Episode 41: Gaza (w/ Jamal and Mehmed)

Hello Fully Automated listeners!

This is a rebroadcast of Episode 10 of Class Unity: Transmissions, as posted here. Transmissions is the official podcast of Class Unity, and I want to thank them for their permission to use this episode. You can find out more about Class Unity over at https://classunity.org/

In this episode of Transmissions, we discuss the recent events unfolding in the Israel-Palestine conflict. In typical Class Unity spirit, we try to focus on the question of what it might mean to approach this conflict from a class first perspective.

A central theme of the episode is the question of how the left seems to have split around the issue of Zionism. As we note, there does seem to be an “anti-anti-zionist” strain at large in the left around this issue. Proponents of this position seem to believe that “Hamas has no support in the Palestinian population.”

Yet, while many of these critics focus on the leadership of Hamas ensconced in Qatar, we seek to address a more rare question in leftwing critiques of this conflict. Namely, who were the fighters of October 7? The key issue, we suggest, is not whether to reject or celebrate Hamas. Rather, it is to understand the objective material conditions and yearning for basic dignity that makes it so easy for Hamas to recruit.

Staying with this notion of the objective material conditions in Gaza, we submit that this might actually be one of the few cases where the admittedly overused concept of settler-colonialism might actually apply.

We discuss the dire economic predicament facing the young and highly educated population of Gaza, the numerous attempts they have made at non-violent resistance, and the brutal response of the Israeli state to these attempts.

Next, we discuss the present political situation in Israel, and the durability of US support in a context of a shifting balance of power in the region. With US power in decline, and the Israeli army no longer as unquestioningly powerful as it once appeared, where is this conflict heading?

Other key elements of this episode include the role of the right of return as a sticking point in previous attempts at creating a negotiated settlement to the conflict. How much longer can this vital question go ignored, and what are its implications for Israel’s status as a democracy? And just what is a good response to people who say Israel doesn’t target civilians?

This episode was recorded on October 29, 2023. 

If you like what you hear, please leave us a positive rating on your podcast app of choice.

You can follow this podcast on Twitter/X, here: @occupyirtheory. And you can follow Class Unity on  @class_unity

Episode 40: Three Priorities for an Independent Left, Today (w/ Doug Lain)

Hello Fully Automated listeners! This is a rebroadcast of Episode 7 of Class Unity: Transmissions, as posted hereTransmissions is the official podcast of Class Unity, and I want to thank them for their permission to use this episode. You can find out more about Class Unity over at https://classunity.org/

For those curious, there will be more independent ‘Fully Automated’ content coming soon. But I will continue to repost those ‘Transmissions’ episodes in which I am involved, as I think they will be of interest to listeners of this show, too.

Welcome to Episode 7 of Class Unity “Transmissions.” In this episode we are joined by Doug Lain, Commissioning Editor at Sublation Media. Lain is a real veteran of the left podcast scene. From his old philosophy podcast “Diet Soap,” which ran from 2009 through 2014, to his work as host of the Zero Books podcast, Zero Squared, Lain’s impact as a formative voice on the contemporary socialist left cannot be understated.

In this show we cover a wide range of topics, including Lain’s recent ban from Elon Musk’s newly “pro-free speech” Twitter (for a joke about RFK Jnr). However, the real purpose of the interview is to revisit an old Tweet of his, from April this year. On April 15, Lain posted three priorities that, he said, “an independent left” should be focused on right now:

  1. Ending the conflict in Ukraine by opposing the very dangerous continuing escalation;
  2. Protecting the working class from the consequences from the continuing financial and fiscal crisis that has been expressed through inflation and the banking crisis;
  3. Opposing the war on disinformation and the expansion of the security state into the “whole of society.”

In recent months, Lain has been particularly strident on the first and the third of these priorities. However, his arguments have not been especially well received (his recent encounter with the Majority Report’s Matt Binder offers a fairly representative example of the disdain many progressives have for Lain’s views). Noting the vehemence of this response, we were curious. And so we decided to invite Lain for a chat.

We start by asking Lain what he means by the phrase “an independent left”? We then move onto the first of his priorities, the war in Ukraine. The US left has been strangely quiet on this conflict. Where it has addressed the issue, it has usually been in handwaving fashion, arguing that it is a case of “imperialism on both sides.” We put it to Lain that this is kind of an inversion of Trump’s infamous “very fine people on both sides” comment. Perhaps the imperialism on both sides argument had some empirical application in the lead up to World War I. But Russia has a GDP close to that of Italy. Equally, US foreign policy insiders like Former Ambassador to USSR Jack Matlock, George Kennan, William Burns have warned DC policymakers for decades about eastwards NATO expansion, saying in no uncertain terms that Ukraine would be the hardest of red lines for Russia. Moreover, now, as Lev Golonkin reports in The Nation in June, the US is openly funding and arming the Ukrainian military despite the presence in its ranks of openly fascist regiments. It seems clear therefore not only who started this war, and why, but that its moral costs and risks for future catastrophe are unacceptable. So why is the left so adamant in its avoidance of this topic?

Lain’s second priority is protecting the working class from the continuing financial and fiscal crisis. Lain argues “there was never any chance to transform the democratic party into a vehicle for socialism.” But where does that now leave us, on the question of socialist strategy? Does he think the Bernie wave is over, and the left is now basically done with parliamentary politics for another couple of generations? As he surveys the landscape of the contemporary left, what hope does he see for a revolutionary politics?

The third topic for Lain essentially stems from his commitment to a left defense of “bourgeois rights.” Notably, Lain was especially vocal about revelations in the “Twitter Files” earlier this year. The Files were published by Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger, who were denounced as Trump-aligned “so-called journalists” by Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett (D) for their trouble. They contain countless leaked internal documents, including emails between management at Twitter and various US intelligence agencies. They indicate that the state agencies were putting extensive pressure on the social media company in order to suppress public criticism on topics ranging from the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop, to the efficacy of Covid lockdowns, to the involvement of Russia in the 2020 US presidential election. For Lain, the Twitter Files serve only to affirm arguments made recently by Jacob Siegel in Tablet Magazine, that we were witnessing the birth of a “whole of society” censorship apparatus.

Strangely, the left has been practically unanimous in diminishing the Twitter Files, with commentators like Carl Beijer declaring “we already knew this,”and countless others describing it as a “nothing burger.” How does Lain explain the strident resistance of so many of the left to taking the Twitter Files seriously? To answer this question, we turn to Lain’s recent letter in Cosmonaut Magazine, “UFOs, Russiagate, and the Spectacle,” where Lain presents one of his most favored quotes from the French Situationist Guy Debord:

“Never has censorship been more perfect. Never has the opinion of those who are still led to believe, in several countries, that they remain free citizens been less authorized to make themselves known whenever it is a matter of choices affecting their real lives. Never has it been possible to lie to them with a perfect absence of consequences. The spectator is simply supposed to know nothing and deserve nothing.”

Clearly, censorship has long been an obstacle to the advancement of socialist strategy. It is especially remarkable therefore that, in this generation’s equivalent of the Valerie Plame moment — that is, the moment where the scale and scope of a political deception becomes so staggeringly obvious that even ordinary folks can see it plainly — the left has been found so wanton in its disregard for basic bourgeois rights.

Episode 39: Gay Particularity (w/ Armand M); Labor Strikes in France (w/ Jamal)

Hello Fully Automated listeners! This is a rebroadcast of Episode 6 of Class Unity: Transmissions, as posted here. Transmissions is the official podcast of Class Unity, and I want to thank them for their permission to use this episode. You can find out more about Class Unity over at https://classunity.org/

For those curious, there will be more independent ‘Fully Automated’ content coming soon. But I will continue to repost those ‘Transmissions’ episodes in which I am involved, as I think they will be of interest to listeners of this show, too.

Hello comrades! Welcome to our sixth episode of Class Unity Transmissions. 

In this episode, we open with a quick check-in with our comrade Jamal, from CU Chicago, who has been studying the recent strikes in France. Then we move to our interview recorded earlier this year with Armand M, one of the authors of our article from last September, “Gay Particularity, Reconsidered.” 

In the interview, we discuss some main points from Armand’s piece. We look at how, in the late 80s and 90s, activist organizations such as ACT UP participated in civil disobedience actions against insurance rate increases and worked to expand universal Medicaid benefits to include AIDS treatment. In 1990, when Congress refused to release funds already earmarked for AIDS services, claiming that patients with other conditions were more deserving, ACT UP called for national health insurance. What was it about the ACT-UP era that made the gay rights movement so capable of articulating universalistic political demands? 

We also look at the struggle for gay marriage, and how it effectively diverted financial resources and political energy away from organizations prioritizing healthcare and employment. Given that the gay liberation movement has not always supported this demand, what changed? Armand discusses the role of “respectability politics” in diverting the struggle from a more traditional leftist perspective. Notwithstanding the importance of access to health insurance and spousal inheritance for partners, Armand suggests that the shift toward gay marriage should be viewed as a conservative turn in queer politics. 

Next we turn to the historical emergence of queer identity. Postmodern theorists like Judith Butler tend to see politics as essentially a question of identity, and thought. In this light, politics for them is necessarily the question of a slow, patient struggle to change unconsciously held ideas. However, notes Armand, while homosexual behavior has always been present in human societies, “queer” identification is only a very recent phenomenon and its emergence, as we will see, cannot be understood apart from its specific socio-economic conditions of possibility. 

We also discuss some wider literature around this topic (see links below). For example, we address Roger Lancaster’s piece in Jacobin, “Identity Politics Can Only Get Us So Far.” Lancaster raises the question of how today’s “identity” version of gay liberation struggle orbits this idea of a certain quest for one’s subjective essence. Earlier versions, to the contrary, saw “coming out” as an “indispensable means” for building a political movement. Among other things, this means that earlier liberationists generally took a dialectical approach to sexual categories. We ask Armand how this “pre-Stonewall” idea of a subjective labeling understood from the outset as something eventually to be cast aside connects with Marx’s notion of the eventual self-abolition of the “proletariat.” 

Other key points raised include the relation of identity-based struggle to CU’s concept of the iron triangle, the limits of aesthetic struggle (“psychosocial emancipation),” and the extent to which Armand’s critique of the limits of contemporary gay liberation struggle might be expanded to other cases. 

Your hosts for this episode are Nicholas K, Steph K, and Jamal. 

Here is a list of the readings mentioned in the article: 

For more from Class Unity, please see https://classunity.org/.

Enjoy the show! 

Episode 38: An Organizer’s Life (w/ Danny Fetonte)

Hello Fully Automated listeners! This is a rebroadcast of Episode 5 of Class Unity: Transmissions, as posted here. Transmissions is the official podcast of the Class Unity Caucus of the DSA, and I want to thank them for their permission to use this episode. You can find out more about Class Unity over at https://classunity.org/

In this very special episode of Class Unity Transmissions, we bring you the last interview ever recorded with Danny Fetonte. Danny was a well-known labor organizer in Texas, with over 30 years of experience. He worked at Bethlehem Steel for 4 years, and spent a decade working in a variety of other industrial jobs. He later became a professional organizer, for the Communications Workers of America (CWA), becoming a member of the union’s national staff in 1986. Moving to Texas, he became an important leader of the DSA chapter in his new hometown of Austin, growing the chapter from a state of more or less total dormancy, to over 700 members by 2017.

Sadly, young DSA members will likely remember Danny not for his lifelong commitment to labor organizing but for a Twitter scandal that destroyed his relationship with the DSA, and left his reputation in tatters. At the 2017 DSA National Convention in Chicago, Danny was successfully elected the National Political Committee (NPC) of the DSA. It was his second time to run for the NPC. A well-known figure in labor circles, Fetonte’s record was widely documented in online spaces. However, as the Convention drew to a close, a vocal group of anti-police online leftists began to claim that Fetonte’s campaign statement was a fraud.

What Fetonte had been concealing, his detractors claimed, was his role as an organizer with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), which is a police and corrections officer union, and an affiliate body of Danny’s longtime employer, the CWA.

Now, it was true that Fetonte had not mentioned this fact in his campaign materials. But it was widely available information, and many of the Austin chapter members who were active on the floor in support of him during the Convention were well aware of his resumé. Such facts poured cold water on the idea that Fetonte was somehow hiding his true identity.

Nevertheless, outrage swirled on Twitter, with many saying they would never have voted for him had they known he was involved in police union work. Eventually, on August 10, after days of delay, the DSA’s Interim Steering Committee issued a statement suggesting in no uncertain terms that they were taking a dim view of the matter: “We believe that Fetonte’s omission was uncomradely and out of line with the principles of our organization.”

The controversy set off a tumultuous debate about the extent to which DSA should be trying to find solidarity with police union organizers, and whether members should make a practice of discriminating against individuals for their career backgrounds.

The Convention closed on August 6. Three weeks later, on August 27, the NPC (absent Danny) voted 8.5 to 7.5 to seat him, because they could not find any basis to remove him for malfeasance. Danny charged that, seeing as he was a duly-elected member of the NPC, a non-profit board, the exclusionary actions of the NPC in the intervening period were illegal and unethical.

In just a moment, we’ll present our interview with Danny, where he goes into detail on these allegations, as well as detailing the behind-the-scenes involvement of DSA National Director, Maria Svart. Before we hear from Danny, however, it might be useful to take moment to reflect on the legacy and significance of the Fetonte controversy for the contemporary left in America.

Black Lives Matter demonstrations have played an effective role in raising public consciousness. However, as Cedric Johnson noted in a 2019 lecture at ArtCenter College of Design, to achieve real change social movements need real power, and this kind of power cannot be achieved solely through social media debates and dramatic performances at the barricades. Such tactics need to be accompanied by honest, patient, and sustained conversation among activists, victims’ families, and reformist elements within police unions and departments. It is within these spaces, suggests Johnson, that internal dissent can be emboldened, and the ranks of those willing to break the “blue code of silence” can grow.

None of this is to suggest unequivocal support for entrenched police unions. It is clear that some police officers are unfit to work with the public and especially in minority and working-class communities. Yet officers are neither monolithic nor devoid of internal contradictions. As you’ll hear in this interview, Danny Fetonte had an instinct for navigating these complexities in a way that the contemporary left would do well to study.

Danny passed away on October 23, 2022, in Austin, Texas. This interview was recorded on October 9, just two weeks before he died. It was his last media appearance. We want to thank his wife Barbara, and the rest of his family, for their support in making this interview possible.

Episode 37: Class Collective (w/ Alex Shah)

Hello listeners! This is a rebroadcast of Episode 3 of Transmissions, a new podcast I’ve been involved with lately. Transmissions is the official podcast of the Class Unity Caucus of the DSA, and I want to thank them for their permission to use this episode.

On May Day, Steph K and I had the great pleasure of interviewing Alex Shah, Co-Founder and Staff Writer with the Toronto-based Class Collective magazine. Class Collective describes itself as “an annual literary magazine that illuminates the class struggle(s) hidden in the shadows of our culture.”

We start the conversation by inviting Shah to reflect on Class Collective’s own recent interview with Class Unity, called “On the Left’s Middle Class Problem.” What exactly is the left’s middle class problem and why is it such an important topic? Focusing specifically on the sometimes thorny question of class politics versus “identity” politics, we were curious to hear what theoretical waypoints Shah might be able to offer to help us orient our own approach.

Staying with the middle class problem, we ask whether the Canadian experience can offer any unique lessons for those interested in workplace organizing, here in the US. What kind of reactions does Shah encounter when he talks to fellow leftists in Canada about Class Collective’s perspective on identity politics? Whereas Class Unity members often discuss the “iron triangle” thesis (namely, the role of middle class institutions such as academia, the media, and NGOs) as a way of addressing the power and function of the urban, college-educated middle class in the US, to what extent is this framework applicable in Canada? And if it is, to what extent does the Canadian left recognize it as a problem?

Changing register, we then discuss Class Collective’s literary sensitivity. With the amount of poetry and prose on offer throughout its pages, the Editors clearly hold literature in high regard. For some, this disposition might suggest too much of an affinity for a kind of kind of middle-class or bourgeois-decadent perspective. Yet, while such scorn is regretfully common on the left, it is often too hasty as, from Dickens to Wilde to Brecht, the left has always had its own literature. We ask Shah for his views about left poetry, working-class poetry, and whether or how he sees any necessary linkages between the two – and whether he has any favorite leftist poets that he would recommend.

Moving to the end of the interview, we discuss Class Collective’s recent engagement with Midwestern Marx, on Building a Socialist America. One of the interesting tensions explored in this intervention is the tension on the left between, on the one hand, a kind of pro-State Department reflex on the part of many leftists, who refuse to critique “the US imperialist cold war against China and Russia” and, on the other, a kind of radical “death to America ‘ultra’” position which reduces America to white settler colonialism and adventurism, and all of contemporary geopolitics to a struggle against US imperialism. As a way out of this impasse, Midwestern Marx argues for a renewed attention to dialectics. We ask Alex to discuss this further, and its applicability today, especially in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Finally, we address Shah’s own essay in Class Collective’s January edition, called “Why Death Anxiety is on the Rise.” In this piece, Shah discusses “Liberalism’s fetishization of the present” as a fundamental aspect of globalization’s “brutal flattening and homogenization of the world.” Shah cites Mark Fisher, who argued that political order erodes our past and future, obliging us to dwell in an eternal present, and condemning the working class to what he termed “hedonic depression.” What, for Shah, might we be looking out for, if we want to observe some of the symptoms of this anxiety in ourselves? And what, if anything, can ordinary members of the working class do to attend to this anxiety in themselves?

Episode 36: Ukraine, NOBS, and the End of the End of History (w/ George Hoare)

Hello listeners! This is a rebroadcast of Episode 2 of Transmissions, a new podcast I’ve been involved with lately. Transmissions is the official podcast of the Class Unity Caucus of the DSA, and I want to thank them for their permission to use this episode.

Our guest for this episode is George Hoare, co-host of the Bungacast (neé Aufebunga Bunga) podcast, and co-author along with Alex Hochuli and Philip Cunliffe, of The End of the End of History (Zero Books, 2021).

In this episode, we begin with a discussion of Francis Fukuyama’s concept of the end of history, and how many intellectuals misread it as a ‘triumphalist’ celebration of American victory in the Cold War. The better argument, according to Hoare et al., is that Fukuyama was talking not just about the birth of a new era of liberal freedom, but of the dawning of an epoch of gloom – one which would bring disappointments to many of its more enthusiastic advocates.

We also discuss the war in Ukraine. So far, in western media at least, accounts of the causes of this war seem to rest upon simplistic caricatures of Putin’s flawed personality. Yet these accounts are contested, and a well-reasoned minority opinion suggests the deeper issue is NATO expansionism. Given that the West is typically used to getting its own way, to what extent is the Russian invasion of Ukraine a kind of reality check for neoliberal technocracy? While the invasion of Ukraine is illegal and monstrous, can it be understood as marking the return of politics?

As the interview progresses, we touch on numerous core concepts from the book, including the anti-political turn – also known as the “return of dissensus.” This turn was perhaps nowhere more clearly on display that in the 2016 election of Donald Trump. For Hoare et al, this moment occasioned the breakout across the United States of what they term ‘Neoliberal Order Breakdown Syndrome’ (NOBS). However, argue the Bunga crew, it was not without its historic antecedents. And, in some ways, we can see the effects of NOBS already at play in the politics surrounding Silvio Berlusconi’s rise to power in Italy, in the 1990s.

We also push back a little on Hoare in the interview, challenging some of the book’s characterizations of the limits of left-populism. While it is undoubtedly true, as Hoare et al. contend, that left-populism is anti-political in the sense that it has no theory of adequate “authority,” and that left-populist leaders like AOC and Bernie have failed thus far “to key into the agency of their own citizens,” we put it to him that this may be more of a bug than a feature. After all, as Thomas Frank and others have argued in recent times, there is a long and venerable history of left populist success, in the United States.

Other topics addressed include the applicability of the book’s arguments to the recent Canadian trucker rally against covid vaccination requirements, and contemporary debates around “techno-populism.”

We hope you’ll enjoy this discussion. If you want to find out more about Class Unity, here are some useful links:

Website: https://classunity.org
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ClassUnityDSA
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ClassUnity/

Your hosts for this episode are Nicholas Kiersey, Steph K, and Dave F.

Episode 35: Race and Anti-Politics, with Christine Louis-Dit-Sully

Hello friends! Its beginning to look a lot of like Christmas, and what better way to mark the occasion than with another episode of Fully Automated! Today, we are very excited to bring you this episode with Christine Louis Dit Sully, author of the recent book, Transcending Racial Divisions: Will You Stand By Me? (Zero Books, 2021).

Christine Louis-Dit-Sully grew up in an immigrant family, in the 93rd arrondissement of Paris, Seine-Saint-Denis — an area of France known for its racial diversity, its poverty, and its complicated relationship with law enforcement. She spent nearly 20 years as an academic in the discipline of Biology. She then left the sciences, and turned to the study of politics, focusing specifically on issues of race, identity, social justice and the demand for ‘safe spaces’ in British and American universities. Today, she lives in the Black Forest region of Germany.

In the introduction to Transcending Racial Divisions, Louis-Dit-Sully writes that, for her, questions about race and racism are both a “political and a personal concern.” She goes on to discuss the common belief that the advance of social liberalism in the west has meant real progress for racial minorities. The problem with this myth, she notes, is that today we are much less likely to see members of racial groupings as distinct individuals, with their own unique identities. Instead, we have seen the rise of so-called identity politics, and a tendency to see individuals first and foremost as members of a race. Indeed, she notes, in her personal experience, she is seen once again today as a black woman, whose “opinions and beliefs are apparently determined by her race.”

Historically, racial thinking has been a hallmark of the right. However, worryingly, today it is also an increasingly common phenomena on the left. Now, some will say the left has good faith motivations in this turn. After all, given the history of racism, it is not entirely unfair to assume that the victims of racism might have something to say on the matter. Yet, she states, here we run into the problem of anti-politics. Because if we are ever to create real equality, we require the kind of power that can come only from a universalistic form of solidarity. However, the contemporary left’s embrace of standpoint epistemology — the belief that an idea can be understood only from the standpoint of a certain group identity — means that groups are seen as immutable, and immune to the passage of time. Whiteness, for example, is equated with original sin, and blackness equated with injury, and perpetual victimhood. If this is true, she says, then politics itself — that is, our very ability to imagine political change — is destroyed. Clearly then, if we are to discover a universalistic basis for solidarity, we must find new ways of understanding the world. And, for Louis-Dit-Sully, this means a return to Marx.

Episode 34: You Sexy Hacktivist MOOCer, with Sebastian Kaempf

Hello friends!

We are back with another great episode of Fully Automated. In this episode, we step back a little bit from the grander political themes that we are usually preoccupied with, to do an episode on the pedagogical possibilities (and challenges) presented by contemporary technology.

When it comes to online teaching in the discipline of International Relations, there are very few that can claim to have the experience or insight of Dr. Sebastian Kaempf. Senior Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies at the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland (Australia), Kaempf is a scholar of global media politics, focusing on the impact of changing media technologies on contemporary conflicts. He is also is the producer (with UQx and edX.com) and convenor of ‘MediaWarX’, one of UQ’s Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and probably one of the largest political science MOOCs in the world.

For some, MOOCs seem to represent a sort of ultimate form of “democratized” education whereas, for others, they seem to herald the dawn of a new dystopian age. For Kaempf, now a longtime veteran of online teaching, its important to bring some nuance to this conversation. Pedagogy can make a difference. And, as you’ll hear in this conversation, Kaempf and his partners at UQ put a lot of thought and material resources into their approach, pushing the medium to the very edge of what it can accomplish.

Here then, Kaempf discusses the minutiae of how he and his colleagues actually built and delivered the course. On the one hand, they avoided the traditional lecture form in favor of what they call “spaced learning” — because research shows that human beings kind of struggle to concentrate that long. On the other, and in a break with the usual stereotype of dry pre-recorded lectures, a central theme of MediaWarX is the seriousness with which they approached the class as a kind of media production. So, for example, portions of the course are presented in a kind of ‘road movie’ or documentary style, blending diverse archival footage with on-site discussions from locations all around the world, and interviews with well-known academics and experts (including Glenn Greenwald!).

We’ll also hear Seb discuss the ethos of “Hacktivism” that he tries to bring to his online teaching. Thus, he uses discovery assignments to teach about everything from how search algorithms work, to how we are addicted to being online, to the power of big data and surveillance. In this way, the course develops a kind of “crowd sourced” content.

Finally, I ask Sebastian about Covid, and where and how it has changed the fate of MOOCs and online instruction in general. After 18 months of more or less totally online instruction, how does his experience of working with, and thinking about, MOOCs effect his perception of the future of online education in a post-pandemic world?

Sebastian Kaempf can be found on Twitter @SebKaempf and his podcast, Higher Ed Heroes, can be found on all leading podcast apps. And his International Studies Perspectives article with Carrie Finn, discussed in the interview, can be located here:

Thanks for listening. Next episode, we go to Korea to visit the crew from the podcast Red Star over Asia. And in the next episode after that, we will be chatting with Christine Louis Dit Sully.

Episode 33: Can’t Get Chairman Moe out of My Head

Hey everybody! Its your old pal, “Dr. Nick” here (Simpsons heads will get that reference pretty easily). This episode features the return of Chairman Moe, your favorite Fully Automated regular guests. Last we heard from them, they were interviewing Keir Milburn on his book Generation Left (see Episode 19). This episode sees them returning to Fully Automated, for a long chat on Adam Curtis’s recent documentary, Can’t Get You Out of My Head. Yes, true enough, this is hardly the first time you’ll have heard a discussion about this documentary in a podcast. But it is the first time you’ll have heard it discussed quite like this. Here, we adopt a unique take on Curtis, reading him through the lens of an eclectic group of texts drawn from our own readings, over the last year or so. These include, tho by no means exclusively, Gilles Dauvé’s Crisis and Communization, Thomas Frank’s The People, No, and Marx and Engels’s The German Ideology.

Our goal, as one quick whip put it on Twitter, is to “figure out what in the hell Curtis’s politics are in 2021.” In the end, we conclude that Curtis is an important and necessary commentator, but that he comes to some unhelpful conclusions. This, we think, can be attributed to his tendency to ignore the lessons of materialism and blame idealism for the flaws of the left. For us, Marx, Frank, and Dauvé can each bring something unique to the task of patching up the missing parts of Curtis’s framework. Dauvé, despite his weird normative focus on localism and simplistic low-tech authenticity, provides perhaps the greatest insight into why only a materialist critique can work in our effort to assess the flaws of the contemporary left. Whereas, perhaps more controversially, Frank provides the antidote to Curtis’s occasional tendency to fall into anti-populist cynicism.

I want to thank Chairman Moe (who are, in real life, Columbus OH-based independent scholars Charlie Umland and Jim Calder) for sharing his valuable time with us, and also Darren Latanick for so patiently indulging the Chairman’s antics, and producing a great show for us.

We’ll be back quite soon, with an interview with Sebastian Kaempf on MOOCs in Higher Ed. And then we have a number of other guests lined up, between now and the end of the year. Thanks for listening!

Episode 32: The New Twenty Years’ Crisis, with Philip Cunliffe, Shahar Hameiri, Patrick Porter, and Nicholas Kiersey

The episode features a roundtable on Philip Cunliffe’s latest book, The New Twenty Years’ Crisis (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020). And, in a bit of a break with tradition, this episode also sees me jump out of the host’s seat, and invite Shahar Hameiri (University of Queensland) to take over the reins.

Joining me in the panel to discuss the book is the author, Philip Cunliffe (making his third appearance on the show), and Patrick Porter (University of Birmingham). Tara McCormack (University of Leicester) was also scheduled to join us but had to withdraw at the last minute, due to illness.

It was great to have Phil back on the show, to discuss this important book. The last time he was on, we talked about his previous book, Cosmopolitan Dystopia, which was a survey of human rights discourse on global politics since the end of the Cold War. The new book takes the theme of liberal war-making from that book, and attempts to read it through the lens of E. H. Carr’s classic 1939 text, The Twenty Years’ Crisis.

On the eve of World War Two, Carr described the politics of his time as a kind of interregnum, or a time of passage between two regimes of world order. For Carr, the great tragedy of his time was that the normative commitments of the intellectuals of interbellum period — namely, to the power of public opinion, to sovereign self-determination, and to international law and institutions — were incongruent with the kinds of mass-mobilized politics that were rapidly sweeping away their world order, and undermining the very conditions of possibility for securing those commitments.

For Cunliffe, however, the lessons of Carr’s study of the 1919-1939 period must today be applied in a kind of inverted manner. For where it was mass politics that ultimately frustrated and undid the political project of the utopian idealists, we do not today live in such a massified moment. To the contrary, as scholars like Peter Mair have described, we live in a demassified moment, where the agendas of college-educated neoliberal Brahmins dominate, unchecked. Worse, as Cunliffe explores, these new elites are kind of anti-utopians. They detest the values of the interbellum period, deriding public opinion and breaching sovereign self-determination in the name of so-called responsibility.

Cunliffe explores this argument through a number of fascinating case studies, taking us from the salons of International Relations conventions, which have been overtaken by ‘critical’ theorists (a group of scholars whose methods are singularly symptomatic of the “imaginary” of our unipolar moment), to the hallways of Brussels, capital of that grandest of examples of “de-massified,” neoliberal democracy, the European Union. The overarching theme that emerges is one of a shocking lack of self-awareness on the part of our political and intellectual elites.

As you’ll hear, the panelists are on the whole friendly to Phil’s diagnosis, but they do push back on some of his normative suggestions. Despite these disagreements, however, I will say that I think this is one of the more important episodes we’ve done on this show. Diagnostically, Phil is one of the sharpest commentators around, on the contradictions of our postmodern moment. I want to thank Phil, Patrick, and Shahar for their time and effort in helping to make this conversation happen.

Horizontal Politics & IR Theory

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