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  • Jefferson23 (2420 posts)
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    Norman Finkelstein: The Idea of Utopia
    Featured Event
    Wednesday, March 15, 2017 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
    Central Library, Brooklyn Collection

    The Idea of Utopia” is a free ten-week class offered as part of BPL’s Library School series taught by Norman Finkelstein.
    Humanity is facing unprecedented crises. Whether it be the prospect of climate catastrophe, massive unemployment and underemployment, or endless war, unless we think in big and innovative ways, a dim future awaits us.  However, Bernie Sanders’s candidacy as well as Donald Trump’s victory suggest that Americans are ready for radical change. Although Sanders lost, he came much closer to winning than anyone could have predicted a year ago, and the political Revolution he inspired is bringing more and more people into the streets every day. Meanwhile, Trump was elected even though Wall Street and the billionaire class opposed him, political elites in the Republican and Democratic party opposed him, and the corporate media opposed him. Even if the outcome might be depressing, the fact is, Trump’s was the first truly democratic election in modern American history: it was the people not the Tweedle Dee Tweedle Dum Establishment that decided the winner. The challenge now is to galvanize the American people with a vision of the future that is both practical and sweeping.

    The sociologist Max Weber famously said, “All historical experience confirms the truth that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible.”  In this 10-week class, we will explore the possibilities of the impossible by reading Thomas More’s UTOPIA, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s anti-utopian NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND.  It will not be a lecture class but, instead, will be based on a close, interactive reading and analysis of salient passages in the texts.  The class will hopefully walk away with the belief that a better future is possible, but also cautious about solutions that might create more harm than good.

    Students in the course will receive copies of the texts. Registration is limited to 20 students.

    Class will meet in the Brooklyn Collection Reserve Room on the 2nd floor on the following Wednesdays (*note the break between March 22nd and April 5th):

    March 8th, March 15th, March 22nd, April 5th, April 12th, & April 19th

    April 26th, May 3rd, and May 10th class site TBD.
    Age Group: Adults

    more: http://normanfinkelstein.com/2017/03/11/finkelstein-to-teach-course-on-utopia-and-its-critics-in-new-york/

    FanBoy, Mom Cat like this

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7 replies
  • Mom Cat (6154 posts)
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    1. Makes me wish that I was in NYC! I hope that it is taped.

         NEVER FORGET      BERNIE WON!          
    • Jefferson23 (2420 posts)
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      2. I'm in CT and I can't make it. I hope he tapes it too!

      I thought it sounded great, love the work he’s going to cover.

    • Jefferson23 (2420 posts)
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      • Mom Cat (6154 posts)
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        6. Oh! Thanks so much! I can't wait to see it!

             NEVER FORGET      BERNIE WON!          
        • Jefferson23 (2420 posts)
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          7. You're welcome. The first 30 minutes are kind of drawn out..introductions

          and all. It’s a nice mix of people, reminds me what you would see in a forum like JPR. Different mix of ages, backgrounds and education levels….different interests, careers. When they begin with the material Finkelstein selected, its read aloud and then discussed and in the context of real time politics today. I enjoyed it..looking forward to the other classes.

  • Jefferson23 (2420 posts)
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    4. Notes from Underground Fyodor Dostoevsky

    * For the purpose of context to the classes:

    Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
    The Fallacies of Rationalism and Utopianism
    Throughout the novel, the Underground Man makes a convincing case against the “rational egoists” and utopian socialists of his era, who claimed that the application of reason alone could perfect the world. Believing that destructive behavior results from a misguided sense of profit, these theorists thought that if everyone in the world understood what was really in their best interests, they would never do anything irrational or destructive. If the natural laws that governed human behavior could be understood, through reason, utopia would indeed be attainable.

    The Underground Man opposes such a view because he believes that it underestimates the human desire for free will. He argues that humans value the ability to exert their own will—even if it runs contrary to their best interests—more than they value reason. The Underground Man’s masochistic tendencies illustrate this theory. Rather than submit to the “law of reason” that dictates that only doctors and dentists can cure liver disease and toothaches, the Underground Man prefers to suffer his ailments in silence, even though this decision only brings him more pain. This example is absurd, almost parodic, but it emphasizes the Underground Man’s point about human nature. Dostoevsky himself was highly suspicious of utopian socialists, worrying that their desire to codify rational human behavior ignored the complex nature of human beings. The freedom these utopian socialists preached could too easily lead to total uniformity—a uniformity that could lead to totalitarianism.

    The Artificiality of Russian Culture
    By the middle of the nineteenth century, the Russian social and intellectual elite had been imitating western European culture for decades. A nineteenth-century Russian man was considered “developed” and “educated” if he was familiar with the literary and philosophical traditions of Germany, France, and England. The Underground Man, with his intelligence, consciousness, and sense of the “beautiful and lofty” (a term borrowed from European philosophers Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant), considers himself a “developed man of the nineteenth century.” He tells us that, in his youth, he tried rather earnestly to live by the ideals he found in European literature and philosophy. Though Dostoevsky may have shared this fascination with European culture in his own youth, by the time he wrote Notes from Underground, he had decided that such pervasive European influence on Russia was destructive. Captivated by the West, Russian intellectuals had lost touch with the true Russian way of life the peasants and lower-class workers still practiced. To restore national unity and harmony, Dostoevsky called for a “return to the soil,” emphasizing Russian values of family, religion, personal responsibility, and brotherly love over European “enlightenment,” scientific progressivism, and utopianism. The Underground Man’s European influences are partially responsible for driving him “underground,” as his attempts to live by a foreign set of values meet with failure and frustration.

    Paralysis of the Conscious Man in Modern Society


    • Jefferson23 (2420 posts)
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      5. Utopia Sir Thomas More

      * For context purposes only:

      General Summary
      Note: The characters of More, Giles, and Morton all correspond in biographical background to actual historical people, Sir Thomas More (author of Utopia), the Humanist thinker Peter Giles, and former Chancellor of England Cardinal John Morton. The fictional characters of the book, however, should not be considered to be direct translations of these historic personalities to the page. In particular, the character of More should not be taken to hold the same views as Sir Thomas More himself. For the purpose of the following Summaries and Commentaries, the name More will refer to the fictional character while Sir T

      Thomas More refers to the author.

      More travels to Antwerp as an ambassador for England and King Henry VIII. While not engaged in his official duties, More spends time conversing about intellectual matters with his friend, Peter Giles. One day, More sees Giles speaking to a bearded man whom More assumes to be a ship’s captain. Giles soon introduces More to this new man, Raphael Hythloday, who turns out to be a philosopher and world traveler. The three men retire to Giles’s house for supper and conversation, and Hythloday begins to speak about his travels.

      Hythloday has been on many voyages with the noted explorer Amerigo Vespucci, traveling to the New World, south of the Equator, through Asia, and eventually landing on the island of Utopia. He describes the societies through which he travels with such insight that Giles and More become convinced that Hythloday would make a terrific counselor to a king. Hythloday refuses even to consider such a notion. A disagreement follows, in which the three discuss Hythloday’s reasons for his position. To make his point, Hythloday describes a dinner he once shared in England with Cardinal Morton and a number of others. During this dinner, Hythloday proposed alternatives to the many evil civil practices of England, such as the policy of capital punishment for the crime of theft. His proposals meet with derision, until they are given legitimate thought by the Cardinal, at which point they meet with great general approval. Hythloday uses this story to show how pointless it is to counsel a king when the king can always expect his other counselors to agree with his own beliefs or policies. Hythloday then goes on to make his point through a number of other examples, finally noting that no matter how good a proposed policy is, it will always look insane to a person used to a different way of seeing the world. Hythloday points out that the policies of the Utopians are clearly superior to those of Europeans, yet adds that Europeans would see as ludicrous the all-important Utopian policy of common property. More and Giles do disagree with the notion that common property is superior to private property, and the three agree that Hythloday should describe the Utopian society in more detail. First, however, they break for lunch.