Is modernity bad for practice?

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Dec 18, 2012 2:36 pm

jeeprs wrote:Ah, but they were also much less likely to think for themselves. There was much less individuality and individual judgement. You were part of the family/tribe/clan.


And how is the nation state of the 20th century much different? I would argue that in premodern times men wore more free thinking and individual if only because of a lack of universal education. This is why they had to press sailors into even the Royal Navy, give them booty and still worry about mutinies. By WWI they could pay tens of thousands of men a pittance to fight and die for their country without worrying too much about mutinies or paying out booty. Even if some people disagreed, most people went along with the war and conscription.

I actually don't think you're correct in saying that modern people are more conformist than ancient people. Part of the essential character of modernity is the requirement for self-definition.


On a superficial level people are more concerned with their self-identity, but conscription and the willingness to fight and even die for one's nation without really getting properly compensated like in the old days is remarkable, no? People can call themselves whatever they want and craft their own identities, but the machinery of society from taxation to traffic laws works well in a country with universal education because the citizenry are all on the same page and forced into a certain mould (incidentally in countries with dysfunctional education systems people behave quite different and don't really listen to the state, and are prone to do their own thing regardless). Though in the industrialized world even as an individual if you try to break out of it, you still depend on the system and your peers, so you're still inevitably just another cog. In premodern times land-based people were often left to do their own thing.



In pre-modern societies, and even until the advent of modernity, your identity was very much defined by your place in the social order. Now you have to work out your own destiny, rather than simply go with what your ancestors did. This was very much the thrust of such modern classics as Erich Fromm's Fear of Freedom.


That's really superficial though. I'm not talking about identifying as liberal or conservative, gay or strait, Buddhist or Druid. I'm talking about men generally being more of mavericks than they are now in terms of their behaviour down to how they structured their families, communities and lives while often being free to ignore whatever state or ruler claimed sovereignty over them. We have a lot of choice nowadays, but we're still stuck in the same structure of participating in the cash economy, answering to the state about traffic tickets, registering our births, having to use the official currency of the land, etc... Before industrialization and universal education it often was the case in most countries communities and people were a lot more independent and creative, and were not controlled as easily as the citizenry of contemporary industrialized countries (this speaks to their independence and free thinking).
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby shel » Tue Dec 18, 2012 6:28 pm

Huseng wrote:Before industrialization and universal education it often was the case in most countries communities and people were a lot more independent and creative, and were not controlled as easily as the citizenry of contemporary industrialized countries (this speaks to their independence and free thinking).


Hello Huseng,

You say this was often the case. Can you give at least one example where this was the case?
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby shel » Tue Dec 18, 2012 6:31 pm

jeeprs wrote:The real challenge of modernity is to be able to engage in this act of self-definition in such a way as to serve the purposes of spiritual liberation through a free act. That is the challenge of the age.


The intents and purposes of spiritual liberation offer self-definition...
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby jeeprs » Wed Dec 19, 2012 12:51 am

Many thanks for the responses. You make some good point Huseng but I think you're being a bit nostalgic. In fact this dialogue makes me realize what I actually value about modernity, despite its many downsides. As I said earlier, I think the task is to be critically self-aware enough to understand the negatives in it, so as to make better use of the opportunities it provides. So my answer to the original question 'is modernity bad for practice' is 'not necessarily, but can easily be, if its meaning is misunderstood'.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Dec 19, 2012 1:10 am

shel wrote:
Huseng wrote:Before industrialization and universal education it often was the case in most countries communities and people were a lot more independent and creative, and were not controlled as easily as the citizenry of contemporary industrialized countries (this speaks to their independence and free thinking).


Hello Huseng,

You say this was often the case. Can you give at least one example where this was the case?



Look at the Quakers, Mennonites, Amish and Hutterites in North America.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Namgyal » Wed Dec 19, 2012 1:34 am

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby shel » Wed Dec 19, 2012 4:53 am

jeeprs wrote:Many thanks for the responses. You make some good point Huseng but I think you're being a bit nostalgic. In fact this dialogue makes me realize what I actually value about modernity, despite its many downsides. As I said earlier, I think the task is to be critically self-aware enough to understand the negatives in it, so as to make better use of the opportunities it provides. So my answer to the original question 'is modernity bad for practice' is 'not necessarily, but can easily be, if its meaning is misunderstood'.


If it's meaning is misunderstood? It sounds like you're trying to say that modernity can be bad for practice if the negatives of modernity are not seen or are overlooked. What is that not true for...
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby jeeprs » Wed Dec 19, 2012 5:06 am

It is generally true, of course. However as someone noted above already, 'modernity' is a worldview that pretends, or is not aware, that it is a worldview, and instead takes itself as reality.

You might find this an interesting perspective: Terror in the God-Shaped Hole: A Buddhist Perspective on Modernity's Identity Crisis David Loy, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 2004, V36 n 2.

Also Bikkhu Bodhi's A Buddhist Response to Contemporary Dilemmas of Human Existence

Both very insightful essays on the pitfalls of secular modernism.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby shel » Wed Dec 19, 2012 5:14 am

Huseng wrote:
shel wrote:
Huseng wrote:Before industrialization and universal education it often was the case in most countries communities and people were a lot more independent and creative, and were not controlled as easily as the citizenry of contemporary industrialized countries (this speaks to their independence and free thinking).


Hello Huseng,

You say this was often the case. Can you give at least one example where this was the case?



Look at the Quakers, Mennonites, Amish and Hutterites in North America.


I guess what primarily threw me was where you wrote that "... people were a lot more independent and creative." The communities or traditions that you mention certainly set themselves apart and are probably not easily influenced by outside communities. However this is based in tradition. Independence, creativity, and free thinking are something else.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby shel » Wed Dec 19, 2012 5:17 am

jeeprs wrote:It is generally true, of course. However as someone noted above already, 'modernity' is a worldview that pretends, or is not aware, that it is a worldview, and instead takes itself as reality.


Any worldview that takes itself as reality is playing pretend. :tongue:
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Dec 19, 2012 5:35 am

shel wrote:I guess what primarily threw me was where you wrote that "... people were a lot more independent and creative." The communities or traditions that you mention certainly set themselves apart and are probably not easily influenced by outside communities. However this is based in tradition. Independence, creativity, and free thinking are something else.


Communities and traditions are made up of people of course. I think the Hutterites are quite creative, independent and free thinking in many respects.

When a First World resident tries to be independent, creative and free thinking, they're normally just rearranging old patterns in the same mold. Think of how goths, Marxists, environmentalists, Greenpeace advocates and so on just live the same way as anyone else generally does, eating the same food and wearing the same clothes while following the same social norms, though perhaps being outspoken critics or something to that effect. Hutterites on the other hand, which normally arrange their own education (home schooling in a sense), have different social structures, don't rely on the state so much and generally just have their own unique way of doing things without much concern for what the rest of the outside world thinks. They're independent in a real sense. Free thinking, too, in the sense that they know about the outside world yet reject much of it. Creative in the sense of adapting to modernity without getting sucked into it.

My point really is that any number of people can talk about being independent, creative and free thinking, but at the end of the day they still pay their taxes, follow social conventions and live the same way more or less as the rest of the flock.

You can be unique and different just like everyone else.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby shel » Wed Dec 19, 2012 8:00 am

Huseng wrote:My point really is that any number of people can talk about being independent, creative and free thinking, but at the end of the day they still pay their taxes, follow social conventions and live the same way more or less as the rest of the flock.

Unfortunately, the Hutterites lost their religious tax exemption status in 1961. And I would imagine they have a low tolerance for goths, Marxists, environmentalists, and even Greenpeace advocates within their nests.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Thrasymachus » Thu Dec 20, 2012 8:58 am

Ivan Illich said in his interview with David Cayley that there is a type of tool where you cannot the envision user as separate from the tool, they become a new and indivisible cybernetic organism. A good term for that is technology, which we know to separate mentally from the screwdrivers and saws of old. You can see the youth pulled into their cellphones, Ipods, computers and video games. They are pulled into a different world, and you cannot get their full attention. Alot of times, I find it happening to myself, I am using the computer and it takes my whole attention as I have to keep my mind on the output of the screen and inputs of the keyboard and mouse, so I ignore everything else around me. People talk to me, and I cannot respond, though on some level I think I already did, or wish to respond. This modern tech is qualitatively different than the tools of old, like a hammer. Most modern people spend many hours in such digital trances before glowing screens. It does a number on anyone's mental acuity, and thus most people are imbecilized. Like I said before, forget dharma, anything requiring single pointed focus is harder for the new technological man, he is not adapted for such tasks.

@Queequeg:
Queequeg wrote:I was taking the piss out of you. I see you're from JerZ - in more local colloquial terms, "I'm fuc-in with you." ... - unless of course that's who you really are and you really do communicate like that without any irony - in that case...

Not just histrionics but lots of angst, and cheap castigation. Irony doesn't translate to the internet: 1) people on the net are not even acquaintances, 2) tonality, gesture and facial expression are lost.

Queequeg wrote:Holden Caufield, is that you?

I had to laugh at that, since that is what I just read recently. However I am nothing like Holden who was quite base and a drinker.

Queequeg wrote:A lot of people here probably sympathize with the gist of what you are writing. But, when you sound like an ureformed, foaming at the mouth marxist - you play up to a caricature that very, very few in the grownup world can take seriously, and if they do, its because they're miserable misanthropes, or at least tend to speak and think like one, like you apparently do.


By grownup world I take it you mean middle class white professionals. I figure alot of them are getting ready for ski season, since there has not been alot of snow in my area. It is a good chance right now to display your wealth by helping subsidize artificial snow on the mountains, not to mention all the travel costs and hotel expenses. As Thorstein Veblen observed, many people like to peacock their social station by wasting as much resources in wanton ways as they can given their recompense. When I was younger I could have maybe believed nonsense like what you preached above. However, people will be who and what they were before they met you, long after they met you. What tone I adopt, which is lesser than your vitriol, does not have the power to transform others. What is inside them decides that. It is not a failure of a messenger that people don't come to realizations or change who they are. Maybe you can say it is a failure for a father, how his son turned out. But it is ridiculous to say I as a forumer, fail for what other forumers get or don't get out of life and its interactions.

Queequeg wrote:Believe it or not, some of us folks have a few years on you - some of us were actually alive when Ellul published "The Technological Society" and have been aware of the problems you point to in the world around us - call it modernity or whatever - since you were grabbing for your mommy's teet, and when we were raising our fists, screaming about injustice and covering the back of our beat-up old civic in political bumper stickers, there were old timers who had been at it already for a long time, too. Look, some of us have lived our adult lives keenly aware of these problems and have been trying to do something about them - despite their overwhelming scale.


I don't see people in this thread being terribly familiar with all the numerous critiques of modernity, or how because you were alive when someone wrote something, you know what he wrote. Infact all the worse, you have been alive far longer and refuse to see the even greater changes which unfolded in your lifetime. I remember when I was younger that kids my age actually went outside in the late 80's and 90's, but now American children are largely shut-ins. They are totally engulfed by the technoculture, whereas my peers were only partially so. Another aspect is that Americans have no social trust to allow their children out, because every life process has been monetized. They haven't needed their neighbors for socialization or anything, and now they no longer trust the neighborhood.

Everyone can see the fruits of the baby boomer generation or those close to them like you. They had lots of so called ideals during the 60's, which they just gave up or traded for the pursuit of wealth. Also age does not give one wisdom anymore, not at this level of modernity. All people do, whether young or old is use money to insulate themselves from as much of life as they can and to procure their needs. Someone older is just a different consumer demographic, not necessarily someone who possess superior wisdom or experience. The old are for the nursing homes, care facilities and Florida(for non-Americans: popular retirement destination), nowadays.

Queequeg wrote:Kristof, the author of the column I linked to, is one of these people. Admittedly, he is a softie; he has a great heart but is also in my view, a bit naive.

No the article was just bad, these comments from readers sum it up best:
NYTimes comments wrote:David, Hebron, CT
I have seldom seen such complete nonsense written in the comments for a NYT article. In an IQ test the mean score within an age group is set to 100. Always.

Let me repeat - on average the average IQ is 100. It has to be. That's what it means.

And tests are time specific - you can certainly give a 75 year old test to modern persons, but it is meaningless to infer changes in ability to differences in scores. You simply must always normalize the scores so that the mean score within an age group is set to 100.


...

Jonathan Staebler, Nissequogue, LI, NYT Pick

Bravo, Kristof, for bringing the Flynn effect to people's attention. And bravissimo for pointing out that IQ is "a rubbery and imperfect metric." I've read a couple of Flynn's books and even he concedes this point. In fact, it may well be that IQ tests are entirely worthless: imagine if someone you don't know were to invite you to take a test. What test, you ask? Well, a warzel test. What does it measure? It measures warzel, obviously. How was it put together? That's secret. What is its purpose? To classify you. What will be the result of classification? It depends; if you do poorly, reduced access to good education and a lifetime of discrimination. How will it be scored? That's secret, too.

And that's an IQ test.
...


Queequeg wrote:I am happy to see you calling out Buddhists who use dharma and practice as means of escape - in my estimation, our kindred have been calling out fellow dharma seekers in a similar manner, possibly since the beginning, agitating for a more "engaged" practice.

The point is, don't be such a dick and let's see what we can do to heal this world. :)


The more I am on this forum, the more I am convinced I am dealing with fairly typical Westerners who use dharma to become what they think is a better Westerner. Modern people cannot heal this world. Back to escapism: I just saw another JRR Tolkien sourced film. Westerners know well how that fictional universe functions thanks to director Peter Jackson, however they don't know and want to know much about the actually lived realm, the purposes of the social institutions they interact with and their true functions. Because if they did, they would have stop their whole life trajectory up to this point and stop co-operating. Ignorance is the grease that allows them to continue to be gears in the machine of technological domination.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Thu Dec 20, 2012 9:36 am

Thrasymachus wrote:The more I am on this forum, the more I am convinced I am dealing with fairly typical Westerners who use dharma to become what they think is a better Westerner. Modern people cannot heal this world. Back to escapism: I just saw another JRR Tolkien film adapted to screen. Westerners know well how that fictional universe functions thanks to director Peter Jackson, however they don't know know and want to know how their world, how their social institutions and their true function. Because if they did, they would have stop their whole life trajectory up to this point and stop co-operating.
Actually you may find that people are a little smarter than what you think they are. People do not rebel against the current system because of fear. You can see it quite clearly here in Greece: people know that the situation is being purposefully driven to ruin but they do not go into a generalised uprising because they are scared. Scared of what? Well, apart from being scared of losing their HDTV, their flash car and brand label clothing, what they are really scared of is death.

Once upon a time there was this thing called the ideology of the collective. People were quite happy to die for a cause that would bring benefit to others. After a couple of World Wars and the global transmission of a unified ideology of capitalism this idea of the collective has been fragmented, so that current ideology is the ideology of the individual. Add to that materialist notions of permanent cessation at death and what do you have? An isolated individual unwilling to risk losing their lives, since they only have this life, and who gives a f**k about the lives of others? Outcome? Hedonism, pathological self-centredness (leading to psychosis, self hatred, etc...), n incapacity to comprehend time outside of the scope of personal time (ie a complete disengagement from history), etc...

So it comes to you as a surprise that many use Buddhism to escape from this situation? And what gives you the right to tell complete strangers on an interent forum what they should do with their lives and how they should live them? Community has to start from somewhere and that somewhere is a sense of belonging. The question is should people invest that attempt at a sense of belonging in something completely senseless (eg football teams), or in something that may bring about a permanent positive outcome? Should they invest their energy in being more destructive or, at least, in becoming more human? Can you not see that attempting to be more compassionate and loving to ALL other beings is a manner in which to not co-operate with the system? So when are you going to stop alienating people (ie co-operating with the system) with your "holier than though" attitude? Alienating people that may essentially agree with what you are saying, but are "repulsed" by your attitude?
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Thu Dec 20, 2012 9:44 am

PS It is best to judge oneself and ones actions first before judging others.
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Thrasymachus » Thu Dec 20, 2012 10:10 am

You missed the plot of the last hundred or so years. People don't revolt because revolt is almost impossible for modern people. Most people today are infantilized, depending on the market of goods and services for almost their total existence. Without their connection to it, most would be dead in short order. So how could anyone truly revolt in societies with such high labor specialization? Another aspect is the phenomenon of the boiling frog. They say if you put a frog in a lidless pot with water and slowly raise the temperature, you can boil it to death in slow increments, which it cannot perceive to jump out in time. People today don't know what their ancestors lost. John Taylor Gatto says when compulsory public schooling was first mandated, many people would refuse to send their children to school. When the police tried to force them, they would revolt and fight back. When peasants or farmers were first subjected to primitive accumulation, being deprived of their landbase and old way of life, they caused alot of headaches and refused to be obedient and docile workers. However, those frogs and many others were boiled long ago. Now for most people it is their only frame of reference that you should be a student and then a wage slave.

I say Buddhism is used by most here as escapism because that is what I observe. For example, the Dalai Lama says that when he goes into the homes of wealthy people, he always checks the medicine cabinet, even though it is naughty, and sure enough he often finds mood altering medications. He also says that money is meant to be a tool that benefit's humanity, not something humanity should serve. Tenzin Gyatso admits that Buddhism has a gap in the political and economic spheres and that is why he is attracted to Marxism. My point being, a Tibetan who speaks pidgin English and only visits periodically the West, knows more how hollow and soul battering our modern lives our than most people posting in this thread it seems to me. I am confident that the matter of escapism is why this is the case. He also admits dharma cannot be a panacea due its lack of true political and economic dimensions, while most on this forum are in the opposite camp it seems.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Thu Dec 20, 2012 10:54 am

Thrasymachus wrote:You missed the plot of the last hundred or so years. People don't revolt because revolt is almost impossible for modern people.
Here you are assuming that all the world is the comfortable little American middle class haven you occupy. Let me throw some terms at you to put the situation into perspective. 100 years right? Russian Revolution 1917, German uprising 1918, Egyptian revolution 1919, Spanish revolution 1936, etc...
I say Buddhism is used by most here as escapism because that is what I observe.
I don't disagree, you have your mechanisms for coping with modernity other people have theirs. So what?
My point being, a Tibetan who speaks pidgin English and only visits periodically the West, knows more how hollow and soul battering our modern lives our than most people posting in this thread it seems to me.
I think that if you stopped to listen once in a while that you will find that is not necessarily the case. I think you will find that almost everybody here is aware of the dissatisfaction inherent in western materialism.
He also admits dharma cannot be a panacea due its lack of true political and economic dimensions, while most on this forum are in the opposite camp it seems.
HHDL is also the political leader of a theocratic state in exile. Does this say anything to you? Now, given his role, he is making great efforts to change (read modernise and democratise) his government. But let's not kid oursleves: he has spent a vast proportion of his life seeing things through the prism of his role, old habits die hard. Many people on this forum are quite happy to bring economic, political, class, ecological, etc issues into Buddhism, but again, you (also) need to listen in order to notice this.
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Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Thrasymachus » Thu Dec 20, 2012 11:38 am

Greg, you are the one not listening. I said the "plot of the last hundred or so years".
-- Russia in 1917 was a mostly agrarian society undergoing proletarianization. The Russian frogs knew they were boiling and jumped out, only into another pan to get fried.
-- Spain 1936 -- ditto, another mostly agrarian society undergoing rapid proletarianization. Another body of boiling water was leaped into.
I can add some more:
Cuba 1953-9
China 1927–1950

If you notice all those so called revolutions occured in mostly agrarian societies modernizing. Most contemporaries actually believed that it would have been Germany that underwent a revolution, because of prophetic Marxist vision based on Hegelianism and because they had the most powerful Social Democratic Party and the most organized leftist movements. However that is not what happened, because the frogs already boiled in Germany. Infact Germany went toward world wars and genocide. However in more backward countries this was not the case, they still had many peasants who refused to accept the proletarian discipline or its prospects. However they all made the mistake to believe in teleological and technological progress. When I watched the documentary END:CIV, Derrick Jensen made an excellent point. When you have a mega-cities, the countryside or interior cannot refuse to give them resources, even if it wants to. Thus it necessities that the resources are denuded by imperial methods.

That was the problem in Spain, Cuba, Russia, China, etc. They wanted technology, development, mega-cities and they had no movement or consciousness to see that led to another boiling pot to jump into. You cannot have democratic or liberatory proletarianization.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Thu Dec 20, 2012 12:54 pm

You said:
You missed the plot of the last hundred or so years.
So anything within the last 100 years is valid.

Oh, so you meant industrialised nations then? Okay, how about: East germany 1953, France 1968, Hungary 1956, Chekoslovakia 1968, RAF and Baider Meinhoff, Primea Linea, Situationists, ecological movements, Hippy counter-culture, Black Panthers, MOVE, former Yugoslavia, etc...?

Are they modern enough people for you?
:namaste:
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Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby shel » Thu Dec 20, 2012 6:28 pm

Thrasymachus wrote:People don't revolt because revolt is almost impossible for modern people. Most people today are infantilized, depending on the market of goods and services for almost their total existence. Without their connection to it, most would be dead in short order. So how could anyone truly revolt in societies with such high labor specialization? Another aspect is the phenomenon of the boiling frog. They say if you put a frog in a lidless pot with water and slowly raise the temperature, you can boil it to death in slow increments, which it cannot perceive to jump out in time. People today don't know what their ancestors lost. John Taylor Gatto says when compulsory public schooling was first mandated, many people would refuse to send their children to school. When the police tried to force them, they would revolt and fight back. When peasants or farmers were first subjected to primitive accumulation, being deprived of their landbase and old way of life, they caused alot of headaches and refused to be obedient and docile workers. However, those frogs and many others were boiled long ago. Now for most people it is their only frame of reference that you should be a student and then a wage slave.


Perhaps I'm missing the point, but I suspect that if one began boiling modern peoples they might readily protest.
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