I had what I suppose amounts to an “out-of-Berkeley” experience today.

This semester I’m essentially working and taking a single class to fulfill my last breadth requirement and I’m taking the class at the university through concurrent enrollment. It means I’m not registered as a student, and so only have to pay for the actual 4 units that I’m taking, rather than the thousands of dollars of semesterly registration fees.

So it basically boils down to $125 per unit plus a small registration fee. Overall, quite a deal, eh?

Of course, since you’re not considered an official student, it means you get the leftover pick of whatever classes are still available after the registered kids have picked all their courses, and at the discretion of the instructor. Essentially, this means that any popular/impacted classes are streng verboten to the concurrently enrolled, either by decree or simply by the fact that the registered students always are chosen first.

Because of that, looking for a class that fulfills the “International Studies” breadth is a mind-numbing process of looking back and forth between the page that lists the few hundred appropriate courses and poring through the semesterly lists of which ones are actually being taught that semester. Going through them, most needed to be dismissed outright either because they’re already full or conflict with my work schedule. By the time I find a class that has a good amount of open spaces and is at a time I can make, I don’t care if it’s about underwater basket weaving, I’ll take the damn thing and say “Thank you sir, may I have another?”

The class that it ended up being: Political Science 137B: Marxism and Fascism in the Far East.

Yeah, fine. Whatever.

“Just give me my four months of indoctrination into how swell the Chinese revolutionary spirit was, and be done with it,” I thought. “Harangue me with one-sided claptrap arguments about how the supposedly altruistic aims of the ChiComs are what’s really important, and not the fact that they ended up killing millions upon millions and nearly turned what was once the center of civilization into a completely brokendown backwater.

“Furthermore, regale me with tales of how Sun Yat-Sen was really worse than Hitler (but not quite as bad as Bush), and tempt my blood pressure to rise by suggesting with a straight face that the Taiwanese would all be better off if they gave up their shallow, consumerist, prosperity-inducing ways and embraced the politics of meaning that they left on the mainland.

“I don’t care, I’ll sit here and listen to it all with a bemused smile on my face and a smug sense of self-superiority as I marvel that a tenured professor at a top university could be suckered in by this stuff while a 22-year old dumbass kid like myself sees it for the bunk that it is.”

All of that was running through my head as the several hundred students slowly filled up the auditorium and the normal confusion of the first day of a large lecture class dominated .

I had an inkling something was amiss not long after I started reading the page labeled “Pedagogical Intent, Class Content, and General Deportment.”

No attempts at witty Lilekcisms here, folks. I’m just gonna reproduce the whole thing for you below, let you read it just as I did. It’s reproduced in full with all the original emphases retained. And as you’re reading it, keep in mind, this is a political science class in Berkeley:


The purposes of this course include the inculcation of a principled skepticism among students who have been trained to accept any claims whatsoever as long as such claims are communicated with conviction (the product of an epistomological relativism that has been characteristic of the academic community for at least thirty years). 

The presentation of materials in the course of lectures will be predicated on the studied conviction (on the part of the instructor) that contemporary social science has been sadly remiss in teaching young people how to deal with the contemporary political, social, psychological and moral universe in which they live. In effect, the course will not be conducted in a politically correct manner – which means that some students may find the treatment offensive. If you are among those who cannot tolerate alternative opinion, who feel that any departure from the prevailing folk-wisdom of Ethnic Studies or left-wing posturing is objectionable – do not take this course.

This course is an elective. That means you are not required to enroll. It is a course predicated on the conviction that students have not been trained to think coherently, rationally and empirically about the modern world. It conveys non-standard opinions, which you are not required to accept, but with which you must deal.

The subjects chosen are Marxism and Fascism, two controversial subjects that have long been part of the fare of aspiring intellectuals. In our environment, there has been a tendency to consider Marxism a kind of errant humanism, a benevolent creed that sometimes goes astray. Fascism, on the other hand, has always been treated by academics as though it was a simple obscenity, devoid of intelligence and committed to genocidal violence.

I have chosen these subjects because they provide the opportunity to reflect on the nature of public opinion (even if that opinion is academic) . Such opinion could well involve us in conflict in which all of you might be swallowed.

This course will attempt to provide an alternative interpretation of the past century in terms of the contested concepts it will employ as explanatory devices. Hopefully, such treatment might be helpful in understanding the present and our immediate future. If you are a Marxist enthusiast and believe that all the evil in the world is the product of a :vast right-wing conspiracy” – do not take this course. While I am fully prepared to debate your opinions during office hours, acrimonious debate is not permitted during class time. Moreover, I do not want to create intrapsychic tensions among those who are irretrievably leftist.

If you cannot get to class on time – do not take this course. If you are disposed to be insolent in the effort to become large man on campus – do not take this course. If you must regularly classes early and disrupt the proceedings – do not take this course. If you require medication to remain civil – do not take this course.


Yeah, I know. Major jaw-on-floor territory here, folks.

The professor’s name is A. James Gregor, and a quick googling revealed that his main academic focus seems to be the twin evils of Marxism and Fascism, and that his main argument regarding the two says that they cannot be separated into the extreme left and right wings, but that they are both intertwined inextricably by many commonalities not only of means but also of ends. This isn’t a revolutionary theory in the real world, but I can tell you from personal experience that the notion is alien to the atmosphere at least on this college campus.

From a summary of Gregor’s book The Faces of Janus: Marxism and Fascism in the Twentieth Century:


The thesis of his book is that the theoretical and practical relationship between Fascism and Marxism is “curvilinear rather than rectilinear” (p . 128). 


Gregor devotes the middle chapters of the book (Chapters 4, 5, & 6) to a detailed discussion of the regimes of the former Soviet Union and Maoist China. Here he argues that the practical applications of Marxist-Leninist theory took on an essentially Fascist appearance. Mao and Stalin both conceived of the world as divided between “less-developed nations and advanced industrial democracies” (p. 73). This gave rise to the nationalistic policies of each country which stressed revolutionary violence and submission to the charismatic leader (pp. 80-82). Since these are characteristics that are typically described as “right wing” it was “never made quite clear whether Maoism [or Stalinism] was a form of ‘right wing extremism’ or ‘left wing adventure,’ which suggests that the distinction was never really clear or convincing” (p. 75).


Did I mention that this guy is a political science professor at Berkeley?

The whole thing only got more surreal after he actually began talking. I was sitting in the back of Wheeler Auditorium so perhaps my vantage point wasn’t ideal, but the guy looks like Aristotle Onassis, complete with ’70’s era sunglasses. His voice sounded vaguely like it retains just the shades of a Brooklyn accent, and his casual cadence of speech seems to hint that he could at any moment say, “Fuggedaboutit.”

He started talking about the course material and subject matter, but essentially used that just as a springboard to launch into a very long rant (and it was most certainly a rant) about all the things wrong with Berkeley specifically and contemporary academia in general .

He described how he heard people talk about Marxism’s glorious future, both internationally and in the US.

“I’ve had to listen to that stupidity my whole life!”

He went on, describing how “Berkeley dementia is pandemic,” and warned everyone that “You’re going to get irritated in thsi class. Just look on my office door to see how ticked off students get.”

He made it clear he’s something of a curmudgeon, and also perhaps a great big asshole. I mean, I’m as annoyed as the next guy when someone wanders into class 45 minutes late, but I still felt acutely sorry for the kids he tore apart today who did, and I was pretty put-off by it.

He did say we’d all get irritated, though, didn’t he? I’m not sure what to expect on Thursday, but at the very least I’m looking forward to the next lecture with more enthusiasm than I’ve had for any of my classes in a long time.

last update : 23-5-2018

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