How Austerity Killed the Humanities

Not long ago, the Right fought viciously over the teaching of the humanities in American universities. Now conservatives are trying to eliminate them altogether.


Few people are nostalgic for those culture wars because they were a fight between implacable foes. But in retrospect, perhaps we would do well to remember a time when all sides of a national debate believed that a humanities-based education was crucial to the survival of a democracy.

In the 1980s and 1990s, debates over the humanities were a major component of American political discourse. On the one side were conservative traditionalists who believed that all American college students should read the Western Canon—the greatest books of the Western mind since Aristotle—as a foundation for democratic living. On the other side were academic multiculturalists who believed that a humanities education should be more comprehensive and should thus include texts authored by minority, female, and non-western writers.

Those debates of the ‘80s and ‘90s were heated. Indeed, they were a major front in what came to be known as “culture wars” between merciless foes. Yet all sides in these culture wars believed a humanities education—history, literature, languages, philosophy—was inherently important in a democratic society. In short, the humanities were taken for granted. In our current age of austerity, this is no longer the case. Many Americans no longer think the humanities worthy of public support. This is especially true of conservatives, who in their quest to cut off state support to higher education have abandoned the humanities entirely.

Take the state of Wisconsin, for example. In early February, Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Scott Walker drafted a draconian state budget that proposed to decrease the state’s contribution to the University of Wisconsin system by over $300 million over the next two years. Beyond simply slashing spending, Walker was also attempting to alter the language that has guided the core mission of the University of Wisconsin over the last 100 years or more, known as the “Wisconsin Idea.” Apparently Walker’s ideal university would no longer “extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses” and would thus cease its “search for truth” and its efforts to “improve the human condition,” as his proposed language changes scrapped these ideas entirely; the governor’s scaled-back objective was for the university to merely “meet the state’s workforce needs.”

When a draft of Walker’s proposed revisions to the Wisconsin Idea surfaced, outraged Wisconsinites (including some conservatives) compelled the governor to backtrack. Yet Walker’s actions are consistent with recent trends in conservative politics. Republicans today are on the warpath against education—particularly against the humanities, those academic disciplines where the quaint pursuit of knowledge about “the human condition” persists.

In 2012, Florida Governor Rick Scott proposed a law making it more expensive for students enrolled at Florida’s public universities to obtain degrees in the humanities. As Scott and his supporters argued, in austere times, they needed “to lash higher education to the realities and opportunities of the economy,” as Florida Republican and State Senate President Don Gaetz put it. In other words, a humanities degree, unlike a business degree, was a luxury good. Even President Obama joined this chorus when he half-joked recently that students with vocational training are bound to make more money than art history majors.

Such anti-intellectualism, a strong animus against the idea that learning about humanity is a worthy pursuit regardless of its lack of obvious labor market applicability, has deep roots in American history. President Theodore Roosevelt advised that “we of the United States must develop a system under which each individual citizen shall be trained so as to be effective individually as an economic unit, and fit to be organized with his fellows so that he and they can work in efficient fashion together.” Contemporary conservatives are thus merely following the crude utilitarian logic that has informed many politicians and educational reformers since the nation’s first common schools.

But it was not always thus. During the 1980s and 1990s, prominent conservatives like William Bennett, who served in the Reagan administration as chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities and then as Secretary of Education, argued that every American should have an education grounded in the humanities. This surprising recent history is largely forgotten, and not only because most conservatives now dismiss the value of the humanities. It is forgotten because the arguments forwarded by Bennett and his ilk came in the context of the traumatic culture wars, when left and right angrily battled over radically different visions of a humanities education.

Few people are nostalgic for those culture wars because they were a fight between implacable foes. But in retrospect, perhaps we would do well to remember a time when all sides of a national debate believed that a humanities-based education was crucial to the survival of a democracy.

As a leading conservative culture warrior, Bennett held a traditionalist vision of the humanities. He believed the Western canon—which he defined in the terms of Matthew Arnold as “the best that has been said, thought, written, and otherwise expressed about the human experience”—should be the philosophical bedrock of the nation’s higher education.

“Because our society is the product and we the inheritors of Western civilization,” Bennett matter-of-factly contended, “American students need an understanding of its origins and development, from its roots in antiquity to the present.”

Most academics in humanities disciplines like English and history, in contrast, took a more critical stance towards the Western canon. They believed it too Eurocentric and male-dominated to properly reflect modern American society and thus revised it by adding books authored by women and minorities. Toni Morrison was to sit alongside Shakespeare. As literary theorist Jane Tompkins told a reporter from The New York Times Magazine in 1988, the struggle to revise the canon was a battle “among contending factions for the right to be represented in the picture America draws of itself.”

Many college students agreed with the canon revisionists. In 1986, Bill King, president of the Stanford University Black Student Union, formally complained to the Stanford academic senate that the university’s required Western Civilization reading list was racist. “The Western culture program as it is presently structured around a core list and an outdated philosophy of the West being Greece, Europe, and Euro-America is wrong, and worse,” he contended, “it hurts people mentally and emotionally in ways that are not even recognized.” Stanford students opposed to the Western Civilization curriculum marched and chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho, Western culture’s got to go,” and the academic senate approved mild changes to the core reading list that they hoped would satisfy the understandable demands of their increasingly diverse student body.

A sensationalist media made Stanford’s revisions seem like a proxy for the death of the West. Newsweek titled a story on the topic “Say Goodbye Socrates.” University of Chicago philosopher Allan Bloom wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal editor in 1989—two years after his book, The Closing of the American Mind, made a rigorous if eccentric case for a classic humanities education rooted in the Western canon—in which he argued the Stanford revisions were a travesty: “This total surrender to the present and abandonment of the quest for standards with which to judge it are the very definition of the closing of the American mind, and I could not hope for more stunning confirmation of my thesis.”

Bloom believed that a humanities education should provide students with “four years of freedom,” which he described as “a space between the intellectual wasteland he has left behind and the inevitable dreary professional training that awaits him after the baccalaureate.” Liberals and leftists might have been sympathetic to such an argument had Bloom not dismissed texts authored by women, minorities, and non-westerners as lacking merit compared to the great books authored by those like Socrates who composed the Western canon.

In retrospect, these culture wars over the humanities are rather remarkable artifacts of a history that feels increasingly distant. Whether Stanford University ought to assign John Locke or the anticolonial theorist Frantz Fanon, a debate that played out on The Wall Street Journal editorial page in 1988, would be nonsensical in today’s neoliberal climate marked by budget cuts and other austerity measures. Now Locke and Fanon find themselves for the first time on the same side—and it’s looking more and more like the losing one. On the winning side? Well, to take but one example, Winning, General Electric CEO Jack Welch’s breezy management book, which is widely read in American business schools. Sadly, even the almighty Western canon, revised or not, seems feeble up against Winning and the cult of business. Conservative defenders of the humanities are voices in the wilderness. The philistines are on the march.

The culture wars over the humanities that dominated discussion of higher education in the 1980s and 1990s had enduring historical significance. Shouting matches about academia reverberated beyond the ivory tower to lay bare a crisis of national faith. Was America a good nation? Could the nation be good—could its people be free—without foundations? Were such foundations best provided by a classic liberal education in the humanities, which Matthew Arnold described as “the best that has been thought and said”? Was the “best” philosophy and literature synonymous with the canon of Western Civilization? Or was the Western canon racist and sexist? Was the “best” even a valid category for thinking about texts? Debates over these abstract questions rocked the nation’s institutions of higher education, demonstrating that the culture wars did not boil down to any one specific issue or even a set of issues. Rather, the culture wars often hinged on a more epistemological question about national identity: How should Americans think?

But in our current age of austerity, Americans are not asked to think about such questions at all. Neoliberalism is fine with revised canons—with a more inclusive, multicultural vision of the humanities. But neoliberalism is not fine with public money supporting something so seemingly useless. American conservatives have abandoned their traditionalist defense of the Western canon in favor of no canon at all.


Andrew Hartman is associate professor of history at Illinois State University and author, most recently, of A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars.

Beyond the ballot box: Apoyo Mutuo in Spain

By Mark Bray On May 22, 2015

Post image for Beyond the ballot box: Apoyo Mutuo in SpainFrustrated with the empty plazas and Podemos’ electoral politics, a new social movement has emerged seeking a return to the popular horizontalism of 15-M.

Four years ago this month, the 15-M movement, commonly referred to as the indignados, burst forth in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol. The movement united a wide variety of political factions and tendencies. It managed to gain momentum behind a widespread critique of the austerity measures of the two ruling parties (the PP and the PSOE, which many 15-M signs refer to collectively as the PPSOE) and a desire for “real democracy now!” (¡Democracia real ya!) embodied in directly democratic assemblies and a rejection of hierarchy.

In May 2014, Podemos surged onto the scene as a new political party that attempted to channel the popular democracy of the 15-M into the ballot box, winning five seats in the European parliament. Although Podemos claims to be the legitimate heir to the fading 15-M movement, Left critics have argued that the new party has hastened popular demobilization by selling the notion that social ills can be simply voted away and that this new party isn’t like the ones who came before it.

Leading up to the municipal elections on Sunday May 24, the party’s poll numbers are declining as party leadership has shied away from earlier promises to end home evictions, institute a guaranteed minimum income, and reduce the retirement age from 65 to 60.

As the media focuses on poll numbers, a new initiative called Apoyo Mutuo(Mutual Aid) was unveiled in Madrid on May 9 by social movement militants skeptical of the electoral path and seeking to return to the popular horizontalism of the 15-M. I spoke with Dilia Puerta, a “militant feminist and spokesperson of Apoyo Mutuo” about the motivations behind this new project and its aspirations moving forward.


Mark Bray: What is Apoyo Mutuo? Can you tell us a little about its origins and development up to this point?

Dilia Puerta: The origin stemmed from the frustration we felt from seeing a large part of the energy that was mobilized with the 15-M — all of this collective questioning — flowing into electoral channels, leaving the streets and the plazas practically without activity. And all of this occurred while we and many other people from the social movements who didn’t identify with this shift felt like the train had left, leaving us behind.

At this moment the idea of writing a manifesto developed and that’s how the manifesto “Building a Strong Pueblo, to make another world possible” (Construyendo Pueblo Fuerte, para posibilitar otro mundo) [which set the stage for the creation of Apoyo Mutuo] came about. It’s a manifesto that put together a declaration of intentions and in a short time has hit 600 signatories. This was the impetus behind the creation of the organization.

We are a wide range of militants who have joined together individually to enrich ourselves mutually.

So is it a network or an organization or a federation?

For now it is a network of militants who are organizing themselves at a common level across the country, and it aspires to have groups at the territorial level that will join the initiative in the future.

The announcement of the creation of Apoyo Mutuo occurred a few weeks before the municipal elections. Obviously Podemos has been a controversial product of the 15-M. How do you see the influence of the 15-M and Podemos on the emergence of Apoyo Mutuo? Are you trying to respond to the popularity of Podemos to some extent?

The 15-M was a tremendous mobilizing force: in the Puerta del Sol people with very different perspectives on social struggle joined together and we all took shelter under the umbrella of “They don’t represent us” (“No nos representan”) which was already an accessible consensus since there was a palpable feeling of indignation from a pueblo that was tired of feeling swindled by the political class and was hitting the streets to protest. In these protests the need to organize ourselves emerged rapidly…

The people who had a clear electoral agenda had acted forcefully and with coordination while those who were reticent about electoral politics were left “paralyzed,” without knowing how to articulate a common discourse and an organization that could create space for all of these sensibilities. Apoyo Mutuo was born out of this self-criticism.

It is not a response to the popularity of Podemos; it is a parallel option since we can see that the neighborhoods and plazas have been thoroughly emptied out, because the sense of representation and hopefulness that people have felt with this new electoral proposal has resulted in fewer and fewer mobilizations in the streets. This generated uncertainty for us since we believe that politics cannot be limited to the election of representatives at the ballot box every four years. We can’t delegate our responsibility; as a pueblo we need to be active agents in the decision-making process.

At the presentation of Apoyo Mutuo in Madrid on May 9 one of the speakers read a quote from the Zapatistas saying, “we don’t say to vote, but neither do we say to not vote.” Similarly, in your manifesto it says:

We respect the comrades who before this same diagnosis are opting for the route of institutional participation through electoral initiatives, but we appeal to collective memory to emphasize that rights, conquests and great social transformations have never been given by the institutions. They were fought for and won in the streets, in the workplace, and in the neighborhoods. Our memory goes back far enough to remember that only a strong and combative pueblo can impose itself on the elites that govern us.

Could you comment briefly on your perspective on the elections? It seems to me that you aren’t organizing a campaign of active abstention. Has the “Other Campaign” of the Zapatistas been an influence on Apoyo Mutuo?

Voting or not voting doesn’t seem important or transcendent to us. What we want is for people to fight for their rights beyond election day, to create new forms of self-management, to debate, to join collectives so that as neighborhoods and as a pueblo we could be capable of giving articulate and convincing responses. It isn’t so important whether you vote or abstain, as long as you act conscientiously every other day.

And of course the Zapatistas are a reference. The “Other Campaign” has been an inspiration but we are still at an early stage.

Your values and the name ‘Apoyo Mutuo’ have a lot in common with anarchism, but you don’t use the word “anarchist.” Also, your images use colors like orange, blue, brown, green and purple rather than red and black. Can you tell us a little about your decision to present your initiative in this way? What is the image that you want to present to society?

First, it’s important to clarify that we are an organization of militants from different social movements (feminists, unionists, ecologists, housing activists, etc.) and that what we have in common, among other things, is that we don’t want to delegate politics to institutional channels. Certainly within the organization a good number of people have libertarian ideas, but we don’t want to be an organization of and for anarchists; we want to reach all of those people who believe that another way is possible.

There are other groups, federations, collectives and unions with similar values. Why is it necessary to create something new? Or rather, what is the difference between Apoyo Mutuo and other initiatives?

The goal isn’t to create a new collective, but rather to reinforce the networks that already exist (it isn’t an agglomeration but rather a coordination). We all have our own personal work in our collectives. We don’t want to overload ourselves [with another group], but rather mutually enrich ourselves by creating this space of confluence.

It’s a space to articulate very unusual alliances, along the lines of a proposal by María Galindo in her book “¡A despatriarcar! Feminismo Urgente!” (“To de-patriarchalize! Urgent Feminism!”). We need to escape from identitarian ghettos that asphyxiate ideas. Sometimes within these groups one forgets to “make ideology.” Instead the same slogans are just repeated and in so doing we forget to think. Only by creating “unusual alliances” can we create and actualize a discourse for the 21st century: one where unionism enriches feminism, where feminism enriches anarchism, etc…

It’s vital that we create a political program and a common strategy that strengthens us because it’s more than proven that unity creates power.

And finally what do you have planned over the coming months? What are the next steps?

We’ve gotten a very positive reception with people from all over the country interested in Apoyo Mutuo. There is a high demand for presentations about this new initiative all over Spain and in principle organizing such presentations is one of our short-term goals so that comrades will know about us and get involved.

Also along that line in Madrid we are organizing open assemblies to present our proposals to people who come and are interested and to respond to their doubts. Also, at the end of June we will organize a national meeting with Apoyo Mutuo members from different regions to start to create a common political program.

As a pueblo we need to go on the offensive and be a real, current, and conscientious political actor. We’ve already been on the defensive for many years, trying to protect the rights that we have gained while struggling, the rights that the political class continually snatches from us while ignoring us. Creating a social consciousness is a political objective.

Mark Bray is a member of the Black Rose Anarchist Federation and the author of Translating Anarchy: The Anarchism of Occupy Wall Street. He is also a PhD candidate in Modern Spanish history at Rutgers University.You can follow him on Twitter via @Mark__Bray.

Blood…for treasure



Blood…for treasure. I wonder how many would give their lives these days for the 1% who own this country? For Lord Zuck’s ability to make another billion? For the right to own a data-mining iPhone? I know I wouldn’t…

Why Are Rates of Suicide Soaring Across the Planet?


The figures of both attempted suicides and committed suicides are increasing.

A friend recently asked to meet for coffee. ‘I’ve had some more bad news,’ his text said. A ‘fifty something’ year old friend had taken his own life the day before. Jack had hanged himself from a tree in a public park on the outskirts of London; it was his fourth attempt. He had four children. This was the second, middle-aged, male friend to have committed suicide within six months.

Their stories are far from unique. Suicide occurs everywhere in the world to people of all age groups, from 15 to 70 years. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that almost one million people commit suicide every year, with 20 times that number attempting it, and the numbers are rising. Methods vary from country to country: in the USA, where firearms litter the streets, 60% of people shoot themselves; in India and other Asian countries, as well as South Africa, taking poison, particularly drinking pesticides, is the most popular choice. In Hong Kong, China and urban Taiwan, WHO records that a new method, “charcoal-burning suicide” has been recorded. Drowning, jumping from a height, slashing wrists and hanging (the most popular form in Britain, the Balkans and Eastern European countries) are some of the other ways desperate human beings decide to end their lives.

Stigma and Under-reporting of Suicides

According to WHO, 1.5% of worldwide deaths were caused by suicide in 2012, making it the third highest cause of death in the World, and this is just those deaths which have been confirmed as suicide. WHO admits that the availability and quality of data is poor, with only 60 Member States providing statistics “that can be used directly to estimate suicide rates.” Many suicides, they say, “are hidden among other causes of death, such as single car, single driver road traffic accidents, un-witnessed drowning’s and other undetermined deaths.” These are just some of the many factors that make accurately assessing the numbers who take their own lives problematic. In countries where social attitudes, or religious dogma, shroud suicide in a stigma of guilt (Sub-Saharan Africa, where suicide is rarely if ever discussed or admitted, for instance), suicide may be hidden and go un-reported; so too in countries where suicide is still regarded as a criminal act: Hungary for example, where attempted suicide carries a prison sentence of five years, or Japan where it is illegal to commit suicide. North Korea, where relatives of a person committing suicide are penalised; Ireland, where self-harm is not generally regarded as a form of attempted suicide; Singapore, where suicide remains illegal and attempted suicide can result in imprisonment; or Russia, where the rate of teenage suicides is three times the world average and where those attempting suicide can be committed to a psychiatric hospital. All of which are pretty strong reasons for hiding suicide attempts and concealing suicide as the cause of death, as well as deterring people from discussing suicidal thoughts.

Whatever the precise number of total deaths by suicide – and all the indications are that it is a good deal higher than WHO says – what is clear is that suicide is a major social issue. The figures of both attempted suicides and committed suicides are increasing; it needs to be openly discussed, the causes understood and more support provided. In the last 45 years, WHO state that suicide rates have increased by 60%, and unless something marvellous happens that drastically changes the environment in which we are living, they predict that by 2020 the rate of death will have doubled – from one suicide every 40 seconds, to someone, somewhere in the world taking his/her life every 20 seconds!

Rates of suicide and gender ratios vary from country to country and region to region, but overwhelmingly men are more at risk than women. WHO found that 75% of global suicides occurred in low- and middle-income countries, with 30% of all suicides occurring in China and India where suicide was only de-criminalised in 2014. Eastern European countries, such as Lithuania and the Russian Federation, recorded the highest numbers of suicides, the Eastern Mediterranean Region, Central and South America (Peru, Mexico, Brazil and Colombia) the lowest. And although suicide rates worldwide have traditionally been highest amongst elderly men, young people – that’s 15-29 – year olds, are now the group at the greatest risk in a third of all countries. Suicide, WHO states, is the “leading cause of death in this age group after transport and other accidents and assault for males,” with very little gender difference – “9.5% in males and 8.2% in females.”

Throughout western societies around three times the number of men die by suicide than women, and over 50s are particularly vulnerable. In Britain men account for 80% of all suicide cases (with an average of 13 men a day killing themselves), 40-44 year olds are particularly at risk here. In “low- and middle-income countries”, WHO records, “the male-to-female ratio is much lower [than more developed countries] at 1.5 men to each woman.” Surprisingly, in the USA, where four times the number of men die from suicide than women, according to The Centre of Disease Control and Prevention, women are more likely to attempt it. The statistical gender gap in western societies may in small part be caused, The Samaritans think, by the different suicide methods used by men and women. Leading to the fact that in some cases “the intent cannot be determined (or assumed) as easily [with women] as in methods more common to males.” This may result, they say, “in more under-reporting of suicidal deaths in females.“

The Causes of Suicide

The specific reasons why people commit suicide are many and varied; ‘mental health issues’ is the umbrella term often cited as the cause. According to researchers at Glasgow University 90% of suicide cases suffer from some form of mental illness. It is an ambiguous phrase though, that explains little, and comforts the bereaved less. It would seem obvious that if someone kills themselves, they are not feeling mentally or emotionally ‘intact’, or ‘good’. ‘I struggled for so long’, ‘I couldn’t cope anymore’, ‘life seemed meaningless’, ‘I felt tremendous anxiety’, and so on, are phrases common to many of us, including those people contemplating, attempting or committing suicide. Perhaps understandably depression is usually mentioned as a cause, but this of course does not mean everyone suffering from depression is at risk of suicide!

The WHO makes clear that whilst suicide rates vary enormously from country to country, differences, “influenced by the cultural, social, religious and economic environments in which people live and sometimes want to stop living..…the pressures of life, that cause extreme emotional distress” and sometimes lead to suicide, “are similar everywhere.”

It is these ‘pressures of life’, that need to be properly understood, what they are, where they come from, the impact they have, and how we can change the structure of society to free humanity from them. Why do we have such damaging ‘pressures of life’? We should not be living in a world that produces such detrimental forces. Something in our world society is terribly wrong when a million or so people kill themselves every year, and where suicide is the second highest cause of death amongst under 20 year olds.

I am not a psychologist, but commonsense would suggest that the ‘sense of self’ must be at the heart of the issue, the volatile central cause. If that ‘sense of self’ is positive, if one feels connected to ‘life’, has structure, purpose and self-belief, feels liked, loved even, then suicide would seem unlikely. If, however, the image of self is negative, of a ‘failure’, unable to ‘fit in’, feeling lost, lacking direction and experiencing social and emotional withdrawal, a fragile sense of self and increasing vulnerability are, it would seem, likely.

Then there are the practical problems we all face of earning a living and paying the rent/mortgage; the more subtle issues – pressures of ‘succeeding’ – economically, socially, in a career, and in ‘love’. The inability – real or perceived – to meet these ‘pressures of life’ creating worry and anxiety – perhaps leading to alcohol or substance abuse – which strengthens social isolation, reinforces the image of failure, weakening self-belief/confidence and strengthening self-loathing. And all this in a world where weakness, particularly in men, is frowned upon; where sensitivity, uncertainty and fragility are to be overcome – ‘toughen up’ is the message, spoken directly or indirectly.

We have little understanding of who and what we are, so we create images, cling to ideological constructs that move us further and further away from our true nature. The ideal image of what it means to be a human being, particularly a man, has become increasingly narrow. Men, especially under 40 year olds, must be decisive, strong and ambitious. Any flowery beliefs – philosophical or religious for example – should be eradicated, or at least hidden, certainly not mentioned in public. Any admission of self-doubt and signs of vulnerability should be completely avoided, and a macho, no-nonsense approach to life adopted and expressed.

Broadly speaking this has become the stereotype of what it is to be a man in the 21st century, and conformity to the pattern is insisted on – via education, peer pressure and the corporate media. Women, particularly young women are expected to meet a similarly, if slightly less constricting, formulated ideal. Both are extremely restrictive, unhealthy images that fit into a worldwide system of societal uniformity, built by, and in the interests of, multinationals (who own everything), facilitated by corporate governments (who lack principles), which is sucking the richness, and diversity out of life. Everyone is expected to want the same things, to wear the same clothes, believe the same propaganda, aspire to the same ideals and behave the same. Every country, city, town and village is seen as a marketplace, every person a consumer to be exploited fully, sucked dry and discarded.

Competition and conformity have infiltrated every area of worldwide society, from education to health care. Everything and everyone is seen as a commodity, to be bought at the lowest price and sold at the highest, financial profit is the overwhelming motive that drives and distorts action. Materialistic values promoting individual success, greed and selfishness saturate the world; ‘values’ that divide and separate humanity, leading to social tension, conflict and illness. Ideals, which are not values in any real sense of the word, which have both fashioned the divisive political-economic landscape in which we live (which has failed the masses and poisoned the planet), and been strengthened by it. Together with the economic system of market fundamentalism which so ardently promotes them, these ‘values’ form, I believe, the basic ingredients in the interwoven set of social factors that cause a great deal of the ‘mental health issues’, which lead those most vulnerable members of our society to commit suicide. Men, women and children who simply cannot cope with the ‘pressures of life’ anymore, who feel the collective and individual pain of life acutely, are disposed towards introspection and find the world too noisy, its values too crude, its demands of ‘strength’ not weakness, ‘success’ not failure, ‘confidence’ not doubt, impossible to meet. And why should they have to meet them, why do these ‘pressures of life’ exist at all?

It is time to build an altogether different, healthier model, a new way of living in which true perennial values of goodness, shape the systems that govern the societies in which we live, and not the corrosive, ideologically reductive corporate weapons of ubiquitous living which are sucking the beauty, diversity and joy out of life. Values of compassion, selflessness, cooperation, tolerance and understanding; we need, as Arundhati Roy puts it, “to redefine the meaning of modernity, to redefine the meaning of happiness,” for we have exchanged happiness for pleasure, replaced love with desire, unity with division, cooperation with competition, and have created a divided society, where conflict rages, internationally, regionally, communally and individually.

Graham Peebles is director of the Create Trust. He can be reached at:

Bad Apple: 5 Ways the Computer Giant is Plundering America


No amount of clever branding can hide these harsh truths.

An emotional response to any criticism of the Apple Corporation might be anticipated from the users of the company’s powerful, practical, popular, and entertaining devices. Accolades to the company and a healthy profit are certainly well-deserved. But much-despised should be the theft from taxpayers and the exploitation of workers and customers, all cloaked within the image of an organization that seems to work magic on our behalf.

1. Apple Took Years of Public Research, Integrated the Results, and Packaged it As Their Own

Apple’s stock market value of over $700 billion is about twice the value of any other company. It is generally regarded as innovative, trendy, and sensitive to the needs of phone and computer users all around the world. Many of us have become addicted to the beautifully designed iPhone. But the design goes back to the time before Apple existed.

Steve Jobs once admitted: “We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” And reaping most of the benefits. As economist William Lazonick put it, “The iPhone didn’t just magically appear out of the Apple campus in Cupertino. Whenever a company produces a technology product, it benefits from an accumulation of knowledge created by huge numbers of people outside the company, many of whom have worked in government-funded projects over the previous decades.”

In her revealing book, The Entrepreneurial StateMariana Mazzucato explains that “Apple concentrates its ingenuity not on developing new technologies and components, but on integrating them into an innovative architecture.” She goes on to describe 12 major technologies that have their roots in government research, including memory and hard disks, displays, cellular technology, GPS, and all the Internet protocols. Much of it came from the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, NASA, the Air Force, and other U.S. agencies. The biggest expense in the iPhone is the touchscreen, which was developed at the CERN laboratories in Europe.

The “stealing of ideas” has not been accompanied by a reciprocal contribution to research. Apple spends much less than Microsoft and Google on R&D as a percentage of revenue.

It gets worse. Apple effectively takes all the credit for much of our public R&D by invoking the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, which allowed publicly-funded work to be patented by companies. In 2011, for the first time, Apple spent more on patent purchases and lawsuits than on R&D. And worst of all, patents can make it extremely difficult for other researchers to continue work on the ideas behind newly developed products.

2. Even After Taking Our Research, Apple Does Everything in its Power to Avoid Taxes

In 2013 Apple CEO Tim Cook proclaimed, “We pay all the taxes we owe – every single dollar.” Delusion teams with denial. When questioned about the “Double Irish” scheme that allowed Apple’s Irish subsidiary to pay ZERO taxes from 2009 to 2012, Apple executive Tony King said he had “no idea” what the questioner was talking about.

Apple recently announced that its overseas, untaxed cash hoard, currently about $157 billion, is expected to reach $200 billion by 2017. But rather than pay taxes, Apple, along with other tech companies, has been part of a “fierce attack” on plans to crack down on tax avoidance, lobbying instead for a repatriation tax holiday to allow the billions of overseas dollars to come home at a greatly reduced tax rate.

3. Overcharging Customers 

The manufacturing cost of a 16 GB iPhone 6 is about $200, and with marketing it comes to about $288. But without an expensive phone contract with Verizon, AT&T, or one of the other wireless carriers, the cost to the customer is at least $650.

4. Underpaying and Mistreating Employees 

In response to criticisms of Apple, Rand Paul advised us to “apologize to Apple and compliment them for the job creation they’re doing.” The company claims to have “created or supported” over a million jobs in the United States. But in reality it has 66,000 employees in the U.S., about half of them retail store workers.

Apple has an efficient way of undermining workers, earning nearly $600,000 profit per employee while paying their full-time retail “specialists” less than $30,000 per year. Thus each store worker gets about $1 for every $20 in profits that he or she helps to generate. As for higher-level employees, Apple is alleged to have conspired with Google and other Silicon Valley each firms to hold down the salaries of engineers and analysts.

Regarding laborers at notorious Chinese factories like Foxconn, Apple CEO Tim Cook said in 2012: “We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain.” The sentiment went deeper three years later in 2015, when Apple VP Jeff Williams assured us that “We care deeply about every worker in Apple’s global supply chain.” But investigations have revealed little change, with a continuation of low wages, forced overtime, safety hazards, employee abuse, increased production quotas, and manipulation of student interns. Before the launch of the iPhone 6 in late 2014, workers put in 15 hours a day for 10 weeks without a day off.

5. Apple Has Figured Out How to Spend Most of its Untaxed Money on Itself 

Much of Apple’s ‘offshore’ money is reportedly held in the U.S., in the form of U.S government securities, earning interest from U.S. taxpayers. When the company needs cash, it simply borrows the money at a near-zero interest rate, often using that cash to pay off shareholders with stock buybacks, which use potential research and development money to pump up the stock prices for shareholders.

After spending $90 billion on stock buybacks last year, Apple has now proudly announced a 2015 “share repurchase authorization” of $140 billion, almost the entire amount of its currently hoarded cash. Buybacks benefit company executives and investors. Beyond that, Apple’s ever-growing $.7 trillion stock market value is spread among relatively few Americans. The richest 10% own 91 percentof U.S. stocks.

Apple’s View 

The tax-avoiding, research-appropriating, cost-escalating, wage-minimizing, self-enriching Apple Corporation has, according to CEO Tim Cook, a very strong moral compass.

Paul Buchheit teaches economic inequality at DePaul University. He is the founder and developer of the Web sites, and, and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached

The Small Fires: reflections on the Baltimore uprising

By Steven Leyva On May 14, 2015

Post image for The Small Fires: reflections on the Baltimore uprisingFollowing the city’s uprising against oppressive poverty and racism, Baltimore poet Steven Leyva reflects on the experience in a heartfelt lyrical essay.

I remember every time I’ve been pulled over by the police. The litany of reasons reads like a child’s primer: tail light, move-over law, a suspicious swerve, no turn on red, should have turned, failure to control speed, failure to yield, failure to yield, failure…

Watching Freddie Gray’s arrest on an endless news media loop I am confronted by how he does not yield, but runs. Could I enact such agency? I’ve never had to, relying instead on my professional dress, my quick code-switch to non-threating “proper” speech—I teach composition and basic rhetoric to undergraduates—or just neutral silence. And after taking my license, and reading my name, taking my registration, and reading my name, the officer still asks, “Is this your car?”

Freddie did not have the comfort of a car. The questions of ownership are directed at his body. Failure to yield.

I remember watching a kid no older than fourteen throw one of the first rocks at the police line surrounding Mondawmin Mall and thinking, “Kids got an arm.” It didn’t register as violence somehow, and I am unsure why. He’ll probably never play baseball.

I remember driving down North Avenue, the panoply of boarded and vacant homes slipping in and out of the passenger side window frame like some desolate slideshow, and wondering if a riot is the last radical art left to the poor.

What if citizens approached a protest the way a viewer approaches abstract art, with a sense of openness about how the experience might change the viewer? Would the first rhetorical move made be one of honest curiosity instead of judgement? One of my grad school teachers, Kendra Kopelke, reminded me after a poetry reading that “art doesn’t need our judgement, it needs our attention”.

I remember a full ten minutes when my face will not unscrew itself from a grimace as a CNN Anchor attempts to act omniscient about race relations. He iscorrected cogently, with a question, “Are you suggesting broken windows are worse than broken spines?”

I remember a week where everyone’s pronouns are out of control. “They” becomes a rhetorical Leviathan. A student asks, “Why are they burning their own stores?” and I ask “Who is the they?” and he can’t look me in the face.

I remember rubbing my son’s cowlick down with one hand and attempting to sling my daughter’s hair into a ponytail with the other while the sound of dual helicopters—the real one outside our home and the one broadcast on WBAL—form an odd echo chamber. This is a moment when I must explain to both my children that though Momma is not black, they are.

I remember wishing I could unfriend anyone who quoted David Simon.

I remember one of my students saying that the mayor always looks like she’s about to fall asleep.

I remember the poet Jack Gilbert writing “Love is one of many great fires” as I watch a five-alarm blaze char what looks like a whole city block.

Earlier, that same afternoon, someone I thought I knew responded to the looting by posting on Facebook, “Don’t we use Napalm anymore?”

I remember the Orioles playing for an empty ballpark and thinking what a metaphor for “trickle down” economics.

I remember the gentle reminder that I am at my most arrogant when I attempt to tell an oppressed person the appropriate ways to respond to oppression.

I remember falling in love with Marylin Mosby for the fierce look she gave to a reporter who asked her the same question she’d just answered. I remember that she did not stutter when she read the charges for each officer.

I remember, I remember that remembering can be a radical act of healing.

Steven Leyva is a poet, teacher, and freelance writer living in Baltimore. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts from the University of Baltimore. He is the  author of the chapbook, Low Parish, and editor of Little Patuxent Review.