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Learning the Meaning of Empire

The Internet and Me

by RODOLFO F. ACUÑA

The reason why I went on Facebook was the need to get instant feedback — to learn from sources other than the academy. However, I must admit that sometimes I get frustrated with FB by the lack of critical analysis.

I think can labor on an article that may be too long – I always try to push the limits — and I get minimal comments whereas I’ll whip out a paragraph or some else’s  cartoon and the response is overwhelming. I have come to the conclusion that people want to engage but they are reluctant push themselves beyond the entertainment mode.

I blame it on the Scranton generations of teachers who don’t really push themselves or their students beyond 8 AM to 3 PM schedules. The whole of society buys into these attitudes, and for the most part the family dinner has been replaced by television sets that are approaching movie screen proportions. The day when you did not get up from the table until excused has gone the way of the typewriter.

In all fairness I cannot blame television.

I began to think about how the internet changed my career recently when a FB friend posted the following question:

Elia Esparza: Prof. Rudy Acuña how would your career/life differ had the Internet and social media had existed during the beginning of your career? We’re blessed to have easy access to you today but I wonder how it would have been early on for you.

I had never really thought this question through and my first reaction was typical Facebook and I responded from the hip.

Rudy Acuña: ‘Good question. Without a doubt before the internet I was forced to focus on narrower topics.’[Throughout my career I have taken on a wide range of topics and disciplines such as migration, pedagogy and historical events that has in great part been as a result of the internet. Aside from publishing books I have written columns for major newspapers and currently have a blog site rudyacuna.net] I continued, ‘Access to electronic material in libraries gave me more flexibility. I have been very fortunate and have 22 published books. My main obstacle has always been time; teaching four different classes a week cut into my time. The lack of research funds limited me. I also spent a lot of time working with community and activist organizations. So the internet definitely helped. I probably would have written more books and cut down my driving time to libraries. But at the same time I like teaching more than research. That would have remained the same. You know, there is nothing like a live audience. The singer Al Jolson would have the lights in the audience turned up so he could see the faces. Do doubt the internet has allowed me to read more from different venues and in that way has radicalized me. It makes me think of different possibilities.

Learning is life and the internet helps you to explain the whys. For instance, I doubt whether in my early career I would have gotten as much out of the Arizona experience. Arizona has always been a racist state with the white inhabitants resenting Mexicans feeling somehow that Mexicans were trespassing. There have always been a fair number of snowbirds who would come to Arizona to escape the harsh Midwest and East Coast winters and lacked a historical memory.

In 2010 the perfect storm occurred as xenophobes led an assault on Mexican Americans and immigrants. The suddenness and viciousness of this attack caught a lot of people off guard as extremists in form of the Tea Party and Minutemen captured the Republican Party and cowered Blue Dog Democrats.

Because I believed and believe that these wars have to be led by an organic leadership I was forced to form support groups from afar. The extremes of these xenophobic groups and their vulgar nationalism eventually played into our hands and recent events saw John Huppenthal and Tom Horne voted out of office.

Horne and Huppenthal were aligned with the extremists who passed SB 1070, the anti-immigrant bill and HB 2281 that outlawed ethnic studies and Mexican American studies in particular.  They pushed stupidity to the edge banning books which included Shakespeare and one of my titles, Occupied America.

Early in my career my explanations would have been more simplistic –“they were rednecks” (which itself is an offensive and stereotypical term).  My internet reading allowed me to break out of this one-dimensional mindset and explain the roles of the Koch brothers, ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and the banks in this nativism.

Their motivation was privatization: the arrest of thousands of Mexican immigrants assured the prisons would be filled, the failure of the education system to insure future clients (prisoners), an uninformed electorate would let the banks make millions from laundering illegal money which was made from gun running, and lastly an uneducated electorate would insure low or no taxes for special interests. The Tea Party and the Minutemen and the other locos were a smokescreen.

Currently I am engaged in a fight against the privatization of higher education. I along with my cohorts have taken on California State University at Northridge where students are being systematically excluded and ripped off by high tuition. In many ways CSUN resembles Arizona with everyone getting their cut.

The internet has given me greater access to understanding what privatization and neo-liberalism are throughout the world, and it has allowed me to see Arizona globally. I can more effectively follow the money. I did not have this access to knowledge early on in my career. Only the rich had the privilege to be so briefed.

Presently I am struggling through why Europeans and Latin American students can recognize the threat of privatization and neo-liberalism so vividly and American students walk around in a trance. Why are Americans so civil (compliant)?  It is the system.

The key is in how Empires function. The Spaniards invaded and colonized Mexico. The name of the game was to control the native people. In order to do this it had to restructure Indian societies using race and patriarchy. Many of the Indians lived in clans that the Spaniards replaced by the nuclear family which was male dominated.  In the native society men and women were usually  the same age when they married. In the new society frequently males were in their 20s and females as young as 14.

With a greater information base you come to realize that American attitudes and values  enable the Arizona’s of this world.  Why else would Americans so readily take from the poor to give to the rich?

Individualism and a take care of our own mentality spawns a legion of phobias. Parts of Europe and the rest of the world are communitarians where public safety generally comes first. They find merits in cooperation and collective enterprises versus the U.S. model of individualism.

Communitarianism is a philosophy that emphasizes the connection between the individual and the community” that is understood in the wider sense of interactions between a community of people in a geographical location. Here in the United States people are obsessed with taxes and that the poor may benefit from them. In Europe many conservatives see it as a public health issue. Travelling through Spain and Germany I was struck that few people complained about paying 30/40 percent of their wages in taxes. In return they got free health care, good transportation, free university etc. Many viewed these as rights. In the U.S. it is a communist conspiracy or an immigrant scheme to rob Americans.

The present tension in Europe is between communitarianism and the American neo-liberal model. At the beginning of my career, my world was confined to one newspaper, the LA Times. The internet took me into a global society releasing me from my chains.

Yes, Elia Esparza my life would have been different if I had had the internet; I would have left my ranchito (academe) earlier and learned the meaning of Empire much earlier in my career.

RODOLFO ACUÑA, a professor emeritus at California State University Northridge, has published 20 books and over 200 public and scholarly articles. He is the founding chair of the first Chicano Studies Dept which today offers 166 sections per semester in Chicano Studies. His history book Occupied America has been banned in Arizona. In solidarity with Mexican Americans in Tucson, he has organized fundraisers and support groups to ground zero and written over two dozen articles exposing efforts there to nullify the U.S. Constitution.