Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Capitalism lecture interrupted to present facts

By Mike Tudoreanu

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Brian Canova/Collegian

There have been several articles in the Daily Collegian this week about the protesters from the Occupy UMass movement and the Labor Studies department who interrupted a lecture promoting global capitalism last Thursday. I believe the coverage has been very one-sided, failing to mention what the protesters said and the reason they were there.

They interrupted the lecture for the purpose of presenting facts. They did not jeer, hiss or use profanity (although the other side did). They did not try to stop the lecture from happening. The speaker, Andrew Bernstein, said everything he wanted to say. Occupy UMass decided to disrupt his lecture not merely because they disagreed with his opinions, but because he was making blatantly false claims about history and economic policy – such as giving credit to capitalism for the success of state-driven economies and blaming “non-capitalism” or “socialism” for what happens in countries with strong corporations and weak governments.

Bernstein’s main argument was that wealthy countries are wealthy because they are capitalist, and poor countries are poor because they are non-capitalist. But he never once explained how he decided which countries were more capitalist than others. What he said was that capitalism requires low taxes, no state ownership of companies, no redistribution of wealth, and a lack of government regulation of the economy. Then he implied that rich countries have these features, and poor countries don’t.

In reality, the opposite is usually true. For example, following Bernstein’s own definition, the poor countries in Latin America are far more capitalist than the rich countries in Europe, and Mexico is more capitalist than the U.S. In addition, some of the countries that Bernstein offered as examples of successful capitalism – such as Japan and South Korea after World War Two – have government-controlled economies with guaranteed lifetime employment and universal health care. Meanwhile, the poor countries in Africa that Bernstein called “non-capitalist” were conquered and ruled by European capitalists for almost a hundred years starting in the 19th century, and today most of their governments allow large corporations to do as they please. Workers in these so-called “non-capitalist” countries produce many of the goods sold by Western corporations.

The Occupy protesters came in with carefully prepared facts and figures to counter Bernstein’s misinformation, and they shouted these facts every time he made a claim that was false. The only reason the “mic checks” were so frequent was because he could not go more than a few minutes before saying something untrue.

Bernstein claimed capitalism in Hong Kong generated prosperity for all, so the protesters stood up and read a summary of a Financial Times article about poverty in Hong Kong. There are 100,000 people living with their entire families in cubicle-sized apartments that barely leave enough room for bunk beds. Some of the poorest must sleep in cages with mesh walls and ceilings too low to stand up. Over a million people live on just a few hundred dollars per month, and thousands have to pick through the garbage to find food.

Bernstein claimed there have been no famines in capitalist countries, so the protesters read some facts about the Irish potato famine. In the early 19th century, British capitalists owned most of the land in Ireland and used it to grow profitable cash crops. This left so little land for the Irish to grow their food that they had to use it all for potatoes. Nothing else would grow in large enough quantities. So when a potato disease arrived and the potato crops failed, almost a quarter of Ireland’s population died of hunger.

Bernstein claimed that capitalism goes hand in hand with freedom and individual rights, so protesters were prepared with a long list of dictators supported by powerful capitalist countries and their corporations.

Bernstein talked about economic growth as if it meant the same as a rise in living standards, so protesters pointed out that it is possible for an economy to grow while most people are getting poorer. Just because a country’s average wealth is increasing, it does not necessarily mean that the majority of people benefit.

Bernstein claimed capitalism ended child labor and slavery, so protesters reminded him that both those things were ended by legislation passed by governments under pressure from progressive social movements.

The list goes on. The Occupy protesters did not interrupt the lecture with insults or slogans, but with facts and information. The only profanity came from the other side, with one audience member telling the protesters to “shut the f$%# up” and calling a female protester “b$%#h.”

We all have a right to our own opinions, but apparently we do not have a right to our own facts. Suppose there was an invited speaker who claimed that Britain and France fought on opposite sides in the first World War. Or suppose another speaker claimed that the Native Americans prospered and increased their population after the Europeans arrived. Or, for that matter, suppose we invited an anti-capitalist speaker who said that most bankers are sexual predators. These are not matters of opinion. These are lies. Many of Bernstein’s claims were just as false.

We can debate whether capitalism is good or bad. But some things are not up for debate. Japan has an interventionist state. Hong Kong is horribly afflicted with poverty. The Irish potato famine did happen. If a speaker defends his views on capitalism (or anything else) by denying inconvenient facts, then he or she has moved out of the realm of opinion and into the realm of lies. And when a person repeatedly lies during a lecture, then protesters have every right to disrespect him and interrupt his talk to present the facts.

Mike Tudoreanu is a Collegian contributor. He can be reached at [email protected]

 

16 Comments

16 Responses to “Capitalism lecture interrupted to present facts”

  1. Harrison Searles on December 9th, 2011 1:20 am

    “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
    -John Stuart Mill, _On Liberty_

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  2. Scytale on December 9th, 2011 1:30 am

    The funny thing that no one seems to mention is that the protesters were over half the audience. If they had not been present, there would have only been 20-30 people in the entire lecture hall (including the organizers). The whole event would have gone completely unnoticed and no one would have cared enough to write in the Collegian about it. So the Randians should really thank Occupy UMass for putting them in the news.

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  3. danielle on December 9th, 2011 7:29 am

    Great article

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  4. The 98% on December 9th, 2011 4:37 pm

    More self-righteous spewing, surprise? You’re lying about many things as well and making false claims, do I have a right to barge into your tents and correct you by screaming at the top of my lungs when you’re talking?

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  5. hmm on December 9th, 2011 5:08 pm

    Boo yah!! Tell it!
    Hey Searles, the Collegian reported that you seem to have struck a female protestor at the event, then stormed out and punched a brick wall. What does John Stuart Mill have to say about that, tough guy?

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  6. tyler on December 9th, 2011 7:12 pm

    Fantastic argument!

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  7. J.S. Mill's editor on December 11th, 2011 3:43 am

    John Stuart Mill says, “When one finds oneself overcome with anger and frustration at the sheer numbers of political opponents who are loudly denouncing the blatant lies spoken by one’s invited speaker, punching a wall is a self-evidently superior solution to punching a woman. It may be true that hitting a member of the female sex seems more satisfying to a misogynistic, reactionary, proudly selfish rich kid with delusions of personal greatness. However, a more prudent observer will note that walls, unlike women, cannot fight back. They are also less likely to report the incident to the police, or make sounds that would draw the attention of the media. In the final analysis, I must recommend physical attacks on walls as a safe and legal alternative to physical attacks on any members of the human race, even those that one considers equivalent to animals.”

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  8. Dan on December 11th, 2011 9:53 pm

    Very well presented argument and supplemental coverage of the lecture and protest. Thank you Mr. Tudoreanu.

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  9. Harrison Searles on December 11th, 2011 10:14 pm

    If I, the evil, misogynistic, capitalist, rich, and selfish kid assaulted a woman then why were no charges leveled? Why was I not arrested for the crime, which if I did commit, I ought to have arrested for. After all, the auditorium was full of witnesses and if I really did assault someone (as “hmm” and “J.S. Mill’s editor” wrongly accuse me of), there would have been a mark (the brick wall left one on a knuckle after all). It would have been all too easy, especially in an area like Amherst that is sensitive to things like man-assaulting-woman violence, to level and convict me of those charges. So why am I still a free man?

    The reason is simple. The woman who shrieked was actively trying to get me in trouble, she was treating me as something to gain an advantage from by making it look like I did something to her. I am guilty of no wrong-doing and the fact that trolls on the internet would try to spin me getting escorted out and then leaving freely as evidence of me assaulting someone, just shows how much they treat whomever opposes them as someone sub-human, not worthy of any human dignity.

    By the way, I do not consider the Occupiers animals. If my dog had barked during the lecture, then there would have been nothing to speak of. What aggravated me was that human beings, using their own free will, would ever show the lack of respect to another human being as to conspire to shout them down. To me, that is not an act of an animal, but an malicious act of free will that only a human being is capable of. As Aristotle once noted, human beings are both the best and worst of all animals, what happened two weeks ago is plenty proof, and it shows not that they are animals (and therefore sub-human), but that they committed a lowly act only human beings are capable of.

    P.S. The personal attacks are cute, but no one has bothered to address the idea I responded with. Alas, that is another vile act that only a human being is capable of. However, in the long run, all it does is reveal just how intellectually bankrupt those who would use such a tactic are, they cannot deal with the ideas stated so instead they rile up the crowd with demagoguery.

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  10. The Ghoest of J.S.Mills on December 12th, 2011 2:12 am

    John Stuart Mill’s actually said:

    “When one becomes frustrated at those who are “enlightened” en masse, but call others sheep, cattle, or other live-stock to be herded when they hear and see an opponent with a large backing and organization,(sociologists, gender studies majors, and other social scientists I have commonly found outside DuBois need to look up the word hypocrisy here, it will help)

    When one must listen to the anguished cry of ones with obsolete degrees, pretending to partake in academics while using superfluous and rich language to delude true students into believing what they are doing is righteous, else they ridicule them by screaming, (you’re mean and discriminatory, but let me scream over and oppress your voice!)

    When one must listen to a self-awarded ‘expert’ of economics, money, finance, and studies involving math (numbers, look out OWS!) who are in reality children supported by their parents with delusions of personal greatness as they are salvaging others, one may find themselves frustrated and curious to why evolution has not taken care of such individuals.”

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  11. Eric Tori on December 12th, 2011 1:16 pm

    Mike Tudoreno’s argument is eerily fascistic. Because him and his cohorts deemed certain things to be untrue, they were allowed to disrupt a lecture? First, “truth” is a scary thing to start mandating, especially economic and political “truths.”

    That being said, free speech extends even to things that aren’t true. You are allowed to give a lecture arguing the earth is flat. Anyone who who tries to stop you from giving this lecture by interrupting is violating your right to free speech.

    You are not allowed to interrupt lectures. That is a violation of free speech. You are allowed to hold your own lecture presenting your arguments. But you are not allowed to hinder the ability of other’s to presents theres.

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  12. Scytale on December 12th, 2011 3:02 pm

    You know, Ghost, I don’t remember seeing any professors or other such academic types among the Occupiers at the lecture. What I do remember seeing is a lot of people who work two jobs. And there was a middle-aged woman with children holding up a sign that said “capitalism kills.”

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  13. Scytale on December 12th, 2011 3:32 pm

    Harrison, I agree that the personal attacks are off-topic. This isn’t about you, it’s about Bernstein and his lecture. But the problem is, the idea you originally responded with is also off-topic. You quoted John Stuart Mill’s argument that we should allow all people to speak their opinions, no matter how much we disagree with them. Fair enough. However, this op-ed article is saying that Bernstein wasn’t just giving his opinion, but lying about the facts. The argument here is that although he should be free to speak his opinions, people have a right to shout him down when he lies about the facts.

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  14. John G. on December 13th, 2011 12:19 am

    Many of the comments criticizing this article are examples of liberal relativism gone crazy (even though they come from the right). Is it really “fascistic” to point out, for example, that the Irish Potato Famine really did take place, and anyone who says otherwise is lying? Is the existence or non-existence of historical events a matter of opinion now, so we should respect the “opinions” of people who say that certain historical events did not take place? What’s next, counting Holocaust denial as an opinion that should be respected? Seriously, I’m getting really sick and tired of the way our culture keeps telling us to respect other people’s “opinions,” no matter how stupid, bigoted, or just plain false they might be.

    Personally, I don’t think you should be allowed to give a lecture arguing the Earth is flat. You can set up your soapbox at a street corner if you really want to talk about that. A university has some responsibility to ensure that the lectures delivered on its campus are at least loosely based on fact. Good on Mr. Tudoreanu for putting his foot down and saying that enough is enough and some facts are not negotiable.

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  15. Jenna on December 13th, 2011 7:12 pm

    How did this become an argument about free speech? I’ve got a news flash for you: free speech means that the GOVERNMENT is not allowed to censor you or limit the things you can say. Your right to free speech is a right not to be oppressed by the government. It is NOT a right to be respected or tolerated by other citizens. As long as protesters are not part of the government, they have a right to shout as much as they want anywhere they want (as long as they’re not waking up sleeping people, and as long as they’re not posing a danger to public safety, such as yelling “fire” in a crowded theater).
    But why don’t we start talking about the actual views being expressed in that lecture, rather than argue endlessly about who had the right to say what?

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  16. Eric Tori on December 14th, 2011 7:12 pm

    You’re wrong Jenna. Your right to free speech ensures the government will protect that right. Part of this is ensuring that other citizens respect your right to free speech as well. You as a citizen are not allowed to deny someone else their right to free speech say, by yelling them down or using a fog horn to drown out their speech. That is illegal.

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