The people are composing the communal and passionate identity of a patriotic nation under military siege.


March 16, 2022, Minneapolis Star Tribune


Power is typically defined from the perspective of the powerful, those who issue commands. Disobedience is forbidden. I offer a view from below — power from the vantage point of those expected to obey those commands.

Responding to an unprovoked Russian blitzkrieg of their country, the Ukrainian resistance has discovered what Elizabeth Janeway called the “powers of the weak.” Solidarity is the great equalizer.

It is a simple truth that I learned during my 55 years as a grassroots organizer and 38 years as a sociologist.I have confirmed its truthfulness experientially.I have been a participant-observer in a wide range of social movements and, most of all, in the mysterious and enchanting spaces of collective effervescence that I periodically stumbled upon. Mahatma Gandhi recounts using this method in An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth.

For me, one sociological insight stands above all others: Authorities, in all times and in all places, are empowered to write our scripts for us. Resist. Resist with all your powers. Our life stories are a series of existential choices. Our paths are never clear amid living, but we still must make each choice as wisely as we can. As someone once said, “We make the road by walking.”

Whenever possible, walk with kindred spirits. It is only at the end of the journey that we will know what our destiny has been.

If the above aphorism sparks your own seeds of fire, share it now with others freely so that they too can bond together in setting metaphorical prairie fires that might, against all hope, save our imperiled species and planet. The people of Ukraine are serving as exemplars who are setting a moral prairie fire that is engulfing the globe; they are schooling the world’s democracies about the meaning of esprit de corps.

Ukrainians are embroiled in a life-changing, historical moment. These episodes are relatively rare in human history, but when they happen, participants are ripped out of their daily lives, and they begin fermenting together for a time. It may be an extended interlude or an ongoing series of transformative chapters.

Individuals experience these emancipatory occasions, yet the transformations are not solitary events.
They emerge in a dimension that the theologian and social philosopher Martin Buber called the “between.”

“On the narrow ridge,” he writes, “where I and Thou meet, there is the realm of ‘between.’ ” Buber continues, “This reality … the knowledge of which will help bring about the genuine person again and to establish genuine community.”

Bonding together in the between is what Emile Durkheim meant by collective effervescence. Resistance movements brew an intoxicating collective consciousness — a social champagne, so to speak — that empowers its participants. Despite nonstop images of suffering, demolition and death, we are also witnessing President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the citizens of Ukraine composing the communal and passionate identity of a patriotic nation under military siege.

In a silent, meaningless universe (at least for humans), all we have is each other. Our only meaning comes from creating what Martin Luther King Jr. called beloved communities, which provide us shelter from the storm and promote collective effervescence — bread and roses.

During a barbaric invasion of indiscriminate death and destruction, Ukraine’s resistance is forging a beloved community. As Albert Camus put it, “I rebel, therefore we exist.”

Monte Bute is a professor emeritus of sociology at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul.


By Monte Bute

The Angel of Death has been my constant, menacing companion for 12 years. Now his rancid breath grows closer. In the back of my mind, I have always been collecting and curating books for the Metropolitan State University’s Library and Learning Center where I taught for nearly four decades.

Monte Bute shown with part of his vast book collection.
Monte Bute shown with part of his vast book collection.Courtesy of Monte Bute

Jan. 20, 2022

I have been a lifelong “biblioholic;” I began collecting boys’ sports books by age 7. Even if I lived to the biblical Methuselah’s 969 years, I could never read all the thousands of books scattered throughout my home.

During my adult life, it has been a rare week when I did not visit at least one new and a couple of used bookstores. As author Tom Raabe put it, I have “the habitual longing to purchase, read, store, admire and consume books in excess.” I have always been steadfast in resisting treatment for my unquenchable passion.

In my younger days, whenever I traveled to an academic conference, I took along an empty suitcase. I always had a shifting list in my mind of 700 to 800 books that I sought. I devoted at least one day perusing the cities’ best used bookstores. The internet ruined that pleasure. Now I can order any book I desire from anywhere in the world with a click of the mouse.

Twelve years ago, on my 65th birthday, I was diagnosed with a rare terminal cancer, carrying a medium survival rate of 14 months. I am long past my expiration date. That brush with mortality awakened me to the reality that neither I, nor my library, were immortal. It was time to begin gifting my books.

Pre-COVID, I held an annual book-gifting event. I invited a few hundred former students and friends to my home for two days of book scavenging. Each year, they took home between 600 and 800 books. Once a hungry, young mind found more than 100 volumes, another time someone gathered 75 worthy gifts. COVID willing, next spring I will resume my weekend event, offering at least 1,000 gifts.

Health issues have again plagued me during the past six months. I had heart surgery last summer, with three new stents inserted and two old ones unclogged. A couple of weeks later, I had a major epileptic seizure resulting in a 90-day hold on my driving privileges. The risk of a stroke is nearly three times higher in older patients who have a late-onset of epilepsy.

The Angel of Death has been my constant, menacing companion for 12 years. Now his rancid breath grows closer. In the back of my mind, I have always been collecting and curating books for the Metropolitan State University’s Library and Learning Center where I taught for nearly four decades. I retired last spring at age 76 as a professor emeritus. Originally a college without walls, they only built a library in 2004. For a university, it has a bare-bones collection.

Some university-library faculty colleagues are regularly coming to my home to cull roughly 2,500 rare and hard-to-find hardcover editions of classic works. I can think of no finer way to celebrate and honor my beloved Metro State’s 50th anniversary. With each volume bearing my donor’s stamp, I and my library will fittingly live on in a public sanctuary.

Monte Bute has been a bookish activist, writer and gadfly in Minnesota for 55 years.

In recent years, Christmas Days have been rough. My mom lived in a nursing home and we always brought her home for the day. She and I had a troubled relationship and holidays were no exception. Since she passed six years ago, every Christmas I rehearse all the amends I wish I had made to her while she was still alive.

One Christmas Eve, I told my daughters some stories about their eccentric grandmother.

Once while living in the nursing home, she was in distress and repeatedly called for a nursing aide, but no one ever came. The authorities later told me the full story. Mom was so pissed off that she called 911, telling them that she had been dead for an hour and they’d better come pick up the body. Several minutes later the police and an EMS van showed up. The home wanted her arrested, but I talked the cops out of it.

I also told them about grandma and her little red pickup truck. Against everyone’s advice she insisted, at age 82, on driving alone from Minnesota to my brother Tony’s home in Victoria on Vancouver Island. She made it.

However, after she had been there about a week, my brother called. He said that he had ridden with her a few times and it had been terrifying. She was a danger to everyone on the road and should no longer drive. Of course, he was the good son and could never do the deed. No, this was a job for his already suspect older brother.

My mom was fiercely independent. In her old age, running unnecessary errands from morning till night gave meaning to her life. To give up her pickup was as good as a death sentence. I had little empathy for her feelings of powerlessness, until I later had a grand mal seizure and could not drive for 90 days.

This was the battle royale of our troubled bond. In the months that followed, one discovery fueled my resolve: I found that she had a portable, yellow flashing light in her truck and, on occasion, put it on her roof to get around or through situations that displeased her. Her driving career ended at age 84. She never forgave or forgot.

My daughters asked why me and grandma fought all the time, particularly during the holidays. “Because we were so much alike. I hated being around her too much because she was a constant reminder of everything that I dislike about myself.”

Then, to help illuminate my point, I told them a tale about myself.

At age 72, I had some eerie, miniscule blackouts while driving. A two-hour drive home from my cabin ended 16 hours later when my wife found me in a strip mall with significant cognitive impairment. She took me to a hospital and they began brain scans, including for epilepsy.

Before that incident occurred, I had been taking steroids for chronic lower-back spasms. Consequently, I was quite talkative and my perverse sense of humor was on full display. A nurse freaked out over my behavior and called in a psychiatrist for a consultation. That incident recalls an old slogan from the Psychiatric Survivors Liberation Movement: “Is the patient disturbed, or is the patient disturbing?”

In short order, he diagnosed me with “hypomania” and signed a court order that incarcerated me for a 72-hour hold on a locked, geriatric psychiatry ward (since I still see myself as perpetually youthful, he had added insult to injury).

It took three security guards to get me there. The ward social worker interviewed me and said they could “help me” with my hypomania. My response, “Get the hell out of my room!” My neurologist liberated me after 17 hours. These effervescent episodes are not a psychopathology; they are a gift little understood by psychiatry.

Ma Bute had hardscrabble grit, but at times she was also a shameless conniver. She raised me to take no shit from anybody. A friend suggested that wolves had raised me. The metaphor does capture my take-no-prisoners personality – I am my mother’s son. Only later in life do I look back and recall the tenderness of wolves. Whenever or wherever external danger lurked, she always had my back.

Ma Bute and I were damaged souls, cut from the same highly flammable cloth.

Nevertheless, our life-long clashes are what made me such a formidable foe during my 55 years as a radical activist. Governors, prison wardens, higher-education chancellors, psychiatric-ward “caretakers,” college presidentsnone were as fierce as her.

I love you mom. I only came to terms with your aberrant nurturing after you passed, and the wounds had somewhat healed. I hope I have passed along to my daughters your toughness without the toxicity.

You raised one hell of a strong offspring . . .

Monte Bute is a professor emeritus of sociology at Metropolitan State University, where he taught for 37 years. He has been a grassroots organizer for more than half a century




Many of us are on quests, either real or representative. Since my quest is real, I like the metaphor of journeying.

Going on a journey involves unexpected surprises, challenges, setbacks, and rewards. And I tend to think that any good journey is as much about the process as the destination.

Kind of like how the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy put it, almost exactly one-hundred years ago:


When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon — do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

-Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)


A rabble rouser gets the boot | Column

Monte Bute


OCTOBER 20, 2021 6:04 AM

 Getty Images.

In a recent essay in The Atlantic, the historian Anne Applebaum called out cultural institutions like universities, newspapers, foundations, and museums as “The New Puritans.”

“Heeding public demands for rapid retribution, they sometimes impose the equivalent of lifetime scarlet letters on people who have not been accused of anything remotely resembling a crime. Instead of courts, they use secretive bureaucracies.”

Applebaum’s quotation aptly describes Metropolitan State University’s recent retaliatory behavior, censoring a professor emeritus by locking his campus email account. Further, the university’s president also censored the entire institution when she closed an email forum that was dedicated to free speech for university employees.

Both actions were reactions to a public campaign to preserve the university’s name. We had discovered that outside consultants and top administrators were considering changing the university’s moniker.

I sent a university-wide, “disrespectful” email to a vice-president of marketing, confronting her efforts to change the name of the university. I was brought up on charges and found “guilty.” My complainant remained anonymous; I was unable to confront my accuser before a visible and known bureaucratic judge.

“As a result of this investigation and the finding that you violated the policy through your use of email,” wrote the provost, “your privileges for your email address will be revoked immediately.” There is no appeal available . . .

Here’s the final nail in my campus coffin. I was scheduled to co-teach a graduate course as an adjunct in spring of 2022. The College of Liberal Arts dean sent an email to the program coordinator saying that she had removed me as an instructor for the course and purged me as an adjunct faculty member.

Their marketing plan was part of a nationwide corporatizing strategy to “rebrand” universities into more “marketable” entities, in relentless competition with other universities. Rebranding is often seen as the last resort of organizations in decline.

Metro State is the most successful of Minnesota State’s seven state universities and 30 community colleges at maintaining high enrollments in an era of declining populations seeking higher education. The university, its faculty and students continue to receive local, state, regional and national accolades. We are already doing quite well, thank you.

If it ain’t broke, why mess with success? Since its founding in 1971, Metro State has always been a maverick institution. Before it even opened its doors,  the chair of the prestigious Carnegie Commission on Higher Education was proclaiming the school as “perhaps the most innovative institution of higher education in the United States.” During its 50th anniversary year, let’s stick with a winning strategy – stay the course!

The university president also shut down the university-wide discussion forum, a virtual venue where every employee was free to exchange and debate ideas and opinions. She sent an all-campus email: “I’d like to share with you that I and the President’s Executive Cabinet have made the decision to discontinue access to the unmoderated email list, METRO-Discuss, effective Tuesday April 27. . . . This email list does more harm to individuals and campus culture that is warranted by any positive value we might identify from continuing this approach.”

Our campaign to save the institution’s name, Metropolitan State University, succeeded. During Convocation Week in August, the administration gave up its quest for a new name, announcing that the name of the university would not change.

Nevertheless, I remain frozen out of my university email account, and the METRO-Discuss venue is no more, buried in the bowels of an information and technology bureaucratic tomb.

What next? After 37 years of award-winning teaching and institutional stewardship, I finally retired last spring at age 76, so they cannot fire me. Wait, they just fired me as an adjunct instructor! Will my honorific title, professor emeritus, also be rescinded?

Rude, crude and savagely confrontational: These discourses are time-tested measures of any organization’s commitment to free speech.

Free speech is a fine thing, until it begins to threaten the bedrock foundation of an undemocratic academic bureaucracy. Then the authorities begin accusing critics of violating the opaque rules of a “Respectful Workplace” policy, finding them guilty, and punishing them. I admit the emails (including some of mine) sometimes impolitely questioned the president and her administration’s decision making. Additionally, individual administrators were bluntly challenged.

The bureaucracy has won, for now. I am yoked with a lifetime scarlet letter within my beloved university. However, as the Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei put it, “Censorship is saying: ‘I’m the one who says the last sentence. Whatever you say, the conclusion is mine’. . . . The people will always have the last word — even if someone has a weak, quiet voice. Such power will collapse because of a whisper.”

At my retirement party in May, my friends and colleagues resolutely whispered in unison; they gave me a plaque with this epithet: “The Great Gadfly.”

Editor’s note: Given the chance to respond to Bute’s allegations, a Metro State University spokesperson sent the Reformer a statement: “As part of research for university branding project there was a survey regarding the name and other attributes of the university. There was a lively campus debate about Metro State’s name, with many differing opinions expressed. The result of the process is that the university will keep its full legal name, and as we’ve done in the past, refer to ourselves as Metro State University. The assertion that there was any retaliation directed at Mr. Bute is not accurate.”


Some claim that “Monte Bute” is a stage name. That is one of the few things I have not concocted. Having been stigmatized as an incorrigible juvenile delinquent, I’ve spent a lifetime giving my spoiled identity a do-over. Truth is that each of us has an existential freedom to script ourselves and our storyline—or to haphazardly allow others to do it for us.

Charles Lemert writes of the “mysterious power of social structures.” Far more than most of us care to admit, those powers define who we are and shape the contours of our lives. Too many of us live in a simulated reality analogous to the movie “The Matrix.”

Much of the time, this socially constructed reality seems immutable. It assigns us, for good or ill, identities and social roles. All too often, we accept without question those identities and play the roles we are dealt. A sociological aphorism to keep in mind: Either we “take” roles or we “make” roles. In other words, we have a fate or we have a destiny.

“Monte Bute,” a character I conjured up back in the day, seldom follows the screenplay. Whether it is the scripts of prisons and mental hospitals or political organizations and universities, he insists on improvising his lines and actions. This does not mean he does not run amok; he does so routinely, sometimes paying a god-awful price. Occasionally he even tilts at windmills. Nevertheless, he remains resolutely resilient and as stubbornly swashbuckling as a naïve Don Quixote, ever looking for the next adventure.

I approach death and dying just like all other movies I’ve been in—ignore the script and improvise like hell! If there is any such a thing, I will be eternally grateful to family, friends, students, and colleagues for having shared the stage. Your nurturing presence during the past eleven years has empowered me to play my most challenging and fulfilling role. While we are nearing the end this film, I am sure I’ll fashion a denouement that will surprise even Monte . . .


COMMUNITY VOICESCommunity Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives.

COVID-19 is a cruel reminder of the human condition

By Monte Bute | 05/12/2020

“Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth,” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche, “because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” Welcome to the United States.

first principle of the American creed is that world is redeemable. We
believe that we are exempt from the constraints of the human condition. I
disagree. As Albert Camus suggests: We are Sisyphus.

their faith, ideology or party, most Americans are utopians. Since the Puritans
washed ashore and John Winthrop foresaw “a city upon a hill,” the American
experiment has been a perfectionist project, an exceptional escape from nature
and history. No matter if you believe in free markets, a welfare state,
democratic socialism or anarchism, your agenda is grounded upon an unshakable
faith in human perfectibility and the inevitability of creating a heaven on

Awash in cognitive dissonance

so often, a calamity of such magnitude occurs that it shakes the foundations of
our taken-for-granted reality. COVID-19 is such a moment. The United States is
awash in cognitive dissonance: Our illusion is that America is redeemable, that
the Promised Land is just around the corner; the truth is that we are embedded
in nature and history, tossed about by their unpredictable vicissitudes.

Monte Bute

Monte Bute

“The world is a hellish place,” said singer-songwriter Tom

In all
societies, power struggles between groups are ubiquitous and perennial. The
powerful are predators who prey upon the vulnerable — they always have, and
they always will. In all environments, natural and human-made calamities are
ubiquitous and perennial. No amount of Shangri-La prophylactics will shield us
from injustice and cruelty, from death and destruction.

acknowledge this is not a brief for quietism; by no means does unblinkered
realism absolve us from acting against suffering, cruelty, and injustice.
Nevertheless, we are Sisyphus, forever condemned to push the rock of
righteousness up the mountain, only to see it roll back down, perpetually. The
world is not redeemable.

what if we have it all wrong? What if redemption is not a “forever after”
thing? Perhaps it is more like extended epiphanies, interludes in which we
transcend our mundane lives.

Redemptive moments

sure, communities do not experience forever-after redemptions; nevertheless,
they do have redemptive episodes. Throughout history, exemplary communities
have stood up against pestilences, disasters, and social catastrophes like war,
human slavery, ethnic cleansing, and climate change. Regrettably, too often
these redemptive communities have faced unresponsive dominant communities and
nation states. In this time of COVID-19, our essential workers are redemptive
communities, inspiring the rest of us to listen to our better angels, ignoring
the shrill voices of our demons.

During this plague, the selfless acts of courage rise to a heroic level when speaking of health care workers, first responders, transit workers, and workers in essential industries. At a more prosaic level, we must not overlook a contagion of kindness, the millions of small acts of care and compassion that emerge like blades of spring grass. Amidst all the death and destruction, this too is a redemptive moment in American history.

Still, Camus closes “The Plague” with a cautionary note:

the less, he knew that the tale he had to tell could not be one of a final
victory. It could be only the record of what had to be done, and what would
assuredly would have to be done again in the never-ending fight against terror
and relentless onslaughts, despite their personal afflictions, by all who,
while unable to be saints but refusing to bow down to pestilences, strive their
utmost to be healers.”

world remains a hellish place. It cries out for our attention. We must create
what Martin Luther King Jr. called “beloved communities” who answer those pleas
by pushing the rock of righteousness toward the peak, acting against suffering,
cruelty, and injustice. I am one with Camus: “The struggle itself toward the
heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must
imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Bute teaches sociology and social science at Metropolitan State University in
St. Paul.

As someone who has written many op-ed articles for newspapers and magazine, the sage advice in this column will improve your chances for getting published.

This is a 22-minute documentary by Vice reporter Elle Reeve. She embedded herself within the storm troopers who descended upon Charlottesville. This will provide you a gut-wrenching, experiential understanding of the White nationalists who endanger us all.

​Karl Marx once wrote, “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

If you will permit me a bit of literary license, Charlottesville was a tragedy; President Trump’s reprehensible responses to that event were a farce.

Nothing that President Trump has done since the Inauguration has so exposed that he has a cancer of the soul, something he is inflecting upon our nation. That he sits in the same White House that was once occupied by Abraham Lincoln is an indelible stain that we shall never expunge.

Even if the American people eventually remove Trump from office, we will never again be the same. As William Faulkner put it, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” ​