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Industrial America

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I recently began the spring semester at my university. This particular school is heavily liberal but my previous semester proved that objective content is possible. (That the university is liberal is not my reason for attending, but without droning on about personal information I will just mention that it is not possible for me at this time to switch schools.)

I'm very excited about this semester as I have a wide range of classes, many of which deal with classical subjects. I was also looking forward to one of my U.S. History requirements. We have a relatively small choice at this school, so I was very happy to enroll in the following:

Growth of Industrial America

Early growth of industrial capitalism and America's social and political response to it from the Civil War to World War I.

Especially considering that an overwhelming percentage of the history courses at this university focus on special interests (predominantly feminism in multiple forms), I thought I had hit the jackpot with this course.

I had my first class on Tuesday. The professor started with an introduction and her personal feelings towards history. She was dismayed that when she was growing up, they only studied a few (central) figures and that she was glad to have the opportunity to teach "social history". She then proclaimed that we'd have a lot to read and went over the various books. Personally, I love reading. I am, however, greatly concerned at her topics.

I am not a student of history and admit that I do not know it as well as I should. But of course, that's why I'm taking these courses. As our major textbook, she assigned "Standing at Armageddon" by Nell Irvin Painter. Other texts include titles such as "Herland", "Ragtime", "Major Problems of the Gilded & Progressive Era", and "Farewell, My Nation: The American Indian and the United States". To top things off, she referred quickly to "the robber barons" and then proceeded to show us a movie about the White Man killing Indians for unjustified reasons and the breaking of various treaties.

While I'm well aware that these topics may be a part of U.S. History, I really wanted to pack up my books and leave in the middle of all this. I don't think there's much hope of getting any essential information about this time period, regardless of what her course outline says. If there is anyone on this board that is versed in this period of history, I'd like to ask if you think it's remotely possible, given this information, that this history course will be of any use, or if I should follow my "instincts" and just run as fast as I can :P

[Edit: Apologies for the horrible spelling error in the topic. Would a moderator be so kind as to fix it?] [OK - GC]

Edited by GreedyCapitalist
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[...]

While I'm well aware that these topics may be a part of U.S. History, I really wanted to pack up my books and leave in the middle of all this.  I don't think there's much hope of getting any essential information about this time period, regardless of what her course outline says.  If there is anyone on this board that is versed in this period of history, I'd like to ask if you think it's remotely possible, given this information, that this history course will be of any use, or if I should follow my "instincts" and just run as fast as I can :P

[Edit: Apologies for the horrible spelling error in the topic.  Would a moderator be so kind as to fix it?]

It seems worthless. She might as well have assigned Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.

But what is it exactly do you want to understand about this period of US History?

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Use the course to your advantage. Find the many history books that explode the myths your teacher regurgitates, and come to a better understanding of what really happened. Identify the philosophical/ethical errors underlying the counterreaction against fantastic capitalist growth.

Early in my college career I took a macroeconomics class taught by a doctrinaire Keynesian. I got the top grade in the class while learning more about the enemy, and better understanding why Keynesianism is flawed. I would preface my answers with "according to ... " so as to get a correct score while maintaining my opposition to what was tought in class.

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That's a good piece of advice A.West, and truthfully it is one that I follow as well. My Phil 201 class is taught by an avowed platonist, and my Ethics class is taught by a Christian altruist. But like A.West said, use it to strengthen your own arguement.

My macroeconomics class was taught by a Chicago-ite (and also happens to be a Libertarian... DUN DUN DUNNN!!!!!) Better than a Keynesian, but he taught that things like the central bank and fiat currency were essential. I found myself reading lots of Ludwig Von Mises after his classes.

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But what is it exactly do you want to understand about this period of US History?

I'd like to first learn about the major events that occurred during this period, as I would with any history class. Unless the undercurrents of a society came to the front of the stage, such as women earning the right to vote, it seems almost like avoidance to start with information about how daily people lived (which supposedly is the case with the historical fiction book, Ragtime).

In my Ethics class last semester, I was able to more clearly understand each of the various systems, and their flaws (and why those flaws were so important/dangerous, not just "mistakes") because of my beginning studies with Objectivism. But as I am not a student of history, I'm worried that it may be too cloudy to figure out the essentials from the rest. For example, she started with a movie about the last Indian tribe who were moved onto a reservation. Certainly, the U.S. did make and break treaties with them, but was this event a pivotal moment in the 1870's? I'm not sure, but her approach is geared towards that assumption.

A. West, last semester I had one professor who was an out-and-out socialist and "taught" a course in which she expected us to participate in discussion concerning our opinions of the text (which I almost always disagreed with), but forced us to write papers *using* the philosophies and ideas of the authors we had to read. I used much the same tactic, playing by her rules without caving to corrupt ideas. While it was something of a challenge, the course was ultimately of no use to me, except to waste my precious time. I flat out wrote that I would not integrate the ideas "taught" in the course in my future.

For the amount of work she expects from us, combined with the other 5 courses I have scheduled this semester, I'm worried that the same thing will happen. A class/teacher I despise will suck up my time away from my better courses and leave me still lacking what I had hoped to learn. But your advice is still helpful, so I do thank you. And to everyone who posted. Your comments are quite appreciated.

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The keywords "[...] social [...] response [...]" are there to let you know that the course is about the feelings of a whole lot of people.

If you want to learn of the important historical events of the period, these may be alluded to at times as the teacher wants to emphasize certain feelings of certain groups of people.

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I am a college student, and based on my experiences with classes that started out appealing and ended up sapping my motivation I would say that unless taking this class is crucial to your graduating or filling a requirement (e.g. it's better than the other history options available at your college) that you should get out of it. There are plenty of valid reasons to stay such as furthering your knowledge of the enemy's stance, integrating your knowledge of false philsophical systems with their practical implications in history, etc. However, if you are not a history student you may find that you are better off reading good historical text on your own time and instead dedicating class time to studying things that will further your knowledge in the particular field you are studying. There are great histories and biographies, in non textboook format, that will illuminate on industrial America and the greatness of wealth creators. There are even Objectivist intellectuals who have written on the topic of industrial America. :thumbsup:

Whatever you decide, best wishes in the endeavour. History is fascinating, don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise.

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... unless taking this class is crucial to your graduating or filling a requirement (e.g. it's better than the other history options available at your college) ...

I have to take two U.S. History courses as part of my core curriculum before graduating. The university I currently attend only allows Juniors, Seniors, Masters candidates and Doctoral candidates. All this means is that there is no "basic" course, as those are almost always saved for the freshman level.

Looking at last semester’s offerings of special history topics, it seems I missed out on a class called "Big Business". The same gamble probably applied to that as well. As it is, I struggled to find another class to switch to, but none that would fulfill this requirement fit into my schedule. In fact, none of the remaining courses I need to take will fit in this semester. So I'm going to deal with this class as best I can.

In reading our main text, Standing at Armageddon, the author uses percentages for such obvious bias that one expects to read, "those horrible rich people!" at any moment. In one example, it cites income and living expenses for a Native American Coal Miner in dollars and cents in a way that seems to be suggesting everyone should feel sad. Sure, it might not have been pleasant to earn $58 per month, but what I wouldn't give to be able to save 28% of my income after expenses. (Total income $58.94, gross expenses (rent, groceries, power/coal) $42.40. p xxii) The text never gives the reader information as to what earnings would be worth in today’s market. The only conclusion I can arrive at is that the author expects the text to be read with today’s price index in mind (which of course is absurd).

I ignored the author’s statements about how the wealth was not evenly distributed, because this is a given fact in any free market, correct? Any attempt to force equal distribution is obviously a grave infringement of rights, but (and I apologize if this is an impossible hypothetical) what would happen if, within a truly free market, somehow the wealth was distributed almost completely equally (say, everyone was within $1,000 of one another)? Are there any Objectivist texts that deal with the possibility of similar situations?

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Price level. A price index is a measurement of the price level, and there are many price indices, many ways to measure the price level.

Thank you for your correction. It is perhaps irrelevant, but I might have mentioned above that my major is not history, and certainly not economics. Still, I would prefer to be correct in my language and understanding.

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...

I ignored the author’s statements about how the wealth was not evenly distributed, because this is a given fact in any free market, correct?  Any attempt to force equal distribution is obviously a grave infringement of rights, but (and I apologize if this is an impossible hypothetical) what would happen if, within a truly free market, somehow the wealth was distributed almost completely equally (say, everyone was within $1,000 of one another)?  Are there any Objectivist texts that deal with the possibility of similar situations?

Not possible. The young are relatively unskilled and inexperienced, not to mention have hardly had the high-paying career and time to accumulate wealth. People near the end of their retirement usually have amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars, whereas a teenager makes just above minimum wage and has no savings. There are millions of different occupations all requiring different levels of knowledge, experience and interest, the supply and demand for which vary greatly at any given time. Brain surgeons and grocery baggers will never in a free market have a difference in income no greater than $1,000 (in today's prices). Humans also differ greatly in the number of hours they are willing and able to work. Capitalists who own and manage businesses will of neccesity need a great deal of capital (i.e., wealth) to produce whereas the wage-earner needs none at all, except whatever portion of his income he saves and invests. Even among capitalists, the amount of wealth owned varies greatly depending upon the capital-intensiveness of their business. Car manufacturers need to own billions in capital, whereas a restaurant owner needs only tens of thousands of dollars.

As you can see, the requirements and nature of human life demand great inequality.

Edited by Tom Rexton
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. Find the many history books that explode the myths your teacher regurgitates, and come to a better understanding of what really happened. Identify the philosophical/ethical errors underlying the counterreaction against fantastic capitalist growth.

In my history class, we are studying the same period and it just so happens my teacher is a socialist. So, could you recommend any good books about this time period please. Anything would be greatly appreciated.

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  • 1 month later...

I'm heading into the midterm of this class. For those interested, here's an update of what's been going on.

I was briefly encouraged when I found that for her lectures, she lays out terms on the board ahead of time and discusses them in an orderly fashion. Unfortunately, this particular teacher can't manage to talk about white men or capitalism without spitting fire. She doesn't even attempt an ounce of objectivity when it comes to discussing history. I've never met another teacher, in any subject, who was quite so blatantly biased. My last class was about the economic situation during this time period. Here are a few choice quotes.

*At one point, I think while discussing social Darwinism, she declared a similarity in attitudes between what one might think of alligators eating children and those who starved out union strikers.

*During a discussion about Herbert Spencer, she compared British Colonialism to burglary.

*Seething, she discussed (what I later had her clarify to be the revival, not the origination of) lassiez-faire, and in the most sarcastic tone I have ever heard from any professional said, "It would be wrong to protect the young and the old!" She followed this up with the pithy comment that, "It will take the New Deal to make people realize that we are responsible for each other." She then condemned the philanthropic activities of men like Carnegie because they personally acted with a very patriarchal intent.

*She assumed that we all agreed on a fundamental like "the state should participate in child labor laws, sanitation and public education", as she again commented in a way, that it is basically incredulous that anyone could ever dream of opposing such things.

*She mentioned a book, "Dynamic Sociology" by Lester Frank Ward that "examined" history and "found" that all of progress is the result of (enforced?) obligation.

*She openly attacked those "horrible Horatio Alger stories wherein the victim blames himself for any failure" as some type of cleverly concealed plot to keep workers down. She never actually talked about any popularity, or why they even existed. :(

*When we talked about "conspicuous consumption" she posed the question, "why do all these middle class people have yards that do nothing?", I answered, "aesthetic". She then ruled that it's merely a psychological failing (to be kind with regards to how she phrased it...), of sorts, that people should want to waste money on palm trees, just because they want a way to show off their wealth (which of course is bad). She then said, "In those days, you could have a maid, dressed up in some pretty uniform to answer your doors, who doesn't do any hard labour! Imagine that, a servant who doesn't serve!" At this point, she ranted for a while and made some totally ridiculous statement that I could not trace back to the lecture in any way. (Again, with spitting sarcasm) "If we see a poor person driving a nice car, that's wrong!" :)

*She did mention that the clergy (I presume Protestant) noticed the working class had stopped coming to church in great numbers, but that evangelicals and fundamentalists do quite well during this time. "Life sucks here, boy have we got a deal for you in the afterlife!" Of course, she never stops to posit why working class folks might have some reason to stop going to church.

*Last example, we had to read an "article" by Mother Jones who visited a factory and used words like "slave" to describe paid workers and "murderers" to describe factory owners. She did at least admit that it was not intended to be objective, but only after this was mentioned by the reviewer.

Needless to say, this was a frustrating class to sit through. It was difficult to try and figure out to what extent which ideas she presented were *really* so horrible, and which were being blown completely away from important context. She admitted a few times that she's not very good with economics and at one point had a bit of trouble explaining inflation to a confused student. As mentioned above, I had to ask her if Herbert Spencer actually coined the term "laissez-faire", because she left me so confused with her presentation. She had made it seem as such, even though it didn't make sense to me.

I am still interested in this time period, even if this teacher is trying her best to portray it as the most evil in America's history. :o

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I'm heading into the midterm of this class.  For those interested, here's an update of what's been going on...

Why wouldn't you just walk out of a class like this?

Edited by GreedyCapitalist
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Why wouldn't you just walk out of a class like this?

As I explained above, I have a requirement for U.S. history courses to get my degree. At the beginning of the semester, after attending the first class I searched for an alternative. None that would fill the requirement fit into my schedule. As troubling as this course is, I'm not willing to defer my graduation an entire semester for one class.

But yes, I wish I could walk out every single week.

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