Monday, November 14, 2011

Occupy Chicago at the University of Chicago...

Here at the University of Chicago, we were going to have a joint speaking engagement tonight with Henry Paulson and Condoleezza Rice.  Hours before the scheduled event, though, it was postponed indefinitely due to "an unforeseen scheduling conflict."  While the nature of the conflict was not specified, either Rice's staff and the University administration demonstrated some incompetence of communication in the last minute realization of a conflict in their day planners, or they wanted to avoid Occupy Chicago, which was planning on relocating to our campus today in order to "unwelcome" the event.  Occupy Chicago has offered a great response to the news, claiming that Rice and the University backed out of the engagement because of the occupying presence, and pointing out a similar instance in Kansas. It also appears that they're coming to campus anyway.

Who knows why the event was canceled, but it seems at least pretty probable that they were trying to avoid a spectacle of opposition and perhaps hoping that the occupy movements die down as it gets colder and supplies such as generators, tents, and blankets continue to be confiscated by police.  As I see it, the University should have taken its chances hosting the event now, while the meager media attention that exists remains focused on the California police who are beating students!

Readers may also be interested in a post by Celeste Langan, linked in the comment section of the Crooked Timber summary of California events.  From the post:

As to why I was there: as a tenured professor (and tenure can be defined as a right granted to occupy a position on campus without threat of eviction for expressing dissent) I wanted to express my concern about the double threat posed to the ideal of liberal education by the rising cost of tuition and, more generally, the burden of debt. On the one hand, as many have pointed out, rising costs limit access. On the other hand, the debt students incur as they pursue a liberal arts education also poses a threat to free inquiry, that central value of democratic society. Students are so concerned about their economic futures that they sometimes feel constrained in their choice of courses and majors, too anxious about acquiring the proper credentials for employment to explore areas of intellectual inquiry that might interest them but don't appear to have an instrumental value. When I was teaching Walden last month, I couldn't help but notice how incisively Thoreau diagnoses the effect of "insolvency" on the capacity to think and live freely; the time people spend reading and thinking, he suggests, is increasingly regarded as time "stolen" and "borrowed" from wage-earning.

I note the same narrowly pragmatic thinking in the haste with which the police acted and Chancellor Birgeneau's justification for his decision to authorize the police action: "We simply cannot afford to spend our precious resources and, in particular, student tuition, on costly and avoidable expenses associated with violence or vandalism." No one wishes to "waste" resources in this climate. Yet if one follows this logic one can see the looming threat: lawful assembly, peaceful dissent, and free inquiry—even so-called “breadth requirements”--can all entail some cost. They interfere with “getting and spending.” Dissent, like free inquiry, is sometimes inefficient. Dissent doesn't always have a "deliverable." But it takes time to determine a just answer to “What is to be done?’.


  1. I might also add... Tricia and I were discussing the other night how there's a tipping point of support for movements like this, and your rapidly begin to reach it when police start beating nonviolent protesters. We are broadly sympathetic with the occupy movements but have not participated in any of the events, and there are likely many more in the 99% who are like that... sharing similar frustrations but not participating in actions (at least not the present actions of the Occupiers in various cities across the world).

    For people like us, neutral or sympathetic onlookers, I think the scales begin to tip rapidly when the chant of the protesters becomes "Don't beat students! Don't beat students! Don't beat students!" If sharp class stratification and exploitation is a very abstract threat that average Americans can feel in their gut or even their family budgets, yet without full understanding of it (much less of the best way to go about fixing it), police brutality is a very concrete threat. It is a threat that average Americans can not only feel, but also see and read about in the news, and encounter every day when they go into public places.

    The percentage of Americans who would stand up with the occupiers and call cry out "Don't beat students! Don't beat students! Don't beat students!" is much larger than the percentage of Americans who would stand with occupiers for their original grievances and reforms. I am not one of those who have criticized the Occupy movements for failing to offer specific diagnoses and goals... I think the occupiers have expressed their concerns and proposed solutions quite well, precisely because they have avoided soundbytes. But if soundbytes are what you're looking for, "Stop beating us when we're protesting peacefully" is about as clear-cut as it comes.

  2. I must admit that I fully agree with you, Evan. While I may not entirely agree with a lot of the ideology and beliefs held by the protesters, protesting is and will always be a cornerstone of any free society.

    I did see the video that you posted and I actually sent it to quite a many people via email the day that it was posted on YT. You probably have already seen it, but this is the video that I sent along with it which is from Oakland:

  3. It is hard to see where the "Occupy Movement" goes from here. I think it has fizzled largely because they literally have overarching message.

    "...police brutality is a very concrete threat."

    And it is nothing new. For a few decades now the police have become increasingly militarized, they have been given far more leeway to engage in activity that was considered rare or non-existant by the police at one time in our nation's history, etc. There are areas in this nation where the sort of police activity which is engaged in would not be tolerated outside those neighborhoods; where as a citizen it is just considered a matter of course that the police have carte blanche to search your person. If large swaths of the population can turn a blind eye to that (and they do), then they can turn a blind eye to students being beaten.

  4. You may be right... I think this is the big question concerning the impact of the occupy movements over the next few months.

  5. This is an unrelated post. As a member of a discipline that was frequently misquoted and not necessarily in the mainstream I found common cause with a particular line of libertarian thought (the idea of the individual agent). I tried to engage with members of the economic community and the only sympathetic allies I found where libertarians. I knew in the back of my mind that they had a strain of anti-empiricism but thought that like other philosophies or theories they had been misunderstood or had changed from their origional iteration (a good thing).

    I found myself attracted to cafe hayek, and several of the discussions, but mistook a dogma for an actual scientific objection.

    This website spoke to the concerns I had in the back of my mind about libertarianism but had taken a back seat as I sought to fully understand the "otherside".

    This very approach (which can solicit personal attacks from idealogues if you disagree with them)is not a feature of libertarianism.

    So, with great gusto- (because bitches - I can demean with the best of you), I call all libertarians "dipshits" and worthy of classification of mental illness and all of the statist intervention that may imply, because truly.... really... you deserve it.


  6. And by "this website" i mean to pay you the highest compliment Daniel. I read through a great deal of your posts and you speak with the reserve and humility of a member of the scientific community. My hostility is for those who are equally hostile to science (a candle in the dark)

  7. Ok, having not paid too much attention to OWS, I dont have much to say about their motives. But I will say this: they seem to draw the ire of alot of libertarians. Why is that? Do they not have the right of free speech? Are they not equally deserving of the same rights that the tea partiers are? the number of ad hominem attacks from libertarians towards OWS movement is interesting.

    One thing I can say about OWS movement is that if unemployment continues to remain high, if there is too much ratio strain between the cost of education and the ability to pay for it, and there is continued scorn from certain political parties (rather than identifying common cause) they will continue to grow.

  8. Can Anonymous posters at least post with a username? Even something funny, like Mr. Bigglesworth or Shaggadelic.

    Because it's hard to tell whether the same person or different people are responding.

    Joseph Fetz, I disagree with you about protesting. Protesting implies you have no channels for making your disagreement with policy heard.

    I live in a Third World region, but not one person I know has had trouble in writing a letter to our representative in Parliament, getting a response from our representative for further clarification on our position, and convincing him to get our grievances spoken out in the next session of Parliament. If this can happen in a Third World country, then you have no excuse if you don't do it in the First World.

    People who are incapable of doing a simple thing like this are disturbingly illiterate about the very system they wish to reform! They think they can steamroll legislation by blocking city streets and holding placards, when they already have an easier and faster ticket to the Parliament.

  9. An academic complaining about credentialism ... please hit him with a cluestick, if you would.

  10. Sorry, hit *her* with a cluestick.

  11. I'm not sure what you're talking about, Silas. Are you trying to argue that because Langan needs a PhD to be a professor (I'm assuming... although you'll note that the Berkley English department doesn't list any credentials for its faculty), she is therefore complicit in and even clueless of an academic system of problematic credentialism in hiring?

  12. Silas is an occasional troll - best just to ignore him.

  13. Were you serious in that comment, Daniel? I have a feeling that you were being facetious (I hope). It's hard to tell.

  14. Silas? I'm totally serious. He's not an irredeemable troll I guess - sometimes he has something interesting to say. But more often than not he just pesters.

  15. I don't know - maybe it's just how he interacts with me. I can't say I read his comments in detail on Bob's blog unless they're in response to me. And usually those as well as his comments here aren't constructive.

  16. I often find it difficult to really "read" a person on the internet unless I completely agree with them (which is rare). Usually, that agreement is only on a particular case and is not in general terms.

    I don't know, maybe I am naive, but I often find redeemable qualities in most everybody I talk, write or respond to. To be honest, I would say that your blog is relatively "troll" free, that most of the respondents aren't outside the bounds of particular understandings held by both sides. I mean, the discussions here certainly aren't like that found on a typical yahoo or (enter news channel here) website; there is a vague familiarity amongst the posters here.

    In reality, all we are doing is discussing the ideas that we believe are correct... the answers to which are infinitely elusive. There really is no absolute measure of which to gauge this, which brings us to the whole point of such deliberation.

  17. Joseph,

    I look at this way; either you have constructive dialogue or you don't. Most of the time when it isn't constructive it has nothing to do with the parties engaged in the conversation having some sort of malevolent intent.


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