rkm report on Manchester conference


Richard Moore


Sorry to be mostly out of touch last week...I was attending a 
conference in Manchester, "Alternative Futures and Popular Protest", 
where I presented a paper: "Toward a Democratic Society: Dialog as a 
Cultural Movement". It was a very interesting experience. All of the 
folks there, as you might expect, would consider themselves to be 
'strongly in favor of social change'. And yet, because they are 
working in an academic context, most of them seemed strangely 
distanced from what they are studying and writing about. With a few 
notable exceptions there was no discussion of 'how to create change', 
but rather discussions of research methodology and the like.

In the Sufi tradition, academics are a favorite target of ridicule. 
There's one story where Nasrudin comes upon someone who fell down a 
well. Nasrudin starts lowering a rope to the fellow, saying "Rope for 
you". The fellow says, "That's not a complete sentence. Until you 
learn to talk correctly you'll never get anywhere." So Nasrudin pulls 
the rope back up, and says, "I'll return to save you after I've 
learned how to talk". I couldn't help responding in a similar vein to 
most (not all) of the papers. I hope I didn't make too many enemies, 
because it's not the people that are the problem, it's academia. 
People are channeled into studying smaller and smaller parts of 
problems, until they see only the leaf instead of the tree, not to 
mention the forest. The Sufis also say: "To gain knowledge, learn a 
fact every day. To gain wisdom, forget a fact every day."

Fortunately there were also some very good papers. Humanity always 
finds a way to show through, despite imprisoning contexts. One of my 
favorites was on the Landless Peasant Movement in Brazil. Through a 
combination of direct action and making use of favorable legislation, 
these folks are able to occupy unused land and set up successful 
cooperative farms. And the presenter was clearly 'engaged' with her 
topic. But even with this talk, I had to take exception to the 
language used in the paper. It was filled with words like 
"problematization" and I got a headache trying to follow. I asked if 
this kind of language was necessary, or if people used it to impress 
one another. I got an honest answer: the language is forced by the 
socialization process in academia. As a consequence the papers would 
be undecipherable by the activists who might benefit from the 
well-hidden insights.

Nonetheless I was pleased to be invited to participate, and the 
discussion after my paper was lively. If I attend next year, I think 
I'll attempt a paper on the 'academic problem', if I can find an 
approach that would be useful and not merely critical. Perhaps 
something about 'writing to inform activists'.


There are many topics queued up for our dialog here on the lists. 
Yes, there is more about climate change, in particular the co-option 
of that (real) problem by elites. I've also gotten lots of messages 
about "Jewish conspiracies" and I think it's about time we talk about 
that. As with most things there's some element of truth, but there's 
also some unconscious anti-semitism at work.

One thing we can be happy about this week is that there was no attack 
on Iran, as was predicted in the Israeli press.

bye for now,


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