Atlantic Studies Podcasts of Note: 6/15-6/29

Andrew Kettler's picture

H-Atlantic Subscribers,

This week, the Atlantic Studies Podcasts of Note blog falls even deeper into the physical and emotional spiral that is the United States’ response to the coronavirus. For this week, episodes focus on sensory worlds, entrepreneurship, freedom, and decolonization throughout the Atlantic World. As well, look below to a couple episodes in the Remembrance of Past Podcasts section that highlight contemporary issues with race science and protest movements.

As well, with high-risk surgery during another pandemic week, I figured it was also time to give up on the cordiality. The political failure, the leadership failure, and the societal failure of this pandemic is often beyond comprehension for even the most rational of academics who have studied the ways fascism develops, disease transmits, and societies fail.

Trying to remain positive in these times often becomes emotionally contradictory to the moment in which we are living. Sometimes terror is necessary, sometimes fear creates motivation. Sometimes thinking about how triumphant you will be to have survived and created a better world prevents the very world you are trying to create. In general, Americans have been too positive.

As well, many forces in the Academy have failed in their response to the coronavirus. We needed to be louder, earlier, and still need to be louder, now. This failure of pandemic response has much to do with American anti-intellectualism and Social Darwinism, but also has to do with an unwillingness of the Academy to strongly stand for shared beliefs during a difficult time.

There is no doubt the political leadership has been narcissistic and weak at the same time. Future historians will look upon this time as a failure of Americans to protect the vulnerable. The politicization of masks has been disgusting. The promotion of drugs known to not work has been equally damaging as it took the time and space for other possible treatments. The quick use of the past tense in May, as if the pandemic were winding down, has also partially led to this new peak; a failure of optimism that creates more death each day.

This failure is also partly due to a clearly developed protocol, like thoughts and prayers after school shootings, whereby each level of power in society passes the buck through constantly scapegoating processes. The federal government says it is up to the states. The states say it is up to the localities. The localities say it is up to the people. And the people say they just are doing what the federal, state, and local leadership says to do or not to do.

Because blame can be shared, there is no fear of shame or social retribution for infecting others. People do not feel that their restaurant trip that infects a waiter who then infects his sick grandparents is their fault, because they have been educated away from those empathetic concerns. Those youthful consumers can simply state that their governor or mayor or president said it was okay to go out, so it was not their fault. They can simply scapegoat others, rather than protect others. 

This is a low moment for humanity, for the American people. The prosperity gospel told people that if they believed in a certain faith, they would become rich and healthy. This formerly absurd Christian ideal became a standard belief system deep within the fabric of “winning” throughout American life. The Academy fails when it does not point to the absurdity of these claims, especially during this pandemic where they have become even more exposed. The anti-Academy wins because they make strong claims without any proof, hollow but strong, manipulating stats and images. The Academy fails because it makes weakly pronounced claims with nearly certain proof.

This tenor must change. The loudest voices in the room can no longer be profiteers, scions, narcissists, and idiots. The denial of expertise in American life has caused the violent and sad extent of this epidemic much more than the actual physical microns of the coronavirus. The acceleration of blame on China will quicken as the election approaches, although this is simply another trick to once again shift blame away from what has actually caused the massive death in the United States, the lack of a necessary and stronger political and social response.

The leadership protects the stock market as a symbol of economic health and national pride. As with most else spoken from those in highest halls of power in this pandemic, this is an absurdity. The stock market stays robust because it reflects the ability of the investor class to profit off the poor, not the actual health of the economy. The stock market is decoupled from the actual economy. The general Academy knows this but does little to promote the truth that the wealthy are profiting immensely during this pandemic. The praise for essential workers is amazing, but what that acclaim partly does is to discursively shift the social sphere to discuss the bravery and sacrifice of the worker so as not to talk about who is clearly not sacrificing in this moment, the rich who have increased profits when the rest of the country has entered a depression.

There is no better time for universal basic income to keep people at home, higher taxes to pay for it, and the rich to take on that burden. But the public does not hear that call from the ivory tower. It only hears silence and wavered and weak statements that analyze the past failures of the pandemic rather than assert action for a solved future. We need masks. We need social distancing. We need new stay-at-home orders. We need much more from the investor class to help the worker survive and not bring disease into their communities.

And, we need the Academy to say so.

Louder. Stronger. Forcefully.

It is time to call people out. It is time to shame.

It is time for cordiality in academic discourse to take a backstage to the truth.

Atlantic Studies Podcasts of Note:

1) New Books Network – Alejandra Bronfman – Isles of Noise: Sonic Media in the Caribbean

2) New Books Network – Steven Taylor – Exiles, Entrepreneurs, and Educators: African Americans in Ghana

3) New Books Network – A. de la Fuente and A.J. Gross – Becoming Free and Becoming Black: Race, Freedom, and Law in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana

4) Ben Franklin’s World – Bonus Listener Q and A: Young Benjamin Franklin

5) New Books Network – Alanna O’Malley – The Diplomacy of Decolonisation: America, Britain, and the United Nations during the Congo Crisis, 1960-1964

This Day in History Class:

6/29/1613 – Globe Theatre Burned Down

6/22/1947 - Octavia Butler Born

6/18/1178 – Canterbury Monks Observed Lunar Event

Remembrance of Past Podcasts:

Race science continues to support many racialist ideologies across the Americas. For a recent work on the topic see Ashley Kerr – Sex, Skulls, and Citizens: Gender and Racial Science in Argentina (1860-1910) on New Books Network.

The History of African Philosophy offered an important episode for the contemporary moment on “Planting the Seeds – James Africanus Beale Horton.”

Stay safe.


Andrew Kettler

Co-Editor, H-Atlantic