teaching is so much more interesting with relevant examples all around us.
How are some people so very productive in academia? I guess most of us will have a pet theory or too. This post from orgtheory.net has a nice list of productive behavior. Lists like this are worth saving an revisiting so thats a good a reason as any to post it here:
- Team work: Almost every star I’ve asked works in large groups. If you look at the CV’s, they have tons of co-authors.
- Division of Labor: A lot of them have told me that they are very good at assigning tasks. One of them told me he *never* does fund raising. He works with another prof who in a medical school who has access to funds.
- Shamelessness: Most academics sulk over rejections. These folks don’t. Soon as a paper gets rejected, they send it out ASAP.
- Recognizing diminishing marginal returns: A paper will improve between first and second drafts. These folks understand that obsession over the 2oth and 21st version is pointless.
- Attitude: Sounds corny, but every single one of these folks has an amazing forward looking attitude. They love what they do and they see the future as bright.
- Minimizing junk work: Some probably shirk teaching or admin work, but what I have observed is that they are ruthlessly efficient. They reuse course materials, borrow syllabi, and use teaching to deepen their knowledge of a topic.
- Recognizing the randomness of reviews: Most people complain about the randomness of reviewers. The star publishers draw the logical conclusion. If you can get random negatives, you get random positives.So just keep submitting until it you randomly pull positive reviews.
Bottom line: Sure, some people are geniuses, but a lot of productive people simply very good at time management and they don’t let the little things get to them.
The part about junk work is the part I take most issue with. I get that shirking teaching and admin free’s up more time for writing but it also does create a bad sense of faculty and collaboration. It also means that other faculty have to take up the slack. I don’t mean that admin should become or take over your life but that’s a far distance from shirking.
Texas A&M university allowed a white supremacist to hold a meeting “a packed room of about 400 people at the Texas A&M University Memorial Student Center.” His views are racist, with misogyny and fat shaming thrown in for good measure. Now I understand that some campus grounds are public spaces and therefore universities cannot prevent people from speaking – but really this person gets to use the facilities, the room? The Chronicle of Higher Education reports
The university’s president, Michael K. Young, said last week that while he found Mr. Spencer’s views “abhorrent,” and that no one from the university had invited him, A&M had to allow him to speak because of the university’s commitment to free speech.
Mr. Spencer was invited to speak at A&M by Preston Wiginton, a white supremacist who briefly attended the university a decade ago.
How is this even possible? Would Texas A&M allow anybody to use their facilities just for this flimsy connection? So if I wanted to use the room to sell snake oil all I need to do is to get invited by anyone “who briefly attended the university a decade ago”?
The university president did organize a competing event “to show the university’s opposition to such divisive rhetoric” and he also said that the white supremacist message had “no place in civilized dialogue and conversation.” and that “It’s beneath contempt.”
But the question remains – how can an invitation like this stand? At what point doesn’t the university just stop the event that hasn’t been organized and officially sanctioned?
I like this – but I don’t believe that technology is neutral since it is created, embedded, and used in a setting.
“All technology is in itself morally neutral. These are just powers which can either be used well or ill, it’s the same thing with atomic energy. We can either use it to blow ourselves up, or we can use it as a substitute for the coal and the oil which are running out.” -Aldous Huxley
The Atlantic published A Reading Guide for Those in Despair About American Politics. It’s a list worth looking through, and of course, reading…
- Americanah By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- The New Jim Crow By Michelle Alexander
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian By Sherman Alexie
- Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom By Ryan T. Anderson
- The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism By Edward Baptist
- Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith By Francis Beckwith
- The Coming By Daniel Black
- The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism By Pascal Bruckner
- Between the World and Me By Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics By Cathy Cohen
- Evicted By Matthew Desmond
- Roads to Dominion: Right Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States By Sara Diamond
- Sleeping Giant: How the New Working Class Will Transform America By Tamara Draut
- Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America By Martin Gilens
- The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion By Jonathan Haidt
- The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements By Eric Hoffer
- Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right By Arlie Russell Hochschild
- Book of Judges
- In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in the 20th Century By Alice Kessler-Harris
- The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism By Yuval Levin
- The Possessive Investment in Whiteness By George Lipsitz
- Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class By Ian Haney López
- A Canticle for Leibowitz By Walter Miller
- Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 By Charles Murray
- Dreams From My Father By Barack Obama
- The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America By George Packer
- Citizen: An American Lyric By Claudia Rankine
- Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty By Dorothy Roberts
- The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown By Paul Taylor
- Because of Sex: One Law, 10 Cases and 50 Years That Changed American Women’s Lives at Work By Gillian Thomas
- Habibi By Craig Thompson
- Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! By Mo Willems
- American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America By Colin Woodard
Last week I taught “The Right to Privacy” by Warren and Brandeis. Their article was published in 1890 but is filled with sentiments and quotes that could be addressing technology today. The language is a bit aged but the ideas are still clear.
This could be about social media…
The intensity and complexity of life, attendant upon advancing civilization, have rendered necessary some retreat from the world, and man, under the refining influence of culture, has become more sensitive to publicity, so that solitude and privacy have become more essential to the individual; but modern enterprise and invention have, through invasions upon his privacy, subjected him to mental pain and distress, far greater than could be inflicted by mere bodily injury.
And their fear of technology
“Instantaneous photographs and newspaper enterprise have invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life; and numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that ” what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.”
There is lots more. Their work reflects ideas found in The Shallows by Nicholas Carr or any of the later books by Sherry Turkle. People who we generally see, to a varying degree, as anti-technology. Usually when people go against the current technology we throw about the pejorative term Luddite!
And Warren & Brandeis may have faced similar criticism in their time. The article was well received. For example an article in the 1891 Atlantic Monthly wrote (from Glancy The Invention of the Right to Privacy Arizona Law Review 1979):
…a learned and interesting article in a recent number of the Harvard Law Review, entitled The Right to Privacy. It seems that the great doctrine of Development rules not only in biology and theology, but in the law as well; so that whenever, in the long process of civilization, man generates a capacity for being made miserable by his fellows in some new way, the law, after a decent interval, steps in to protect him.
But an interesting social critique comes from Godkin writing about the Right to Privacy article in The Nation in 1890
The second reason is, that there would be no effective public support or countenance for such proceedings. There is nothing democratic societies dislike so much to-day as anything which looks like what is called “exclusiveness,” and all regard for or precautions about privacy are apt to be considered signs of exclusiveness. A man going into court, therefore, in defence of his privacy, would very rarely be an object of sympathy on the part either of a jury or the public.
He also wrote about how their ideas were interesting but maybe belonged to a certain class of individual… (from Glancy The Invention of the Right to Privacy Arizona Law Review 1979)
” ‘privacy’ has a different meaning to different classes or categories of persons, it is, for instance, one thing to a man who has always lived in his own house, and another to a man who has always lived in a boardinghouse.”
Its much too easy to look at the past and judge it from the perspective of the present. But I wonder if I called Warren & Brandeis luddites if I had been around at the time?