Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Race Matters

By Cornell West
Princeton University

From Kirkus Reviews

In essays that challenge the nature of racial discourse in America, the director of Princeton's Afro-American Studies program, professor of religion, and self-described "intellectual freedom-fighter" calls for moral regeneration and profound social change. Scheduled to appear on the anniversary of the L.A. riots (when the nation presumably will take stock of America one year after), this collection (much of which appeared previously in The New York Times Magazine, Dissent, Z, etc.) is consistently effective at pointing out how the intellectual frameworks used by both whites and blacks as well as by liberals and neoconservatives impede true progress and understanding--whether the issue is affirmative action, black nihilism, or the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. West identifies the valuable insights of black conservatives while taking their conclusions to pieces and sees black anti-Semitism as threatening the ethical nature of the black struggle (if it "becomes simply a power-driven war...that pits xenophobia from below against racism from above, then David Duke's project is the wave of the future"). While unsparing in his critique of black leadership and American racism, West situates the crisis in black America inside our market-driven culture, a world of "random nows" and the "empty quest for pleasure, property and power"--a pervasive spiritual impoverishment that transcends race but is most devastating among the poorest, most powerless, and most despised. Aiming at accessibility, West perhaps too much curtails his customary intellectual range; but with clear thinking and sensible analysis being in short supply these days, his words are welcome nonetheless.

The first comment below is an interview with West on the book in The Christian Century

The Invention of
the White Race:

The Origin of Racial Oppression
and Social Control in Anglo-America

By Theodore W. Allen
Verso, in two volumes

[A note from Carl Davidson: Ted Allen was a teacher and friend of mine. I've often said three books are critical to understanding our country: Black Reconstruction by WEB Du Bois, Blues People by Amiri Baraka, and the Invention of the White Race by Ted Allen. Ted would have agreed about the first two, but may have been unduly modest about his own. In any case, our study group went through both volumes, and learned a great deal, especially what original historical materialism in the Marxist tradition looks like when done extremely well on a burning question. Here is a brief description of the books. The first two comments are a long review putting the work in a wider context, and an appreciation of Allen following his death.]

The Meaning of White

By Dara Bryne
Black Issue Book Review

One of the best ways to understand the workings of "whiteness studies" is to read some of its landmark books. These are essential readings that must not be overlooked by anyone who is interested in race, identity, gender, economics, politics, culture and American history. The most compelling and widely cited among them are Theodore W. Allen's The Invention of the White Race: Racial Oppression and Social Control (Verso Books, 1994), Noel Ignatiev's How the Irish Became White (Routledge, 1995), and David R. Roediger's The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (Verso Books Irevised], 1999) and Towards the Abolition of Whiteness: Essays on Race, Politics, and Working Class History (Verso Books, 1994).

Each author traces the development of "whiteness" to the 19th-century white working class in America. The Irish play a central role in each of these writings. One can look to the history of the Irish in America as a clear example of what "whiteness" means ideologically, materially and culturally. After reading these works, one understands why whiteness is not simply about having white skin. Rather economic and political processes serve as the dominant structural force in this society.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Full House
The Spread of Excellence
from Plato to Darwin

By Stephen J. Gould

From Kirkus Reviews: Now hear this: Evolution is not progressive. We (humans) are not the be-all and end-all of nature's plan. You've heard these lines before: They are quintessentially Gould. In this short volume Gould (Dinosaur in a Haystack, 1995, etc.) elaborates on this theme. Among the examples he advances is one that should prove dear to the hearts of baseball fans: Why, Gould asks, are there no .400 hitters anymore? The answer requires looking not at batting but at how the game of baseball has varied over time. There has been a general improvement in play so that the normal curve of batting averages no longer has a tail trailing off to the right where the few .400 stars were to be found. Instead, in Gould's phrase, we have hit a right wall--a boundary reflecting the limits of human performance. A second, longer, and more complex example deals with evolutionary data. If we eliminated human hubris, we would see that it is bacteria that were in the beginning, are now, and ever will be the most populous and successful kingdom--virtually at the left wall boundary in terms of minimally complex organisms capable of life. Over time, there was nothing else for life to do but to expand to the right. However, using fossil records, Gould demonstrates that there was no directionality: Descendants didn't always get more complex--they could just as easily revert to less complex forms. What befuddles the issue is the matter of cultural ``evolution''--a word Gould would strike in favor of the word ``change.'' Cultural inventions (including reading and writing) have enabled great leaps of technical ``progress'' in nanoseconds of time, reckoned by evolutionary standards. As a species, however, we remain an anomalous tail in the full house of life on earth. So we should accept our place with becoming humility. Gould fans will be charmed at the cogency and cleverness of his arguments--but expect a wall of opposition from pious and diehard progressivists.

[We read several books by Stephen Jay Gould, beginning with 'Wonderful Life.' We learned a lot from all of them. Gould was both a Marxist and scientist committed to pushing the envelope on the cutting edge of science, letting dogmas fall where they may. We visited with him in Chicago, when he gave a talk on this book. He died not long afterwards, and an appreciation of him by Richard Lewontin and Richard Levins, from Monthly Review, in the first comment below. --Carl Davidson.]

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Blood Rites: Origins and
History of the Passions of War

By Barbara Ehrenreich

"In this ambitious work, Barbara Ehrenreich offers a daring explanation for humans' propensity to wage war. Rather than approach the subject from a physiological perspective, pinpointing instinct or innate aggressiveness as the violent culprit, she reaches back to primitive man's fear of predators and the anxieties associated with life in the food chain. To deal with the reality of living as prey, she argues that blood rites were created to dramatize and validate the life-and-death struggle. Jumping ahead to the modern age, Ehrenreich brands nationalism a more sophisticated form of blood ritual, a phenomenon that conjures similar fears of predation, whether in the form of lost territory or the more extreme ethnic cleansing. Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War may not offer a cure for human aggression, but the author does present a convincing argument for the difficulties associated with achieving peace..." --Amazon.com

[We were especially intrigued by Ehrenreich's speculation on prehistory, and how the prospect of being "prey" rather than "predator" shaped our social selves and rituals. Susan Faludi's review in The Nation follows as the first comment, below --Carl Davidson]

Friday, October 27, 2006

Building the Bridge
to the High Road:
Expanding Participation
and Democracyin the Economy
to Build Sustainable Communities

By Dan Swinney
Center for Labor & Community Research


Summary from CLCR website. A longer review, by Carl Davidson, appears in the first comment, below:

What is 'High Road' Political Economy?

To assist labor, communities, and business to pursue the High Road of economic development guaranteeing the building of a strong, participative and productive economy, social justice and the equitable distribution of wealth.

In short, the High Road for development calls for:

-- a vision of development in the context of the global economy;

-- a fundamental change in economic policy to define leading roles for labor and community, premised on labor and citizen participation in all aspects of the economy, politics, and society;

-- development that is environmentally sustainable, which means that companies make products and use processes and technology that are good for the health of workers, consumers, and surrounding communities; and that they restore rather than damage the environment;

-- development that is economically sustainable, creating jobs and livelihoods that allow and encourage true human development. We want good jobs that can support a family and allow time for leisure, education, and social participation;

-- development that is socially sustainable, with an objective of overcoming historic divisions and oppressions in society connected to race, gender, class, and national origin;

-- a challenge to the limits of traditional redistributionist strategy for labor and community, recognizing that redistribution can best be achieved through popular control and leadership;

-- a strategic alliance between the labor movement and the political, democratic, environmental, economic, new immigrant, and social organizations within the concept of "community;"

-- recognition that labor and community must accept the responsibility to lead in creating wealth and developing productive capacity;

-- recognition that the business sector includes friends and allies as well as low roaders, and that we must leave behind a simplistic "anti-corporate" analysis;

-- identifying market forces as well as mass movements as our tools and terrain for change;

-- being entrepreneurial--seeking to be leaders in the market place as well as in the social and political world-- and defining the essential connection between the two; and

-- defining a clear role for government, including a responsibility to expand our civic structure and life and to measure success by progress at the company and community level.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Transnational Conflicts:
Central America, Social Change, and Globalization

Photo: Robinson (center) with
Cindy Sheehan
and other activists
at Social forum in Caracas

From the Canadian Journal of Sociology

"The Dialectic of Globalization and Development" is the title of the first of five lengthy chapters, this one spelling out a neo-Marxist theory of globalization. Subsequent chapters focus on Central American transitions within the politics of globalization, concluding, in the final chapter, with the contradictions of global capitalism as they are illustrated in Central America. A short end-section deals with whither (Robinson's word) the Sociology of Development?

Robinson begins by observing that globalization is an historic process, not an event, and that it is a qualitatively new stage in the evolution of world capitalism, not intentionally conceived and implemented though it includes agency as well as structure. He outlines the nature of this process in the initial chapter, emphasizing the departure from world-systems theory and dependency theories. He characterizes these as applications of Weberian market-driven approaches to capitalism, in contrast to Marxist theories of production and production relations. .."

A long review, by Jerry Harris, appears as the first comment, below.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Karl Sveiby's 'The New Organizational Wealth'

Comments: Robin Lindbeck (Pepperdine University)

Ever wonder why the market value of a company is so much higher than the "book value" of a company? Sveiby tells us it is the intangible assets of a company that make up the difference. In The New Organizational Wealth Sveiby focuses particularly on knowledge organizations for whom the intangible assets are particularly crucial. He describes the three categories of intangible assets (employee competence, internal structure and external structure) and, with examples from the real world, recommends strategies to maximize these assets through recruiting, management, organizational structure and thoughtful customer selection. The final section of the book provides concrete nonfinancial measurements we can each use to monitor these important intangible assets. The New Organizational Wealth is a terrific book and a superb reference for the measurement of intangible assets!

A long review by Third Wave Study Group regular, Jerry Harris, follows in the comments.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Lila: An Inquiry into Morals

Early on in our study group, we took on metaphysics. We where not disappointed with Lila by Robert Pirsig, better known for his earlier Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. While ZMM is still a great read, we all though 'Lila' the deeper work. Folowing is a brief description from Amazon, and a longer review by Carl Davidson is in the comments.

Sex, Drugs, and Metaphysics

February 2, 2002

Reviewed by "austlander" (Germany)

Phaedrus is back. Not satisfied with naming the unameable, he now must subdivide that which cannot be subdivided. The thrust of this book is a devlopment of a 'metaphysics of Quality." Quality is that nameless indirectly percievable reality Pirsig went to great lengths to show us in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZAMM)..."

I am not the intellectual giant that Pirsig is. Before reading Lila, I didn't even know what a metaphysics was; so don't let that stop you. Like ZAMM, "Lila" is a full blown book on philosophy intertwined with a novella, the plot of which serves to drive the orations of the author, and provide case study-like material for the reader.

Phaedrus, having abandoned his motorcycle for a sailboat, is sailing for Mexico and pondering his next book which will be a "metaphysics of Quality" or maybe about Indians. At any rate, at a port bar he picks up a woman that you and I would not consider exactly a "high class" individual. Between Lila and her acquantances, Pirsig offers us an illustration of the different types of Quality. Dynamic versus Static patterns, social versus biological versus intellectual. He weaves a metaphysics that if not true, at least throws everything from quantum mechanics and artificial intelligence to social reform and madness into a strange new light. A light which on the surface seems to illuminate things very clearly. The downside is that the path to this illumination is a bit harder to follow than in his previous book. Consequently, I had to "just accept" some points as opposed to "really digging" them. And that has left a feeling that maybe something is missing in this philosophy. But my gut says it's me that is broke, not the book. Probably just means I need to read it again, which I intend to do.

Pirsig's writting is still beautiful. Can't describe why. It just feels good in your brain when you read his words. They flow together, and he has a talent with developing characters you can really feel. After finishing the book I carried it around for a couple of days, thinking it was kind of like an old friend.

So, in conclusion I must say that Lila is very good. It carries a grand concept that ties love, quarks, and madness with the same strings. So important is this book, that I have added it to my list of required reading for total cosmic understanding. Other members of that list are, "A Brief History of Time"-Hawking, "Chaos-A Foundation of a New Science"-Glieck, and "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maitenance"-Pirsig's first contribution. This pool of literature is guaranteed to put you in your place in the universe. What you might find however, is that "getting drunk, picking up bar girls, and writing books about metaphysics" are all just a part of life.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Ecology of Commerce

By Paul Hawken
Harper-Collins, 1993

[From the beginning, our study group has instited that all economies are subsets of the ecosystem, and the problems of both capitalism and socialism require Green solutions. Following is a comment from an Amazon review, but the comment that follows includes a review by Ivan Handler, one of our founders, that grew out of the study groups's discussion.]

'Paul Hawken, the entrepreneur behind the Smith & Hawken gardening supplies empire, is no ordinary capitalist. Drawing as much on Baba Ram Dass and Vaclav Havel as he does on Peter Drucker and WalMart for his case studies, Hawken is on a one-man crusade to reform our economic system by demanding that First World businesses reduce their consumption of energy and resources by 80 percent in the next 50 years. As if that weren't enough, Hawken argues that business goals should be redefined to embrace such fuzzy categories as whether the work is aesthetically pleasing and the employees are having fun; this applies to corporate giants and mom-and-pop operations alike. He proposes a culture of business in which the real world, the natural world, is allowed to flourish as well, and in which the planet's needs are addressed. Wall Street may not be ready for Hawken's provocative brand of environmental awareness, but this fine book is full of captivating ideas.'

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Third Wave

By Alvin Toffler

William Morrow &Company March, 1980 December 16, 2004

By Matthew Maly (Kiev, Ukraine)

When I started this book, I could not put it down before I finished it. For a month after that, I could not think of anything else but what I have read, and for the next twenty years I had countless occasions to see that the book was profoundly right.

The book was written for a lay reader, simple and fun to read, and yet, I am sure that it will be seen as one of the most influential science books of the 20th century.

History and sociology have two periods: before and after The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler.

[In the comment that follows, 'The Cybenetic Revolution and the Crisis of Capitalism' by Carl Davidson and Jerry Harris, the authors combine Marxist analysis with Toffler's ideas. Their article is reprinted, cited and use in colleges courses worldwide, including by the US Army War College, among many others.]
The 3rd Wave Study Group was initiated by Carl Davidson in 1992 in Chicago. Its name derives from the first book the group read, The Third Wave, by Alvin Toffler.'

[Study Group in 1999. Front row (left to right): Rael Bassan, Tom Ard, Jerry Harris, Ivan Handler and Gordie Schiff. Back row: Fereidon Dadrass, Rado Mijanovich, Carl Davidson and Anita Malinski.]

Over the years, 50 or so people have taken part in the project from all around the globe. Regularly 5 to 10 people meet every 2nd and 4th Monday at 3411 W Diversey, Chicago, 7pm-9pm. With this blog, however, we hope more will join us, even if you access the discussion remotely. We welcome any contributions and feedback you might have.

Toffler's book started us off looking at the world with new eyes. We have been attempting to update traditional Marxist and revolutionary thought based on the changes taking place in the world especially those that are dependent on or a result of the information technology explosion such as globalization and the crisis in the labor movement, as well as issues that have never fit comfortably into a left perspective such as environmentalism and the latest advances in scientific thought (those that challenge classical reductionist views).

We have read hundreds of books since then--history, political economy, philosophy, sociology, chaos and complexity theory, religion and spirituality. Our goal is not only trying to understand the new world, but to develop and new strategy and tactics for radical change.

Beginning in the summer of 1994, the Third Wave Study Group released Issue 1 of "cyRev: A Journal of Cybernetic Revolution, Sustainable Socialism, and Radical Democracy." Six more print issues followed, and by the winter of 2004, cyRev was totally electronic. Here in the archive you will find all the articles from issues one through eight, plus more recent articles and editorials on issues such as globalization, technology and ethics, economics, labor, and much, much more.

While we continue to post to cyrev.net, we have shifted much of our publishing to www.solidarityeconomy.net We hope you find the articles there informative and join in the discussion there as well.