October 31, 2014

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Occupiers check Objectivist Society

Protesters from the University of Massachusetts labor studies department and the Occupy UMass movement came out in droves  to demonstrate at the lecture “Global Capitalism and a Solution for World Oppression and Poverty” presented by SUNY Purchase and Marist College professor of philosophy Andrew Bernstein.

Protesters interrupted the lecture repeatedly over the course of the first hour, hindering the speaker’s ability to present the full breadth of his presentation, and testing the restraint of attendees on both sides of the issue.

Event host the New England Objectivist Society and the UMass Republican Club were prepared for the interruptions. Two off-duty police officers were hired as security stood by the doors in the hallway outside Bartlett 65 prior to the presentation. The officers would later be joined by two other officers.

Bernstein, author of “The Capitalist Manifesto” and “Capitalism Unbound,” explained that under capitalism, one maintains total control of his or her own life, instead of handing that privilege over to the state or even God. Throughout the lecture he used the success of Hong Kong’s capitalistic economy following Japan’s occupation of the region during World War II as a model for third-world development under the auspices of free-trade and self-regulating markets.

Bernstein explained in the 40 years following Japan’s occupation, Hong Kong’s “economic progress was one of the greatest success stories of history. Hong Kong developed successful industries in textiles, electronics, plastics, watches and clocks. It became one of the leading financial centers of East Asia. By 1996, its per capita income was 137 percent that of its former mother-country, Great Britain.”

Five minutes into the lecture multiple protesters rose from their seats, in unison declaring, “This is a mic check.”

The rest of the protesters, who remained seated during this portion of the presentation called back, “This is a mic check,” amplifying the message in volume and in repetition. The call and response technique was used to orate the contents of a small pamphlet distributed by the protesters prior to the presentation.

Bernstein seemed prepared for and initially unphased by the interruption, casually stepping back from the podium and seating himself on the edge of the stage. His patience would later reach a threshold in the question and answer session following the lecture, when remaining opponents of his position on capitalism filled the allotted time with longwinded soliloquys as opposed to time he felt should be used for questions directed towards him.

Members of the UMass Republican Club found their restraint tested throughout the night as well.

One member screamed obscenities across the aisle, telling the protesters to quiet down and berated them for the disrespect he felt on behalf of the organization. Others took to the microphone and the pulpit without hesitation.

Harrison Searles, a senior studying economics and philosophy and also a Daily Collegian columnist, took the microphone in an attempt to lecture and derail the protesters simultaneously. The attempt was quickly quieted as the sheer volume and solidarity of the outnumbering protesters proved insurmountable for Searles.

The first round of protesters, who were led by student labor studies leaders, was allowed by security to read their pamphlet in its entirety, before they vacated the lecture hall on their own volition in a coordinated demonstration of disapproval.

Shortly afterwards, Bernstein continued his presentation in a lecture hall that’s attendance had shrunk approximately in half. Another protester declared a new mic check minutes after that, but was allowed considerably less leeway by security before she was escorted out by police officers.

In a pattern that persisted for 60 minutes of the 90-minute presentation, protesters allowed the speaker to shortly return to his presentation before abruptly declaring the next “mic check.” Some reiterated the pamphlet’s message verbatim while others led protesters in call-and-response counter-points to the lecturer’s subject matter.

Protesters peacefully complied with security forces who escorted them out of the hall with increasing swiftness.

Tensions rose among the contesting ideologues as the protests continued. On the way out of the auditorium, one of the protesters appeared to kneel down in the aisle on her way out and engage in an argument with Searles.

The protester shrieked for security as she stormed out of the auditorium declaring that he had placed his hands on her. Security escorted Searles out of the auditorium. Shaking with frustration, he punched the brick-and-mortar hall wall outside the auditorium before stepping out of the building with an off-duty officer to calm down.

Searles returned to the lecture soon after. No charges were pressed.

The confrontation characterized the air of frustration that mounted in the auditorium hinged on the fulcrum of a disparity of beliefs as to one’s responsibility to one’s livelihood in an increasingly competitive global world.

Protesters lambasted the far-reaching moral implications of buying into a system that allows one country to prosper while less developed ones struggle for the most basic means of sustenance. Supporters of Bernstein’s lecture, as well as Bernstein himself, argued for a not yet seen perfect capitalist system that preserves individual liberties in a free market system as a solution to the woes of underdeveloped nations backed by the examples of Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.

“Emotion is good,” said Bernstein. “I believe in robust spontaneous emotion, even anger. But what they should have done was say Dr. Bernstein, come back in the spring and challenge me to a debate.”

Defending his position on capitalism further Bernstein explained in an interview following the lecture, “I believe in the moral perfectibility of the human race, but I think individual rights are required for individual perfectibility. Individual rights liberate you to pursue whatever your values, including non-commercial ones.”

Bernstein said he wasn’t surprised by the protests, and said he had been informed prior to taking the podium of rumors of protest. He said occurrences like this are not uncommon in the lectures he gives around the country. Bernstein described a similar occurrence where a youth movement “sang beautifully” for 40 minutes in 2006 during a lecture he gave at the University of California at Los Angeles on behalf of the Ayn Rand Institute.

Protesters who gathered at the Occupy UMass encampment on the concourse outside Bartlett and Goodell Halls near the south side of the W.E.B. Dubois Library following the protest said they felt the protest had been successful.

“Our tactics were controversial,” said Nelson Klein, a senior Bachelor’s Degree in Individual Concentration [BDIC] student who compared his studies to the social thought in political economy major. “I think there’s an obligation to a common justice and fairness in this community. I really truly think the ideas we support are in the interest of the majority.”

Junior Jared Schy, also a BDIC student, said the profit motive is the biggest concern to him.

“The bottom line is always profit and that will always come into conflict with any other goal,” Schy said.

Klein continued, questioning what kind of subject matter should be allowed to be discussed on the campus of a public university.

“What they were saying was not in the interest of our school. We’re a public school. We’re not in support of the destruction of the public sector,” said Klein.

Searles called the demonstration an “absolute disgrace” and that “the point of the University is the open sharing of ideas.”

Searles said he felt they “weren’t willing to listen to [Bernstein’s] argument.” Asked about his mix-up with one of the protesters, Searles said that “we have to learn to control our passion.”

Issues untouched throughout the protests and lecture was what Searles called the “wedding” of corporations and the government.

“The evils are when companies and government become wedded,” said Searles. “As an example governments should not be there when banks fail.”

Turf wars over the right to spread far-leaning intellectual ideas at UMass’ lecture halls is not unprecedented on this campus.

In 2009, conservative pundit Don Feder was met with similar opposition.

None of the protesters or attendees of the lecture were arrested following the night’s demonstrations.

Brian Canova can be reached at bcanova@student.umass.edu.

Corrections: A previous version of this article was updated to reflect an inaccuracy. According to Nathan Fatal, two police officers were hired to provide security for the event. An earlier version of the article stated that three officers had been hired, when in fact the hired officers were instead joined by two additional officers.

An earlier version of this article held the word “impromptu” when in reference to the call-and-response counter-points given by protesters. The protesters, had, in fact, circulated a small document with these counter-points that the Collegian had not seen or been notified of by publication. The word has been removed to retain accuracy.

An earlier version of the article held an editing error. Within the article, the UMass Republican Club was referenced twice, and in one of the references, it was inaccurately labeled the “UMass Republican Society.”

Comments
23 Responses to “Occupiers check Objectivist Society”
  1. Scytale says:

    I’m glad the Occupiers were there, but I’m really disappointed that it all turned into a shouting match. It would have been so easy to tear Bernstein’s arguments apart. The talk he gave was pathetic.
    .
    For one thing, nearly all of his talk was dedicated to listing examples of rich countries, and claiming that they got rich because of capitalism. But most of the countries on his list actually had massive amounts of government intervention during the period when they got rich. Bernstein showed no sign of having any real knowledge of history. He even listed Japan and South Korea as examples of the success of free-market capitalism! How anyone could say that with a straight face is beyond me. A quick reading of Japanese history is enough to show you the crucial role played by the state in Japan’s economic growth. And the same holds true for South Korea.
    .
    Bernstein also kept saying that poor countries are poor because they are non-capitalist, but he never explained what makes him think that Latin America or Africa are non-capitalist. He never said why he thinks Nigeria, for example, is less capitalist than Japan. Or why he thinks Mexico is less capitalist than the US. He simply asserted that poor countries are non-capitalist and left it at that, with no argument and no explanation. Considering that many people in those poor countries work for multinational corporations, it seems laughable to call them non-capitalist.
    .
    That was the main reason Bernstein’s arguments were so bad: Because, despite the name of his talk, he never made it clear what he meant by “capitalism.” He didn’t explain how he decided which countries were more capitalist than others. He might as well have called his talk “Watch me give credit to global capitalism for what happened in a bunch of random countries at random times.”

  2. Scytale says:

    Oh yeah, and the Occupiers pointed out that although Hong Kong is wealthy on average, this average hides a huge gap between rich and poor – with the poor being VERY poor. A simply google search for “poverty in Hong Kong” is enough to find plenty of information to demolish the claim that Hong Kong is some kind of free market paradise where everyone is rich and happy. Take this story, for example:
    http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/07/25/hongkong.coffin.homes/index.html

  3. AnarchySucks says:

    Occupiers: What you’re saying is not in my interest, so please do not pretend to speak on my behalf, or the universities. We’re a public university, so thus we have no opinion on controversial issues, and while we have a right to say our opinions we have a duty to tolerate others.

  4. itsallinthecards says:

    “Protesters interrupted the lecture repeatedly over the course of the first hour, hindering the speaker’s ability to present the full breadth of his presentation..”
    =====
    Typical of the protesters – they chant all over the country about THEIR right to free speech, yet don’t quite seem to grasp the idea that that freedom also goes to those who don’t happen to agree with them.

  5. AmItheOnlyOne says:

    Klein continued, questioning what kind of subject matter should be allowed to be discussed on the campus of a public university.
    ====
    Who appointed this guy Klein king to determine what should be “allowed” to be discussed. Maybe the next guest speaker at UMass should clear his remarks with Mr. Klein first.

  6. danielle says:

    awesome!

  7. Michael Caution says:

    These so called “protesters” are no more than nihilistic thugs. They are not interested in engaging in intellectual discussion as Bernstein pointed out they would have invited him back for a debate. Instead of sitting quietly listening to the whole of the lecture as well as simultaneously respecting the speaker’s and host’s capacity of putting on the lecture to begin with, they chose to shout and disrupt any rational discourse that may have been possible. These is a Q&A for reason. However, these thugs aren’t interested in ideas but rather at destroying others’ capability of expressing their own ideas. They want no one to have a voice. If this weren’t true why did they physically disrupt the lecture (multiple times)? Why didn’t they stay outside and protest to their hearts content? No one would deny them their right to express their view in a lawful, respectful way. So why must they ignore others’ rights and deny others the ability to express their views? To those who still respect freedom, rationality, and independence, I say these people are petty, disgusting and deserve nothing less than our scorn.

  8. Scytale says:

    Actually, what the protesters did every time they spoke was to read counter-arguments to whatever Bernstein was saying. He claimed that Hong Kong was wealthy, they stood up and read some facts about poverty in Hong Kong. He claimed there had been no famines in capitalist countries, they stood up and read some stuff about the Irish Potato Famine. Clearly they did their homework ahead of time. Were they disruptive? Sure. But you can’t accuse them of not being interested in intellectual discussion. Basically what they did was to try to turn the lecture into a debate…

  9. Leni says:

    For someone who is supposed to be a non-biased journalist, saying “protesters interrupted the lecture repeatedly over the course of the first hour, hindering the speaker’s ability to present the full breadth of his presentation” is pretty judgemental. There is no place in journalism for that. What is this, an op-ed? The way it’s been written it sure is one, so it would better inform readers if it was marked as one.

  10. hmm says:

    Eh, ‘thugs’ is a bit strong. so this guy couldn’t give his talk glorifying capitalism for an hour – do you REALLY think we’re so short of pro-capitalist viewpoints that this event was even necessary? We live in capitalism – it affects every moment of our lives. What exactly do you think was ‘destroyed’ here? You seem really upset but I’m still not clear why, other than that you hate leftists. I’m not a leftist but I also happen to agree that laissez faire capitalism and the destruction of the public sector is not something that a public university should stand for. I can see the view for intellectual neutrality though, but you don’t seem willing to let that work both ways. Sure he has the freedom to talk, and people have the freedom to yell at him, and according to the article most of the protestors who stayed past the first 5min were removed by police. Maybe it was pent up frustration because they think it might have been the Randroids and Young Reps who have been harassing people, stealing banners and destroying tents at the encampment. Either way I would count yelling back at a pompous pharisee about capitalism a lot less troubling than open violence and property destruction against peaceful students.

  11. Matematnka says:

    I was at the presentation, grew frustrated with the interruptions and left before the Q & A period. I have one question that I intended to ask and was not able to. I hope someone reading this will answer. The question: Prof. Bernstien centered his argument around Hong Kong’s successes, but is Hong Kong really representative of any other society? Hong Kong’s industry, like Manhattan’s, seems to be solely financial markets and tourism. The entire world can’t be just bankers, hoteliers and restauranteurs. Does entirely unrestricted capitalism work for nations whose predominant industry is not the financial markets? That’s my question, its a shame I didn’t have the stomach to stick it out for a response, but I hope someone will respond.

  12. Alex says:

    That’s pretty tacky. They should have had their own rally, instead of heckling and shouting down someone else. Those who value their free speech should be prepared to respect that of others.

  13. danielle says:

    they are fighting for YOUR BENEFIT what is wrong with students who hate them??? Don’t you see it’s not enough to go to the ballot box!!!! “To those who still respect freedom, rationality, and independence, I say these people are petty, disgusting and deserve nothing less than our scorn.” Do you REALLY think we’re free like this????

  14. nf says:

    Excuse YOU, “hmm”, but what “randroids” or “young reps” have been harassing anyone? I can’t speak for the “young reps”, who are actually the UMass Republican Club, but there are no “randroids” here, and I, in fact, as president of the hosting organization, am the only Objectivist here, and am not responsible for any such “harassment”, nor are any of the people who attend my meetings. Knowing some members of the other RSO, i would not be able to attribute such childish actions to them either, though I would certainly not be surprised to see passerby engaging in such “harassment” of that eyesore. It’s pointless, but expected.

    Your comment was a pathetic and blatant admission of your ignorance. Don’t sink to the tactics of the hateful ignoramuses who have no respect for the free speech and political views of others. So much for “intellectual neutrality”. Try harder.

  15. Ed Cutting says:

    Four words: I told you so.

    UMass can shut down the Republican Club, sanitize it — removing absolutely everyone including myself, replace it with a group so vanilla that they would never host a controversial speaker ever again — AND THEIR EVENT IS STILL DISRUPTED!

    Exactly when will UMass start enforcing the picketing code?

    And Enku, God help you if you ever try to bring judicial charges against any conservative student for *anything* because that then becomes content- based punishment and a lawsuit if not civil rights violation.

    And I would like every high school guidance counselor in Massachusetts, if not the country, given a copy of this story. Parents need to know about the politicized purgutorial cesspool into which they are tossing their children and their dollars. Only that will change things.

  16. NASA says:

    ******beep***** come in Danielle *****beep****** please return to earth with the rest of us *****beep***** Houston Out *****beeep****

  17. Robert Ostrowski says:

    Has anyone actually been to Hong Kong, even just for a visit? It’s a nice city, I was there earlier this year; I walked the streets, rode the subway, took cabs, went to restaurants, street markets, malls, etc. Without hyperbole, I could count on one hand the number of pan handlers I saw over my three day visit, and in a city of that size, that’s impressive. Nearly everyone was engaged in some sort of activity, even if it was simply taking a street vendors trash away for a few $HK. Is there a wealth disparity? Of course there is, there always will be where individual and property rights exist, because individual ability and skill begets inequality. Do you who oppose Capitalism honestly believe someone who can flip a frozen burger is equally as productive, and therefore entitled to equal compensation, as someone who can repair a complex machine, like an aircraft? I’ve been both, and I can tell you that I would be insulted by a younger, burger-flipping, me making such an audacious assertion to an older, aircraft electrician, me. Kudos to you Nathan, keep up the fight for reason against pragmatic whim and the zero of nihilism. You could probably get the members of NEOS to “Mic Check” them, if they ever asserted anything, rather than negate everything.

  18. MatthewSM says:

    Hope UMass checks the “mic check” idiots next time!

  19. emily says:

    This is great, I hope the two maniacal groups destroy each other.

  20. G Valle says:

    Aaaah, the idiots on the Left!

    So secure in their opinions, but so afraid of dissent.

    UMass never changes!

  21. TMAN says:

    Tensions rose among the contesting ideologues as the protests continued

    One group of “contesting ideologues” presented a reasoned argument replete with historical and economic data. The other got up repeatedly and screamed “mic check”. The contrast could not be greater.

  22. JourneyMaster says:

    Ok, so… do people commenting here know anything about Bernstein, Objectivism or pro-market arguments?

    1) We don’t advocate a stateless society; that’s Anarchism. We argue that the state is essential in securing our rights and keeping us free but that it’s role is not expansive! It should not be an economic ombudsmen.

    2) Pro-Market is NOT pro-business. Crony-Capitalism, bailouts, wall street/congress back-room deals are just as deplorable to us as to you.

    3) The profit motive, far from being evil, is a powerful way to make sure the things we need are provided cheaply and effectively. Food? Cars? Computers? Can anyone say they can’t afford even a basic Mobile Phone these days? Hardly. I found one for £7 in my local supermarket. Hardly a ball-buster.

    4) The role of the state in economics can be debated; it needs to be. And I think it’s important that we are all free to argue our side but disrupting an event doesn’t get your point across it makes you look reactionary and childish. Especially considering the unlimited patience we offer to you to understand your point of view. You’ll find we often read widely into your area of expertise, analyse the acts and try and understand your opinion so we can effectively argue it. We don’t appreciate you just making straw-men and attacking the “unfairness” of it all without a proper argument or due consideration to our intellectual resources.

  23. StudiodeKadent says:

    Look, I’m an Objectivist and I’m also BEcon and MBusEcon, and I’ve defended Rand’s ideas at a postgraduate level.

    But Bernstein’s talk was pathetic.

    “Free Markets” means an economy where all economic activity occurs within the bounds of consent and contract.

    “Captialism” as Objectivists use the term is synonymous with “free markets” (leftist theory uses the term “captialism” to mean “any economy with wage labor”).

    Hong Kong, Japan and the Asian Tigers generally are NOT free market economies. They are corporatist economies (economies where established economic institutions are incorporated into the State). They are CLOSER to free markets compared to other Asian nations, but scarcely free market.

    I’ve visited HK numerous times. Great place, but it isn’t free market.

    Is it CLOSER to free market than China proper (i.e. outside the SAR)? Yes, it is.

    But it isn’t a free market.

    The legal structure of HK is nominally more laissez-faire than the US, but in fact the US is more culturally laissez-faire. There’s far more social mobility in the US than in HK.

    As for Japan… well… Japan is just Corporatist/Mercantilist like you wouldn’t believe.

    The Asian Tigers got rich off Western intellectual property (Japan reverse-engineered a lot of Western tech) and Western foreign investment.

    They aren’t free market economies. They got rich because they were LESS controlled than their immediate neighbours and open to Western FDI.

    Further evidence can be found in Joe Studwell’s book “Asian Godfathers.”

    That said, Objectivists hate cronyism (which is corporatism) just as much as the Occupados CLAIM to hate cronyism. If the Occupados REALLY hate cronyism, they’d join up with Objectivists and other libertarians generally in opposing bailouts, subsidies and privileges to special interests.

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