Challenges and Dilemmas of the Public Intellectual

Apr 07

Thinking over Barry’s assignment last night, I would say that there are three key lessons I have learned:       – The first is that truths only become true through action.       – The second is that to get at the truth, one must sometimes resort to unorthodox research methods.         – And the third is that one must accept that there is an inevitable and permanent tension between theory and practice, between thought and action, between truth and power, and thinking that this tension can be eliminated is one of the worst illusions a public intellectual can fall into. Truths only Become True through Action Let us take up the first, that truths need action to become true. This was perhaps brought home decisively to me by the events in Seattle in late November and early December 1999.  In the decade prior to Seattle, there were a lot of studies, including UN reports, that questioned the claim that globalization and free market policies were leading to sustained growth and prosperity.  Instead, the data showed that globalization and pro-market policies were promoting more inequality and more poverty and consolidating economic stagnation, especially in the global South. However, these figures remained “factoids” rather than facts in the eyes of academics, the press, and policymakers, who dutifully repeated the neoliberal mantra that economic liberalization promoted growth and prosperity.  The orthodox view, repeated ad nauseam in the classroom, the media, and policy circles were that the critics of globalization were Luddites or, as Thomas Friedman disdainfully called us, believers in a flat earth. Then we had the massive anti-globalization demonstrations in Seattle that led to the collapse of the Third Ministerial of the World Trade Organization.  It was not just a ministerial that collapsed but a creed that had been believed to be true. After Seattle, the press began to talk about the “dark side of globalization,” about the inequalities and poverty being created by globalization.  After that, we had the spectacular defections from the globalist camp, such as those of the financier George Soros, the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, the star economist Jeffery Sachs.  Then came the widely publicized findings a year and a half ago of two independent sources—a study...

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Debate on the Future of the WSF

Apr 01

Following the first "Global Day of Action", which took place on January 26th, and after 7 years of existence, the World Social Forum is in debate. Read and participate in the debates >>>    The World Social Forum  at the Crossroads by Walden Bello>>>   The WSF as  "Moment" by Walden...

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