Categories
Logical Anti-Science

Inconsilience: Culture in an Age of Extreme Science

To blow up Creation. Now there’s an idea that would please mankind […]. Let’s get ready to hear space scream!” -Henry Michaux1

Paul Virilio noted “[…] there is no science of the accident” for Aristotle.2 Yet, Virilio saw something coming into focus, a standpoint from which human catastrophe loses any accidental quality: the unfolding of history as a science of disaster.3 The accident in substances has been accompanied by an accident in knowledge—and the emergence of previously unimaginable cataclysms—rapidly accelerating an existential crisis implicating both the Earth and the future of the species. These developments issue sharp challenges to both the Sciences and Humanities, thus colliding into the “Two Cultures” conflict, often taken to represent exactly that divide. Considering that prescriptions offered by the frontmost belligerents in that dispute appear to have failed, I now ask: “if History is increasingly a science of disaster, what’s the meaning of ‘culture’ in an age of extreme science?”

The Two Cultures”

Primarily at stake in the early 1960’s clash between C.P. Snow and F.R. Leavis was the trajectory for culture and society in the UK, its dissemination throughout the educational system and its associated worldwide effects. C.P. Snow sought to enact a paradigm shift consistent with the technocratic critique of Post-War British political economy, whereas F.R. Leavis mounted a defense of the literary intellectuals and the putative import of culture qua culture. The disciplinary component of the exchange is most relevant for us today, but must nevertheless be contextualized to avoid certain transpositions.

The social, cultural, and intellectual history of the debate includes shifting social dynamics pitting institutional power (the Oxbridge literary scene) against science as a relative upstart in terms of political cachet and cultural capital.4 CP Snow’s talk contained a radical, emancipatory edge, this as he was seeking to dislodge a decadent elite coupled with the stated ambition of elevating the world’s poor through science and technology. Leavis, by contrast, defended an elite view of culture as being crucial for life and offered the idea of the university as central to that task. As we will see, many of these associations appear to have been effectively reversed since the original exchange.

Snow’s claims can easily be made explicit: he believes that there are two “cultures” quite at odds (scientists and nonscientists); that the literary intellectuals are “natural Luddites;”5 that the scientific revolution should be carried out in the realm of education; and that scientists have “the future in their bones”6—claims that seem almost contemporary given the current ethos of science and higher education. Snow goes on to predict the possibility of a “third culture” constituting a harmonious interaction between the sciences and the arts.7 Snow’s manner seems marked by self-assurance, perhaps editorialized as cavalier optimism coupled with a distinctively “scientific” style of braggadocio.

Leavis wastes no time attacking Snow’s bombast instead of the argument. Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of Leavis’ attack is that it distracted from the argument he actually did make. Leavis’ central point is that the future rests on the collaborative renewal of consciousness and respect for the living whole—culture properly understood—this rather than a loose grouping of specialized disciplines.

Exactly what we mean by culture is crucial here. Whereas Snow’s invocation of “culture” appears aimed at shared practices and methodological similarities (“without thinking about it, they respond alike”), Leavis’ perspective is more closely in line with the tradition running from Matthew Arnold to Wilhelm von Humboldt and Johann Gottfried Herder, a tradition in which “culture” might be understood as “the flow of moral energy that holds society intact.”8 In pertinent part, Leavis is well aware of the necessity of a cultural response to coming challenges:

“the advance of science and technology means a human future of change so rapid and of such kinds, of tests and challenges so unprecedented, of decisions and possible non-decisions so momentous and insidious in their consequences, that mankind—this is surely clear—will need to be in full intelligent possession of its full humanity.”9

He goes on to indicate that humanity will require wisdom and vital instincts to mount a creative response to the future, but that these qualities are “something that is alien to both of Snow’s cultures.”10 Finally, Leavis grounds his plan for the transmission of such culture in: “concern for the idea of the university as a focus of consciousness and human responsibility.”11 Thus, Leavis’ hopes hinged on preserving the vitality of human life via culture centered in the university whereas Snow desired to fulfill the promises of the scientific revolution through education. Judging from the state of the world, the university, and the sciences & humanities today, it seems clear that both prescriptions have failed.

Consilience

In any case, the dominant ethos of the contemporary scene most arises from the disciplinary heirs of C.P. Snow. Foremost among them would be E.O. Wilson, whose National Bestselling book Consilience attempts to unify human knowledge through a partnering of scientific knowledge with the humanities (the difference between Snow and Wilson being that Wilson goes further in practically demanding a cultural imperialism of science). While Wilson was well aware that logical positivism had failed, he appeared to believe that we should simply assume it. Wilson asserts this speculative positivism through passages like: “Scholars in the humanities should lift the anathema placed on reductionism.”12

I see Wilson’s view of Consilience as being fulfilled in what John Brockman calls “The Third Culture.” According to Brockman: “[t]he third culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are.”13 Further, Brockman asserts: “Indeed, the traditional American intellectuals are, in a sense, increasingly reactionary, and quite often proudly (and perversely) ignorant of many of the truly significant intellectual accomplishments of our time.”14 Brockman goes on to state that “[…] what has traditionally been called ‘science’ has become ‘public culture.’”15

Inconsilience

Against the views of Snow, Wilson, et al., Michel Henry asks: “If the increasingly comprehensive knowledge of the world is undeniably good, why does it go hand in hand with the collapse of all other values, a collapse so serious that it calls our own existence into question?”16 Indeed, Virilio states that “the time of the accident in true knowledge is upon us,”17an “information bomb” ticking away while progressive catastrophe increasingly discloses “the hidden face of technical and scientific progress.”18 Consequently, whereas “the accident reveals the substance” we might now say that theScience” reveals the accident.19 Hence, technoscientific effects as the empirical refutation of “Consilience.”

Bertrand Russell noted that “as a result of the new control over the environment which scientific knowledge has conferred, a new philosophy is growing up, involving a changing conception of man’s place in the universe.”20 Russell goes on to contend that “this philosophy, if unchecked, may inspire a form of unwisdom from which disastrous consequences may result.”21 Marcuse locates one cause in the origins of technical rationality: “The qualification of nature, which led to its explication in terms of mathematical structures, separated reality from all inherent ends and, consequently, separated the true from the good, science from ethics.”22 This positivistic reduction inaugurates what Husserl refers to as “[t]he ‘crisis’ of science as its loss of meaning for life.”23 As Henry notes: “Galilean modernity can no longer offer anything but the terrifying spectacle unfolding right before our eyes: the progressive dismantling of what gives life its meaning, in each of the domains in which it is expressed.”24

The hypermodern turn towards technoscientific irrationalism has led to a near total fixation on power in the absence of truth and has summoned almost every corruption that comes with it—ushering in new modes of human domination, all-the-while continually threatening the end of our collective existence via thermonuclear meltdown. “Extreme Science,” for Virilio “runs the incalculable risk of the disappearance of all science”25 and “the possible extermination of all critical awareness.”26 Hence, such “science” constitutes an explicitly barbaric attack on culture. As Henry notes: “[…] culture originally and in itself has nothing to do with science and does not result from it in any way.27

For Henry, Culture “[…] refers to the self-transformation of life, the movement by which it continually changes itself in order to arrive at higher forms of realization and completeness […].”28 He notes that: “The Galilean decision to exclude subjectivity from its field of investigation does not only happen on the intellectual plane: in it, life turns against itself.”29 Thus, “It is not just a question of a crisis of culture but of its destruction.”30 Finally, “[…] here we are faced with something that has never really been seen before: the explosion of science and the destruction of the human being. Henry concludes: “This is the new barbarism, and this time it is not certain that it can be overcome.”31

The extreme overreaches, rampant corruption, and moral bankruptcy of the scientific establishment practically suggest humanitarian grounds for reopening the Trial of Galileo: “Arrogant to the point of insanity, BIG SCIENCE has become powerless to check the excess of its success. This is not so much because of any lack of knowledge as because of the outrageousness, the sheer hubris of a headlong rush without the slightest concern for covering the rear; its incredible ethical and philosophical deficit.”32 For Michel Serres: “Science will become wise when it holds back from doing everything it can do.”33 Russell asserts: “Knowledge is power, but it is power for evil just as much as for good.” 34

When C.P. Snow asserted that scientists had “the future in their bones” he was certainly prescient, but it’s unlikely he meant genetic material for harvesting and exploitation towards what Virilio calls a potential “cellular Hiroshima.”35 In a world where even the Nobel Peace Prize is named for the inventor of DYNAMITE, failure to rein in the scientific community could result in a Darwin Award for the entire species—to be bestowed just prior to the final detonation of that bomb called “Science.”

José Ortega y Gasset counsels: “Science needs from time to time, as a necessary regulator of its own advance, a labour of reconstitution […].”36 Vico, Virilio, Marcuse, Habermas, Aronowitz, et al. have all, at times, considered the need for social, political and/or ethical resistance and reformulation. Such possibilities have been explored via Hegelian-Marxism, phenomenology, liberation theology, fundamentalist religion and multiple environmentalist movements. Going forward, crucial goals should include a renewal of consciousness, decentralizing ethics, and a transformation of the public imaginary concerning science. Moral, ethical and spiritual renewal should be accompanied by the rejection of crass reductionism, positivism and cultural barbarism. The post-academic digital humanities offer new possibilities for raising awareness, coupled with the prospect of a Virilian “university of disaster” culminating in the development of a logical anti-science, and, hopefully, a new “Great Refusal.”

In an epoch where “Science” has come to mean “Power without Truth,” opposing “Science” now literally means “speaking Truth to Power.” As Galileo is said to have whispered at his trial: “And yet, it moves,” Virilio states: “Today we need to retort to the people conducting the progressivist Inquisition:

And now, it EXPLODES!‘”37

Citations

* Originally submitted to the symposium on the “Two Cultures in the 2020’s” link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ko2be5Ym79Q

1. Michaux, Henry. Passages. Gallimard (Paris, 1951), (quoted in Virilio, Paul. The University of Disaster. Polity Press (Cambridge, 2010), p. 37.

2. Virilio, Paul. The Original Accident. Polity Press (Cambridge, 2008) p. 10; The Information Bomb. Verso (London, 2005).

3. “Virilio appears to be thinking of accident as a quality that adheres in substance.” Hamilton, Ross. Accident: A Philosophical and Literary History. University of Chicago Press (Chicago, 2007), p. 3.

4. Orlando, Guy. The Two Cultures Controversy. Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 2011).

5. Snow, C.P. The Two Cultures. Canto (Cambridge, 1993). p 22.

6. Ibid. at 10.

7. Snow, C.P. A Second Look, p. 71 (in Snow, C.P. The Two Cultures).

8. Scruton, Roger. Modern Culture. Continuum (London, 2005), p. 1.

9. Leavis, F.R. Luddites? Or, There is Only One Culture (1966), (in The Two Cultures? The Significance of C.P. Snow, (Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 108.

10. Ibid. at 108.

11. Ibid. at 109.

12. Wilson, Edward, O. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. Vintage (New York, 1999), p. 230.

13. Brockman, John. The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution. Touchtone (New York, 1996), p. 17.

14. Ibid. at 17.

15. Ibid. at 18.

16. Henry, Michel. Barbarism. Continuum (London, 2012), p. 2.

17. Virilio, Paul. The University of Disaster. Polity Press (Cambridge, 2010), p. 34.

18. Virilio, Paul. Politics of the Very Worst. Semiotext(e) (New York, 1999), p. 92.

19. Virilio. The Original Accident, p. 10.

20. Russell, Bertrand. The Impact of Science on Society. Routledge (New York, 2003), pp. 1-2.

21. Ibid. at 2.

22. Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man. Routledge (New York, 2002), p. 150.

23. Husserl, Edmund. The Crisis of the European Sciences. Northwestern (Evanston, 1970), p. 5.

24. Henry. Barbarism. p. xiv.

25. Virilio, Paul. The Information Bomb. Verso (London, 2005), p. 3.

26. Virilio, The University of Disaster, p. 21.

27. Henry, Barbarism, p. 6.

28. Ibid. at 5.

29. Ibid. at 29.

30. Ibid. at 2.

31. Ibid. at 3.

32. Virilio, The University of Disaster, pp. 118-120.

33. Serres, Michel. The Troubadour of Knowledge. Michigan (Ann Arbor, 1997), p. 122.

34. Russell, The Impact of Science on Society, p. 110.

35. Virilio, The Original Accident, p. 11.

36. Ortega y Gasset, José. The Revolt of the Masses. Norton (New York, 1993),p.113.

37. Virilio, University of Disaster, p. 38.

Categories
Culture

The Limits of Metaversality

One of the most consequential issues of our epoch will no doubt be the question of the metaverse—this as in the entire digital semiosphere—coupled with a triumphant technorationalism espoused from within the new digital habitat. Its effects are already permeating every category of sociopolitical consideration, putting into question no less than sovereignty, legitimacy, the status of civic rights and so forth, substantially fixing the future between the looming threats of totalitarianism and a teleology that seems oriented towards the implementation of no less than open tyranny.

Technocratic metaversality threatens to radicalize the forms against humanity, this through an ever-widening separation between theory and practice, evocative of both nihilism and the very essence of pure ideology. The metaverse is hence open to an expanded version of Kant’s critique of Leibnizian metaphysics, an updated take on the Marxist theory of ideology, as well as (ironically) Hayek’s calculation problem. Yet, the technorationalist metaverse—a seemingly Platonic world of forms increasingly dominating terrestrial existence—nevertheless appears inimical to the good society as seen by Plato, which, of course, Popper saw as leading straight to totalitarianism. At issue is what the inversion of that same system will represent.

The dominant hypermodern mode conceives many or all problems as solvable through Brattonian “planetary scale computation.” Meritocracy now comes with an instrumental-technical imperative that explicitly privileges metaversality. Objects find their reference point in form rather than function and this is all merged with the specific claims that have accompanied the putative immanentization of metaphysics, hence the completion of nihilism proper. Thus, there are a number reasons for having doubts about the actual efficacy of technocratic metaversality as governance, which I’ll seek to only briefly hint at here.

The claim is that the crowning achievement of Cartesian representation and the implementation of Bacon’s Novum Organum has now set humanity catapulting towards a surveiled, cybernetic manifold where theory and practice, education and experience, credentials and competence, all come to achieve an ultimate separation, each coming unbounded from the other, and culminating in a pathological mode of virtual leadership consistent with the world-destroying doctrine of technoscientific irrationalism: mythology-enhanced science coupled with scientific extremism, or what Virilio called “extreme science.”

Metaversality may claim itself as “open,” but it cannot tolerate division between fact and value. Instead, there’s a vicious circularity: the mantra of the metaverse is “flourishing” and “flourishing” is metaversality; beyond that, we’re left only to believe that “terabyte makes right.” The only thing techobureaucratization comes to lack is genius—and in its place we see the flourishing of a digital inebriation that is only possible when nestled within an almost entirely synthetic world system.

While the Platonic auxiliaries were required to have the qualia and hard-nosed practical experience necessary to make informed interpretative judgments, the phenomenology and practice of civic life is being increasingly replaced by the propaganda of progress, deliverances of the culture industry and other assorted (and phenomenologically-devoid) simulacra. While in the Platonic “system” the only justification for poetics would be an unjust regime, under a fully-realized technocratic metaverse, humanistically oriented poetics would be both justified and rationally subjected to criminalization. Thus, ala Julian Assange, the post-academic digital humanities may wind up having to be heavily encrypted.

Categories
Total Deconstruction

On the Boomer Ideology

There’s little question that the Baby Boomer cohort has been subjected to scathing criticism: the term is frequently hurled as an insult or form of mockery across social media, an ad homeniem that seems to allege one as ineffectual or outdated. Recent publications characterize Boomers as “A Generation of Sociopaths” or as “the Generation that Promised Freedom and brought Disaster.” In the context of this sort of invective, seeking to criticize “the ideas rather than the people” may be well warranted. I want to claim while the term “Boomer” may have a justifiably negative affective charge, this seemingly quaint term masks some extremely dangerous patterns of thought. And rather than being obsolete, what it represents simply couldn’t be any more current.

While the Baby Boomer generation is obviously named for the post-World War II birthrate explosion, there’s a much more sinister association: that the conditions of this generation’s world entry were also punctuated by the birth of thermonuclear warfare. Indeed, it was the militarized domination of most of the world that facilitated just that birthrate—and this connection between violence, economics, and the Boomer cohort is perhaps inseparable from gaining a true understanding of their influence. And lurking even deeper is the question of dialectical or historical materialism versus the development of an ideology that threatens to destroy all material conditions.

On view of realpolitik, the Corvettes and cultural laissez faire were spoils of war, largely connected with a world historical shift where the surplus value of most of the world was rerouted to the US. While neoliberalism may be the ascendant form of contemporary political understanding, The Boomer Ideology is an appropriately contexualized and historicized understanding of neoliberalism consistent with the ostensible move towards a heightened sense of intergenerational consciousness.

Of course, the popular social movements of the 1960’s and 70’s may be offered as proof of the contrary, this in that these movements were largely anti-war, a repudiation of the Greatest Generation’s fighting ethos. To be sure, many young Boomers followed Marcuse, Horkheimer and Adorno in attacking the instrumental and technical rationality at the heart of the One Dimensional Man—the corporate squares leading the burgeoning system of narcissistic consumer capitalism. Yet if economic warfare is credited with leading to the demise of the USSR—or as representing a new geopolitical battlefield—it thus raises questions concerning any putative Boomer claims on the virtue of “Peace.”

As some of the 70’s radicals went on to lucrative careers in investment banking, Boomers facilitated some of the most damaging “advances” in human history, driving new modes of social, economic and ecological devastation. Technological advancement, financialization, and the overall globalizing project have led to new outlets for aggression: outsourcing facilitated the development of the sweatshop industrial complex, financial deregulation brought us the Great Recession, and the drive towards multinational corporate profits has led to rising inequalities, social fragmentation and unprecedented anthropogenic catastrophe. For a generation that may celebrate its own supposed “non-violence,” the Boomer cohort has done irreparable harm through distinctive modes of social, financial and cultural domination, including nearly perfecting the use of economic violence. Boomers have been instrumental in the rise of the total neoliberal state, just all-the-while rarely ever taking out their guns.

The Boomer Ideology is what I call the highly distinctive cultural inheritance transmitted by its namesake generation. And though such a heritage is bound up with nearly all Post-Enlightenment Western culture, I think that this varietal reflects especially undesirable features that cut against the common good, human dignity, social solidarity and so on. A key feature of The Boomer Ideology is that it comprises a radically centrist position including both neoliberal and neoconservative stances as found in North American politics. This centrist, supposedly pluralistic ideological political block has come to dominate the corporate state apparatus, NGO’s, academia, the entire technical intelligentsia and has imbued them all with a hollow corporate ethos tantamount to pure nihilism. This is the doctrine of the Last Man, likely to bring the much-discussed End of History, the death of thinking, and perhaps even the end of the species.

The Boomer Ideology is threefold, consisting of: 1). technoeconomic optimism, 2). acquisitive individualism, and, 3). culture industry credulity.

In brief, this is to say that Boomers have been conditioned to view technology, development, and industry as being preconditions for, and pathways to, the putative good life; that Boomers display a predisposition towards narcissistic consumerism and adopting consumer identities as part of their narrative self-understanding; and, through what Lippman called “rational ignorance,” that the Boomer cohort is largely comprised of low-information consumers of mass-marketed public opinion—including Boomers otherwise considered educated based on completing college-level vocational training.

Installments to follow will attempt to trace the contours of The Boomer Ideology across these main themes. And while I may be accused of simply burdening and scapegoating Boomers with the entire weight of history, this is in no way my primary goal—instead trying to highlight these drawbacks as an object lesson for future generations. In any case, if it’s possible for them to save themselves (or us all), it just won’t be through the distinctive patterns of thought that are now dominant.

Categories
Academiology

Academia & The Last Man

A central problem in the philosophy of education—whether it is known or unknown—is the lack of an adequate framework for understanding the contemporary university. This essay aims to provide a fundamental characterization of the present-day academy, this towards the end of unconcealing the inner logic of academia, something increasingly necessary for understanding the status of knowledge today.

At issue is that a great number of commentators seem to presuppose just what a university is or should be while leaving the question totally open-ended. What’s more, many scholars appear to be referencing antiquated and even totally obsolete models as the basis for analysis. When the credentialed experts are seen not only appealing to some mythic educational past but even going to great lengths to portray today’s university in rather flattering terms, we might take that as invitation to think more deeply. And it’s exactly against these sorts of trends that we should employ a strict academic realism. The claim is that when viewed through a proper lens, the true character of the contemporary university begins to show itself.

Before offering an alternative model, I do want to give a slight overview of what’s going on in the literature and otherwise. From across the political spectrum we can identify a few main themes subjected to pretty rancorous critique, and yet few commentators seem to connect it all together. From the right we see tracts against political correctness, identity struggle, moral relativism and, of course, the discussion of tenured radicals. And from the left we have critiques of corporatization, commercialization, privitization, in a word, neoliberalism and falling under this also academic labor issues, adjunctification, student loan indenture, and so forth. At the level of network news—whatever that means—and social media discourse (same question), the university is sometimes labeled a hotbed of Marxism—and even postmodern Neo-Marxism as you may be aware. I wondered if a more comprehensive analysis was possible, in fact, one that might explain the whole.

Just for starters it appears that in the contemporary academy—against the university of the 1960s and 70s—that the influence of Marx has waned (even if his citations haven’t). We don’t exactly see students dropping out to join trade unions as in generations past, although this isn’t to say the revolution can’t happen in the future. The view is that much of the emancipatory potential of Marx and of Freud have been digested and reterritorialized by liberal capital and the Gramscian march subjected to a war of attrition—basically ruthless neoliberal selection pressures exerted throughout the academy. Long story short, the idea is that the key to understanding the university no longer really hinges on Marx.

The claim I want to make is that the contemporary university system can be most comprehensively understood as Inverted Platonism. And while the term immediately brings Nietzsche to mind, the attempted overcoming of Plato as well as philosophy in general has been a dominant theme across the academy. This has manifestly been the case in the sciences and social sciences stretching even from Aristotle, to Francis Bacon, the radical enlighteners, to Auguste Comte and the positivists, and more recently from Karl Popper all the way to the current crop of scientists. This might be even more true in the humanities and posthumanities with the influence of Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida, Rorty, Quine, Wittgenstein etc., and broad commitments to nominalism, antiessentialism, emotivism, and perspectivism.

What I mean by Inverted Platonism, I’ll now seek to clarify drawing from Heidegger’s lecture course on Nietzsche, Volume 1, Will to Power as Art: “To overturn Platonism thus means to reverse the standard relation […]. When the inversion is fully executed, the sensuous becomes Being proper i.e., the true, i.e., Truth. The true is the senuous. That is what positivism teaches.”

Of course, we should note that Nietzsche is not quite finished: after overturning Platonism he strives to escape positivism, a maneuver that requires a full “metamorphosis of man” (in Heidegger’s phrase).

Nevertheless, with Inverted Platonism we have the:

Sensuous over the Ideal

The decertification of morality

And, if lacking Nietzsche’s commitment to overcoming, we’re left with an axiological vaccum.

What’s more, the commitment to the sensuous is not JUST the dominant theme of the natural sciences but also found in historical materialism, as well as many postmodern theoretical formations. Thus, the model of Inverted Platonism has an uncanny ability to bring together such diverse views as postivism, poststructuralism, critical rationalism, model dependent realism, deconstruction, and basically every other dominant theme in academic fashion—science, social science, & humanities—under one roof.

So what are the implications of this, if, in fact, true?

Overturning Platonism has thus transformed the university into a simulacrum of Plato’s model for education, just inverted. Foremost is that the notion of virtue is replaced by market valuation. Technocratic meritocracy is the necessary result and Plato’s philosopher kings are replaced by professional bureaucrats—managers with a seeming mandate towards the eradication of all high values. The Republic’s “Noble Lie”—that some people possess precious metals in their souls—even finds its counterpart in the ignoble lie of the contemporary university: “that student loans will set you free.” And just as Plato’s censorship was a natural extension of his teaching on virtue, we could reasonably expect to see the same vis a vis Inverted Platonism, thus accounting for cancel culture. And finally we see the full flowering of the hollow corporate ethos as administrators increasingly try to “run the university like general motors,” committing themselves to an eternally recurring corporate nihilism. The university has thus become the most elaborate justification for power in human history, a legitimation mechanism of unparalleled scale dedicated to producing precisely what Nietzsche called “The Last Man.”

Who is The Last Man or The Last Human Being? This is the one who does not overcome but is overtaken, by such desires as for comfortable self-preservation, honor in fashionable circles & the pleasures attending wealth. Both a “laughingstock and an embarrassment” they only destroy rather than build. And, what’s more, the last human being has a particular sort of conceit: “And what do they call that which makes them proud? Education, they call it, it distinguishes them from goatherds.”

Just as Plato started the academy dedicated to philosophy and therefore justice, the rise of Postivism, the decertification of morality and the spread of technoeconomic optimism have seemingly destined us for what Habermas called a “rationally totalitarian society.” At the same time, the abyss has been open at least since Nietzsche’s exploding of the Kantian system—and, at least according to the perspective of Inverted Platonism, there can be no source of external light. Hence, the Academy has become akin to the Cave.

To philosophize after this calamity, at least for those still of good faith, thus requires one to enter into the university and literally help drag academics out to the light. This is the task of Academiology, all irony aside, which is basically both the apex and the absolute nadir in the philosophy of education. And what this means for the student, the figure of the academic, and for greater society will be discussed going forward, with the aim of achieving even fuller disclosure of the meaning of the contemporary university beyond that.

Categories
Academiology

What is Academiology?

Academiology seeks to unconceal the inner logic of the academy as well as the scope of its effects on our world. The claim is that prior analyses, such as those by Weber, Veblen, Bourdieu, Readings, et al., can be extended through critical distance, potentially opening new forms of world access. In the knowledge economy, just such an investigation may be crucial for any larger inquiry into the status of knowledge today.

Academiology seeks to provide a phenomenological account of the academic habitus, a hermenutics of academic consciousness, and a complete ideological unmasking and disclosure of the academic qua academic. Placing the academic subject under a critical lens, Academiology seeks to interrogate the whole of the academic enterprise including the legitimacy of academic authority itself.

While some academics and independent thinkers have attempted to resist neoliberal capture and commercialization via Critical University Studies (CUS), Academiology radically deviates in terms of its aims, deference and venue. Academiology seeks to hold a mirror to the “academic gaze,” exposing manifold epistemic vulnerabilities and contributing to a more theoretically robust discourse. Curating ideas from across the political spectrum, the idea is to aggressively and unrelentingly wield them against corruption—i.e., putting academia “in the dock.” To achieve the fulfillment of critical theory, raised within manicured ivy walls, we now seek its culmination outside of crumbling ivory towers and into the emergent digital intellectual semiosphere.

Academiology offers many potential trajectories for analysis: the military-industrial complex, the nexus between research and global technocapital, government complicity with high finance, student loan indenture, the emerging underclass of academic adjuncts, and so on. Such an interrogation stands to teach us how academia went from the scenic groves of Hekademos to a commercial network of vocational training centers dominated by corporations and managed by professional bureaucrats.

Categories
Academiology

Academia as a Society of Control

Foucault’s analysis of the classic disciplinary site highlighted the domain-specific rules and mechanisms that encourage self-monitoring. When the aura of bureaucratic control is extended by digital technology and forms cybernetic feedback loops, we arrive at Deleuze’s notion of “societies of control.” Viewing academia through this interpretive lens can help illuminate both the prevailing academic logic and its ideological underpinnings.

Every level of academia is now awash in a barrage of data, constant social reputation updating mechanisms and optimization metrics. “Total quality management,” a vague desire to implement the latest Six Sigma-style Agile fad or add to the 360-degree performance assessment process operating at the cyclic rate. And as soon as US News & World Report spits out some new metric, a legion of zombie bureaucrats start scrambling to trick it out once again. Productivity metrics, publish or perish, peer-review rigging and citation rings, everything points to ceaseless productivity.

As Deleuze notes: “[…] just as the corporation replaces the factory, perpetual training tends to replace the school, and continuous control to replace the examination. Which is the surest way of delivering the school over to the corporation.” Thus far we’ve had Enron and Harvard, Berkeley and Biotech, Columbia and the Financial Crisis (Inside Job). More recently we’ve had leading researchers taking money from foreign governments, spending time on islands with certain hedge fund billionaires, and found taking undisclosed payments for writing deregulatory papers, and so forth.

This is not to mention the near total command over a students’ future by way of the student loan-sharking racket. The student’s consciousness is thus seized, molded, imprinted, and shaped by a hollow corporate ethos. The end result is the phenomenon discussed both by Deleuze and by Mark Fisher, that sees students “boasting of being strangely motivated”—even when applying for unpaid internships.

The increasingly corporatized and commercialized US university has collapsed a place of moral self-cultivation and emergenced as a loose network of vocational training centers. Further, what’s more, the university has increasingly become a nexus where the society of spectacle meets the cult of celebrity. College and university campuses have become marquis conduits of the culture industry—culminating in the sociological analysis of reality television.

As Adorno and Horkheimer put it:“The fusion of culture and entertainment is brought about today not only by the debasement of culture but equally by the compulsory intellectualization of amusement.” They continue: “Amusement itself has become an ideal, taking the place of the higher values it eradicates from the masses by repeating them in an even more stereotyped form than the advertising slogans paid for by private interests.” I want to claim that this emergent fusion of culture and entertainment spoken of by Horkheimer & Adorno has become de rigueur in the US university system.

Less than ten years ago Rutgers—the 8th oldest university in the US—hosted “Snooki” of Jersey Shore fame to liven things up a bit. While this says something by itself, it turns out that the University ended up paying Snooki more to speak than Toni Morrison, a Nobel laureate! As Deleuze writes: “If the most idiotic television game shows are so successful, it’s because they express the corporate situation with great precision.” Considering various course listings offered in the past decade or so seem to align with this point: “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus” (Skidmore College) “What if Harry Potter is Real” (Appalachian State), “Alien Sex” (Rochester University), “Zombies in Popular Media” (Columbia College in Illinois), “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame” (University of South Carolina). Many other examples suggest the university is increasingly emerging as a site of edutainment with an emphasis on customer satisfaction via professional business marketing campaigns and click-bait advertising tactics.

In his work “Education and Experience,” John Dewey claimed that “collateral learning” plays an important role in shaping the “enduring attitudes” of the student. In this vein, a recent study by Purdue University revealed only 4 percent of their university computing resources were being used for academic purposes. Recall that Marshall McLuhan’s dictum was that “the medium is the message.” In US colleges and universities, it increasingly seems that the “message” tends to involve mindless entertainment. This also might be one way to make sense of the overall political situation.

Recently, Inside Higher Ed announced that a coterie of scholars from universities such as Stanford and Georgetown, were a conducting “computational textual analysis” of The Baby Sitters Club, ostensibly seeking to do an ideological unmasking of underlying presuppositions in the work. I believe that another ideological unmasking can done that poses even more radical emancipatory potential: the ideology to be “unmasked” here is the one that entails college professors reading The Baby Sitters Club while the university morally collapses. The objection is that while you can logically justify much of the above research (which you can absolutely do), no one can justify bourgeois academics teaching reality television to largely well-to-do students while surrounding communities happen to be in shambles.

The entertainment comes to reference the consumption, the consumption reinforces the entertainment, and the “education” becomes a form of both luxury amusement as well as conspicuous consumption. This is all perhaps the surest way to firm up the interests of global technocapital at the heart of neoliberalism. Due to issues like the above, our educational system, as Martha Nussbaum put it, risks: “producing generations of useful machines, rather than complete citizens who can think for themselves […].” I’d say we’re rewiring the brains of our students to crave endless dopaminergic stimulation—thus creating a class of zombie super-consumers—many of whom happen to be sacrificing huge blocks of their future wages for what is basically an initiation into the “global petty bourgeoisie.”

The question arises as to vectors of escape from the present milieu. This, I claim, is what is already occurring. Academia is being decoded, deterritorialized, circumvented by communities across the digital intellectual semiosphere. This calls for celebration and lament. How will we educate for democracy? And can we preserve some form of substantive reason? As outer portions of the Ivory Tower collapse, and those we call “wise” are busy reading The Baby Sitters Club, we should consider the diagnosis offered by Deleuze in Postscript:

There is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons.”