Author: Pedro Caballero

Criteria for a Revolution

What does it mean to be revolutionary in todays society? Specifically what does it mean to argue against the status quo in a time where material condition often crowds the underlying decaying condition of infrastructure, wages, and health. I think a lot about this question and what it means in a time at Colby where hyper-bourgeois liberalism is so rampant. I think back to the times when people here often acted as if they were for changing the conditions for those marginalized and were behind change that advocated for marginalized people’s rights. However, I have often experienced that people are for revolutionary ideas but not for revolutionary action. That is for example when students protested for action against the rampant racism and homophobia and sexism on yik yak, the general response of the campus was of both disgust and annoyance. People asserted that there is no need to protest or demand revolution on a campus that is already so “liberal”. In this one instance I began to see the hypocrisy and ignorance of so the called “liberal” and began to see their brand of revolution as one that is only convenient or that does not go against the structures that make them so comfortable.

Now, going back to the question of what does it mean to be revolutionary in today’s society? I keep thinking if clear cut revolution is possible when people are so comfortable with structure. At least at colleges and universities I would say no. People here often are very expressive with feelings and ideas, but at the end of the day no one here is against the institutions that may be because they all wish to benefit from this in the future with their well paying jobs and security. This desire to be apart of a world that they want to change is far too paradoxical. Revolution is about changing how society is ruled through its organization and authority. Revolution requires action, physical action, not feelings, and for that reason I would say people here are full of shit.

The Paradox of Revolution

When you invoke”revolution” in the American psyche what comes to mind is clearly the American Revolution between 1765 and 1783. The American Revolution, to us, was the cleanest, universally ordained, and most just revolution this world has ever seen. Through historical teachings and our nationalist paradigm, our founding fathers were just in their actions and clean in their revolution. However, to me, this is misleading. All revolutions are, at its basic core, the violent overthrow of political authority in charge. Whether violence is seen as a means to an end or seen as illegitimate as means, true revolution changes structure and in order to change structure violence need to be dealt. This is the basic requirement when facing military force or police force. With this in mind we should start to look at our revolution as a violent period in American history where people were killed for the overthrow of the political authority in charge. Further, in this violent period Revolutions inherently produce categories of experience and separation for those enacting revolution, having revolution enacted upon them, and the difference in resulting conditions following a revolution.

In the essence of this thinking, Professor Peterson uses revolution and the basic results of revolution as a large part of his argument. To him the categories of experience and separation that result from a revolution are important in understanding what constitutes something as wholly revolutionary because for some even in the process of revolutions the effects of revolution are not general. To this end, when thinking about the American revolution or the revolutions of our modern era, we must think about the ways political upheaval is really revolutionary or not in the ways they actually changed condition for the majority or shifted power from one minority to another.

We must look at revolutions in this critical light for various reasons, but one in particular-the power of modernity and the clean record of historical generalizations. Specifically, the power of nationalism in talking about these revolutions shouldn’t be understated. When nations discuss revolutions they create fallacies of universal cooperation, true democracy, and egalitarian political desire. However, when looking at the American revolution in particular you must analyze WHO creates this type of history and for what reason. Because when looking at political fact, we must not forget the ways that poor farmers, slaves, and Native Americans were kept out of the “revolutionary” acts and the negotiating table following the “revolution”. So all of these ideals and historical generalizations that are made can only be seen as false, but to what end? The power of memory cannot be understated, in modern times revolutions are written off and started through the evocation of history. Looking to the American Revolution, looking to the French Revolution, etc. Revolutions are never as pure or universal as stated, they have underlying categories of separation and exclusivity.

 

Black Panthers and the Radical Imagination

Stanley Nelson’s Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution covers one of the most tumultuous times in American history and one of the most controversial groups of the Civil Rights Era. The Black Panthers were one of the most radical and revolutionary social movements fighting for the rights of African Americans of its era. While the Southern States activist were fighting fire with love, compassion, and non-violence the Black Panthers were working with in a reality they deemed could not be changed without the protection of black people, the organization of strong community, the re-education of black people, and the reclamation of black pride.

The Black Panther’s initial message consisted of a ten point program that was deemed necessary for the emancipation of black people from the confines of white supremacy and the structures of inequality that African Americans have been historically and forcefully forced into. Self determination, full employment, reparations, housing, education, military exemption, end of police brutality, end of prison industrial, free and fair trial, and overall equality were the points of revolution for this group. Contrary to popular belief and the narrative shaping perpetrated by the US government the Black Panthers started out as a group that did not advocate for white hate or violence upon others but advocated for the basic rights put forth by our constitution and the material qualities necessary to live a peaceful life.

However, what made the Black Panther party so revolutionary was the ways that it advocated for the a decolonization of the mind of black people and the need to protect both the community and physical body from harm of white supremacy, whether that be the police or racist people. Armed African Americans in all leather gear, large afros, radical rhetoric, and bubbling confidence is what was scary. Unlike the Freedom riding activist of the south that fell so nicely and comfortably into the lives of white and black middle class people was not the case for this group. They stood outside the status quo and vowed for a complete redistribution of the material inequities that plages minority groups across the country and this meant first fighting this status quo through education and thinking outside of the limited theoretical confines of the civil rights movement.

Stanley Nelson captures both the swagger, radicalness, and impact on not only the political landscape in the ways that police, federal government, and intelligence agencies moved to suppress such a movement but its impact in the paradigm of black self respect and the push for a reorientation in the ways that black communities and latino communities looked at themselves in relation to white people. Specifically, Nelson captures the way that the Black Panther radically changed the way that black pride came to be. A pride that the Black Panthers disseminated with ease but also came to a swift end because of the power of such ideas in a country that was not ready for such power in the hands of a minority group.

Class and the Failure of the Democratic Party

The election of 2016 between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump will go down as one of the most important political decisions of the century.  No election previous has ever brought so many racial divisions, allegations of the illegitimacy of democracy, platforms of reform to legislative branch, or galvanized so many working class people to go out and vote. Further, the results of the election have never so surprised or undercut the consensus of the media in the modern era and as such has made American citizens question the way they look at their fellow neighbors and the demographics of the country. Latoya Ruby Frazier is a woman working with in this system through her work with the working class, art, and revolution in the art world and as such she brought an interesting perspective to the way that we as Colby Students should look at the election.

Class in America is one of the most understudied and undervalued subjects across social debates since the inception of the republic. The reason we as a people took independence in July 4th, 1776 is because the upper middle class white males of this country began to be frustrated with and question having to answer to an authoritarian ruler that made them pay an exorbitant amount of taxes. As such, the founding fathers conceived of our republic as one that was fair to its citizens in terms of infringments on wealth. Whether that be guidelines on the ownership of land, taxes, etc. With that said, class and the influence of the government on socio-economic status has been at the forefront of social debates across issues of race, sex, and nationality. Why is it then that the Democratic Party has become so out of touch with recognizing class disparities and the ways that class has effected political discourse, legislation, and support?

Latoya laid out this issue and frankly the hypocrisy of the democratic part in the ways it has handled issues of class and intersections of policy or discourse that have marginalized the working class in particular. The reason why the reality of a Donald Trump Presidency came into fruition is because he worked on the largest weak spot of the party of the change and hope, the people that have been begging for and not receiving change or hope for the past fifty years. The industrial towns, the mill towns, the factories, and the ghost towns of production have become hubs of dissatisfaction, poverty, anger, and death. The working class are not just a rhetorical device for politicians to portray themselves as “of the people”, they are actual people that have been neglected and are in need of help. Through documentation and discussion Latoya was able to capture the mistrust of people like those in Bradock as that which would not be subsided by the lack of charisma and authenticity in Hilary, but the firebrand and assertive promises of a political outsider. Now with his victory it will be interesting how this documentation will move forward.

The Whitewashing of History

The lack of inclusion in history for American and European curriculum is not just a coincidence but a deliberate act. Tonight’s lecture not only touched on the ways we as American not only forget the past but complete avoid parts of our past. This problem of holding a very eurocentric view of history is not a thing of recent times or even of past times, it has always and will continue to always be a problem until we as Americans confront the issue and demand more.

The Haitian Revolution of 1791, a revolution that lasted twelve years, can and should be considered the first fight for total equality and anti-colonialism in the world. Over one hundred and fifty years before the anti-colonial era following World War II, I would argue Haiti was the first country to truly adhere to and attempt to obtain the ideals of liberty and equality. Unlike the United States and France who promoted ideals of liberty and equality, Haiti was a slave insurrection that attempted to implement these ideas once it gained its independence, giving equal status to its citizens years before either states even abolished slavery.

With that said, why do we as a nation seem to brush this revolution off as some sort of blip in the historical timeline? Professor Popkin notes that in just a common interest sense, most people who search the event are African American and that most white people ignore or are simply not interested. Whether this is rooted in some inherently racial ideas, doubtful, but I would argue that this lack of interest stems from the notion of history ingrained in our heads from childhood that the only type of history that matters is that which concerns white lives and bodies. You would be hard pressed to learn about the wonders of Native American cultures and wars, African contributions to thought in our conception of government, and surely not the contributions of people of color to the technological and philosophical advancement of Europe during the enlightenment- it just does not happen.

In this white washing, Professor Popkin is trying to create a new narrative. One that includes the Haitian Revolution as one that is apart of the lineage of democratic ideals and the foundation of the dissemination of democratic principles throughout both the western world and easter world, from the Caribbean and France all the way to Southeast Asia. Further it also contributed to the ways both the French and Americans considered the issue of race and the notion of inferiority as the Haitian Revolution both dispelled the myth of inferiority and made leaders think heavily on the animosities created by racial divides and possibility of rebellion.

 

Our Visual World

              Thinking back to Khalid Albaih’s talk about social media activism Hanlon’s talk made me think about the saturation of information in todays society.  Basically how we live in world where we hold super computers at our palm, are constantly involved in the production and exchange of information, and are surrounded by visual information-yet we do not know what to accept as objective or not. How did we get to this point? Surely the technological revolution and the dot com rush have ushered in our current era, but how have we gotten to the point where we accept most of this information in all of its messiness and without much evidence? Amongst this issue, why the insistence on visual data? Why is it that academic, scientist, peers, students, professors, etc use visual models as a means of expressing data?
               Hanlon’s lecture at its core really expressed the ways that data in particular is a product of rhetorical, theoretical, and epistemological context. That is all data is a product of a particular historical moment and motive. Now what exactly is data? Data refers to information or knowledge that is represented. Represented that is by visual codes or other characters. Historically data arose from an empirical tradition that developed into an epistemological evolution in the ways that scientist and scriptural intellects did their arguments. Specifically the ways that intellectuals did their job around the 17th century began to rely more on more scientific studies that valued images and visualization.
                  So when did data become revolutionary? Hanlon argues that once the technological and epistemological methods of codifying data became big is when it constituted as revolutionary. That is once information around the world became datafied then all of the information and understanding of information became large and heavily codified. So if data has always been visual and it is now the main form, what does that mean for our future?
                 Dealing with a heavily datafied societal context, technology has allowed for a certain saturation in visual information. So what does this mean for our future? In this heavily datafied context when is there going to be a critical reflection on the ways we continue to visual declare our information? Because the implicit objectivity that is accompanied with visual representation asserts no need to undercover the complexities. However, is not there an importance in uncovering the complexities of our world? Surely we should not accept all information as it is handed to us. We must critically deconstruct and analyze the broad assertions accompanied with the saturation of data. We must not willingly look at websites such as Facebook and accept all of the supposed news or supposed scientific education that comes in images and graphs and pie charts.

The Deception of Evolution

Evolution at this point in our history serves as the dominant conception of the ways that biological life on this planet has arisen in its modern form. From ideas of natural selection, diversity of species, and the inter-relatedness of species  evolution and its many contributors continue to form the way we understand our past and future. Most recognizable, Charles Darwin’s contributions to evolution and our conception of life on earth was unquestionably revolutionary during his time period. However as we continue to move forward as a species the legacy and the roots of evolution and particularly Darwin’s ideas must be re-examined and critically analyzed. Specifically Darwin’s typological thinking, species centered humanism, and visual orientation of species must be examined in relation to its historical effects.

Professor Judy Stone outlined the historical contexts of Darwin’s ideas as being the product of notions on evolution, population genetics , natural selection, and biological classification. That is Darwin was working in a particular context that valued the separation of species and noted their separations in deviation of linear genealogies that seem to be moving toward a next step. This idea however worked in direct contradiction with his working knowledge of the ways that all humans in particular are of the same genealogy. How can humans be the same yet different at the same time? Stone noted this as a root flaw to his legacy in evolution as this topological thinking as a conceptual model implicitly and explicitly delineates racial boundaries, genetic determinisms, and creates racial hierarchies.

Now why does this matter today? Surely there is no way this explicit practice of racial classification persist today, I mean we aren’t a society that condones Eugenics or Racial Darwinism in national studies or surveys. Well no, but also kinda. To start, I believe we still assert this notion of genetic determinism in the ways we go about arguments between populations. That is, this notion that certain segments of society has caused their own predicaments and the segments that have succeeded are clearly superior in intelligence, craftiness, or etc. Now this is not verbatim arguments but this is the sentiment and in part language used by scientist, politicians, and educators today. This is a conception of reality that Darwin helped create.

Judy Stone said herself that variable traits within populations aren’t the cause of some cosmological destination of species or indication of superiority but the result of complex biological mutations that have arisen out of environmental factors over thousands and thousand of years. We cant just accept these artificial racial boundaries as objective science, and although Darwin contributed to our conception of past, present, and future we must continue to challenge. We must continue to question and analyze and thwart the legacies of evolutionary scientist, not because they were inherently bad men or women but because they were the product of a point in history and as such we must take from them the ideas we can build on a eradicate the ideas that continue to separate us.

Change at the Palm of our Hands

What’s more fearful than a man with no political allegiances and access to millions of your citizens? To corrupt governments other than nuclear arms, nothing. Khalid Albaih encapsulates the way of the future for many activist around the world. Where once newspapers and television were the mediums to sensor and control through money, social media is a platform that is difficult to manage without overt censorship and as such is the meeting place for views that governments constantly try to stifle. Particularly in the Arab Spring, platforms like Facebook and Twitter were firestorms for the likes of the Egyptian government because events and posts would pop up without warning and be views by millions before the government could have it removed. Unlike a piece of paper of television broadcasting, the power of the internet is that without a direct blocking of global signals or global websites it’s almost next to impossible to stop people from posting what they like. Khalid knew this and other activist knew this and they all used their knowledge to their advantage.

In Khalid’s experiences he understood that the success of using social media derived from the fact that this platform was the only true and honest source of information left in the public sphere. There was a sense of immediacy and pressure that arose with this use as if it was the only way. In that he articulated the difference in the United States is that we still have faith in other platforms. That is half of us wants to believe in the information we receive from the government, cnn, the new york times, and our representatives. Khalid asserted that this is a privilege, and for him, everyone, and their mother knew that no public source of information was credible in Sudan or in North Africa because they were all controlled by the government and money. However, in this problem of legitimacy also was this problem of saturation and quality. With the use of social media in places where their is no legitimacy elsewhere, places like Facebook have become awash with tid bits of information that are supposed to educate, excite, and produce action, but how are revolutionaries supposed to acquire and hold that attention. While social media is the last free outlet to produce information, how do you assert yourself in a sea of frankly bullshit. With over 500 million people joining Facebook in the last four years, Khalid and other activist of the Arab Spring are trying to continue their fire but amidst a large and less active crowd.

Overall, Khalid conveyed how the difference in social justice movements here versus movements back in the Sudan, North African, and the Middle East is that theirs are done in a last ditch effort. That is they are done as if there is nothing left because doing that action can be life or death. For Khalid, social media wasn’t just an evolution in spreading news to inform people, but it was a revolution in enacting change.

 

Interconnectedness: Weather and Historical Conditions

The eruption of Tambora according to Professor Gillen D’Arcy Wood did not just create volatile conditions over three years for the region it originated in, but the eruption also significantly altered the course of history for large parts of the world. For Professor Wood, these findings all began with looking through the historical record and asking questions. The period between 1810 and 1820 was a decade with monumental historical events and in particular the Western Academy of thought characterized this period with the fall of Napoleon, the fall of the British in North America, and the subsequent beginnings of prominence for the United States through continental expansion and industrialization. On the other hand, the Western Academy of thought also characterizes this time as a less significant period of widespread famine, economic turmoil, and mass displacement. With that in mind, what makes Professor Wood revolutionary is his detour from established historical analysis of the period toward those major historical events and he is more interested in the depth of human suffering experienced. With looking at the human suffering experienced Wood characterizes this period as being the result of a natural disaster that had altered the weather systems of the world creating chaos. Looking at the concept of tele-connectivity, Wood proposes the idea that for this period the social pressures that came to be within human communities was a direct result of environmental catastrophe. Now think about the idea Wood is proposing for a minute. That the human suffering that historians for a hundred years characterized as the result of the shock of war could be the side effects of a volcano. Even more noteworthy, Wood proposes that the information to the cause of all this suffering was also directly in the face of historians through art and literature.

In the midst of all this historical analysis and fundamental restructuring of what this means to our understanding of the relationship between weather and human conditions I began to question in my head to what does this mean to our present day situation? Or more specifically, even when we understand the tele-connectivity between weather and human communities what does this do for our conditions? Many of the students in the room voiced their concerns with our current climate crisis and the conditions that create displacement.Seemingly, it is widely understood that extreme fluctuations or even moderate fluctuations in weather create volatile conditions for people all over the world. So if this connection between weather and suffering is understood I guess my question is is the notion of tele-connectivity active or passive, and more specifically is it just an idea we acknowledge but do nothing about. In a world where ideas are presented as revolutionary but do not move past the institutional or academically bound stage, my question is what does the historical account of Tambora do for current issues of weather fluctuation and suffering? To me the ideas presented by Wood give us a platform to restructure our understandings of historical conditions, but it does not move much farther into the realm of discussions on climate change for me personally. So how do we shape these new understandings into revolution.

Revolution or Evolution: Questions about the Cosmos that have changed the direction of history

Professor Cohen’s lecture began with an interesting definition about exploration of ideas explaining humanity’s relation to our planet. Basically he states that science is about exploring the cosmos in order unfold the essence of us. He believes that all people desire to know more about our purpose on earth through understanding more about our earth and how our existence affects our earth. Now I thought this was an interesting way to begin a talk on the scientific revolution because usually professors who discuss this period talk about the production of knowledge and how these developments are the crux of advancing knowledge. While important, I believe this idea of exploring the cosmos in order to unfold the essence of humans really allows us to understand whether the Scientific Revolution of 16th century is truly a revolution or merely evolution. What I will argue is this period does not mark a period of revolution in our view of the cosmos, and that I believe it merely an evolution in the depth that we explore the cosmos.

The main reason I believe the Scientific Revolution to be merely an evolution of ways that we explore the cosmos is that much of the empiricism that was supposedly revolutionary developed out of Greek, Indian, and Islamic discoveries. Specifically, thinkers like Ibn al-Haytham developed a system of empiricism that many European scientist and mathematicians were noted as being the pioneers of, such as the development of hypotheses. This is important because this empiricism has been articulated as being the fundamental reason for Europe’s superior advancement at this period. But as you can see that assertion actually a historical misconception that does not give credibility to the legacy it developed from. Further, many of the hypotheses that developed and were seen as changing our view of the cosmos were often later disproved and or merely developed in Europe at the time and were believed in other parts of the world earlier. Views, such as heliocentrism that were supposedly discovered by the European intellect Corpernicus, who developed a system of astronomy that we note as giving us our view toward Earth’s rotation, seasons, and the understanding that we revolve around the sun. However, this view does not give proper due to previous thinkers hundreds of years before such as al-Buruni who discovered the notion of heliocentrism in Iran. This is important because this apparent new understanding about our relation to the cosmos is seen as a large reason for this period being revolutionary but it merely discredits non-European thinkers and doesn’t articulate the discovery for what it is, an evolution on inherited theories.

Overall, it is apparent that although the period of the Scientific Revolution marks a deeper understanding and development of empirical study about the cosmos in the European tradition it does not mark a revolution in how the whole world explored the and understood cosmos. Merely, this period marked an evolution in the understanding that European intellectuals had about our earth and the world around us.