Talking with Occupy’s resident Russell scholar

Sam Colbert & Jonathon Fairclough

Managing Editor & Production Editor

 

In the corner of the student centre, among the books, blankets and the protest signs, the students of Occupy McMaster have an understanding.

The seat under the lamp belongs to Dr. Karl.

“I don’t care what you write about me in the newspaper, as long as you spell my name correctly,” joked the sage of Occupy when we sat down with him by the fireplace. Karl Stefan Theodor Andersson was born in a post-Second World War Sweden, where he completed an undergraduate degree in philosophy at Lund University in 1976. He found his way to McMaster for graduate studies later that year, drawn by the Bertrand Russell archives in Mills library.

“I was interested in Bertrand Russell for having so much energy, a zest for life. He said he was an agnostic atheist, and I was in the psychology of religion at the time. My professor was very much into studying diaries, letters, instead of public works,” he said. On the lapel of his jacket was a pin that read “W.W.B.R.D?” – What would Bertrand Russell do?

After a few months in Hamilton, Karl took a bus down to Harvard, spending a week at the divinity school there. He returned there that fall, staying for a year to complete a Masters in Theology. During 1978-79, completed a year of study at Berkeley. He returned to Hamilton in 1984, and again in 1987. Since then, he’s come back from Sweden almost every year to comb through the Russell archives.

He received his Doctorate degree in the philosophy of religion from Lund in 1994.

“Mac had only 7,000 students then in the ‘70s, and they were all WASPs. That’s the greatest thing here now, with all these nationalities and groups, and they are pretty peaceful,” he said.

When asked about his experiences during the anti-war movement of the 1970s and the “Occupy” movement of today, he noted: “There is one big difference. Then you had the Vietnam War, and then the civil rights movement, feminism, and, finally, the anti-war movement. It has gone from “protest” to “occupy” … Now, you get everything little by little, and then every individual counts. If you can make more people aware of what they can do, anything is possible.”

Dr. Karl first encountered the Occupy movement on campus in late 2011 as an outsider. Now, he is considered a mentor among the group: a solemn voice of maturity and responsiveness from an educated, open and adventurous mind.

Though he rents an apartment above the West End pub on Emerson Street, he spends most of his evenings at Occupy.

“What I see here is a sign that there are some students saying that we can’t be silent parts of a system that is built on a war machine, destroys the environment – the profit thinking is very short-sighted,” he said. “You’ve got to look up and ask how we’re going to change this, not by revolution or revolt, but by evolution.”

He had planned to leave McMaster and return to Sweden in late June, but rescheduled his departure date to March 30. When we spoke with him on March 26, he said that, earlier that day, he had extended his stay again into June.

Particularly here on campus, Dr. Karl Andersson is a necessary man at a necessary time. Running into its fifth month of operation in the atrium of the student centre, Occupy McMaster is certainly in need of a connection to the social movements of decades past.

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