Posts related to the 1960s Expedition

Professor who came to Montana in 1969

Another migrant to Montana is mentioned (in footnote #10) in a useful article,The crisis of modernism in “the Last Best Place”, by UM art professor Jim Todd:

An interesting case, which exposed some of the differences between UM’s and MSU’s attitudes toward political dissension was that of Ron Perrin. Perrin was a professor of philosophy from Vermont hired at MSU in 1969. He was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and left the Bozeman university when it was made clear to him by the administration that because of his political views he could never expect to receive tenure. In 1972, despite the public controversy over Perrin’s politics, he was hired by the UM philosophy department. Perrin currently teaches at UM and received the UM Outstanding Teachers’ Award in 1986. Another example of the differences between UM and MSU was their treatment of Leslie Fiedler. Fiedler was an English professor at UM, and a controversial literary critic. In 1960, he was invited by the MSU chapter of the AFT to speak at the Bozeman university. In reaction to Fiedler’s reputation in the state, MSU president Roland Renne vetoed Fiedler’s lecture, forcing him to speak off campus.

I was enrolled in the UM philosophy department in 1973, and Perrin was viewed as something of a hero by the professors who taught my classes. I was a Vietnam vet and not very enamored of campus or other politics, so I have no real knowledge of what was going on.

It does seem to me that interviews with Perrin and others about their experience of Montana at that time would be important. If you have a student or a small team of students who would like to conduct such an interview (with prof Perrin or others), I’ll be glad to help--ranging from developing question sets to providing transportation and documentation).

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 11/01 at 02:08 AM
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Unabomber asked the right questions, according to Canadian professor

Since Ted Kaczynski left Berkeley and came to Montana in 1971, he fits the profile of a sixties migrant to Montana that I suggested earlier. The Unabomber, the Economics of Happiness, and the End of the Millennium is an article by Nebosja Kujundzic and Doug Mann at the University of Aberdeen that is clearly sympathetic with Kaczynski’s dark vision of industrial civilization, if not with his violent methods:

The Unabomber’s Manifesto stands out as the most radical version of the Neo-Luddite movement. The latter is driven by a growing concern that modern technology has assumed a life of its own, a life that is not only impossible to control but that threatens to engulf humanity and eventually lead it down the path of certain destruction. Only with this concern in mind can the big philosophical questions, mentioned earlier in this paragraph, be answered. These are, in our mind, the lessons worth learning from the Unabomber’s Manifesto.

The authors seem to be unhappy, and they are drawn toward Kaczynski’s explanation that it’s capitalism and technology that’s to blame:

The Unabomber seems to be suggesting that we return to an unpolished, uncivilized, more self-reliant state in order to inject fresh capital into the economics of human happiness. Political ideologies will not aid us in escaping from the dark wood of error that is the technological-industrial system: the socialist experiments in the former Eastern bloc have proven this quite well. The alienation, the never-ending restlessness, the feeling that we are never “at home” under late capitalist consumer economies, despite the obvious (in an historically comparative sense, at least) affluence all around us, has systemic or structural causes. As the Unabomber says:

The system does not and cannot exist to satisfy human needs. Instead, it is human behavior that has to be modified to fit the needs of the system. This has nothing to do with the political or social ideology that may pretend to guide the technological system. It is the fault of technology, because the system is guided not by ideology but by technical necessity. (U119)

There seems to me quite a lot of silliness laced through this article, but it’s a silliness that’s quite common today. Analyzing this piece, as part of a discussion about some sixties ideas and Kaczynski, might be worthwhile. I wonder whether Mozart felt trapped because the technical demands of getting music from tight strings struck by small hammers forced him to modify his behavior to fit the needs of the technology--i.e., he needing to learn to play the piano.

I concede that technology doesn’t guarantee our happiness, but then, I don’t often meet people who think that it does. Neither do I meet many people who would expect our happiness to suddenly increase if we did away with our advanced technology. Though the authors say that to dismiss the unabomber’s writing because of his actions is to commit an ad hominem fallacy, I’m rather of the mind that when a man’s thinking leads him to commit atrocities it’s not unreasonable to suspect his thinking has gone awry.

The interesting question for me isn’t whether or not Kaczynski gets it wrong. Rather, I’m interested in where, exactly, his thinking begins to get him in trouble.

If I used this article with students, I would have them identify the key beliefs and assumptions the authors have, list them on the board, then ask the question, “are these true?” We would then work on defining some of the key terms, such as “technology” and “the system.” We would then identify what seminal thinkers have said about the issues Kaczynski raises.

This preparation would get students to the point where they could frame quite interesting questions to ask of people who migrated to Montana in the sixties because they wanted they felt a longing for the “simpler” life of the country.

The process of forming questions and figuring out how they might be investigated might also model for kids how to use reason and research to avoid getting caught up in rants. This is getting to be a basic survival skill in today’s world.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/28 at 12:16 PM
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Montana Dreaming: a play about the Unabomber as a sixites icon

So, here we have a play about the unabomber, with the title Montana Dreaming, of which the author says “Ted Kaczynski embodies the original energy of that era [the Sixties] in many ways—as recent news from Seattle also ought to show. In some instructions for the actors of Montana Dreaming, he described some of the ways the Unabomber may have been influenced by the values of the ‘Sixties’. . .”

He makes it clear that he doesn’t really agree with the Unabomber. Well, on some things.

The playwright seems to have a nostalgic hankering for the good old days when radical politics--along with sex, drugs, and rock and roll--filled his life with meaning. Now he’s moved to say that “the almost certain prospect that our contempt for ecology and the environment, combined with unceasing population growth and never-ending industrial and technological expansion, will sooner or later bring this planet and all its inhabitants to a climax totally outstripping the imagination of mere Armageddons by our most rabid fantasists.”

“Montana Dreaming” seems to be a play that holds Montana as some sort of last best place--a refuge from a post-sixties world that did not stop its technological project. Its apocalyptic pessimism tends to justify Kaczynski’s actions, it seems.

Has such a dream brought others here, besides Kaczynski?

I image that if the thesis of this play were brought up for analysis in a typical high school classroom in Montana, the usual positions would be taken quite quickly--with conservative students pointing out the benefits of technology and liberal students championing the care of the environment as a core value. Such a familiar framing of the question would likely lead people to rehearse their familiar positions. It would probably do more harm than good, creating yet another forum for contention without leadig to better ideas. Students easily repeat the opinions of people they admire. They may be vexed when confronted with facts or arguments they can’t really counter, but being vexed doesn’t necessarily lead to better thinking.

It may be more interesting to bring the question down to a local level, and then to list the people most likely to shed light on the question. If the question is, should the people in Lincoln (or Chester, or Libby, or White Sulphur Springs) draw and line and say “no” to further technological and economic development, as some Amish have done, then whose opinions might be most interesting to explore? We might ask, which areas of life make the strongest claim for technological progress? Medicine? Agriculture? Which areas might make the strongest claim for halting the technological project? Conservationists? Some Native Americans?

Once students have created such a list, they can then begin identifying particular people--physicians, farmers experimenting with new cropping techniques, environmental activists, and so on. Then students can interview the various people they’ve identified and report the various points of view, perhaps putting them together in a presentation. The classroom goal would be to accurately represent the various points of view. This would allow students to follow carefully the thinking of the most articulate and well-informed spokespersons in the community, with the charade of classroom “debates”. By approaching the problem as scholars or journalists rather than as activitists or advocates, they would get the space to listen and think.

Debating has always been a rather annoying pedagogical practice, I think, and today’s students who have seen many cable news shows have likely imbibed a toxic notion of debate. Most of these shows parade shameless partisans who incoherently and illogically strive for clever or memorable phrases. Reason and evidence don’t count for much.

We teachers need to slow things down. We need to model thinking. We need to help students ask the basic questions: Who do we need to listen to? What is they are trying to say? What do they offer as evidence? What are the questions we have for them? Do their answers satisfy?

My dream of what Montana could be has everything to do with the sort of life we could make here if we taught our kids to practice such basic habits of intelligence.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/28 at 11:50 AM
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