Don’t you hate it when you are thinking about Mr. Andoscia’s class while at home, and you come up with a good question or an astute observation and decide, ‘Hey, I’ll run this by Mr. Andoscia tomorrow.’ Then tomorrow comes and you’ve forgotten the question or the astute observation. Or maybe you have a question that you would rather not ask in class. Or maybe you didn’t have a question in class, but then, in another class, or on your way home, you think of a question or a point you wish you had brought up in class. Well, with the wonders of the modern world, that’s no longer a problem. If you have a question or an observation or a point you would like to make, just fill out this form. Your question will come to my e-mail. Maybe we’ll have an “Ask Mr. A Anything” day and we can compile these and I’ll go through them. Could be an interesting YouTube thing. Who knows? I’m winging it!
Questions and Answers
4/30/2022: It’s hard to predict the future
Combing your knowledge of sociology and economics, do you think the housing market will crash soon? And do you think you could predict a rough time range for it doing so?
Hmmm. Good question. The best thing for you to do is to look up what experts in this field are saying. Housing Finance is a subfield in and of itself, and there are folks who spend their lives and make a living analyzing this one area of the economy. They can give you a better answer than I.
It looks like most experts feel that housing prices will continue to rise through this year. But, the Federal Reserve has committed to raising interest rates in increments this year. When they do so, this increases the costs of borrowing and tends to slow the economy down (which is supposed to bring down inflation). Housing is often the first market hit when the Fed tightens its monetary policy. So these experts are suggesting that after this year we should expect housing prices to start to fall. The question is, how fast will they come down. Will this be a crash, or a relatively slow and manageable decline?
So, then the underlying question: Will this cause a 2008 style recession? I don’t think so, but again, I’m not an expert in this market. It depends on what the market looks like. In 2006, with housing prices soaring, investors held multiple properties on margin, not just their personal homes. When prices started to decline, large real estate holders dumped their surplus and crashed the market…which was made worse because of the billions of dollars’ worth of securities and related derivatives that were backed by mortgages (a story a little too complex for me to deal with her. Read The Big Short and Griftopia for a better account). To my knowledge, this is not what the market looks like today.
1/18/2022: How do you stay so organized?
We were chatting about being organized and you mentioned that you were not a natural organizer yourself, except you appear rather organized and I get the impression that you are organized by how much you’ve accomplished in your life… so I was wondering if you had any tips, tools, mindsets, etc. that you would suggest because I’m at a point in my life that in order to be successful the way that I’d like to be I need to get organized and implement habits that will stick with me.
Well, it doesn’t come naturally. I was, like you, a hot mess. But over the years I’ve learned some strategies for organizing my life. Most of these strategies I learned while living in a tent and also by backpacking all over the country. I follow three simple rules:
- Carry a light pack: I only keep stuff around me that I need. With few exceptions, I try to keep stuff around that I need when I need them. So I have some stuff on my desk that I use all the time. The books on my desk are only those I’m actually reading. If something is on my desk, and I haven’t touched it in a few days, it’s gone. I put it away. I do have a couple decorative things that have always been on my desk, like the rock and the owl, but I keep such things to a minimum.
- A home for everything: Everything has a place to live and wants to be home. When I take it away from its home and I stop using it…it gets sad. So, when I take something from its home I only keep it away from its home for as long as I’m using it, then I put it back. I try not to put stuff down to get to it later. That’s when stuff builds up. When the place for my stuff fills up, it’s time to get rid of some stuff. If I have something I haven’t touched in a year, it’s gone.
- Finally, the most important backpacking rule is “leave no trace.” When you go into the wilderness, the goal is to minimize your impact on the environment. When you leave an area there should be no trace you were ever there. From that I learned to restore my workspace whenever I leave the work area for the day. Put everything back. Sometimes I’ll leave things out if I know I’m going to use them the next day, but everything else is gone.
On top of that, I try to maximize my workspace. Anything I can do to give myself more space I do…like raising my laptop to get it off my desk. I’m always on the lookout for a better way to organize something.
For memory, it’s really easy. I write everything down. If I need to remember something, I usually put it in my phone right then and there. I don’t wait. I also have a leather idea book I keep with me all the time. When I have an idea I want to develop, I write it into my book. It’s been with me for years. If it’s something I want to remember, I write it down. I used to carry a little pad with me everywhere. Now that so much can be done digitally, another strategy I use is to minimize paper. I have a long history of losing stuff I write on loose paper.
Like I said before, this stuff doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m pretty good at it now, but that wasn’t always the case. It takes about a month of repetition before a behavior becomes a habit. The more you do it, the less you have to think about it. Sometimes I still find myself saying, “eh, I’ll put that away later…” I have to find ways to work around that. That’s why I use the whole “it gets sad” thing. It takes practice.
10/22/2021: ON FREUD VS. MARX VS. FOUCAULT
[from a former student] I have been doing a deep dive into philosophy recently and I had a question for you. What are your opinions on Psychoanalysis as a field specifically as it relates to Marxist Psychoanalytic thinkers like Lacan, Zizek, and to a lesser extent Fanon. I hope this year is going well, thank you!
Wow! I had put this on a back burner. I apologize. It’s been a pretty busy year. I hope all is going well.
So, my examination of psychoanalysis is mostly influence by Michel Foucault rather than the Marxist thinkers. I’ve only recently gotten into Zizek, so anything I might say about him may ring shallow at this point. I’ve never been into Fanan and know enough about Lacan to teach him as part of the postmodernist theme, but nothing with much depth. At some point maybe I’ll catch up.
Freud, to me, offered one great contribution to science and to the advancement of humanity. He understood and offered a theory about the fact that so much of our psychological functioning is outside of our control and our awareness. He posited that, to understand this “subconscious” realm of the mind we needed innovative methods for making the invisible visible. That’s really huge. The rest of his stuff, how he elaborates the theory and many of the procedures he prescribes…well, his students, I think, had much stronger contributions toward that end.
That being said, it’s no surprise that Freud’s concept of the “subconscious” may derive in part from Marx’s concept of the “false consciousness” though I don’t think Karl and Sigmund would have enjoyed a fruitful conversation about the distinctions if they met at a bar. Marx’s concept of “species being” had a much more positive, Rousseau inspired understanding of the essential human drives than did Freud, whose ideas are best summarized as a pornographic representation of Hobbes.
Still, it makes sense that if one wants to peer into the influence of ideology or hegemony on the inner workings of the individual mind—the false consciousness—it might not be a bad idea to get a scientific understanding of how this works. For many of the early Marxist scholars, that meant Freud or his students.
Foucault was more critical. He saw Freud’s introduction of psychoanalysis as the modern descendent of the Roman Catholic Confessional. In essence, psychoanalysis is a form of disciplinary power in which an individual, subject to presumably objective and scientific discourses on what constitutes normal, examines themself through this discursive lens, identify the tiniest areas in which they fall short of the accepted paradigm of normal and subject themselves to the care of experts who are then charged with normalizing them. The individual voluntarily goes to the psychoanalyst and basically confesses his/her/their naughty thoughts with the hope of curing their presumed sickness. In defining the individual not as a “contrite sinner in need of divine forgiveness” a process that can be accomplished with a single confessional and a ritualized run through the Rosary, the individual must instead submit themselves to an ongoing process of confession and regimentation in order to discipline their bodies into normalcy. Foucault saw this as enormously invasive and repressive.
For Foucault, this was most apparent in the psychoanalytical approach to sexuality, which Foucault saw as focus for the most invasive disciplinary practices.
I’m not a Foucauldian, a Marxist or a Freudian in this regard. Psychoanalysis is a tool. Just like a hammer. One can build a house or one can beat someone’s head in. I’m on team build the house—and watch your thumbs!
Sorry this was so late in coming.
5/16/2021: SOMETIMES PEOPLE LIKE TO ASK MY DAD STUFF!
4/29/2021: Sometimes Teachers ask me questions
I was wondering what you thought about this…one of my students mentioned that church attendance started declining in the 60s. (and how they took prayer out of public schools then) He was wondering if that’s why drug use and crime went up in the 60s and ever since. I said that some good things happened in the 60s though like Civil Rights act and more rights for women in the work place. He was mentioning how test scores went down and divorce rates went up…homelessness went up etc…yet standards of living are pretty good in America
Just curious what you thought there. I didn’t agree with the kid. I just mentioned how good and bad happened in the 60s
So, in sociology we use measures of religiosity. It’s a fraught term, but we use measures like church attendance, self-reporting of beliefs, etc. It’s true that church attendance is down and it’s true that those identifying as Protestant or Catholic has declined, while the number of atheists and agnostics has increased. But so is the number of “non-affiliated”. These are folks who may still be religious but not necessarily tied to a particular church. So is the United States becoming less religious? Meh. It’s pretty much a wash. Are we becoming less Christian? There seems to be some evidence, but I would argue that it’s not as much as one would think.
So that leads to the other end of the correlation. Is drug use going up? Meh. There’s been an increase in marijuana use since 2007. Of course, working class white men have upped their oxy. But overall, drug use has been pretty steady.
Crime? Nope. Crime rates are historically low. Yes, we’ve seen an uptick in violent crimes in the last couple of years…mostly localized in particular neighborhoods in particular cities. Most places in the U.S. crime is a non-issue.
Test scores. Depends on the test, but hardly a reliable measure when looking at FSA’s etc. As you are well aware, with those tests they keep changing the goal posts. NEAP results don’t really show a significant shift, though there is some improvement among 9 year-olds in math.
IQ scores have been going up significantly when you control for Socio-Economic Status.
Divorce rates have been pretty steady since the early 90’s, but marriage rates have steadily declined. So this is a wash.
And last, but not least, homelessness has been on a downward trend, though it’s been holding steady the last few years.
So what I think is that this student’s premises supporting his conclusion don’t actually support the conclusion really at any level.
On the other hand, when you look at the question geographically, Southern states tend to have higher levels of religiosity, but also tend to have higher levels of all variables above.
There’s simply no evidence to support the thesis that taking prayer out of public schools correlates to higher crime, homelessness, drug use, etc.
Furthermore, even the essential premise that prayer has been taken out of public school is subject to debate. It’s testing season. I, for one, see an awful lot of praying going on.
Maybe movies paint a picture of a white picket fence 1950s neighborhood with all the flags in a row. Definitely seems like less crime and drug use then though. I could be wrong…
We didn’t have a twenty-four hour news cycle with an “if it bleeds, it leads” clickbait mentality. In fact, our crime stats are about the same as they were in the late fifties early 60’s. There was a spike in the late 60’s and then again in the late 80’s. The only stat that is increasing is rape, but that can be explained by more women being willing to come forward and report than they were fifty years ago.
Funny you should mention drugs, though. The 1950’s was the decade of the “Beat Generation” so the fifties experienced spikes in Marijuana and Heroin. It was the 1950’s when LSD first came onto the scene. Then there was the abuse of prescription meds, amphetamines and barbs. Remember the Rolling Stones:
Mother needs something today to calm her down
And though she’s not really ill, there’s a little yellow pill
She goes running for the shelter of her mother’s little helper
And it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day
That cultural norm got its start in the 50’s. Kellogg’s even marketed “pep pills” for stay at home moms.
The difference is that there was no real “War on Drugs” as we know it. There was “Reefer Madness” in the 1930’s, but the War on Drugs that we all know and love started under the Nixon Administration. Then, according to John Ehrlichman, the goal wasn’t really about public health. It was about using drug laws to take down peace and civil rights activists.
4/15/2021: Ask Mr. Andoscia Anything Volume 1
Students submitted questions for the first every Ask Mr. Andoscia Anything. This video addresses the following questions:
- What’s your stand on blm, acab, institutionalized racism, and the actions in the year of 2020? Also, what’s your political stance? left, right, liberal, conservative, democrat, republican?
- What do we do if we fail your econ class?
- Do you think American society is headed in a good direction and progressing in regards to various social issues like racism and homophobia or in more of a bad direction and regressing?
- What are the effects of childhood trauma on adolescents and adults?
- Do you think virtual school will continue to be a thing after the pandemic?
- What are some easy ways to further economic education without going through college?
Check out my responses:
2/16/2021: To Procreate or Not to Procreate…
That is this question:
Half the reason that I wanted to take philosophy is because I like the subject, but the other half was due to a video on Youtube that discussed the concept of Antinatalism, which is the philosophical belief that it’s morally wrong to have children. There are different perspectives as to why, but that’s the general stance that any follower will take. As someone with kids, and much more knowledge than me, what are your thoughts on this stance?
All right, finally. Let me deal with this idea of Antinatalism. I’ll start off with “I call rubbish.”
And this isn’t just because I have and love my children and would hate to think I’m being irresponsible in bringing them into the world.
To deal with this I first want to address the possible arguments in favor of the position that it is morally wrong to have children. I can think of such arguments, but none of them are any good.
So, first. “The world is such an awful, dangerous place that you are simply setting your child up for a life of suffering if you were to have one.”
This is simply, objectively, not true. Especially if you happen to live in an advanced nation. If anything, the opposite is the best argument. Compared to other times in human history, now is the best time to have children. Your child, upon being born, is more likely to survive into adulthood, more likely to reach a healthy old age, less likely to die from external causes including hunger, war, disease, violence and more likely to enjoy a greater standard of living than almost everybody in history ever. Yes, there are pockets of poverty and hardship and war. If you happened to live in these places I guess an argument could be made to suggest that you shouldn’t have a child. However, that is not your reality.
The second argument I can see is that “the world is already overpopulated as it is. Every time a new child is born you are just increasing the strain on a limited planet.”
Again, this is simply not true. Yes, the way we distribute and develop resources today, there are some problems and inequities, but this is a matter of production and distribution, not overpopulation. Yes, we need to find solutions to the excesses and inequities of capitalist political economies, but the solution is not to simply die out as a species.
Indeed, when children are born, each one holds the potential to find the solutions to the problems that we face. Humanity progresses by passing on its legacy to the next generation and letting them build on the foundation that was laid thousands of years ago. That can only happen from having children.
Furthermore, a lot of our most advanced societies are currently facing a shortage of young people. That’s a problem because young people are the most productive people in any given society. We need young people to replace us old people and to add new elements to our society. New songs to sing, inventions to be made, works of art to inspire. Societies do not thrive on the old.
So I would argue that having children is not morally wrong. I would suggest, however, that in a world in which our children will almost certainly survive into fertile adulthood, we should probably limit the number of children that we have. It’s perhaps a problem if everyone were a Duggar family. Fortunately, we know what causes that now. And I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about gender equality. In most cases, where women actually have the power to control their own reproductive potential, they have fewer children. So there are natural limits to overpopulation.
If we want to be responsible stewards of the world, we should look at the consequences of our systems of production and find solutions to things like factory farming, pollution, monocultural farming, loss of biodiversity…etc. But the old ideas can only go so far. We need new ideas that come from new people.
That’s my two cents on antinatalism.
12/15/2020: Emotional Maladies
The question asked was a bit convoluted but it boiled down to this: Mr. Andoscia, how do sociologists address emotions and emotional maladies? Is it possible for individuals to just muscle through their emotional problems on their own or do we always need help from the larger society?
Okay. Some breathing room.
First things first. I’m not sure what you mean by emotional maladies. Defining an emotional state as a “malady” usually means that one’s emotional state is interfering with a perceived legitimate social performance. So then you have two variables to contend with. Is the emotion the problem, or is the social performance the problem?
Case in point. There was this one kid when I was a supervising counselor. Good kid. Lots of problems. Took a while to get to the bottom of his issues, but his counselors did a great job. He opened up after about a year of therapy and really started to grow as an individual. Shortly before he was ready to graduate from the program he started to become withdrawn. At that point we had an on-staff psychiatrist who was there to sign off on our Medicaid billing, but he often insinuated himself into our therapy program. He talked to this young man and decided that he was clinically depressed and prescribed Prozac.
The thing is, this was a kid who had been given up by his parents and had spent his life bouncing around foster care facilities and homes. All of those homes rejected him until he came to our camp. Our camp was the only place he had ever been successful and experienced healthy relationships. He was just about to graduate from the program, but didn’t even have a home to go to. None of his past foster families would take him. Oh, and it was Christmas time. So was this kid clinically depressed…or did his life just suck, for which he had every reason to be depressed? I would argue that it would have been abnormal for him to be dancing on the tables with joy…but he was defined as abnormal for being depressed despite the depressing circumstance of his life.
So here’s the conflict. You have emotions over which you can exercise relatively little control. You have a social context over which you have relatively little control. Emotional “maladies” can be defined as an emotional state that conflicts with one’s performance within a social context. You, as an emotional individual, have to find a way to balance these two elements of your life in a way that is healthy and constructive.
I would argue that just trying to deal with one element of the conflict is not going to work. That’s not a healthy and constructive solution. So just putting your emotions in check and focusing on the social context…repressing the emotion or putting a happy face on…is probably not going to work. I mean, we all do this to a certain extent. We don’t feel like going to school, but we do it and we deal with it and, often, we find that our emotions end up in line up with the social context. When this doesn’t happen, however, it’s not healthy to try to ignore it and muscle on.
At the same time, trying to avoid the social context often results in social isolation—which only makes our emotional state worse. Our inner dialogue is often an emotional dialogue. Without social interaction to prop our identities, the inner dialogue takes over. That can be a real problem if that inner dialogue is one of self-defeat.
So what can you do to align the mismatch between your emotional state and your social context? And that’s the key. Doing. If you change your actions, and your response to your social context, you can change your emotional state. It will follow. That may require you changing your social context—if possible—to allow greater agency. You may be in a situation where your emotional response is appropriate to an unhealthy social context…in which case you need to address the latter. It may mean that you have to change your ideal picture of the world to align with a more realistic expectation. It may mean something as mundane as changing your diet, or something as intensive as medication. Sometimes, with enough insight and maturity, this balancing act is something one can do for themselves, but sometimes it’s hard and requires outside help. This outside help can be family, friends, teachers, peers. It can also be counselors and therapists.
There’s no right way to align one’s emotional state with the social context to create a more healthy, well balanced personal microcosm. From introspective analysis to psychoanalysis, from applying self-help strategies to medical interventions. If they help you become a better balanced and content individual, that’s the goal. Nobody does this in isolation.
Did that explain a little better?
10/1/2020: Postmodernism? Help!
Hi Mr. Andoscia, I’m having trouble on the postmodernism slides. I know they’re late but if i’m being honest with you, i’ve been trying to avoid it because I know nothing on it (it has nothing to do with you as a teacher, I just tend to dread things that i find difficult). The videos kind of confuse me as well, and I don’t think I exactly know what Postmodernism truly means. I will watch the videos again, and see what I can grasp from them. Could you maybe explain to me what it is and how i could apply it?
I apologize for this inconvenience,
Don’t worry. You are not the only one. Postmodernism is really weird and confusing to most students. Even most academics only vaguely understand postmodernism and even postmodernists themselves debate it. So you are not alone.
So here’s what I think is the best way to understand Postmodernism.
Postmodernists begin with the assumption that society is, in essence, a collective story that those in a given society tell themselves about the society. The nature of this story has changed over time. So in pre-modern societies, the story was mostly a religious one. Members of a given society pretty much held to the same religious beliefs and the church shaped the story (postmodernists refer to this story as a “discourse” or a “narrative”).
Then this religious story started to break down. We had a few reasons for this. The Black Plague shed doubt on the value of faith. The Protestant Reformation challenged the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church. Enlightenment and humanism encouraged scientific thinking. The Renaissance brought back the works of pre-Christian, Classical thinkers. Explorers were discovering and writing about new and diverse cultures who had different ways of seeing the world, the concept of the Noble Savage. All of these things started to change the discourse from one of faith and religion to one of science and reason.
This leads us into the modern world. The dominant story was of human progress through reason and technology. Of course, the faith stories and spiritual stories didn’t go away, but mostly western societies accepted the theme of human progress and science through the modern age. Individualism, political rights, freedom, capitalism, humanism dominated the stories of the modern age and things seemed to be improving.
Then some more changes and calamities came about. World War I made us doubt the assumption of human progress and science. The Great Depression destroyed our illusions of capitalism. The rise of Fascism and Totalitarianism made us realize how fragile freedom and rights were and just how dedicated people were to these principles. Movements arose to demand tolerance for numerous identities within a single society. Mass media became a dominant institution, but not one we had much faith in. Individuals started to turn away from institutions shaping their stories and started to create their own personal stories. These personal stories are defined by consumerism, multi-culturalism, globalism and influenced by a media that has become more interactive than passive.
So postmodernism is about how unifying stories in society, what we can call meta-narratives, are breaking down and giving way to personal narratives.
But we still need to construct these personal narratives and present these personal narratives to others. So institutions like religion and the state are becoming less influential. Institutions like media and tech are becoming more influential. And institutions like family are starting to fragment.
So try to understand postmodernism as a claim that we are no longer living in a modern world bound together by industrial capitalism, reason and a unifying story of human progress. We are living in a Postmodern world of consumer capitalism and a fragmented and atomized story of personal identity.
I hope this helps.
September 13, 2020: Workers of the World…
I was just doing notes on the Labor Theory of Value in lecture 5, and you say that the value of materials is out of the capitalist’s control because they are subject to the laws of supply and demand. Is the value of labor not also out of the capitalist’s control because of supply and demand?
That is a really good question. The answer is yes…ish.
So Marx points out that the value of a product is equal to the materials M plus the labor L. So if you are a capitalist and you sell a pair of sneakers for $100, and you paid $20 for materials, then the value of the labor should be $80. But you can’t pay our workers $80 because then you can’t make a profit and there’s no reason for you to use your capital if you are only going to break even. So yes, if you can get the materials cheaper, that’s great, but that just increases the value of the labor (remember, the owner is not the one making the sneakers, she just owns the factors of production). So you are still stuck. The only way to make a profit in a capitalist society is to pay the workers less than the value of their labor.
So your question boils down to how do they do this? Shouldn’t labor also be valued according to market forces? Well, to a certain extent.
Marx goes into significant detail on this in Capital. He uses the concept of time to describe the process. So the bare minimum that a worker will work for is what he needs to survive (I’m not a big fan of this explanation, by the way, but it is the way Marx described it). In most cases, the worker can produce enough value to the goods, like sneakers, in say four hours. But in order to get paid, the worker must work a twelve hour day (this was the 19th century). So the worker adds his value to the goods in four hours, the rest of that eight hours is surplus value that the capitalist pockets.
So this doesn’t really answer your question in my opinion. How does the capitalist do this? He does it by controlling the laws and the market place. Part of this has to do with how labor is divided up. So before industrial capitalism, if you wanted a pair of shoes, you went to a shoemaker and bought a pair of shoes. The shoemaker bought the materials for $20, made the shoes and sold them to you for $100. The shoemaker makes $80 in value added. He gets 100% of the value that he added to the materials that made the shoes.
The capitalist, however, doesn’t work this way. Now, the most obvious way to transfer the added value from the worker to the capitalist is to just own slaves, and pay them nothing but what it takes to maintain them. This was, of course, the case in the Americas where a lot of labor was slave labor. There was also indenture and apprenticeships that were also a form of temporary slavery. But under capitalism we see the rise of a wage system. Marx identified this as just another form of slavery (aside: this was also the platform of the Republican Party in the mid-19th century and Abraham Lincoln’s position). Instead of a shoemaker making shoes, a capitalist uses his capital to create a shoe factory. The capitalist doesn’t hire shoemakers. The capitalist hires a bunch of poor people who are desperate for work and then deskills the work. You have an assembly line where one person cuts the leather from a pattern. Another person adds a seam. Another person adds another seam. Another person attaches the sole. Another the heal etc. Each person is paid a wage not based on the value that they added to the shoes, but rather on the time they were engaged in work which is always going to be less than the value added to the actual product.
The worker has no choice. She is not doing skilled labor. Anyone can be taught to cut leather from a pattern, so if you want the job you have to accept the wage. If not, there’s someone else who will do the work.
Then this gets more complicated as capitalists support policies that increase their pool of workers, such as early marriage, controlling access to birth control. Loose immigration policies with tight emigration policies. Tight land policies. Good ol’ fashioned racism is always good. Capitalism, in order to work, must have a glut of labor. If labor gets tight, then it gets harder and harder to impose lower wages. So to this extent, you are right. There is a supply and demand element. Marx doesn’t get into this, but Capitalism rose because of this glut of labor. People were living longer because of resources coming from the Americas. They were having more children and more people were moving from the countryside, where farm labor was less necessary, into the cities to find jobs in the factories. There were no protections for people, so poverty is, in essence, weaponized as an inducement to get people to work. This increase in people coming to the cities increases the value of housing, making the costs of living higher.
Anyway, that’s a very good question. I hope I covered it. There’s a lot going on here, and a great deal to dig into, like alienation of people doing meaningless, repetitive work to create products they do not own and often cannot afford to buy…we’ll get into this stuff.
A question just because…
What is your opinion of the Kitchen Debate of 1959 from a sociological point of view?
Okay, so just a few thoughts.
When Nikita Khrushchev took power in the Soviet Union he had a mission to really reform the violent excesses of Stalin. He even took the drastic step of denouncing Stalin for straying from the Leninist principles of the revolution. He implemented policies to loosen (which is not to be mistaken as “getting rid of”) the more censorious and authoritarian elements of the Stalinist police state. This was somewhat controversial as a great deal of the power structure in the Soviet Union was being challenged by such reforms.
That being said, Khrushchev didn’t stray from anti-American rhetoric–a good way to whip up his base and maintain his popularity. It also looks like Khrushchev was a true believer in the ultimate victory of communism over capitalism, but he was also a political realist. He was willing to reach out across the divide.
While Khrushchev was trying to disassemble the Stalinist Cult of Personality and create a more reasonable state, Richard Nixon was making his name in much the opposite direction. He was instrumental in whipping up the “Red Scare” of the late forties and fifties and an active participant in McCarthyism. He was responsible for ruining many people’s lives with his investigations. He was put on the Eisenhower ticket to show a more hard line direction against communism than Ike was famous for.
So a meeting between two stalwarts of opposing political ideas is interesting. Both were fairly adept at using the new visual mass media to effect their goals. This became a powerful symbolic moment and both played the expected roles. We have to remember that in the fifties and sixties it was not clear which system would win out. (as an aside it’s less clear why that was important. Why does one side have to ‘win out’ over the other—we face a similar zero sum discourse on China right now). Both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R were rapidly expanding their economies with the Soviet Union, a rising industrial power, growing economically a bit faster than the already established industrial United States (a pretty common thing–newly industrializing markets almost always grow faster than established industrial markets).
It’s also interesting that both sides were presenting their cases to the world by emphasizing the consumer goods and trinkets they could make available. Nixon delighted over washing machines and color tvs that capitalism can produce. Khrushchev countered that the USSR also had these trinkets or would have them in the near future. So right off we see the insinuation that freedom means buying cheap consumables.
Nixon was especially pleased with color television. Khrushchev was not quite so impressed. Nixon presented the television as a marvel of communication through which one could communicate instantly with the world (even though he was told that his conversation with Khrushchev was actually being taped). Khrushchev saw television as a means to manipulate messaging and made Nixon promise that his words would not be misinterpreted to U.S. audiences (which, I would point out, Nixon was hesitant to do).
Turns out that freedom based on consumables is pretty fleeting. After going over a transcript, Richard Nixon was very proud of the fact that an average steelworker could afford a home like those demonstrated at the fair. That is no longer the case in the United States. If freedom is predicated on the ability to buy consumables, then freedom is dependent on cost of living and wage growth. That’s a pretty leaky vessel to put much faith in it turns out.
Absent from the presentation was, of course, the Soviet gulags and Secret Police. Absent from the presentation was the Black Lists and Jim Crow. Nobody talked about the KGB or the CIA. A real discussion of human liberation was not on the table. Only a discourse on competition between empires based on productive output. Marx would point out that productive output is more often the result of exploitation and the denial of freedom and human potential rather than the opposite.
It did, however, show the world that two people from opposing camps can share a stage and talk and debate and hash out their differences. This will be crucial when it comes to Khrushchev and Kennedy just a couple years later and will be a big part of Nixon’s foreign policy successes a little more than ten years later. Two guys can meet in a kitchen…meh, not a real kitchen, a simulation of a kitchen (for my postmodernists out there) and have a civil conversation and build a relationship despite very different outlooks.
Also, People on both sides had the opportunity to see that the “enemy” wasn’t really evil. That they just had a different point of view. Whenever we can humanize each other, that’s a positive thing.