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Parenti does Culture
"To understand a society we need to understand the problem of culture as well as that of power."

Mickey Z / GNN | April 12 2006

Every time I get a review copy of a new book in the mail, I’m reminded that the only difference between a so-called critic and your garden variety reader is this: the critic didn’t have to pay for the damn book. So it was when Michael Parenti’s latest, “The Culture Struggle,” arrived last month. From where I sit, Parenti is at the top of his game…still producing fresh concepts and vivid prose, still challenging readers of all stripes. But, since this is merely my opinion and the idea here is to share Parenti’s opinion, I’m going to let his words do the talking.

“Culture should be thought of as a changing process, the product of a dynamic interplay—even serious struggle—between a wide range of social and political interests,” says Parenti. “To understand a society we need to understand the problem of culture as well as that of power. And, conversely, to understand culture we also need to take note of how power is used in society, toward what end and for whose benefit and at whose cost.”

Here’s a little of what he writes on science: “Science occupies an unusual place in society, for its methods can transcend the confines of culture … scientific endeavor is often distorted by entrenched interests or by the prevailing ideological climate. What gets funded and promulgated may have little to do with disinterested inquiry… Over the centuries, scientific innovators have paid dearly for maintaining views that have rubbed against the more orthodox precepts.”

On education:

“I once taught a mass media class at Cornell University. Midway through the course some students began to complain that they were getting only one side, one perspective. I pointed out that, in fact, the class discussions engaged a variety of perspectives and some of the readings were of the more standard fare. But the truth was, admittedly, that the predominant thrust of the class and assigned readings was substantially critical of the mainstream media and of corporate power in general. Then I asked them, ‘How many of you have been exposed to this perspective in your many other social science courses?’ Of the forty students—mostly seniors and juniors who had taken many other courses in political science, economics, history, sociology, psychology, anthropology, and mass communications—not one hand went up (a measure of the level of ideological diversity at Cornell). Then I asked the students, ‘How many of you complained to your other instructors that you were getting only one side?’ Again not a hand was raised, causing me to say, ‘So your protest is not really that you’re getting only one side but that, for the first time, you’re departing from that one side and are being exposed to another view and you don’t like it.’ Their quest was not to investigate opinion heterodoxy but to insulate themselves from it.”

On objectivity and the importance of dissent:

“Can we ever think that one subjective, imperfect opinion is better than another? Yes, as a rough rule of thumb, dissident opinions that are less reliant on the dominant paradigm are likely to be more vigorously tested and challenged. People approach the heterodox viewpoint with skepticism, assuming they ever get a chance to hear of it. Having been conditioned to the mainstream orthodoxy most of their lives, they are less inclined to place their trust automatically and unthinkingly in an unfamiliar analysis, one that not fit their background assumptions. They even will self-censor it by tuning out. If given the choice to consider a new perspective or mobilize old arguments against it, it is remarkable how quickly start reaching for the old arguments. All this makes dissent that much more difficult but that much more urgent.”

Trust me, this is just a small taste of what this slim volume has to offer. Following on the heels of his recent book, “Superpatriotism,” Michael Parenti is at his best when offering far more than just another laundry list of the facts being ignored by mainstream sources. “The Culture Struggle” is a book of ideas and—although this is just my opinion—a book of essential and equal value to both the “I’ve-heard-it-all” activists and those drowning in an ocean of propaganda.


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