February 4, 2010

From Zinn to Town Politics

Justin Katz

I've got writing forthcoming on the matter locally, but for now, I'll remark that, somehow, I'm continually surprised by the extent to which people think we can run the world as if it were as we want it to be, not as it is. There's a point, in such discussions, at which we run off a reductive cliff; obviously, any understanding of the world will begin with basic assumptions. What I'm talking about is a tendency to ignore actual experience as a factor in subsequent decisions. One example: Play nice with unions, get burned, abused, and scammed, and return to the bargaining table the subsequent year striving for harmonious negotiations.

There seems to me something similar in the phenomenon of Howard Zinn, and Roger Kimball touches on it in an excellent postmortem take-down of his work:

To his credit — well, it's not really to his credit, since he offers the admission only to disarm criticism, but Zinn is entirely candid about the ideological nature of his opus. All history, he says, involves a choice of perspectives. Maybe so. Are we therefore to assume all perspectives are equally valuable? Zinn employs this relativist's sleight of hand in order to promulgate his preferred species of intolerance, which appeals to latitudinarian sensitivities only because it is an intolerance fabricated in opposition to the established order. If "all history is ideological" (it isn’t really), then why not make your choice based on what appeals to your political sympathies, truth be damned? That's the takeaway of Zinn's admission, and it's all he offers to explain his decision, which he details at the beginning of his book ...

In other words, what Zinn offers us is not a corrective, but a distortion. It is as if someone said to you, "Would you like to see Versailles?" and then took you on a tour of a broken shed on the outskirts of the palace grounds. "You see, pretty shabby, isn't it?"

Kimball also points out that certain of Zinn's claims simply aren't true. But truth isn't the point for the historian's fans; Truth is, and therefore, the evidence must be subservient.

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Yeah, can't stand those people whose ideology distorts fact. Reminds me of people who obsess over a few newspaper articles about a complex field of science searching for a gotcha moment, ignoring a huge body of evidentiary science and professional opinion.

Posted by: Pragmatist at February 4, 2010 10:06 AM

Yeah, Pragmatist, I know what you mean - those global warming cultists are just crazy!

You would think that high-school science would teach them enough about scientific method to sort out ideologically motivated lies from real scientific evidence.

Posted by: BobN at February 4, 2010 10:46 AM

Without a belief in a deity, there can be no morality, because as Neitzsche pointed out--and Plato prior to him--everything is relative. All becomes personal preference.

You may have preferences, but they're not grounded in anything but whim and taste.

It's a short road to nihilism without belief.

Posted by: Robespierre at February 4, 2010 11:19 AM

Me too Pragmatist.

I hate when conservatives distort facts to pursue their single-minded agenda. ideology. Fortunately, there is an entire other political party whose members and supporters are above that.

Posted by: msteven at February 4, 2010 12:42 PM

Msteven, I didn't know you were a Libertarian.

Posted by: BobN at February 4, 2010 7:14 PM

Let's cut to the chase here.

In the 19th Century, technological change made possible the growth of capitalism. Factory owners and others who controlled the means of production rapidly became very rich.

Such changes also brought about a revolution in the nation's political structure.

1. Working conditions were often harsh for many of those employed in the new factory systems. Work places were often poorly ventilated, over-crowded, and replete with safety hazards. Men, women, and children alike were employed at survival wages in unhealthy and dangerous environments. Workers were often unable to afford adequate housing, resulting in the rise of urban slums.
True or False - Please comment

2. Government action was eventually taken to protect workers—especially women and children—from the most extreme abuses of the factory system. Laws were passed requiring safety standards in factories, setting minimum age limits for young workers, establishing schools for children whose parents both worked, and creating other standards for the protection of workers.
Government intervention was necessary. True or False - Please comment

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at February 4, 2010 7:44 PM

BobN, I'm not a Libertarian. I'm a full-fledged member of the Sarcasm party.

OTL, both are true. Therefore, you won the tiny battles, but you still the lost the war.

It is true that government regulation and unions were necessary to protect workers. If you are saying that as an argument that government regulation is 'the answer', that isn't consistent with the reality of what did and did not occur. Legislation and regulation happened. The free-market economy did not cease to exist. Even the depression didn't kill it.

Also, while you bring up the abuses and negative outcomes of the free-market/capitalism, you must be aware that there have been abuses and negative outcomes of socialism too.

Government is just a large organization of people. Power controlled in one organization is dangerous whether public or private. As an example, urban slums exist in countries regardless of economic systems.

Posted by: msteven at February 4, 2010 9:44 PM

Sarcasm comes from two Greek words, "sarchos" meaning flesh (Think sarcophagus meaning "flesh eater") and chasm meaning to rend or tear. The root of the word is "to tear the flesh". If you are proud of that then I feel sorry for you.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at February 4, 2010 10:11 PM


To lack the ability to share your thoughts in a fair, intelligent and coherent exchange with others and not even be aware of it. It is I who feel sorry for you.

But thanks for the vocabulary lesson anyways.

Posted by: msteven at February 5, 2010 10:51 AM

OTL sounds like he had my tenth grade English teacher-she was really into etymology-I wonder if OTL ever ponders why students in RI's urban areas are so deficient in acheivement these days-the students don't have less intelligence than we did.Maybe there is a lack of quality and dedication to mission among teachers.All I hear from teachers' union mouthpieces is whining about benefits and threats.If they choose to be led by thugs,it will definitely affect their work product.

Posted by: joe bernstein at February 6, 2010 6:04 AM

Studying three foreign languages has made me appreciate meaning and derivations of words in my native language. It is extremely helpful to be able to point out to my Spanish speaking students that Spanish words ending in ...dad have counterparts in English that end in ...ty. Examples
city = ciudad
trinity = trinidad
curiosity = curiosidad
reality = realidad
and on and on and on.

Likewise english words ending in ...tain have Spanish counterparts ending in ...tener. Examples
maintain = mantener
retain = retener
sustain = sustener
contain = contener
and on and on and on.

I call it Ingles instante and have many appreciative students.

Incidentally the "tain" trick works for French, Portuguese, and Italian as well. I don't know Romanian, but my guess is that it would also work with that language.

Etymology leads to a deeper understanding of words and is an invaluable tool when studying a language. It serves as a basis to help link certain seemimgly far flung languages as Farsi and even ancient Hittite to the Indo-European language family.

I used to think that sarcasm was pretty cool until I discovered its etymological roots and since then I try to avoid using it or taking any pride in doing so.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at February 7, 2010 6:05 PM

OTL-here's a non-politicl puzzler:furniture in German is mobel;in Spanish it's muebles.Pretty close,no?Why?Different roots.
Did you know Lithuanian is derived from Sanskrit?

Posted by: joe bernstein at February 9, 2010 2:05 PM
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