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Class War in America, and in "Global America"

              When James Carroll was in San Francisco early this recent month, he recalled a most lovely bit he'd just learned the night before.  On a book tour for his newest book, House of War, he was giving a reading for the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, and in the question-&-answer session I was first to get a question to him.  I was following-up something from a radio interview he'd done the morning of the previous day.  Then, on one of San Francisco's NPR affiliates, he'd referred to Dwight  Eisenhower's prophetic term, "the military-industrial complex."   This made sense:  Carroll's new book recounts the central role of the Pentagon in our national life since WWII.  Ike, leaving the presidency in January of 1961, had then given our national vocabulary this new coinage, urging us to beware not just the Pentagon, but its larger tentacles.  Carroll in his local NPR interview had rephrased Ike's term, expanding it to "the military-industrial-congressional-academic-media-labor-cultural complex."

              In my question, I asked about the academic part of his rephrasing.  If today's corporate academia has become one of the tentacles strangling contemporary American or global American life, equal to the other tentacles, did he see ways to change this?

              In answering, Carroll noted he'd just been in Santa Rosa the previous night, also part of his book tour for House of War.  There, one gentleman approached him, he said, who had also heard his San Francisco NPR interview.  This gentleman's father had been Dwight Eisenhower's speech writer in that long-ago, and the father had afterwards told him something apparently never otherwise on the public record.  When Ike was preparing his farewell address, he said, the term Ike originally intended to use was not simply the "military-industrial" warning that we know.  Eisenhower saw something even larger and more ominous that this, and planned to use the term "military-industrial-academic complex."  But he'd let his brother Milton see a copy of the draft, and Milton, president at the time of Johns Hopkins University, objected to Ike's targeting genteel academia.  It was still – all thought – the ivy tower.  Ike took it out.  And since then we have had lost to us any word, any term appropriate for letting us see what Ike saw as the true component parts of a most dangerously hegemonic and interlinked corporate Leviathan.

              Later in this same June I was able to pay a visit to Dr. Sanjit Sengupta, at San Francisco State University.  It had occurred to me to do this when I read the Matthew Stewart essay in June's Atlantic, on the pretenses Stewart saw built into American business education specialization.  Dr. Sengupta, while chair of SF State's College of Business marketing department, had also taken over the chair functions overseeing the dozen or so faculty who taught its business communication courses.  It took him a few weeks until he could find moments free to meet with me, but eventually this recent June he was able to do so – curious as much on his part as to why a former faculty person might still have interest in the courses there as I was curious about the ways Matthew Stewart might yet be right on the formulaic keys to college instruction.

              Meeting him in his office, I found Sanjit Sengupta a genial, pleasant personality.   He had a roly-poly body that matched his smiling ease answering my questions.  Yes, San Francisco State had gotten its "communications laboratory" up and running, as it was about to do when I left teaching there.  No, the lab did not dictate to instructors and students what they might do.  Only half the dozen or so instructors in business communication used it, asking students to video-record themselves to see their body language in group oral presentations, and to use format templates available on lab computers.  Mostly, however, the lab simply functioned for its computers available for individual work:  students enrolled in any current business communications course could use them for research and writing in any course work they pleased – a great boon, given that the primary college computer lab was virtually always overbooked and crowded.

              Nothing much had changed in the teaching of business communication, except that improvements in a centralized computer system had cleared up former problems in over-enrollments and confusions in determining course pre-requisites.  The courses yet had the same 60-40% ratio of oral to written work, with the latter still dedicated to the usual memo writing, cover letters, and similar business areas.  All still used the same range of textbooks that covered all boilerplate issues from grammar to cross-cultural sensitivity.  The only real difference under Dr. Sengupta's chairing these courses was that he had enlisted some of SF State's regular, full-time business faculty also to teach them – now covering half the courses gypsy adjuncts such as myself formerly taught.

              A few days later I realized I had omitted asking Sanjit Sengupta one question of even more interest than those I asked.  As he was a native of India, where he had gotten his initial higher education, and taught there, and in Finland and South Korea, then at the University of California at Berkeley, and San Francisco State, I wanted to ask him how often in all these other places did he notice others in the various cultures drawing upon him for any apt connections to his native Indian culture.  Were instructors interested in his experience and in linking it to their course material?  Were fellow students interested – Finnish, Korean, American, or others?

I e-mailed him.  I'd already given him my card, at our meeting those few days earlier.  I'd mentioned to him that the Essaying Differences Web site aimed at the ways nationalities might acknowledge and utilize "others."  Now I wanted to know from his own peregrinations how he had found his many "others" expanding their range in cultural communication.  As he chaired the communications courses in San Francisco State's College of Business, I was asking the same question also in regard to referencing skills – to how individuals might acknowledge others in any team event.

The e-mail bounced back next day, undeliverable – though the address had been correct.  So I reformatted the e-mail to a regular paper mail letter, and sent it that way.

After then nearly two weeks with no word from the genial Dr. Sengupta, my end-of-month deadline arrived for this Proprietor's Column.  He might be traveling on business.  He might be on some longer summer vacation.  But I could guess something else:  I'd asked a question of such idiocy for normal academics that it forbore answering.

When James Carroll earlier this recent June so serendipitously learned in Santa Rosa of Eisenhower's truly-intended moniker, "military-industrial-academic complex," he also spoke to some length next evening in San Francisco on Ike's fuller designation's aptness.  Some in the San Francisco audience weren't aware of how federal research programs so filled our academic institutions in the Cold War era.  Few Americans know how extensively together federal government and corporate interests used American campuses increasingly through the 1950s, funding programs, more and more affecting university hiring, tenure, and promotions.  Carroll explained this.  Where prestige had earlier gone to professors with scholarly treatises published in limited-circulation journals and by university presses, all began to change.  Gradually, Carroll said, elite status went instead to those getting on the growing number of foundations and think tanks.  They were corporate-funded – by the same corporations which governed America's military and industrial interests and which, further merging, also bought up virtually all our news, publishing, and entertainment interests.  Carroll's informant in Santa Rosa might qualify only for hearsay, but what he had heard from his father was on-target:  Ike was right to want to warn of our "military-industrial-academic complex" (ital of course added). 

If Dr. Sengupta was bemused by the vacuity of my question, he had orthodoxy behind him to dismiss it.  In corporate academe, as in corporate anything, all learn carefully-nurtured public behaviors – all shed of the personal.  One may flaunt desk photos of one's family, but typically (if unwittingly) these also serve one's corporate position.  The photos show not only family, but flanking them, bits of the cars, clothing, furnishings, and food that one's corporate success buoys.  Other than this, origins are personal and hidden – like one's suckling at a breast long ago, or one's sex life recently.  Outside genteel corporate life, demagogues may exploit nationalism, religious types, denominational righteousness.  Corporate souls know better:   even George W. Bush, while on one hand ever-patronizing the Christian right, on the other hand knows better than ever to cite any Gospel in connection with any public policy.  Dr. Sengupta could easily dismiss the notion that anyone in any class he'd attended in Finland, South Korea, or America might ever think to draw on him for his native cultural experience.

              During this same June that James Carroll was touring with his House of War, and Sanjit Sengupta was giving me a tour of SF State's College of Business communications lab, the U.S. Senate again voted no to any raise in the minimum wage of America's working poor.  The Senate has done thus nine years in a row.  So a person working forty hours a week all year, at the ever-frozen minimum wage, earns $10,700 per year – miring growing millions below the poverty level.  At the same time, the same senators have every year given themselves pay raises – these alone now an extra $31,000 per year over their already-high regular pay.

              This passes as normal in corporate America.  Here, thanks to corporate ethics, for years the rich have been getting richer, the poor poorer, and the middle class sinking into the part-time and no-health-insured, service-sector ranks of the poor.

              One good event this past month:  news that in San Francisco the city police have gotten funds, training, and a new fleet of seventeen motorcycles for this new fiscal year, beginning this July, for protecting pedestrian safety.  Too often pedestrians have been hit, killed, and injured crossing San Francisco streets, where cars and behemoth SUVs too typically speed and flagrantly run red lights.  Tens of thousands of these cars and SUVs come from out of town – from an-hour-and-more of driving by commuters, almost all one-per-vehicle, who live in far out in sprawlville – those new subdivisions in what used to be farms, ranches, and orchards in Silicon Valley to the south and in Marin, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties to the north and east across the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge.  All arrive in San Francisco stressed-out and super-aggravated from their time caught in the Bay-area freeway rush hours every day mammoth-congested and accident-prone.  Their adrenaline and anger has them speed on the city streets and run red lights – too often hitting, killing, and crippling pedestrians.

              The good news is not only that the new motorcycle fleet may finally give some protection to walkers and bicyclists, but also that these many souls trapped in their cars and SUVs may get some education.  Machines, as Henry Adams noted a century ago, make us part of them.  Once we submit to machinery, he suggested, we lose sight of the human – of "others."  This has happened to the speeders and red-light-runners.  It has happened to those in our government at the highest levels – all deep in the corporate imagination of our "military-industrial-academic complex" – who naively trusted that we with our super technology could go and triumphally invade Iraq as if the locals there would fall into place as easily as even our working-class Christians have lapped up their George's hucksterism.

              Power gives us the illusion we don't have to see "others" – our culture of machinery and corporate imagination let us think we have freed ourselves from or risen above all other issues of culture.  But, like the oddities of humanity it contains, non-machine and non-corporate culture also variously lives.  These other cultures live beyond the ways our machinery and corporate thinking deny us access to them, we the arrogant, dead souls locked in a spiral of class war on wider humanity and on Earth itself.

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