Inequality, Ideological Fallacy, and Capitalist Crisis

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of my favorite activity: sitting on my couch and watching documentaries on Netflix. One of the recent suggestions that came up was the documentary produced by former US Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, Robert Reich, called “Inequality for All.” In this film, Reich presents a compelling case that economic inequality has been the cause of two major economic crises in American history, the Great Depression of the early 1930s and the Great Recession which began in 2008 and which many in the US are still living through.

While Reich is speaking with the best of intentions, I believe his argument suffers from one of the most common logical fallacies: confusing cause and effect. This fallacy is especially pernicious because it systematically keeps us from asking important questions about how our economy is organized. Continue reading

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Gender Trouble in Egyptian satire

The latest episode of the program “the program” from noted Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef is creating quite a stir in Egypt this week. Airing on Thursday night, the episode was the first of season three, which begins after a nearly four-month long break  coinciding with the popular coup d’etat/revolution that replaced former Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Mursi this past summer.

Since Mursi’s fall, popular attention has gravitated to the head of the army, Abd al-Fatah al-Sisi, as the man responsible for executing the people’s will. “Al-Sisi mania” has swept through Egypt and provided a cover for the grim reality of the killing of hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters by the army this past summer.

Many of the civil society groups that have sprung up supporting the army’s violent dispersal of the protests–including the group “al-Sisi for President” and local chapters of the 6th of April movement–have now submitted complaints to the attorney general accusing Youssef of “insulting the army and its leaders.” Ironically, these are the same charges which Mursi used as a pretext to throw Youssef in jail temporarily last April, and which the current regime has officially decreed to be an illegitimate basis for censorship.

So how do we explain the backlash? Returning to the episode itself can help to highlight its subversive potential. Continue reading

Reading Marx on May Day

A contemporary drawing of Marx as a young man

The name “Karl Marx,” especially when heard by a U.S. citizen, conjures a variety of images, or perhaps none at all. Marx as a figure was an important sign for the Soviet Union, which established a state ideology in his name. The Soviet Union was the sworn enemy of the United States for most of my parents’ lives. They have told me stories of how, when they were 7 years old, they would have “atomic bomb drills” when they would all simulate what would happen if the Soviet Union dropped atomic weapons on them by hiding under their desks. Can you imagine the psychological impact that would have on a seven year-old?

But the Marx I am reading wrote long before there was such a thing as the Soviet Union. And in reading him, there are things I want to preserve and things I want to firmly reject. Nineteenth-century German idealist philosophers were not very concerned with being legible to the uninitiated. I think, perhaps, it is the difficulty in reading Marx that produced the abomination of the Soviet ideology. But, if you are willing to struggle through this complex text with me, I think we can come out on the other end with a good framework for understanding a lot of the events we see unfolding around us today. Continue reading

Persistence of the Peasantry and the Nature of the Modern Age

Kyle J. Anderson_Historiography of the Egyptian Peasant

As promised, here is an example of my work that I want to share with you. Click the link above if you are interested in checking it out. When historians speak of “historiography,” they are talking about the ways that other historians have written about a given subject in the past. For example, whereas early histories of the American Civil War might have focused on Abraham Lincoln’s desire to free the southern slaves because slavery was wrong, later histories have highlighted longer-term cultural trends that gradually led the north and the south in different, antagonistic directions. An historiographical essay studies the changes in how historians portray their subject matter. Smaller versions of these studies are also called “literature reviews.” Continue reading