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  • Mark 11:32 pm on July 31, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    Constraining the dreams of (aspiring) #digitalelites 

    From Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, by Douglas Rushkoff, loc 3167:

    So they accept the hypergrowth logic of the startup economy as if it really were the religion of technology development. They listen to their new mentors and accept their teachings as gifts of wisdom. These folks already gave me millions of dollars; of course they have my best interests at heart. After all, these are young and impressionable developers. At age nineteen or twenty, the prefrontal cortex isn’t even fully developed yet. 42 That’s the part of the brain responsible for decision making and impulse control. These are the years when one’s ability to weigh priorities against one another is developed. The founders’ original desires for a realistic, if limited, success are quickly replaced by venture capital’s requirement for a home run. Before long, they have forgotten whatever social need they left college to serve and have convinced themselves that absolute market domination is the only possible way forward. As one young entrepreneur explained to me after his second board meeting, “I get it now. A win is total, or it’s nothing.”

  • Mark 2:19 pm on July 31, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    The economic limitations of the attention economy 

    From Douglas Rushkoff’s Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, loc 2256:

    Besides, consumer research is all about winning some portion of a fixed number of purchases. It doesn’t create more consumption. If anything, technological solutions tend to make markets smaller and less likely to spawn associated industries in shipping, resource management, and labor services.

    Digital advertising might ultimately capture the entirety of advertising budgets, but it does nothing to expand these budgets. There are upper limits on the revenue growth of the corporations that define the ‘attention economy’: how are they going to respond to these?

  • Mark 2:19 pm on July 31, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    Something has ended and everyone can feel it 

    From pg 31 of Joshua Clover’s Riot. Strike. Riot.

    Something has ended, or should have ended; everyone can feel it. It is a sort of interregnum. A miserable lull, backlit everywhere by the sense of declension and fires flaring across the planetary terrain of struggle. The songs on the radio are the same—awful, astonishing. They promise that nothing has changed, but they never keep their promises, do they? The fissures in the organization of society that has obtained for some while widen weekly. And yet this anxious persistence, this uneasy suspension. Will there be a restoration? Greater catastrophe? Which should we prefer? This is the tonality of the time of riots.

  • Mark 1:37 pm on July 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    What is a ‘strike’ and what is a ‘riot’? 

    From Joshua Clover’s Riot. Strike. Riot. pg 15:

    The strike is the form of collective action that 

    1) struggles to set the price of labor power (or the conditions of labor, which is much the same thing: the amount of misery that can be purchased by the pound); 

    2) features workers appearing in their role as workers;

    3) unfolds in the context of capitalist production, featuring its interruption at the source via the downing of tools, cordoning of the factory floor, etc. 

    The riot is the form of collective action that

    1) struggles to set the price of market goods (or their availability, which is much the same thing, for the question is similarly one of access); 

    2) features participants with no necessary kinship but their dispossession; 

    3) unfolds in the context of consumption, featuring the interruption of commercial circulation.

  • Mark 10:11 am on July 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    Symposium: Anxiety and Work in the Accelerated Academy 

    Friday September 23rd at the University of Warwick, 9:30am to 6:00pm

    The culture and organisation of knowledge production are undergoing dramatic transformations.

    Neo-managerialist models for the management of research and teaching, the expansion of audit and academic rankings, and the recasting of universities as service providers and students as consumers are just several of the main features of the ongoing marketisation of science, higher education and academia. Further important structural changes include the casualisation of academic labour and the “acceleration” of academic life.

    These transformations concern the mathematical, natural and social sciences and humanities in equal measure, if perhaps in different ways. The careers, working lives and identities of scholars, researchers and higher education teachers are all affected.

    In this symposium, we bring together international and UK-based scholars who study science, higher education and academia. We focus on a particular aspect of neoliberal academia, namely its anxiety-inducing environment – not as an object in itself, but as a symptom of what Ros Gill called “the hidden injuries of neoliberal academia” and of the need for meaningful change. We will discuss what is happening to the work, careers, lives, identities and epistemic communities of scientists, while the scientific institutions are changing.

    We invite everyone interested in issues of work, labour and employment in the sciences and academia – scholars, students, practitioners, administrators – to join the symposium and take part in the discussions.


    Liz Morrish – Metrics, Performance Management and the Anxious University
    With responses by Gurminder K. Bhambra & Maria Ivancheva

    Maggie O’Neill – Pace, Space and Well-Being: Containing Anxiety in the University
    With responses by Vik Loveday & TBC

    Filip Vostal – Beyond the dichotomy of slow and fast academia: On temporal multidimensionality of science
    With responses by Mark Carrigan & Milena Kremakova

    Each speaker will talk for thirty minutes, with responses of fifteen minutes each, before an hour’s open discussion.

    Register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/symposium-anxiety-and-work-in-the-accelerated-academy-tickets-26830825722

    • socialmovementlearning 1:25 pm on July 29, 2016 Permalink

      Hi Mark – do you know if there is any financial support for those of us in the skint academic precaritat that would like to come but cant afford the likely travel expenditure at all? I’d like to come down from Glasgow, and can probably find someone to crash with on the Thursday night

      All best


      Work like you don’t need money Love like you’ve never been hurt and dance like no-one’s watching

      “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of

      the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women

      deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

      Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed)


    • Mark 2:38 pm on August 1, 2016 Permalink

      Don’t think so sorry, we only have a finite amount of funding & our priority was to make the event free.

    • socialmovementlearning 11:47 am on August 8, 2016 Permalink

      HI Mark – wondering if there any financial support for those of us that would love to make this, but would be struggling to do so financially?



      Work like you don’t need money Love like you’ve never been hurt and dance like no-one’s watching

      “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of

      the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women

      deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

      Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed)


    • Mark 7:32 am on August 9, 2016 Permalink

      Hi sorry if you didn’t see my reply to your previous question – we’ve used all the funding to make the event free & we have a limited budget unfortunately.

  • Mark 9:06 am on July 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    The Return of the Riot 

    From Joshua Clover’s Riot. Strike. Riot pg 2. He argues that the return of the riot reverses a long term trend observed by Charles Tilley, in which the riot had given way to the strike as the foremost tactic in socially available repertoires of contention:

    As the overdeveloped nations have entered into sustained, if uneven, crisis, the riot has returned as the leading tactic in the repertoire of collective action. This is true both in the popular imaginary and the realm of data (insofar as such matters give of statistical comparison). Regardless of perspective, riots have achieved an intransigent social centrality. Labor struggles have in the main been diminished to ragged defensive actions, while the riot features increasingly as the central figure of political antagonism, a specter leaping from insurrectionary debates to anxious governmental studies to glossy magazine covers.

  • Mark 12:10 pm on July 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply

    I Could’a Been A Contender 

    I’m broke and I’m hungry, I’m hard up and I’m lonely
    I’ve been dancing on this killing floor for years
    And of the few things I am certain, I’m the captain of my burden
    I’m sorry doll, I could never stop the rain

    Once you said I was your hero
    You would dance with me on a dime
    We could spin this world right right right round
    And catch back up on the flip side

    I was gonna get this real big engine
    I was gonna get them Broadway stars
    You were gonna be my Judy Garland
    We were gonna share your tin man heart

  • Mark 9:00 am on July 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    The future of digital corporate personhood 

    This is the second time I’ve encountered this idea recently. How plausible is it? From Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, by Douglas Rushkoff, loc 1384:

    Digital technology, though, might finally give corporations the autonomy they need to make decisions without us, and even the bodies they need to execute their choices in the real world. What they want from us and for us is being determined right now—in most cases by corporations that are already running without fully conscious human intervention. They will soon be software running software.

  • Mark 2:30 pm on July 27, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    The coordinates of the austerity consensus are disintegrating 

    From Corbyn: Against All Odds, by Richard Seymour, pg 22. There’s a huge opportunity for the Labour left but also a huge risk, as momentum has built for an anti-austerity platform that might no longer be relevant:

    “It is not clear what will happen to the debt/speculation economy, or the ‘property-owning democracy’ where large numbers of people supplement their income by borrowing against the rising value of their homes. When even George Osborne gives up his threatened ‘emergency’ austerity budget, abandons his ‘fiscal rule’, and leading Tory candidates openly talk down austerity, one going so far as to propose a massive borrowing and spending programme, the coordinates of the old consensus are clearly disintegrating. This is one of those moments when a degree of political imagination and initiative will make a decisive impact for the next few years at least”

    As Seymour goes on to observe, “in the context of a generalised crisis of politics and the established way of doing things, anyone who has some ideas about how to change things can gain a hearing.” The book on the American right I’ve just read, Thomas Frank’s Pity the Billionaire, makes a compelling case that the resurgent free-market right capitalised on precisely this opportunity, despite the fact their ideas were inane and contradictory. 

  • Mark 2:00 pm on July 27, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , coding skills bubble, , , , ,   

    The limitations on learning to code as a labour market strategy 

    In the last few months I’ve become very interested in the status accorded to coding as a labour market strategy. It’s held up as both individually rational and a viable strategy for governments seeking to grow the human capital of their citizens. However, as Douglas Rushkoff observes in his Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, we’re likely to see growing numbers of coding jobs outsourced to lower cost countries through computational clearing houses. Furthermore, from Loc 866:

    Besides, learning code is hard, particularly for adults who don’t remember their algebra and haven’t been raised thinking algorithmically. Learning code well enough to be a competent programmer is even harder. Although I certainly believe that any member of our highly digital society should be familiar with how these platforms work, universal code literacy won’t solve our employment crisis any more than the universal ability to read and write would result in a full-employment economy of book publishing.

    Whatever demand for skills currently exists is likely to diminish with time, while available opportunities risk being swamped by aspirants given a wider context of occupational insecurity in which areas seen as focal points for growth are seized upon in an ever quicker fashion.

    There’s an amusing account of 3 scenarios of learning to code here:

    Scenario 1

    Person 1: “I tried to learn to code once. I had a hard time. Life got in the way, and I am no longer trying to learn to code.”

    Marketer: “Coding is easy!”

    Person 1: “What? Oh. Maybe coding is easy after all. Maybe I’m just dumb.”

    Scenario 2

    Person 2: “I want to learn to code, but it sounds hard.”

    Marketer: “Coding is easy!”

    Person 2: “Really?”

    Marketer: “Yes. Buy my course/program/e-book and you’ll be an elite coder in less than a month.”

    Person 2

    Shut up and take my money!

    Person 2, one month later: “I thought coding was supposed to be easy. Maybe I’m just dumb.”

    Scenario 3

    Person 3: I have no interest in ever learning to code. I’m a successful manager. If I ever need something coded, I’ll just pay someone to code it for me.

    Marketer: Coding is easy!

    Person 3: Oh, OK. Figures. In that case, I guess I won’t pay those code monkeys very much, or hold their work in very high regard.


  • Mark 12:59 pm on July 27, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    things I’ve been reading recently #25 

    • So Sad Today by Melissa Broder
    • Palo Alto by James Franco
    • Alibaba’s World: How One Remarkable Chinese Company is Revolutionising Global Business by Porter Erisman
    • Digital Gold: The Untold Story of Bitcoin by Nathaniel Popper
    • The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power) by Harry Browne
    • Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics by Richard Seymour
    • Pity the Billionaire: The Unlikely Comeback of the American Right by Thomas Frank
    • Corbyn: Against all Odds by Richard Seymour
  • Mark 9:54 am on July 27, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , micro-podcasts, ,   

    Using micro-podcasts to profile participants at a workshop 

    I spent yesterday in London helping out with an event by the Survivor Research Network which was being supported by The Sociological Review. We were keen to profile participants at the event in a way that gave a sense of the range of people involved, as well as how this shaped what people brought to the complex topic of survivor research. To do this we used AudioBoom, a free app which records & publishes up to 10 minutes of audio, to do short interviews with a number of participants at the event:







  • Mark 9:22 am on July 27, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    The end game of the American free-market right  

    From Pity the Billionaire, by Thomas Frank, loc 2881-2896:

    As the nation clambers down through the sulfurous fumes into the pit called utopia, the thinking of the market-minded will continue to evolve. Before long they will have discovered that certain once-uncontroversial arms of the state must be amputated immediately. One fine day in the near future, it will dawn on them that the FDIC, for example, just delivers bailouts under another name; that the lazy man down the street should no more get his money back when his bank fails than when the housing market fell apart. What are interstate highways and national parks, they will ask, but wasteful subsidies for leeches who ought to be paying their way? What is disaster relief but a power grab by the losers who can’t get themselves out of the path of a hurricane? And though public schools have been under assault for decades on charges of rampant secularism, the time is not far off when the freeloading by poor kids will be the factor that galls our leaders most. Social Security, of course, will be one of the first institutions to go on the chopping block, as the essential injustice of protecting the weak dawns on them. Why should society pay for the retirement of someone who hasn’t been responsible and collected Krugerrands? The older generation had a rendezvous with destiny, their hero FDR used to say, and soon it will occur to America’s class-war populists that every slow-moving moocher and senior-parasite needs to make that rendezvous—which is to say, that appointment with the human resources guy at the local big-box store.

  • Mark 10:14 pm on July 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , blairites, , , political class, , ,   

    Understanding the rage of the Labour right 

    From Corbyn: Against All Odds, by Richard Seymour, pg 15:

    Adam Phillips suggests that our rages disclose what it is we think we are entitled to. We become infuriated when the world doesn’t live up to our largely unconscious assumptions about how it should be for us. What might the fury of Labour’s right-wingers, as well as their media allies, tell us about their sense of entitlement? Their denial about the depths of Corbyn’s support among the members, their seeming belief that they have a right to be safeguarded against the critical and sometimes harsh words of activists, all suggests a zealously proprietorial attitude to the party.

    As he goes on to observe, “at no point has the membership been anything other than an object for management and discipline”. This newfound capacity of the membership to impose a leadership from the far left represents a challenge to the depoliticisation of the party: the management of the membership has broken down and, with this, so too has the professional socialisation of much of the PLP. Perhaps the ensuing disorientation goes some way towards explaining the more self-destructive extremes of their behaviour? 

    The promise we can find in this present mess is that a successful defence of Corbyn’s position leads to a longer term reinsertion of social movements into both internal party politics and the broader political system. From pg 21:

    Corbyn, unlike many of his parliamentary colleagues, understands the relevance of mass politics, the politics of social movement. He has appealed over the heads of parliamentarians and pundits, to the ordinary membership, trade unions and the wider left to support him in his job. That has been, confoundingly enough for his opponents, a successful. This suggests that parliament is not the end of politics, and that what takes place in its chambers depends in great part upon the organisation and political clarity of hundreds of thousands of people working outside them. That isn’t an insignificant yield for ten months in the leadership.

    This is something that had been progressively lost over the lifetime of New Labour’s rule. From pg 28:

    Members voted with their feet, becoming inactive or resigning, while voters began to boycott the polls in unprecedented numbers. As if the whole idea of fighting for a party that had become so symbiotically dependent upon the banks, business, the media and the less liberal wings of the state was so crushingly dispiriting, so lacking in promise, that millions simply gave up

  • Mark 10:09 pm on July 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    The tragically incompetent elites of the centre left 

    This critique by Thomas Frank, on loc 2729 of his Pity the Billionaire, applies as well to proponents of the ‘third way’ within the Labour Party as it does to the leaders of the Democratic Party in relation to whom they originally articulated the notion:

    Sometimes when I watch the Washington Democrats in action, my mind goes back to the tragically incompetent British general staff of World War I, ordering assault after gigantic assault, only to see their armies annihilated one after another. But still they kept at it, ordering up another round of the exact same thing, playing by the gentlemanly rules of combat, never doing anything remotely clever, and always completely surprised when the other side introduced them to twentieth-century warfare in some brutal new way.

    The Washington Democrats will no more acknowledge the possibilities of other tactics than they will abandon Georgetown and move en masse to some burned-out quarter of Baltimore. Instead they deride their liberal critics as impossible dreamers—or as “fucking retarded,” in Rahm Emanuel’s famous phrase—and try what worked for Clinton yet again. That their own habitual deference to expertise leaves them wide open to the decades-long conservative assault on “elites” never occurs to them.

    There’s an increasingly zombie-like repetition of strategic impulses whose purchase, if any, relied upon a social and economic conditions that have been in rapid decline for nearly a decade. Yet still they soldier on, professionally socialised into an understanding of politics most, if not all, seem incapable of repudiating. If modernisation meant anything, it meant adapting a party to changing circumstances, yet they seem weirdly incapable of recognising the fact that it’s no longer 1997.

  • Mark 7:06 pm on July 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , reactionaries, ,   

    The radicalisation of reactionaries 

    An interesting analysis from Pity the Billionaire, by Thomas Frank, loc 1746-1759:

    And so, over the years, the movement came to affect a revolutionary posture toward the state that it might have borrowed from Karl Marx or Jean-Paul Sartre. It imitated the protest culture of the sixties, right down to a feigned reverence for anticommunist guerrilla fighters who were its version of Ho and Che. Conservative leaders studied the tactics of communists, applying them to their own struggles. And the movement learned to understand itself not as a defender of “the status quo,” in the famous formulation of the conservative organizer Paul Weyrich, but as a group of “radicals, working to overturn the present power structure of the country.”  When the economic collapse of 2008 and 2009 came along, conservatism immediately positioned itself as a protest movement for hard times. Aspects of the conservative tradition that were haughty or aristocratic were attributed to liberals. Symbols that seemed noble or democratic or populist, even if they were the traditional property of the other side, were snapped up and claimed by the Right for itself.

    This was integral to the weird character of the movement that came into being. From loc 1775-1793:

    What’s more, it was cast as a people’s movement with no leaders. A movement that was so profoundly democratic, so virtuously rank-and-file, so punk rock, that it was actively against leaders. A movement that was downright obsessed with being “sold out” by traditional politicians, with betrayal, with guarding its independence and its precious authenticity. 6

    This appropriation of leftist rhetoric goes as far as to take on a critical theoretical character. In its own simplistic way, it promises to cut through the veil of illusion and reveal the systemic (leftist) forces bringing about empirically identifiable pathologies. 

  • Mark 4:40 pm on July 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , liberal elite, , , , , ,   

    The fantasistic political ontologies which emerge under post-democracy 

    From Pity the Billionaire, by Thomas Frank, loc 1380. This is a summary of the populist right’s understanding of the structure of society:

    America is made up of two classes, roughly speaking, “ordinary people” and “intellectuals.” According to this way of thinking, as we see again and again, either you’re a productive citizen, or you’re some kind of snob, a university professor or an EPA bureaucrat. Compared to the vivid line separating intellectuals and productive members of society, all other distinctions fade to nothingness. Between small-business owners and sharecroppers, for example, there is no difference at all, just as other Tea Party authors saw no real difference between Rick Santelli’s bond traders and “working people.”

    I’m interested in understanding how basically delusional understandings of how the world work thrive under conditions of what Colin Crouch calls post-democracy.

    A similar idea from loc 2100:

    The unlikely Engels of this strange class war was a retired professor of international relations named Angelo Codevilla; his manifesto, “America’s Ruling Class,” was published in the summer of 2010 by the American Spectator and was issued a short while later in a longer version by that magazine’s book-publishing arm. There are but two social groupings that matter in America, the retired professor maintained, a “ruling class” that legitimizes itself as the nation’s intellectual superiors but that is actually defined by its control of the machinery of government, and a “country class” made up of nearly everyone else. The core of the idea was not new, but the bailouts and economic disasters of our own times allowed Codevilla to apply it in a new and uncompromising way. His indictment of the “ruling class” fell on anyone connected with government, Republicans as well as Democrats, both of whom were said to hand out economic favors to the connected. Big business was implicated too, insofar as it was in cahoots with big government; in fact, “the upper tiers of the U.S. economy are now nothing but networks of special deals with one part of government or another,” Codevilla wrote.

  • Mark 8:13 am on July 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    The Myth of Elite Cosmopolitanism 

    A rapidly developing discourse which contrasts elite cosmopolitanism with insular populism should be treated more critically than is being done so at present. This interesting article by Ross Douthat takes issue with this supposed cosmpolitanism:

    Genuine cosmopolitanism is a rare thing. It requires comfort with real difference, with forms of life that are truly exotic relative to one’s own. It takes its cue from a Roman playwright’s line that “nothing human is alien to me,” and goes outward ready to be transformed by what it finds.

    The people who consider themselves “cosmopolitan” in today’s West, by contrast, are part of a meritocratic order that transforms difference into similarity, by plucking the best and brightest from everywhere and homogenizing them into the peculiar species that we call “global citizens.”

    This species is racially diverse (within limits) and eager to assimilate the fun-seeming bits of foreign cultures — food, a touch of exotic spirituality. But no less than Brexit-voting Cornish villagers, our global citizens think and act as members of a tribe.

    They have their own distinctive worldview (basically liberal Christianity without Christ), their own common educational experience, their own shared values and assumptions (social psychologists call these WEIRD — for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic), and of coursetheir own outgroups (evangelicals, Little Englanders) to fear, pity and despise. And like any tribal cohort they seek comfort and familiarity: From London to Paris to New York, each Western “global city” (like each “global university”) is increasingly interchangeable, so that wherever the citizen of the world travels he already feels at home.


  • Mark 7:44 am on July 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , river irwell,   

    Stories of the River Irwell 

    Interesting short film made by someone I met yesterday:

  • Mark 7:17 am on July 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    Rhetorical rapture-races and contemporary fragile movements  

    I love the phrase ‘rhetorical rapture-race’ used by Thomas Frank to describe the mobilising dynamics of the far-right resurgence in the U.S. From his Pity the Billionaire loc 960:

    Conspiracy theorists have always been with us. But Glenn Beck brought them into the mainstream. And so began one of the most distinctive features of the right-wing renaissance: a rhetorical rapture-race in which pundits, bloggers, and candidates for high office competed to paint the most alarming end-times picture.

    Is this something uniquely applicable to deliberately mobilising fragile movements i.e. inciting crowds of individuals to act in a co-ordinated way without seeking to build relational bonds between them?

    On loc 992 he cites a Republican blogger describing the results of the aforementioned mobilisation. Is the rhetorical rapture-race necessary in order to cut through the fog of depoliticisation?

    Many Americans who had never been politically active, never walked a precinct, never interrupted their golf games, family gatherings, or vacations to discuss politics, government, or the Constitution, were suddenly gripped with the sense that their government, nation, and way of life were being stolen from them. 4

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