Sunday, January 27, 2013

Guest Blog | An Analysis of Obama’s Second Inaugural Address by Lawrence Brown, PhD

We are pleased to have a good friend join the WhatUpWally? crew. Lawrence and I played basketball together at Clear Creek High School and he has been a valuable discourse partner over the years. Lawrence received his Ph.D from the University of Tennessee where he studied health disparities and is currently a Kellog Post Doctoral Fellow at Morgan State University. Lawrence is active in the Baltimore community and writes with power and passion. 

We are thankful to have the opportunity to collaborate with Lawrence and excited for y'all to learn from his critical analysis of President Obama's Second Inaugural Address.

An Analysis of Obama’s Second Inaugural Addressby Lawrence Brown, PhD (aka Professor B-3000)

President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address deftly manages to incorporate the traditions of hallowed ancestors (i.e. Lincoln and King) while simultaneously lifting up several of the challenges of our time (i.e. income inequality, the social safety net, the Global War on Terror, and gay rights).

He referenced Lincoln’s second inaugural address when he intoned: “Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.”

He alluded to the demands of Occupy Wall Street when he stated: “For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.”

He called for full equality for women and gays when he remarked: “For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law…”

Clearly, President Obama second inaugural address weaves the myriad voices of social justice advocates in American history into a rhetorical tapestry of a vision of America. He is at his best when he proclaimed: “The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

It is one of the few lines where he acknowledges indirectly that there is an obstinate opposition party that has characterized 47% of American as takers and therefore undeserving of the benefits of the social compact. The Republican Party not only seeks to disenfranchise millions of Americans who depend on social programs, but also has challenged the legitimacy of the president’s birthplace and even the extent that he is a “real American.”

In spite of the lofty rhetoric employed by the president, his speech does not rise to the level of truth telling of two persons most referenced in the speech: Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The inability to speak truth more directly leaves the president impotent in the face of hostile attacks and hinders America from realizing its potential.

You see, in Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, he boldly suggested that the Civil War might be divine punishment for both the Union and the Confederacy because of the bloodstained actions of enslavement and racial terrorism inflicted on the country’s people of African descent by its people of European descent. Lincoln correctly surmised that the violence of his day being exacted brother against brother is connected and rooted in the violence exacted against the “other.”

Dr. King, in his boldest speech “Beyond Vietnam,” decried what he called the triple evils of American society: racism, materialism (economic exploitation), and militarism (warmongering). King called America “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” King links the civil rights struggle with the struggle for human rights and peace.

In comparison with Lincoln and King, Obama falls short. While Obama addresses inequalities that they did not (women’s equality and gay rights), Obama comes up woefully short in his ability to engage in critical self-examination of the growing cancer that sickens America. Urban homicides, suburban mass shootings, and the ever-astounding acts of rape, murder, and mayhem are all rooted in America’s history and culture of violence domestically and abroad. By sanctioning the devaluation and demonization one group of humans based on their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion—often in the name of power and empire—America has always been prey to its citizens sliding down the slippery slope of dehumanization of both the brother and the “other.”

And that is the current American predicament that Obama leaves unnamed and thereby leaves many Americans unable to understand. America is drunk with the wine of power and empire, with a lethal military industrial complex abroad and a devastating racial apartheid complex at home. It is not that war is not an issue. It is. But the deeper sickness is that America anoints itself the world’s police, engages in military intervention to capture and control vital resources (e.g. oil), and allocates more money to killing (Global War on Terror—$3 trillion and rising) than healing (health care reform—nearly $1 trillion).

Nor is it that income inequality and the attack on the welfare state or safety net are not a problem. They are. But the deeper sickness is wealth inequality and the economic system that sanctions and sanctifies multiple poverties and pathologies. Now that the predominantly aging white population has crossed the drawbridge to the safety of the ark of Medicare and Social Security, many wish to pull up the drawbridge on the predominantly brown and black youth who wish to cross on that same bridge to dignity and security in the sunset of life. Given the disparity of wealth by race/ethnicity and the disproportionate burden of unemployment and poverty borne by black and brown people, the problem of income inequality is the problem of racial inequality. Income inequality is simultaneously the problem of what Dr. Cornel West calls “Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats,” whose reckless behavior undermines the financial stability of every American.

Thus, President Obama’s speech begs for national self-reflection and critical examination. The cancer that threatens to subsume America is its preoccupation with power at the expense of the vulnerable “other”, empire in the face of exploding deficits and crumbling domestic infrastructure, and the fallacy that we have overcome American apartheid. By continuing to exact overt and covert violence against black and brown people at home and abroad, the sustainability of the American project is at stake; not because of a foreign Chinese boogeyman or a far-off Korean tyrant, but due to an aging white population that wants “their” country back and empire without end. Sadly, too many black and brown people are chasing that same narcissistic and imperial American Dream, unwittingly putting a black face on white supremacy, leaving nearly all Americans unable and unwilling to confront the cancer that threatens to subsume all: The Fear of a Black (Brown, Woman-Run, Gay, and "Third World") Planet!

The Second Inaugural Blog,
Lawrence Brown for WhatUpWally?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cincinnati Music | Walk the Moon - Tight Rope (Ukelele Acoustic Version)

Tools for Teaching | MLK x Linkin Park - Wisdom, Justice, and Love

It is a shame that our society only refers to MLK as he relates to race and racism in America. We think it is time to incorporate the full cultural, social, economic, and political teachings of King and if we do, we might rediscover him as one of the most important philosophical and political philosophers of our time.

Check out this short video created by Robert Lopez. His fusion of imagery, music, text, and philosophy is a great example of how to communicate these monumental ideas in a postmodern world.

The speech is an excerpt of Martin Luther King Jr's Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence speech delivered 4 April 1967 at Riverside Church, New York City. 

Read the full speech here.

Wisdom, Justice, and Blog,

Watch Now | Skyzoo Ft. Talib Kweli - Spike Lee Was My Hero

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dallas Acoustic | Josh Jenkins Solo Material

One of the WUW? crew's favorite front men, Josh Jenkins of Green River Ordinance, has recently graced his fans with some new solo material - via his Soundcloud page. You will recognize Jenkin's strong song writing but may be surprised by the indie folk sound and pleased by how well his voice fuses with this genre.

We think you will be pleased!

Indie Folk Blogging,

Monday, January 21, 2013

Live From Facebook | The Libertarian Economic Assumptions of Marriage, Gender, Sexuality, and the State

Facebook provides real time access to everyday political, economic, and social commentary. Ranging from jokes about Lance Armstrong and the fake girlfriend of Manti Te'o to rants about guns and support for the homophobic statements of corporate CEOs. Some posts on the Facebook are intelligent, well reasoned, and well argued while others are intentionally or unintentionally bigoted. 

As we compare posts around the WUW? office, often times we can only laugh in an attempt to ease the frustration as we discuss the social implications of the thoughts of the American public. Our most recent conversation was sparked by a post from a good friend of the WUW? editor attempting to apply a neoliberal (rhetorically referred to as "libertarian") market explanation of how the government has aided women in the destruction of the institution of marriage. (read below)

We would like to take this time to address some of the assumptions and consequences of this line of thinking. 

Assumption # 1: Individual action or morality can be understood in market terms

The economization of human activity has a long history extending from Adam Smith, through the Austrian School of Hayek and Von Mises, to Reagan and Thatcher, and most recently kept alive by Ron Paul Libertarians. It is important that we start with this basic assumption because making any assertion that human action is determined by "the market" is the most fundamental fallacy of neoliberal economics. Homo economicus, as the individual is referred to in this line of economic theory, is reduced from a multi-dimensional human being - composed of emotions, relationships, a history, socially situated in time and place, and motivated by love, anger, hate, hope, anxiety, and desire - to a one-dimensional economic unit whose actions are determined by rational decision making always based on a cost/ benefit analysis. 

It is not hard to see where this line of reasoning becomes problematic. If a human being is a living organism motivated by multiple sources of emotions, relationship, and desires then an analysis of human behavior based on "market" principles is an inadequate method of understanding why it is we do what we do. Karl Polanyi described the marketization of human behavior as a "ficticious commodity," meaning that humans, as well as land and money, were not created as products for exchange on the market. Further, Polanyi, as well as economic sociologist such as Mark Granovetter and Fred Block, emphasize how markets never exist independent from culture, society, and government. Thus, to rely on a pure market analysis of social life leads to an incomplete understanding of our existence and purpose. 

For further explanation of the problem with free market ideology see our previous post: Free Market Mythology.

Assumption # 2: Women are responsible for the "crises" of the institution of marriage

We won't spend too much time on this assumption because it is now 2013 and we should not still be making this assumption. Mr. Gilson, answering the question - Why is the divorce rate so high? says:
Its actually quite logical…. Men are scared shitless…. Why? because women have been empowered by the state to run out whenever they want… They have “legal” recourse against the man’s assets and their children “Just Because” they want to walk out (Justified or not)….
Let's breeze passed the "empowered by the state" comment real fast (which is the libertarian answer to all social issues), and address the "run out whenever they want to... just because they want to" comment. Never mind the blatantly sexist and patriarchal tone, Gilson is placing blame solely on women for the divorce rate. What he is ignoring is the history of oppression, abuse, mistreatment, isolation, and despair that has been endemic to women in America as they have been instructed not to speak up, to stay in the home, to not pursue their dreams, to settle for low paying jobs, and biological explanations of female inferiority that has kept women as perceived second class citizens.

This assumption also ignores that ways in which men are given exemption to issues such as infidelity, "working late," laziness in the home, verbal abuse, and nurturing. One need not be a feminist to understand the effect that "man as head of the household" has on the opportunity of women to pursue a career that would enable them to succeed (or not "be empowered by the state" to attack a man's assets, as Gilson states it - read: all that was acquired during the marriage has been earned solely by the man) after being left by their husband or making the decision to leave out of self respect and refusal to be treated as less than equal. Which leads me to assumption #3.

Assumption # 3: The laws of the state are complicit with women in destroying marriage

Contrary to neoliberal or libertarian political and economic theories, the government does have the responsibility to protect and ensure the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for ALL citizens, not just businesses and wealthy/ white/ protestant/ heterosexual men. As libertarians apply laissez faire economic principles (which we have already discussed the problems with) to social life, they contend that the government should stay completely out of the affairs of society regardless of social inequality, racism, or sexism. They contend that the market alone, when left completely unhindered by government interference, will create a the founder's promise of liberty. In this, our libertarian friends ignore the brutal history of violence, oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia in these United States of America - not too mention the growing disparity between rich and poor... as President Obama so eloquently stated today:
"We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great." Barack Obama, Second Inaugural Address, January 21, 2013 
The market, as Polanyi contended, is not a natural system that exists outside of history, culture, and relationships, rather it is embedded within all of these as a creation of human societies within the historical context of the enlightenment and the industrial revolution. The market has failed to create the good society that Smith, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and many other of the philosophers of the enlightenment theorized it would (libertarians and neoliberals will argue of course that this is because laissez faire governments have never truly liberalized the market to operate in its pure form - which is based on economic assumptions that economist will even tell you are unrealistic). 

For an excellent history of the development of capitalism and free market ideology, we suggest reading Karl Polanyi's The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time.

The libertarian argument allows Ayn Rand purists to provide simplistic answers for complex human problems, fails to protect the liberty of the weakest among us, and justify the same type of sexist, racist, and homophobic opinions that have existed since before the founding our our nation.

This simplistic explanation for marriage and family issues is exactly why the "leviathan" (which is a poor reading of Hobbes) must intervene and legislate to protect against the exploitation and oppression of those that do not have the tools to ensure the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. 

Assumption # 4 and # 5: Marriage is of the highest importance for a society and the institution is reserved for man and woman

Following some negative responses to his first post, Mr. Gilson clarified his position:

Again, it is 2013, the possibilities of establishing families outside of the traditional Christian context are enormous. Many divorced parents continue to raise their children with love and support each other. There are many men that are married to men and women that are married to women (or should be allowed to be married) that are raising children or are more capable of raising children in a more loving, supportive, and nurturing environment than many heterosexual couples. Again, to quote President Obama:
"It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law –- for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity -- until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm." Barack Obama, Second Inaugural Address, January 21, 2013


The purpose of this post is not to hate on our good friend and put him on blast (all though I guess that is just what we are doing). Our intention is to illustrate the ways in which neoliberal or libertarian or free market rhetoric simplifies the complexities of social reality and one-dimenionalizes human action into purely economic terms. Although not a new form of political rhetoric, this new form ideological representation, since the late 70s, has increasingly been employed to justify inequality, blame victims, and normalize the heartless, impersonal, and unrealistic assumptions of neoliberal economic and political theory and the destruction it has created globally and nationally. 

We are not commodities. We are not economic units. We are not purely rational actors that always make the correct decision and understand the consequences of our mistakes. We are human beings that long for acceptance and love. We are human beings that do not exist as autonomous actors. Rather, we are individuals, that live in community, desire happiness and opportunity, and strive to provide better lives for ourselves and our families. 

Blaming divorce rates on the selfishness of women neglects the historical context of the realities of gender inequality and the negative effects of a patriarchal society in which old white men make decisions about women's bodies and blame women for the demise of the marital institution. 

Maybe we should reorient our political discussion around what we can do to create a better society that provides the opportunity to pursue the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Maybe we should develop an empathetic understanding of social life that resists the temptation to accuse the weakest among us of creating their own oppression. Maybe we should attempt to understand the historical context in which political and economic theories originated and understand the ways in which those theories have benefited and failed us.

More importantly, in the spirit of the enlightenment philosophers, maybe we should begin to think about a higher order of society that transcends our contemporary political language and reengage the idea of the good society - not just what was good for the founders, but what is the good society for all of us - today.

Blogging toward utopia,

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Teaching at Texas A&M | The WUW? 6 Suggestions for Teaching Contemporary Social Theory

Every time I tell someone that I am teaching Sociology, I get the same response... "sociology was my favorite class in undergrad." This response makes sense because sociology is the study of the most elemental experiences of social life. Unfortunately, the discipline has come to be seen as something interesting or as a good elective but not a major that will lead to a high salaried job. This perspective occupies a central spot in the questions of social theory. Throughout the modern transition to industrial capitalism, man has increasingly come to be understood as an economic unit, not an actual human. Thus, the study of mankind is determined significant only in the context of business, marketing, and politics. Homo economicus is the object of statistical focus determined to be understood as a means of manipulating him to purchase goods or vote in elections.

Social theory, more concerned with uncovering those hidden ideologies of manipulation instead of discovering new opportunities to manipulate, has even become marginalized in the academic industrial complex. The study or writing of theory does not bring in research grants or lead to easy statistical measurements, that are easily understood, and easily published in the top academic journals. If the discipline has marginalized the importance of theory then how can we expect students to get excited about a theory class? Moreover, if graduate students develop the same disdain for theory, how can we expect them to teach theory in a way that sparks the sociological imagination of their students? How are we supposed to lead our students to the same deeper level of societal understanding that led to the great works of Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Adorno, Foucault, Derrida, and Mills? We have been discussing these questions around the WUW? office lately and have come up with a few suggestions for those of you interested in man and society beyond his economic utility value.

The WUW? 6 Suggestions for
Teaching Contemporary Social Theory

ONE: Meet Your Students Where They Are

Start with your students lived experience and then connect them to the ideas of the author.

We have to take the opportunity to understand where our students are coming from. I often hear my associates complain about how their students are lazy, don't care, are too conservative, too Christian, too white, can't write, etc. etc. etc. It is interesting how fast we forget what we were like during our undergrad and how much we expect students to act like graduate students. I teach at Texas A&M University and it is very conservative, very white, and very Christian and although these views do not line up with mine, it does not mean that there is a deficiency in my students.

As sociologists, we should understand that individuals are the culmination of their lived experiences - family, gender, race, neighborhood, wealth, education, and religion. It seems to me that there is nothing gained from complaining about students, rather, it is our job to understand their subject positions and teach them in a way that is uplifting - not demeaning. Our goal should not be to make them not Christian, conservative, wealthy, or white - rather it should be to understand where they are coming from, help them understand how their subject position is located in general history and their personal history. From their, as C. Wright Mills explained, they can begin to develop their sociological imagination.

After we take the time to understand where our students are coming from, we can construct our syllabus and lectures in a way that connects them, as they are, to the theorists.

What has worked: 
Although, I am not a Christian, I recognize that many of my students are and that their faith is fundamental to who they are. Because of this, I selected a book, by a theologian, that explains postmodernity within an evangelical context. I have not attempted to change their beliefs, or held their beliefs against them, rather I attempted to meet them where they were and provide a reading that would help them understand Foucault, Lyotard, Derrida, and Baudrillard within their own subject position. Our reading of A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren was one of the most fruitful readings of the entire semester - even though it is not a traditional sociological text.

TWO: Expect the Best

Don't assume that your students can't comprehend big ideas and tough readings.

Similar to my first point, your expectations will structure the performance of your students. What you expect is what you will get. College students are not just superficial kids interested only in fun and popularity. They think about and discuss the deeper meanings of life all the time. It is we (their teachers, parents, and pastors) that assume they are not interested in the hard to understand ideas. We present water downed versions of theory in an attempt to entertain instead of educate. Thus, with no one presenting the opportunity to go deeper, how can we expecte them to move beneath the surface. Give them tough readings and then discuss and help them wrestle through the ideas. You will be amazed at what you get back!

THREE: Speak in a language that your students can understand

Essential to this is to not overcomplicate class by attempting to cover every author or every text. Choose readings that that are manageable, challenging, and provide them the opportunity for reflection - then connect the readings to where the student is.
Don't get stuck in the graduate student pissing match that measures intelligence by the use of words that only 5% (probably less than) of the population uses. It is not that we shouldn't speak about epistemologies, existentialism, discourse, anomie, and domination - but we should continue to define these terms and place them within a context that enables comprehension. They will get it but we have to do our job as teachers to guide.

FOUR: Allow your students the opportunity to wrestle with new ideas

Our initial impulse is to immediately explain every reading and idea without allowing the time to process. Contemporary theory is a paradigm shifting class that is confusing and uncomfortable. When Derrida explains that there is no absolute truth and that everything is discourse - he is challenging the foundations of faith and society. He is calling out the invisible signifier that creates meaning and imposes truth on the rest of humanity. More often than not, at A&M, this white, europeanized, Christian, heterosexual, upper middle class male represents the exact center that is being deconstructed throughout the majority of postmodern theory. The invisible "center" that is so prominent at Texas A&M, if not given the opportunity to reflect and wrestle with these concepts, will immediately resist and shut down for the entire semester.

In sociology, we spend so much time deconstructing the center that we think it is common sense. We often discuss race, class, and gender so much that we forget that most of our students have not spent much time interrogating their subject position. We need to extend a little bit a grace and allow them the opportunity to step away from their subject position and observe the effects of not interrogating the projection of personal truth as absolute truth. After we give them this freedom, then we can begin to discuss ideas like white privilege, the evils of colonization, the disastrous effects of capitalism on the marginalized other, and the marginalization of women and homosexuals.

What has worked: 

One of the ways I have attempted to do this has been to have my students keep a weekly journal in which they reflect upon the readings and our discussion in class (an idea i stole from my masters thesis chair). This way they are able to flesh out what is going on in their heads and explore ideas that don't necessarily align with theirs. I grade, not based upon right answers, but upon a general understanding of the readings and the depth of their reflections. These journals are priceless to me as the teacher and to the students, as individuals wrestling with their personal world views.

FIVE: Take advice from Weber and Use Verstehen

Give your students the freedom to be wrong.

Create an environment where discussion is free and open. Necessary to the attempt to wrestle with new ideas is the opportunity to be wrong and to say it out loud. Sometimes we only become aware of our latent racism, sexism, and homophobia when we say something out loud - when we hear the words come out of our mouth and witness the reaction of others. The opportunity to be wrong necessitates the appropriate response. Instant condemnation will stifle any authentic conversation for the rest of the semester. This is a fragile situation in the classroom. What is the best way to respond? I am not completely sure, but I do think that it requires a little of Weber's verstehen, aka, empathy. If we have taken the time to understand the student's subject position, then we should not be surprised when something offensive is said - it is our response that transforms this into a teachable moment.

What has worked: 

The journals are incredibly helpful with this. When I read through them, I am able to ask questions and provide other points of view that are directly positioned to meet them where they are at.

Also, when an individual student provides an opinion that reflects racism or sexism, I reinterpret the statement in a general cultural way and comment on how society holds these beliefs, how they reflect the structural-cultural dimensions of racism, use it an an opportunity to discuss how opinions are formed and become cemented in culture as common sense. At the same time, we should not hesitate to call racism racism and sexism sexism. There is a lot of talk about what it mean to be white.

SIX: Teach Theory Holistically

Continue to discuss topics and theories even if you you think they have understood them.

It is easy to cover a topic or a reading and move on to the next one. However, simply covering the topic does not provide enough opportunity to reflect and wrestle with the ideas. It is important to keep revisiting terms and concepts and connect the reading together throughout the semester. In an attempt to create a holistic class experience, I decided not to teach by concept, rather we continued to read theorists from different perspectives throughout the semester. Each week we may read feminist, socialist, deconstructionists, ethnomethodoligists, postmodernists, race, capitalist. functionalists, and structuralists in conjunction with each other. This way, we don't just discuss economics one week, feminist theory the next, then race, then postmodernity, then globalization, and then religion. By continuing to take up the variety of subjects that cut to the core of our lived experience, each subject matter is placed in relation to the other. We are able to explore how economic and political structures interact with race and gender, media, culture, the historical development of philosophical ideas, and religion are continually interacting to construct our social realities - how those realities are cemented within our collective conscious - lead to invisible oppresive structures - and shape our individual identities and how we interpret truth from our unique positions.

What has worked:
1. Instead of teaching the basic schools of theory, I framed the class within the modern/ postmodern debate. We started and ended with a discussion about the characteristics of modernity and postmodernity. This gave us a structure to discuss political economy, race, class, gender, religion, and media culture in a way that acknowledged the interdependency of culture and theory.

2. I chose texts that would continue to weave the various concepts and theories together throughout the semester. Our main text was a reader, Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, edited by Charles Lemert. We read excerpts of works by Horkheimer and Adorno, Max Weber, Karl Marx, Emile Durkeim, C. Wright Mills, W.E.B. Du Bois, Gunnar Myrdal, C.L.R. James, Virginia Woolf, Cornel West, Jurgen Habermas, Dorothy Smith, Michele Foucault, Zygmunt Bauman, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and others. Like I said earlier, we did not read them in a topical order, rather we read them together throughout the semester.

3. The two secondary books I chose were Speeding Up Fast Capitalism by Ben Agger and Postmodernism is Not What You Think by Charles Lemert. We would read a chapter out of one of these books each week. These two books helped me teach holistically because they continually adressed theorists and theories that encompassed the fullness of social reality.

Thus, we continued to revisit ideas and theorists throughout the entire semester. As I have learned in my students journals, this method successfully helped them to connect the dots between history, theory, and their everyday life.

Teaching is not easy in general and teaching contemporary social theory is even tougher. Postmodernism is a theoretical perpective without consensus and gender, race, religion, and politics are sensitive subject that can lead to anger, frustration, and general uneasiness (especially at Texas A&M). But, as teachers, we should embrace this puzzle by meeting our students where they are, not making assumptions, speaking an understandable language, employing empathy, giving the opportunity to struggle with the big ideas and to be wrong, and teaching holistically.

The ultimate question of philosophy is - what is the good society? I believe that teaching is a form of social activism - not in a way that seeks to change religious and political beliefs - but in a way that creates a deeper understanding of how culture, language, ideas, experiences, religions, and economics shapes who we are, what we understand to be true, and how we interact with the world to make it a better or a worse place to live. A key tenet of postmodern theory is that there is no one truth that should be privileged over another. This does not mean that there is no such thing as "truth" but that there is no such thing as an "absolute truth" that applies to every person, in every culture, and in every historical time. This is the value of postmodern theory - if we can understand the ways in which our notions of truth are shaped and reshaped, we can let go of our insistence that my truth is the best for you. In this, we are freed to understand and value the differences that exist in the world. We can stop stigmatizing and marginalizing races, religions, cultures, genders, forms of government, economic structures, and sexual orientations.

However, this is as hard for many liberals and sociologists as it is for Christians and conservatives to accept. If we live in a world of many possible truths and realities - then we should not condemn Christians simply for being Christian or Republicans for being conservative. Rather, we should interrogate and continually reevaluate our subject positions - always asking the questions about whether we are contributing to a better world, whether or not we are taking the time to consider and understand the subject position of those we disagree with. Many evils have been committed in the name of religion and free markets but many evils have also been committed in the name of equality and freedom of expression. No one person or group is bad or good in their nature. We are all people, attempting to live each day with imperfect information, irrational emotions, incomplete experiences, and with the desire to love and be loved.

Empathy makes for a better world and a better classroom,