Oaxaca, Tuesday 20 February 2007

Dear George Lakey,
      Thank you very much for your response to my e-mail of 12 February. It answers some of the questions I was troubled by, and opens the way to discussion of the crucial issues of social struggle that have seized control of my life since I left my academic berth and moved into the real world. The best thing about your lengthy letter is that it has restored my confidence in your openness and honesty. Mutual trust is a basic necessity in our common struggle. I haven't seen the documentary you mentioned, Bringing Down a Dictator, by Steve York, but will look for it.
      From what you said I infer that you did know about U.S. government funding via several conduits for USAID (Agency for International Development), and presumably by the CIA, at the time you wrote Strategizing for a Living Revolution, which I posted at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Discus/2002-06-00Lakey.htm . I think it would have been better if you had mentioned such funding in the article. Without that information, people like me were led to a partial misunderstanding of the nature of the actual struggle. As I wrote you on 27 November 2004, "Today's article in The Guardian, if it is reporting accurately, raises a messy question for me about the legitimacy of struggles, even if honestly motivated, that rely on "assistance" from an imperial power. I would appreciate your comments, and in particular whether you believe the article in The Guardian, and if so, whether you knew anything about the U.S. role when you wrote your essay." The Guardian article is at http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1360080,00.html . Other related articles are at http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/printer_112804A.shtml .
      I would like to use parts of your letter. One part in particular, where you ask what went wrong with the Guardian analysis and with that of some other leftists. The Guardian saw the Otpor movement in Serbia as a U.S.-choreographed, successful action to bring down Milosevic You wrote that left intellectuals seem especially vulnerable to despair, which you guess is probably because of class background, and you speak of university leftists. Such intellectuals frequently feel powerless, because, you say, many of them are. I agree.
      Right now an intense controversy is going on in a web-based discussion group, Science for the People, at http://list.uvm.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A0=SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE . Mainly the members are academics in various scientific fields, although the group is open to, and welcomes, anyone who wishes to participate. Its orientation is generally that of university leftist scientists, most of whom were indoctrinated, as I was, with the belief that science stands in a very special place in society, somewhat apart from the lying and politics that we leftists recognize characterizes most of society. We, so we are led to believe, are guided by rationality, although we are of course passionate about many things. But supposedly we don't allow ourselves to be ruled by our prejudices and passions. SCIENCE is our cult, in my view. Like all fundamentalist cults we are certain that we know the truth, in our case the truth being that science is the unique way to gain a real understanding of the physical universe (including all aspects of inert and living matter).
      To a great extent I belong to that cult. I am an ordained scientist (PhD in theoretical physics, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, 1953). But I believe that the practice of science is not largely independent of the society in which scientists are embedded, any more than the practice of journalism (ideally dedicated to truthful reporting) is largely independent of the society in which journalists are embedded.
      Although the current controversy in Science for the People is intense, it's also quite irrelevant as regards the real world, I am convinced. Basically, it's a handful of middle-class people, privileged Americans mostly, disputing interpretations of reality. Some of them are socially conscious to the extent that they are actually doing something in opposition to the anti-civilization of death, i.e. they are not only thinkers but activists. Some others are generally supportive of the activists, who are being attacked by other group members because of their alleged failure to adhere to the current dominant ideology. The claim of the critics is of course that the deviants are not being scientific (they are called by some knee-jerk leftists). Oh, my goodness! A tempest in a middle-class teapot. I wish I hadn't wasted so much of my life (nearly half a century in academe) struggling against all the publish-or-perish crap to gain professional recognition. A world built on competition, greed, individualism, egotism and arrogance. We've got to get rid of capitalism and most of the system of values with which it inculcates us.
      Again George, thanks for writing. I would like to use more of your letter. Perhaps even post a more polished version, if you have the time to prepare it. In any case I'll continue the discussion, because I think I have a lot to learn from you, and now that you're retired maybe you'll have the time to answer.
Sincerely, and with best wishes,