New Hate Speech & Propaganda Course

Next semester I shall be teaching a course that I find very fascinating and I hope will be very exciting. It’s going to be on Hate Speech & Propaganda (syllabus) and will cover a bunch of interesting areas.

The history of propaganda is fascinating and I would like to have expanded this area to include more but cuts had to be made somewhere. For this section I took inspiration from Jessica Nitschke‘s course “Power, Image, and Propaganda in the Ancient World and Philip Taylor’s book Munitions of the Mind.

There will be a section on the role of superhero’s in propaganda. Not only the ways in which caped crusaders have been used in war but also the ways in which they are used in peacetime to convey ideological messages. For this I recommend Marc DiPaolo‘s book War, Politics and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film. Naturally there will be a section on the role of wider culture in propaganda and the focus of this may vary depending on what is popular in the media at the time of the course.

Norman Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter

Additionally the course will address the rise of marketing and its connections to propaganda. I wanted to show the fantastic Bernay’s documentary The Century of the Self but at over 4 hours this may have been a stretch for the students. Following this I want to look more closely at the marketing of unhealthy products and lifestyles. In this cigarettes are a given but so is the (minimally) less well know issues of tobacco and sugar. For this section I will be relying heavily on the excellent The Cigarette Century by Allan Brandt.

This will be followed by a look at language and propaganda (naturally Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language will be included) which should hopefully lead the course seamlessly into a discussion on free speech and then look into the areas of hate speech. There is a lot to chose from but the focus this time will be on the Danish Cartoons, Charlie Hebdo & Anti-Immigration. Followed by a look at holocaust denial, homophobia (and related topics) and the limits of hate speech.

The main book will be Jason Stanley‘s How Propaganda Works and I will be adding material to provide other perspectives and to cover hate speech. The syllabus is available and if you do have any comments feel free to contact me or comment.

English Motherfucker, do you speak it?

I think that anyone with even a minimal interest in language should be easily fascinated by profanity. Seriously, the things that we can and should not say in different languages is fascinating.

Changing cultures makes this even more interesting. Swedes have an excellent grasp of English but their most common exposure to it is through popular culture. This means that we think of Americans as a group that uses a high level of profanity. It’s all very confusing for swedes when they get to the states and use the language they have assimilated only to find that they are considered to be using it rudely.

So far I have not been told my language is not fit for class, but I do tend to start all my new courses with a warning that I tend towards “salty” speech. Nothing they haven’t heard before, but maybe not used in this context.

Here is a supercut of every Motherfucker that Samuel L. Jackson has used in the movies… well he is still going strong so I guess this list is out of date.

James Paul Gee’s Advice to Academics

Academia is full of horror stories and advice. But this is awesome. This is James Paul Gee’s “Ramblings of an old academic: Unconfident advice for end-times academics”. It’s very much worth reading the whole thing but if you don’t then at least check out his advice:

So I have no real advice that you should take without a massive grain of salt. But here it is any way:

1. Your job as an academic is to have ideas and to put them together with other people’s ideas to make better ones with potential for real impact. This mission precedes thoughts of gain, publication, or fame.

2. Keep one foot in your college or university activities and one foot outside in a related but different activities that create fruitful and sometimes unexpected synergies.

3. Do not worry over much about protecting your ideas. Let them out in the world early and often so they can get tested and promiscuously mate with other people’s ideas. If someone steals one of your ideas and you were only going to have one good one anyway, then you would not have had a good career anyway—you have to have good ideas over the long haul.

4. Try to develop “taste”, that is, good judgment about which ideas, yours or other people’s, are tasty, deep, and have “legs” for impact into the future, even if at first they seem like weak fledglings. Champion tasty ideas even if others are skeptical and even if they are not your ideas.

5. Pick your political battles carefully. Academic politics and committees damage our minds, bodies, and souls. Pick only the battles really worth fighting for and fight them and them alone. How do you know which these are? They are the ones that when you really think about it are worth taking real risks of damage to yourself and your career for. They are the ones where winning means making the world a better place.

6. Good ideas often come from unexpected experiences, ones we are tempted not to follow up on because they might lead us away from our “field”. Every book I have written was caused by following up a lead that at first seemed marginal and strange from the perspective of how I or others construed my “field”. One example: I wrote a book on video games because my then six-year-old turned me onto them. While I was writing the book in 2001-2002 the whole idea seemed silly if I thought about it too much. I had Walter Mitty dreams of getting invited to the prestigious Game Developers Conference and creating a whole new field. None of this was likely to happen given that I was totally and utterly unknown in the world of games and given, too, at that time, no one much saw video games as relevant to literacy studies and vice-versa. But both things did happen.

7. The “game” of life is nine innings, to use another sports metaphor. Never give up if you are behind. Play out all the innings and quit only when the fat lady sings. (Sorry again for, continuing the sports metaphor that might now be seen as insensitive to over-weight people.)

8. In my life I have never worried that I was paid less or was less well known than other people. I have only asked myself if I am happy with what I have and acted to get more if and only if I wasn’t, not because other people had more. This has worked well, at least for me. I now know, having worked in education, that it is called a “mastery orientation” (competing with yourself and judging yourself by your own efforts and progress) and not an “achievement orientation” (competing to beat others and judging yourself by how you stand in relationship to others).

9. In my life, I have never cared whether I got the expected rewards others did at the same time as them or before them. I have always been a slow developer and arrived to each party, or stage of development a bit later than others. It seems only to have meant I got to savor some of the benefits later when others were already leaving the party.

10. The world is a mess. We need to at least put a finger in the collapsing dike until someone else can come up with a big idea to replace the whole thing. People will ask you how being an academic allowed you to do any real good in the world. Be sure that at the least your finger is in the dike and then tell them that’s the good you did. That is all I was and am able to do. I have just tried to put my finger in the dike. As I get older I have the fantasy that what will replace the breaking dike and stem the flood is just a wall of people side by side with their fingers in the wall. Standing there, all together, getting wet, but holding the flood at bay, they will come to realize that it is not true that individuals cannot do anything in the face of big challenges. They can put a finger in the dike and yell for others to join them. They may well come to realize then that that wall of fingers in the dike is the big idea we were all waiting for. An idea no one had but everyone contributed to. An odd picture, but the one I end with.

Ramblings of an old academic: Unconfident advice for end-times academics (PDF Download Available). Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/297675768_Ramblings_of_an_old_academic_Unconfident_advice_for_end-times_academics.

 

Teaching UC Davis about the Streisand Effect

Remember this?

Thats right. Its 2011, a campus police officer at UC Davis casually pepper spraying peaceful non-threatening protesters. This is an act of pure sadism. There is no threat to the helmeted, armed police. So why the exaggerated use of force? But don’t take my word for it.

Here is what’s on Wikipedia

Sometime around 4:00 pm, two officers, one of whom is named John Pike, began spraying Defense Technology 56895 MK-9 Stream, 1.3% Red Band military-grade pepper spray at “point-blank range” in the faces of the unarmed seated students. The pepper spray used, according to various websites, has a recommended minimum distance of six feet.[48] Bystanders recorded the incident with cell phone cameras, while members of the crowd chanted “Shame on you” and “Let them go” at the police officers.[49] Eleven protesters received medical treatment; two were hospitalized.[50][51][52]

And here is an analysis of the situation and the report of the event.

Its totally embarrassing for UC Davis. Police brutality, harming the students you claim to educate, arming campus police as paramilitaries, overreacting to peaceful protest etc etc.

Thankfully the internet reacts. There were huge amounts of articles but also memes. Don’t forget the memes.

and graffiti

Turns out that the university was not too pleased. They paid of the bad cop instead of punishing him. Be that as it may. But now we find out that:

“The University of California at Davis shelled out some $175,000 to consultants to clean up the school’s online reputation following a 2011 incident in which campus police pepper-sprayed student protesters,according to documents cited by the Sacramento Bee.” (Washington Post)

Charming use of money. Lets make sure that UC Davis learns all about the Streisand Effect

The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.
Lets make sure that the images that prove the callous nature of that police officer, that police department, and that university are not easily forgotten.

Pools, Money & Race

Pool ownership isn’t just about money; it’s also about race. Across the country, desegregation played an important role in the rise of private swimming pools after 1950, as the historian Jeff Wiltse argues in his 2007 book, Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America:

Although many whites abandoned desegregated public pools, most did not stop swimming. Instead, they built private pools, both club and residential, and swam in them … . Suburbanites organized private club pools rather than fund public pools because club pools enabled them to control the class and racial composition of swimmers, whereas public pools did not.

Difference between a community and a network

The difference between a community and a network is that you belong to a community, but a network belongs to you. You feel in control. You can add friends if you wish, you can delete them if you wish. You are in control of the important people to whom you relate. People feel a little better as a result, because loneliness, abandonment, is the great fear in our individualist age. But it’s so easy to add or remove friends on the internet that people fail to learn the real social skills, which you need when you go to the street, when you go to your workplace, where you find lots of people who you need to enter into sensible interaction with.

Zygmunt Bauman: “Social media are a trap”

Letter In solidarity with Library Genesis and Sci-Hub

Came across this letter online and wanted to save it here for future reference.

In solidarity with Library Genesis and Sci-Hub

In Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s tale the Little Prince meets a businessman who accumulates stars with the sole purpose of being able to buy more stars. The Little Prince is perplexed. He owns only a flower, which he waters every day. Three volcanoes, which he cleans every week. “It is of some use to my volcanoes, and it is of some use to my flower, that I own them,” he says, “but you are of no use to the stars that you own”.

There are many businessmen who own knowledge today. Consider Elsevier, the largest scholarly publisher, whose 37% profit margin1 stands in sharp contrast to the rising fees, expanding student loan debt and poverty-level wages for adjunct faculty. Elsevier owns some of the largest databases of academic material, which are licensed at prices so scandalously high that even Harvard, the richest university of the global north, has complained that it cannot afford them any longer. Robert Darnton, the past director of Harvard Library, says “We faculty do the research, write the papers, referee papers by other researchers, serve on editorial boards, all of it for free … and then we buy back the results of our labour at outrageous prices.”2 For all the work supported by public money benefiting scholarly publishers, particularly the peer review that grounds their legitimacy, journal articles are priced such that they prohibit access to science to many academics – and all non-academics – across the world, and render it a token of privilege.3

Elsevier has recently filed a copyright infringement suit in New York against Science Hub and Library Genesis claiming millions of dollars in damages.4 This has come as a big blow, not just to the administrators of the websites but also to thousands of researchers around the world for whom these sites are the only viable source of academic materials. The social media, mailing lists and IRC channels have been filled with their distress messages, desperately seeking articles and publications.

Even as the New York District Court was delivering its injunction, news came of the entire editorial board of highly-esteemed journal Lingua handing in their collective resignation, citing as their reason the refusal by Elsevier to go open access and give up on the high fees it charges to authors and their academic institutions. As we write these lines, a petition is doing the rounds demanding that Taylor & Francis doesn’t shut down Ashgate5, a formerly independent humanities publisher that it acquired earlier in 2015. It is threatened to go the way of other small publishers that are being rolled over by the growing monopoly and concentration in the publishing market. These are just some of the signs that the system is broken. It devalues us, authors, editors and readers alike. It parasites on our labor, it thwarts our service to the public, it denies us access6.

We have the means and methods to make knowledge accessible to everyone, with no economic barrier to access and at a much lower cost to society. But closed access’s monopoly over academic publishing, its spectacular profits and its central role in the allocation of academic prestige trump the public interest. Commercial publishers effectively impede open access, criminalize us, prosecute our heroes and heroines, and destroy our libraries, again and again. Before Science Hub and Library Genesis there was Library.nu or Gigapedia; before Gigapedia there was textz.com; before textz.com there was little; and before there was little there was nothing. That’s what they want: to reduce most of us back to nothing. And they have the full support of the courts and law to do exactly that.7

In Elsevier’s case against Sci-Hub and Library Genesis, the judge said: “simply making copyrighted content available for free via a foreign website, disserves the public interest”8. Alexandra Elbakyan’s original plea put the stakes much higher: “If Elsevier manages to shut down our projects or force them into the darknet, that will demonstrate an important idea: that the public does not have the right to knowledge.”

We demonstrate daily, and on a massive scale, that the system is broken. We share our writing secretly behind the backs of our publishers, circumvent paywalls to access articles and publications, digitize and upload books to libraries. This is the other side of 37% profit margins: our knowledge commons grows in the fault lines of a broken system. We are all custodians of knowledge, custodians of the same infrastructures that we depend on for producing knowledge, custodians of our fertile but fragile commons. To be a custodian is, de facto, to download, to share, to read, to write, to review, to edit, to digitize, to archive, to maintain libraries, to make them accessible. It is to be of use to, not to make property of, our knowledge commons.

More than seven years ago Aaron Swartz, who spared no risk in standing up for what we here urge you to stand up for too, wrote: “We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access. With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?”9

We find ourselves at a decisive moment. This is the time to recognize that the very existence of our massive knowledge commons is an act of collective civil disobedience. It is the time to emerge from hiding and put our names behind this act of resistance. You may feel isolated, but there are many of us. The anger, desperation and fear of losing our library infrastructures, voiced across the internet, tell us that. This is the time for us custodians, being dogs, humans or cyborgs, with our names, nicknames and pseudonyms, to raise our voices.

30 November 2015

Dušan Barok, Josephine Berry, Bodó Balázs, Sean Dockray, Kenneth Goldsmith, Anthony Iles, Lawrence Liang, Sebastian Lütgert, Pauline van Mourik Broekman, Marcell Mars, spideralex, Tomislav Medak, Dubravka Sekulić, Femke Snelting…


  1. Larivière, Vincent, Stefanie Haustein, and Philippe Mongeon. “The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era.” PLoS ONE 10, no. 6 (June 10, 2015): e0127502. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0127502.,
    The Obscene Profits of Commercial Scholarly Publishers.” svpow.com. Accessed November 30, 2015.  
  2. Sample, Ian. “Harvard University Says It Can’t Afford Journal Publishers’ Prices.” The Guardian, April 24, 2012, sec. Science. theguardian.com.  
  3. Academic Paywalls Mean Publish and Perish – Al Jazeera English.” Accessed November 30, 2015. aljazeera.com.  
  4. Sci-Hub Tears Down Academia’s ‘Illegal’ Copyright Paywalls.” TorrentFreak. Accessed November 30, 2015. torrentfreak.com.  
  5. Save Ashgate Publishing.” Change.org. Accessed November 30, 2015. change.org.  
  6. The Cost of Knowledge.” Accessed November 30, 2015. thecostofknowledge.com.  
  7. In fact, with the TPP and TTIP being rushed through the legislative process, no domain registrar, ISP provider, host or human rights organization will be able to prevent copyright industries and courts from criminalizing and shutting down websites “expeditiously”.  
  8. Court Orders Shutdown of Libgen, Bookfi and Sci-Hub.” TorrentFreak. Accessed November 30, 2015. torrentfreak.com.  
  9. Guerilla Open Access Manifesto.” Internet Archive. Accessed November 30, 2015. archive.org.