This semester, I have a few particularly gullible and literal-minded students. They seem oblivious to the verbal nuances of my using irony, sarcasm, facetiousness, and mockery. They also miss my nonverbal cues of raised eyebrows, mock accents, and outrageous gestures. They naively assume that everything I say is an assertion of something that I believe to be true.

In desperation, I decided to take a ventriloquist’s dummy to class. Now when I am about to make a preposterous statement that represents someone’s belief other than my own, I set the dummy in front of me, and speak through its grinning mouth. I named my dummy “Dying Ideas.”

Monte's dummt

We need more realistic radicals.

Will Bunch is talking about a righteous movement making strategic and tactical errors after organizing a successful campaign. They won the battle but damaged themselves in a foolhardy confrontation with the photographer.

Battles are won by neither the protagonists nor the antagonists: Winners and losers are usually decided by third-party audiences. In the rhetoric campaign to win over bystanders, the news media can be your ally or your enemy.

The goal of the less powerful is to widen the conflict to more audiences; the goal of the powerful is to narrow and privatize the conflict as much as possible.The care and feeding of the news media is a must for marginalized groups. You need to win the hearts and minds of various publics–witness GLBT’s amazing media strategy and tactics that led to a unprecedented turnaround in public opinion within just a decade.

I have been organizing protest campaigns for nearly five decades. Of those that have succeeded, I was most effective when I had excellent relationships with reporters, photographers, and editorialists. Persuasive and persistent work with the news media is an essential source of power for the powerless- -witness the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements.

Assuming that the news media is the enemy because they don’t tell the story you want told is ultimately self-defeating. Perhaps you have failed to a create a rhetorically persuasive message and an effective media campaign.

The Sixties looked quite different by 1980.

When someone is honestly 55% right, that’s very good and there’s no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it’s wonderful, it’s great luck, and let him thank God. But what’s to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever says he’s 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal.”

                   An Old Jew of Galicia [quoted by Czeslaw Milosz in The Captive Mind]


(these films are not coming to a theatre near you)

This list is a response to repeated student requests for quality films to watch. Be forewarned: Unless you are multilingual, prepare for subtitles and not all these films are for everyone (just move on down the list!). I list films in the order that I imagine the non-film buff will find most accessible.

Cache, Haneke

Wings of Desire, Wenders

The Third Man, Reed (Welles)

Spring. Summer, Fall, and Spring  Ki-duk

Shadows, Cassavettes

Citizen Kane, Welles

To Live, Zhang Yimou

Ripley’s Game, Scott

Touch of Evil, Welles

The Lives of Others, von Donnersmarck

Talk to Her, Almodóvar

Repulsion, Polanski

Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Herzog

La Strada, Fellini

Amour, Haneke

The Bicycle Thief, De Sica

The Rules of the Game, Renoir

The Turin Horse, Tarr (not for those with ADD)

Touch of Evil, Welles

Wild Strawberries, Bergman

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Fassbinder

M, Lang

White Ribbon, Handeke

Raise the Red Lantern, Yimou Zhang

Dead Man, Jim Jarmusch

The Killing of Chinese Bookie, Cassavettes

Solaris, Tarvosky

Stroszek, Herzog

Farewell My Concubine, Kaige Chen

Jules and Jim, Trufffaut

Umberto D. De Sica

Belle de Jour, Buñuel

The Complete Metropolis, Lang

Breathless, Godard

Bad Education, Almodóvar

Ikiru, Kurosowa

Grand Illusion, Renoir

Werckmeister Harmonies, Tarr

The Three Colors Trilogy, Kieslowski

400 Blows, Truffaut

Mirror, Tarvosky

Seventh Seal, Bergman

The Stalker, Tarvosky

Last Year at Marienbad, Godard

Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight), Welles

The Marriage of Maria Braun, Fassbinder

Rashomon, Kurosawa


Addams, Jane.1999 [1910]. Twenty Years at Hull-House. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Buber, Martin. 2002 [1947]. Between Man and Man 2nd ed. New York: Routledge
Clark, Septima. 1990. Ready from Within. Trenton, NJ: African World Press.
Gardner, Howard. 1999. The Disciplined Mind: What All Students Should Understand. New York: Simon &
Highet, Gilbert 1977 [1950]. The Art of Teaching. New York: Vintage.
Horton, Myles. 1997. The Long Haul: An Autobiography. New York: Teachers College Press.
James, Williams. 2001 [1899].Talks to Teachers on Psychology and to Students on Some of Life’s Ideals. Mineola, NY: Prometheus Books.
Lemert, Charles and Esme Bhan, Eds. 1998. The Voice of Anna Julia Cooper. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Palmer, Parker J. 1997. The Courage to Teach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Rose, Mike. 1989. Lives on the Boundaries. New York: Penguin Books.

Strict conformity of opinion is the enemy of intellectual liberty — and both conservatives and liberals fall into this trap. 

By Monte Bute


Regardless of one’s belief system, political creed or group affiliation, we are all susceptible to an intellectual short circuit — groupthink. Groupthink seeks conformity by stamping out dissent. The stronger an in-group’s loyalty, Irving Janis writes, “the greater the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink, which is likely to result in irrational and dehumanizing actions directed against outgroups.”

Nothing demonstrates this like presidential elections. Mark Twain’s 19th-century quip remains true today: “Men think they think upon the great political questions, and they do; but they think with their party, not independently; they read its literature, but not that of the other side.”

Devout conservatives religiously digest the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard, and watch Fox News; doctrinaire liberals faithfully consume the New York Times and Talking Points Memo, and watch MSNBC. Few in either camp are ecumenically inclined.

Stereotyping and scapegoating flow from groupthink. Reactionaries pummel the poor, immigrants and women. Progressives torch Wall Street capitalists, fundamentalist Christians and white males. The irony is that while both factions astutely call out their antagonists’ faulty generalizations, each remains oblivious to its own.

What’s the remedy? First, one must recognize having fallen prey to group thinking. This insight often occurs with the disturbing experience of cognitive dissonance — the mental discomfort caused by holding two contradictory ideas at the same time. Perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald put it best, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

In the last half of the 20th century, the eminent economist Albert Hirschman best exemplified Fitzgerald’s definition of “a first-rate intelligence.” In the midst of the Reagan counterrevolution, liberals sought to grasp the conservative mind. Hirschman, himself a liberal, did not limit his inquiry to the contemporary scene. Instead, in “The Rhetoric of Reaction,” he returns to the French Revolution and examines 200 years of conservative rhetoric opposing social change.

Hirschman discovered three perennial rhetorical strategies pursued by reactionaries.

  • The Perversity Thesis— radical social change will result in outcomes that only worsen the condition that progressives seek to alleviate.
  • The Futility Thesis— pursuing social transformation is futile because the laws of social order are immutable.
  • The Jeopardy Thesis— as desirable as a reform is “in principle,” the practical cost or consequence will endanger previous accomplishments.

Had Hirschman ended his book there, he would have won universal applause from his liberal allies for exposing conservative groupthink. Fortunately, he had a “propensity for self-subversion.” He explained: “Skepticism toward other people’s claims … is, of course, not a particularly noteworthy characteristic. It is, however, more unusual to develop this sort of reaction to one’s own generalizations or theoretical constructs.”

To the chagrin of his liberal colleagues, Hirschman had a moment of self-subversion as he was finishing the book — reactionaries have no monopoly on this sort of intransigent rhetoric. He realized that he and his friends inhabit a parallel universe of groupthink and added a chapter on the symmetrical theses of progressive rhetoric.

  • The Desperate Predicament Thesis— the old order is irreparable and a new order must replace it, regardless of possible unintended consequences.
  • The History Is on Our Side Thesis— inevitable historical forces, which are futile to oppose, justify progressive action.
  • The Imminent Danger Thesis— inaction will result in disastrous consequences.

I contend that the most significant obstacles to independent thought are not the usual suspects, such as governments and corporations. The danger is closer to home. Our friends are often the enemies of our free thought. People suppress contrary perceptions and opinions when they must take a public stance in the presence of fellow group members.

There is one liberty that no group (libertarians included) really wants its members taking to heart — intellectual liberty. Intellectual liberty is not free. On the contrary, freedom of thought is like a sown seed, requiring a citizen to nurture it.

Monte Bute teaches sociology at Metropolitan State University.



No one who knows Monte Bute, a firebrand of a sociology professor, would say he’s afraid of speaking his mind. In just the past year, he has accused his employer, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system (MnSCU), of pandering to corporate interests and turning its relationship with faculty into a “Greek tragedy.”

But now Bute, 70, is stepping away from his official role as a faculty union leader so he can REALLY let his opinions fly.

“I have never been known for being appropriately politic,” says Bute, a onetime antiwar activist who once served time in the Red Wing boys’ reformatory. But, he admits that he’s been asked to tone it down on occasion during his past four years as state action coordinator for the Inter Faculty Organization (IFO), the union representing thousands of Minnesota state university instructors.

Last week, he notified union officials that he would not seek another term, after his last one expires today, “in order to write and speak without restraint.” He signed the e-mail: “Your crazy uncle, Monte.”

As action coordinator, his main job was to mobilize the members behind important issues — “Sort of an agitator in chief,” he says. But his sometimes blunt talk wasn’t always appreciated, especially about MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone. (Bute has referred to him as “the archbishop of MnSCU.” Rosenstone has declined to comment).

“He’s been exceptionally valuable to the union,” says Jim Grabowska, the IFO president. But he suspects that Bute chafed against the internal constraints. “That’s Monte,” he said.

Bute says he has no plans to retire as a professor at Metropolitan State University. And he’ll continue to crusade against what he calls the “corporate takeover of higher education” — turning colleges into training grounds for private businesses.

 “Eventually, if unchecked, [it] will destroy the meaning of higher education in Minnesota,” he said. “It will be little more than a hiring hall.”

After writing several novels, in 1832 Balzac conceived the idea for an enormous series of books that would paint a panoramic portrait of “all aspects of society.” . . . Although he originally called it Etudes des Mœurs (Study of Mores), it eventually became known as La Comédie Humaine, and he included in it all the fiction that he had published in his lifetime. (Wikipedia)

Pere Goriot

Balzac transposes the story of King Lear to 1820s Paris in order to rage at a society bereft of all love save the love of money. This example of the French realist novel contrasts the social progress of an impoverished but ambitious aristocrat with the tale of a father, whose obsessive love for his daughters leads to his personal and financial ruin. (Amazon)

Eugenie Grandet 

In a gloomy house in provincial Saumur, the miser Grandet lives with his wife and daughter, Eugénie, whose lives are stifled and overshadowed by his obsession with gold. Guarding his piles of glittering treasures and his only child equally closely, he will let no one near themHere Grandet embodies both the passionate pursuit of money, and the human cost of avarice. (Amazon)

The Human Comedy: Selected Stories

Characters from every corner of society and all walks of life—lords and ladies, businessmen and military men, poor clerks,  unforgiving moneylenders, aspiring politicians, artists, actresses, swindlers, misers, parasites, sexual adventurers, crackpots,  and more—move through the pages of The Human Comedy. (Amazon)


Six police officers to be criminally charged in Freddie Gray’s death

“I heard your call for no justice, no peace,” the state’s attorney said.

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