Monday, December 19, 2005

Open society (warning: "subversive" content follows!)

I was just forwarded this article about an undergraduate student at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. Apparently, agents from the US Department of Homeland Security paid him a visit, after he had checked out a copy of Mao's "Little Red Book" through the library's inter-library loan service. Ironically, the student had requested the book so that he could write a paper about the dangers of totalitarianism.

Though I've been aware of US librarians' efforts to safeguard patrons' borrowing information, I hadn't caught wind of the fact that some, clearly, aren't doing so. I'm chilled further by the fact that this occurred through a university library's borrowing program. I happen to work at a university, and I suspect many of you reading D&R do, too.

I read the aforementioned article with a sense that things have changed here in the US--particularly since the coming online of the USA Patriot Act (a painfully laughable name for such a pernicious piece of legislation). It's clear that there's a growing climate of fear here among intellectuals, and no doubt others, too. Yet, I am forced to remind myself how intellectuals have been persecuted for decades, even centuries, around the world for just these kinds of activities, often by more than just a "visit" by local security agents. I also am compelled to reflect on the fact that I came of age at a relatively safe, and thus privileged, time in the US academy, when nobody seemed to care if you checked out a copy of Mao's "Little Red Book," Marx and Engels' "Communist Manifesto," or some other politically charged ("unpatriotic") piece of writing.

I suppose, ultimately, the article I've linked to is very clarifying. It underscores the stakes of doing meaningful, engaged intellectual work at a time when it's unpopular (from the government's standpoint) to dissent. Visits by homeland security for checking out Mao's "Little Red Book?" Those clearly must stop--and the climate of fear and intimidation that goes along with them.

P.S. If you decide to comment, watch what you say. "They" may be reading, too. . . .


Ted Striphas said... comments yet....intriguing.......

Alex DiBlasi (C190 student) said...

That is shocking. If I'm not mistaken, were you to be visted by these agents and didn't cooperate, you could face jail time? I hope they know what they're doing this time in Congress as the Patriot Act faces renewals, renewals our Commander-in-Chief wants to see made PERMANENT. Something as insidious passed through the House and the Senate right after 9/11 for several reasons:
a.) They probably didn't read it.
b.) The USA Patriot Act? "America - fuck yeah!" And in post 9/11 society, especially right after those attacks, if you weren't a patriot, you were a terrorist.
Remember what W said all those years ago: "You are either with us...or you are against us."
And remember what Obi-Wan said in 'Revenge Of the Sith' : "Only a Sith deals in absolutes."
I enjoy reading such "subversion."

Ted Striphas said...

Hi Alex,

Thanks for the note. Indeed this is for real...and it only seems to be getting worse for teachers and students alike. I hope you and others continue speaking up about this.

The connection you draw to Revenge of the Sith is, by the way, one I cannot get out of my head. There was so much talk around the film's release about its portrayal of empire building and what's going on in our world right now. I wish that conversation hadn't died down.