Meme’s and Change


From the London Review of Books. David Simpson is a professor at UC Davis, and has some insightful remarks on the pepper-spraying incident:

First, the video smacks of the banality of violence, if not of evil. The officer has the nonchalant demeanour of someone watering a flowerbed. Who knows what he really thought or felt (Erroll Morris’s film about Abu Ghraib, Standard Operating Procedure, shows that we cannot make simple assumptions about such things). It is how he looks that counts, and he looks like an absurdly overdressed soldier calmly brutalising a dozen lightly clothed young people.

It’s telling that professors, students, and police officers from the around the country consider this unbecoming behavior. Count me among them. Although I understand, as did those students, that by it’s very nature civil disobedience often involves breaking the law, I don’t see any reasonable explanation for such a response.

But Mr. Simpson also uniquely frames the issue of tuition that motivates many of these campus protests:

Huge increases in tuition fees are central to the protests on campus. Once upon a time the promise of better-paying jobs might have convinced students that it was worth going into debt to get a top-ranked education. In the present economy this is not a persuasive argument. Many are objecting to what they rightly see as the incremental privatisation of public education, which will eventually produce universities that all look the same: the poorest students who make the academic cut will be covered by financial aid, and everyone else will pay huge fees.

This is a message I’ve not seen repeated in it’s entirety elsewhere, combining the facts of skyrocketing tuition and increased aid to low-income students. If this trend remains true then it will look an awful lot like the dual economy for labor I spoke of here. Of course in this case we would see a dual economy of education.

While lamenting the militarization of campus police, see James Fallows exploration of that subject, Simpson also adds this:

But protest is not what it was. Students now convene not just a demonstration but a general assembly; they have mastered the protocols of the Occupy movement, with its hand signals and mass repetition of key statements to perform collective responsibility. They have also mastered political theatre and the globalising technologies of social media.

Although it’s true that student protests are distinguishing themselves by their organizational strategies using technology, this isn’t far removed from previous generations. The technology may have been different, but the art of political theater and effective messaging have been around for a long time. The question, in my mind at least, is whether these movements can utilize new technologies and old strategies to remain relevant without jumping into our most effective medium for change.


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