“Anti-Intellectualism and How Fascism Works”: A Comment

I followed the link from here to IHE’s “Anti-Intellectualism and How Fascism Works,” an interview with Jason Stanley (Yale) who has authored a book entitled How Fascism Works. I’d been thinking of posting a comment, but discovered that the comments thread had been closed by the site administrator. This seems odd, since the interview is less than two days old.

Ninety comments appear. While comments sections do often degenerate into pointless slugfests, except for a very few posts this one did not strike me that way. While there was sustained and sometimes vigorous disagreement, some fundamental issues were being raised. I’ll leave it to readers to ponder why the comment section was closed so soon.

In any event …

Admittedly this was a short interview, and I’d been anticipating something longer, conspicuous in its absence was a clear, concise definition of what the author means by fascism. Why is this important? Not just because it is in his book title, but because of the way the term is thrown around and never defined. How gullible do you have to be to realize that fascist has become one of the big demonizing and weaponized words of the day?

The closest Stanley comes to a definition is this (it is, as we see, a definition not of fascism but of a variety of fascism he calls fascist anti-intellectualism).

Fascist anti-intellectualism sets the traditions of the chosen nation, its dominant group, above all other traditions. It represents more complex narratives as corrupting and dangerous. It prizes mythologizing about the nation’s past, and erasing any of its problematic features (as we see all too often in histories of the Confederacy and the Reconstruction period, or of the treatment in history books of our indigenous communities). It seeks to replace truth with myth, transforming education systems into methods of glorifying the ideologies and heritage of the members of the traditional ruling class. In fascist politics, universities, which present a more complex and accurate version of history and current reality, are attacked for being places where dominant traditions or practices are critiqued. Fascist ideology centers loyalty to power rather than truth. In fascist thinking, the university is simply another tool to legitimate various illiberal hierarchies connected to historically dominant traditions.

I don’t question that this was true of Hitler’s German and Mussolini’s Italy. But a version of this same thing is true of any totalitarian ideology, including those of the left such as Communism, the primary difference being that they “mythologize” about their futures instead of their pasts. They surely “replace truth with myth …”  I hope no one seriously believes universities under Communism presented an “accurate version of history and current reality …”  Surely we recall the Lysenko case.

This aside, in the absence of a definition for its key term, one has to suspect that the subtext is just another attack on President Trump and his supporters. The defense of elites here, however qualified (“Our suspicion of elites and what could be seen as anti-intellectualism can be healthy at times;…”), surely supports this interpretation, since it was anti-elitism that Trump successfully appealed to from the get-go.

Thus we see more of the same: possibly yet another lengthy ad hominem argument, with no real analysis. No analysis, that is, of the whys and hows of a guy with no previous experience in the political arena was able to trounce sixteen Republican competitors and then go on to defeat the Democrats’ and cosmopolitan elites’ anointed candidate. However small the margin in the Electoral College, and whoever won the popular vote, the point is: Trump won. How was that possible? Why did it happen?

Could it be because the mainstream of both political parties has collapsed, has simply lost credibility with the voting public? Could it be, too, that alternative sources of information readily available on increasingly sophisticated Internet platforms were successfully challenging dominant narratives? The latter would explain the cold war against “fake news,” the latest gambit being played out in this war is Alex Jones’s InfoWars being kicked off Facebook and numerous other social media sites. Whatever one thinks of Alex Jones, it is hard to see this as anything other than a move by those who see their current mission as establishing Ministries of Truth.

Returning to the closed comments thread, one comment leaped out at me. The author signs himself only as “Cultural Anthropologist”:

As a Professor Emeritus who has just completed fifty years of teaching at a Ph.D. granting university, I know for sure that the statement “universities…present a more complex and accurate version of history and current reality” is wantonly false. Also false is “Above all, the mission of the university is truth.” The mission of universities today is to advance “social justice,” “diversity,” and “inclusion” (but not of Asians). At least in the social “sciences,” humanities, education, and social work, the mission is to advance a far left wing ideology about society, to undermine the West and Western civilization, to negate liberal rights and protections in favour of statism and identity categories, and to push forward practical methods for implementing “social [in]justice.”

All true. It has been a long time since truth was central to the mission of academia, or education at any level.

But if inculcating herd behavior and obedience to authority are major prerogatives, departures from which are punished with ostracism at best and career destruction at worst, then higher education of the past 40 years or so has been a stunning success!

“Cultural anthropologist,” after all, was immediately attacked by subsequent posters, after all, the first of which accused him (her?) of “spew[ing] … bile.”

Another demanded evidence, making me wonder what cave he (she?) has been living in for going on 30 years now.

Admittedly it’s just a comments thread, but this is the sort of thing I’ve been talking about for a long time, and it’s hardly limited to comments threads.

And perhaps Jason Stanley defines fascism in his book, which I’ve not obtained as I am outside the U.S.; obtaining hardbound books in English in a timely manner where I currently live is possible but extremely expensive, and truth be known, resolving such matters as this is not my highest priority just now.

I’ll conclude by noting … I’ve no idea whether anyone reading this will believe me or not (or will care): the Right is far from getting everything right. I’ve no compunction to defend what the Koch Brothers do, and I’ve certainly no desire to defend the transformation of universities according to the “business model.” It seems to me, however, that this model wouldn’t have been so easy to implement over the years had academia truly had as its mission the discovery and communication of truth during the decades that preceded the current tendencies, much less in the present.

 

 

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Philosophers and Social Media: A Comment

Those who read last week’s note will probably say, “Wow, that was a short break!” This is a comment, though, not a stand-alone essay like many of its predecessors. This despite it’s getting longer than I intended.

Should philosophers “do” social media? Rebecca Kukla (Georgetown University) says yes, they have much to gain — especially younger philosophers (for a very short excerpt go here). She is not my favorite academic philosopher. I explain why here. She is among those I label pseudo-marginalized.*

Some of her observations on social media usage are interesting in their implications, however, as are Brian Leiter’s. I’ll confine my observations to Facebook, since I’ve used it more and know it better than any other social media platforms.

Some people, academics or not, despise Facebook and refuse to use it. Their reasons aren’t all that clear. Facebook has become a corporate empire, one of many in the tech world, but that’s not necessarily a reason to avoid it. It’s being in bed with the CIA, the NSA, and probably a dozen other shadowy federal agencies, may be more telling. Facebook stores your information, but it’s hardly alone in doing that. If you refuse to use Facebook out of fear for your privacy, you are naïve. Privacy went out the window with email.

Does Facebook censor? Of course it does. I’ve known people put in “Facebook jail” (their term for it) for politically “insensitive” posts, especially about Jews (surprise, surprise). I’ve not had a problem, maybe because I don’t post about the “Jewish problem.” This despite defending Donald Trump from what I consider myopic, incompetent criticism. I’ve penned countless exposés of academic political correctness and corporate media dishonesty.

What I suspect: the upper echelons of the Facebook world disdain political discussion generally. I’m not sure I blame them. The platform wasn’t designed for that. Moreover, the research is coming in: social media are among the dividers in American society. People have a tendency to congregate with those like themselves, who share their beliefs and opinions, especially in politics. Facebook unintentionally encourages this. Its system of friending, liking posts, commenting, etc., sets up feedback loops of positive reinforcement. Don’t like a friend’s posts. Ignore them and eventually you won’t see them. Or unfriend him or her. Thus the formation of echo chambers, whether of the right or of the left or anywhere in between.

Some Internet users, moreover, had become “keyboard commandos” who found it easy to insult or bully those outside their echo chamber before Facebook was around. Now, it is as if the differences between online and offline worlds have begun to blur. Public incidents we would never have heard about 30 years ago are now filmed on mobile devices, uploaded to social media, and viewed almost instantly by millions of people. Victims of this sort of thing become involuntary celebrities. Or perhaps better, celebrities-in-reverse, since we aren’t celebrating them but shaming them. Online shaming has almost become a sport!

I think this is a reason we are living in a more hostile society generally. While pundits (Steven Pinker comes to mind) tell us how much violent crime has dropped during recent decades, such measures don’t reflect cyberbullying, personal attacks, shaming incidents, etc., none of which are illegal (some may enter what is, at best, a gray area).

Left and right, unaccustomed to opposition due to online lives in their echo chambers, are more and more willing to demonize and confront one another violently. To be clear: my boots-on-the-ground sources tell me it is usually the left that gets violent first. But those on the right are increasingly willing to get in their faces. The latter aren’t afraid of guns like the former. Were a situation like those we’ve seen in Portland, Ore., and yesterday as I write this in Berkeley, Calif., to get out of control, there’s no reason to think leftists would win even if they have superior numbers.

Facebook did not create our current divisions, of course. But it set the stage for accentuating and aggravating them.

All that said, Facebook has advantages. Through its networking possibilities I’ve formed a few strong friendships with people I would never have heard of otherwise, rediscovered folks I went through high school and college with, and maintained friendships that would have fallen by the wayside when I relocated geographically several years ago.

There are, moreover, hundreds of private groups on Facebook devoted to every conceivable subject, including philosophy. Many of these groups are closed, and don’t allow insulting other members, or bullying, or trolling. Their administrators post rules up front and do not hesitate to expel those who refuses to follow them. Such groups can be useful venues for conversation, advice on mundane problem-solving, support for those coming to them with more serious issues, and more.

Many who use Facebook, just use it to announce family events (vacations or anniversaries) the way we used to do with photo albums in the pre-Internet days. I think Facebook’s algorithms are more attuned to such usages. At the start of the month I posted an anniversary photo taken of my wife and me four years before on the day we got married. It received over a hundred “likes” and dozens of congratulatory comments. I’ve seen this happen countless times.

On the other hand, my political posts rarely get more than five “likes,” unless I’ve shared a video. Somehow, that increases the number, probably because watching a video is less demanding than reading something. Absent a video, with just a link to an article or story and a paragraph or two of commentary, many don’t seem to be seen at all. (I’ve no means of knowing, of course, how many people “lurk,” i.e., read my material without doing anything to announce their presence.)

Enter Rebecca Kukla, who (speaking of social media generally) calls it “our main opportunity to craft our public persona and to forge connections with other philosophers.” She adds that staying off social media “can actively harm your career, while using it wisely can actively help you, and can enrich your professional and intellectual life.”

There are no a priori reasons it can’t do this. Her discussion converges on Facebook, where many of her observations parallel mine, in that it creates space for professional contacts that open doors, especially for younger scholars, by having “created a vast set of interlocking philosophical communities.” She continues:

Through Facebook (and to a lesser extent Twitter) I have been exposed to, had conversations with, and formed friendships with a dramatically wider range of philosophers than I otherwise would have. My philosophical community is no longer bounded by geography, by job status, by age or social identity, by type of institution, or even by subfield or methodological approach. I expect most of us tend to disproportionately make Facebook friends with ‘people like us’ to some extent, but there is just no doubt that social media has broadened many philosophers’ exposure to different kinds of scholars, issues, and conversations. Junior philosophers who give these communities and exposures a pass are missing out on something that could enrich their intellectual and social lives, and they are forgoing crucial networking opportunities.

This makes sense, but there are dangers she wants readers to be aware of. One of the features of the Facebook world (this was true of the online forums that preceded it) is that you never know who might stumble across it, or even seek it out when they want information about you. We all know this, but how easily we tend to forget it “in the heat of the moment” (my quotes, not hers). Hence the environment, she says, “is fraught with peril. An online fight with the wrong person or a post that rubs people the wrong way can do real damage.” The norms are still evolving, she adds. Posts intended for a particular audience that will read them favorably might be read quite differently, and negatively, by readers outside that loop.

All entirely correct. Kukla thus assembles a list of online best practices for younger philosophers, especially those struggling with a hostile job market or perhaps dealing with rejection from an academic journal. Don’t sound off about it online. It makes you sound bitter and uncollegial. She advises against posting trivial stuff — or material likely to be seen as trivial or juvenile by those a jobseeker may be trying to impress. She suggests creating a separate Facebook account for family, friends you went through high school with, and nonacademic friends generally.

But here’s a thought: is it possible to “do philosophy,” i.e., do more than simply try out ideas or banter about philosophical issues, on Facebook or other social media platforms. Kukla again has many valid points about the latter of these; she says little about the former. What she says is to refrain from dismissing entire areas of philosophy or dismissing philosophers who are well thought of or engaging a given philosopher’s post without doing some basic research to find out who they are (an easy mistake I once committed).

One must ask whether this kind of platform is really suitable for philosophical research (as opposed to networking, testing out new ideas on colleagues, etc.). Why? Because most of us originally majored in philosophy in order to “do philosophy,” not merely banter about it. Facebook wasn’t invented with that in mind, though. Nor was any other social media.

“Doing philosophy” on an independent blog such as this is hard enough! I have not done as much as I intended. I did not plan a news site like Leiter’s (who can compete with him on that, and why would anyone want to?). The Internet is simultaneously liberating and limiting! It is liberating in the sense that I don’t have an editor or referee board making trivial criticisms that I’m using this or that term “unclearly” when the truth is, he dislikes my main thesis or conclusion. On the other hand, the lack of oversight means taking full responsibility for what appears here, and seeing to it that what results is as good as I can make it! A couple of extra pairs of eyes would be helpful, but as an independent scholar with a different occupation, I don’t have that luxury! What limits me is a paranoia that what I have is not good enough! Hence a trove of things sitting in Word files!

Blog entries, moreover, no matter how thoroughly they argue a philosophical thesis, tackle a quandary, or how well they play by the rules of citing relevant literature, etc., are never cited in journals or in The Philosopher’s Index. Much of academic philosophy’s reporting system on the philosophical work out here is still stuck in the pre-Internet era. Having said that, yes, you will find philosophy on blogs that is simply lousy: unoriginal, poorly reasoned, etc.

But all this is aside. Social media is here. We might as well use if we can, if it solves certain problems like networking. But do we need to use it to advance philosophical conversation?

Leiter observed that the areas of philosophy he is most familiar with (e.g., philosophy of law) don’t make much use of Facebook. Younger philosophers will say he’s dating himself, as am I, for I am thinking he may be right. Most of us, of the generation now in its 50s and 60s — the first “lost generation,” some of us, anyway — grew up without computers. My generation had no social media when we were graduate students. I don’t believe researching the material that went into my dissertation the old fashioned way — hours of library work, consultations limited to senior faculty in my department red-penciling my work — was significantly hurt by this. We may have been limited by technological doors not yet built much less opened. Would Facebook have helped? I don’t know. Given that we were a rambunctious lot who rarely hesitated with our opinions, and in a “nonranked” department to boot, Facebook might have been disastrous for us.

What “Facebook philosophy” I’ve seen has been superficial, sometimes reinventing the wheel, sometimes taking positions that have been argued against effectively outside their preferred orbits, sometimes arguing theses so kooky and outlandish no one is going to take them seriously (e.g., about how we can know there are extraterrestrials among us). Much political-philosophical discussion, frankly, very much fits into the universe I described at the outset, in which bodies of like-minded folks have congregated because they work essentially from the same ideological premises. Academics are no less prone to the echo chamber effect than anyone else. Kukla — again: surprise, surprise! — eventually falls into this trap, advising readers:

…don’t trust people with fundamentally terrible values. The misogynists and the bigots and the Trump voters on your page are likely to harm you, because they are harmful people with no moral compass. Arguing across such large divides is emotionally exhausting and pointless anyhow. Just get rid of them and protect yourself.

Who gets to decide whose values are “terrible”? Is it obvious who has a legitimate grievance versus who is a mere “bigot”? How many “Trump voters,” I wonder, has she actually met and engaged, online or otherwise? Some of her neighbors may be “Trump voters,” after all. Is she saying that 63 million of her fellow Americans “have no moral compass” because they voted for Donald Trump?

This, of course, is the sort of arrogance that alienates career academics from their fellow Americans, even if their tenured status enables them not to have to care. It vitiates some of her earlier advice, while confirming what the research tells us about what social media might be doing to us.

What conclusions should be drawn from this? Kukla is right that academic philosophers — and those who aspire to be — have opportunities to use Facebook or other social media exercising caution appropriate to their personal situations. They can bring their work to the attention of others. This can have positive results. They should be aware that what they say online can have negative repercussions, however.

Nothing in my experience suggests that social media is of any help in “doing” philosophy. It sounds pedantic, but those who built the Western tradition, and later the various schools (analytic, continental) did just fine — and probably much better — without it. The problems with producing quality philosophy today have little or nothing to do with social media, though, and everything to do with the structural problems of academia and of a prevailing political economy in both academia and the larger society that is hostile to values presupposed by philosophy.

Real philosophy is difficult to produce, which is why we see so little of it these days. Discussions of fundamental philosophical problems, developments of extended arguments and counter-arguments against one or more premises of someone’s attempt to tackle such a problem, are bound to be far more involved than is possible on Facebook — which does have a limit on the length of a post or comment (as I’ve discovered by running up against it a few of times). Substantial contributions to philosophical debate cannot be composed in one sitting, like the majority of Facebook posts. They are not off-the-top-of-your-head events.

Again, and in sum, social media were not designed with long, involved, nuanced essays and followup conversations in mind. These call for concerted attention and effort on the part of both writer and readers. If anything, research is also showing that social media is actually shortening users’ attention spans. Blogs open some possibilities, but even they are limited as I’ve discovered. Are those of us who blog about the philosophical and larger academic community, events in the larger society that might impact on intelligent conversation, etc., really parts of an independent intellectual vanguard as we like to think of ourselves, or are we just borderline-narcissists venting in our private echo chambers?

Time will tell, but however many contacts I’ve made or maintained on Facebook, I don’t expect to see any major philosophical breakthroughs there, or on any other social media platforms.

 

*The pseudo-marginalized:

(1) invariably have tenure, typically at influential institutions almost guaranteeing visibility. Georgetown is not an insignificant university;

(2) strongly identify with identity politics, and hence can’t write without constant reminders to readers how prone to mistreatment they are, and how mistreated are those in their preferred group(s);

(3) are often bullies, without being aware that this is how they are seen by those not in their preferred group(s); Kukla’s blithe disdain for “Trump voters” is a case in point, as was her attack on philosopher of religion Richard Swinburne, someone whose work we theists find interesting and valuable;

(4) have no sense of the contradiction between their privileged status (tenure) often attained by their institution’s preferential policies, and their wearing the mantle of victimhood almost as a badge of honor; and finally,

(5) are mostly clueless about how power really operates in industrial and post-industrial civilization, and from where (what sorts of institutions) it emanates? As long as they are swinging broadsides at windmills of white-maleness (or straight white-maleness or straight white-Christian-maleness), we can expect their cluelessness on such matters to continue.

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Taking a Short Break from LGP

Hello. Those who chance to browse around this site may have noticed the dearth of posts in July, not that I posted a great deal during previous months. I’ve a few items planned, nothing completed, but truth be told, for the past several months my focus has not been on philosophy. Focusing on philosophy when you are not teaching and not independently wealthy is simply not a live option.

Thus for these past several months, last month in particular and most likely for a few months to come, my focus has been on developing what is likely to be my occupation for the next 10 to 15 years (hopefully): copywriting. I am doing what I need to do in order to learn the job and do it effectively. This takes huge chunks out of my day including my writing time, meaning that there is less time for projects like this that don’t make a contribution to it … but could eventually benefit from it.

I have taken note which posts I’ve done in the past seemed to generate the most traffic: the review of Stefan Molyneux’s book The Art of the Argument rose to the top far and away (doubtless because a number of sites with far more visibility than mine discovered it and linked to it); the posts (e.g., this, and this) on the follies and foibles of contemporary academic philosophy collectively came in second, interestingly the more specific the post the better the traffic; the posts on important twentieth century philosophers, on Wittgenstein, and on “Consciousness and the Brain” also did well. Sadly, my observations on thinkers such as Leopold Kohr have done wretchedly; also on topics such as globalism. This is unfortunate, because both need a broader audience and wider discussion. The former definitely has something to say regarding the latter.

All of this is noted for future reference in any event, and comments and suggestions from readers are always welcome.

In the meantime, you (you’re still there, right?) can expect either a handful of much shorter posts (shorter than this one) or no posts at all for the remainder of summer and possibly for much of the fall. Rest assured, where philosophy is assured, I am never that far away.

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Identity Politics Has Nearly Destroyed the Humanities; Now It Is Threatening the Hard Sciences

This article by Heather MacDonald is a must-read! If you thought you could escape identity politics by going into the sciences, or possibly even into engineering, think again.

The article’s opening paragraphs spell out clearly what is happening in scientific organizations, academic or in government:

Identity politics has engulfed the humanities and social sciences on American campuses; now it is taking over the hard sciences. The STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and math — are under attack for being insufficiently “diverse.” The pressure to increase the representation of females, blacks, and Hispanics comes from the federal government, university administrators, and scientific societies themselves. That pressure is changing how science is taught and how scientific qualifications are evaluated. The results will be disastrous for scientific innovation and for American competitiveness.

scientist at UCLA reports: “All across the country the big question now in STEM is: how can we promote more women and minorities by ‘changing’ (i.e., lowering) the requirements we had previously set for graduate level study?” Mathematical problem-solving is being deemphasized in favor of more qualitative group projects; the pace of undergraduate physics education is being slowed down so that no one gets left behind.

The National Science Foundation (NSF), a federal agency that funds university research, is consumed by diversity ideology. Progress in science, it argues, requires a “diverse STEM workforce.” Programs to boost diversity in STEM pour forth from its coffers in wild abundance. The NSF jump-started the implicit-bias industry in the 1990s by underwriting the development of the implicit association test (IAT). (The IAT purports to reveal a subject’s unconscious biases by measuring the speed with which he associates minority faces with positive or negative words; see “Are We All Unconscious Racists?,” Autumn 2017.) Since then, the NSF has continued to dump millions of dollars into implicit-bias activism. In July 2017, it awarded $1 million to the University of New Hampshire and two other institutions to develop a “bias-awareness intervention tool.” Another $2 million that same month went to the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M University to “remediate microaggressions and implicit biases” in engineering classrooms.

Back in the early to mid-1990s, I argued to anyone who would listen that if the preferential-admissions, preferential-hiring bandwagon was not stopped, and if the collective academic grievance industry was not exposed for what it was (at the time it was limited to English and comparative literature departments, and had crept into law schools) these movements would eventually inundate everything in their path, like successive tidal waves.

It was clear, at least to me, what was coming. I even detoured from my original intended academic career path (emphasizing history and philosophy of science, epistemology, and metaphysics) to write a book on the subject. My effort was not perfect. There were things I neglected. It was, however, researched from scratch and written on my own time without the sort of administrative support (e.g., grant money) that would likely have been available to someone on the other side of the fence and would have enabled a more complete job.

I argued, among other things, that we were dealing increasingly with a flood of people into academic disciplines, many of them already with tenure, who could not be reasoned with, arguing (incoherently) that reason itself as a “white male social or cultural construct.” Many are the intellectual equivalent of bullies who don’t care about anything except furthering their group-focused political agendas. Neither intellectual curiosity nor a desire for a better world for all of humanity is what motivates them.

The juggernaut, needless to say, was not stopped. It was not even seriously opposed. By serious opposition I do not mean holding a few seminars here and there, or putting together organizations and holding conferences once a year and putting out a journal filled with articles on how terrible things are getting in academia, as did the National Association of Scholars and a few similar groups characterized only by their utter ineffectiveness.

By serious opposition I mean putting financial resources behind the opponents, so they can get in front of and effectively use both national and social media, as Donald Trump did. Trump could do this because he’s a billionaire. Most of us are not billionaires, or anything close. The plain truth is, this is not a part-time job, or a hobby, something to be done on our own time! 

Read the above quote again. Governmental entities are now throwing millions into promoting “diversity” ideology!

I once contracted to write a piece critical of a “diversity” program in a city school district in Charleston, South Carolina. I was paid $2,000 by the organization that published my piece (long since taken down). I later learned that the author of the pro-“diversity” proposals I was criticizing was paid … are you sitting down?… $2 million!

That is the sort of thing critics of identity politics and “diversity” social engineering are up against!

Identity politics has advanced to the point where if you are known to oppose it, you will not be hired for a teaching position in a college or university, period. 

You cannot criticize it openly without tenure, or you will not be rehired, period.

You criticize it with tenure at your own peril, given at least one known case (Evergreen State) where so-called social justice warriors were successful in their efforts to drive a tenured biology professor (Bret Weinstein) off campus with threats of violence, which included protesters wielding baseball bats!

Cowardly administrators openly told Weinstein that if he returned to campus they could not guarantee his safety!

Telling the truth, or merely expressing points of view other than officially-approved ones, has thus become not merely difficult but dangerous, and not dangerous merely to individual academic dissidents but to Western civilization itself.

What happens when acceptability of scientific results starts to be dictated by whether or not it has the approval of what is become a national (and corporate) “diversity” police?

Do we want Western civilization to survive in any form our parents and grandparents would have recognized? If so, it will take organization, and it will take education: far more than it would have taken back in the 1990s!

What are we willing to do — if you are reading this, what are you willing to do — to help it survive?

I know of many authors and others who have given up, too many in fact to link to individually. Whether it is this issue, or the looming global debt bomb about which also nothing is being done, they figure the ship has sailed. They figure this is how empires gradually collapse.

Prove them wrong! This is a challenge! At present, no one I know of who stands on the side of more traditional forms of scholarship, in which truth and rationality in some sense of those terms meant something, is in a position to defend it in the way needed, with sufficient resources behind them. Having a blog and a website is clearly not enough. Writers with far more visibility than I have are unable to do it. Academic, governmental, and corporate entities are now almost entirely in the hands of the “diversity” committees and their thought-police forces.

What I would recommend doing, for educational background purposes, is returning to the original mindset that empowered the civil rights movement, a movement based on ideals of justice as basic fairness and encouraging of kindness (something today’s “diversity” crowd knows nothing about). I would also recommend abandoning materialism as a worldview, as I have argued elsewhere. One thing at a time, though. Read Dr. King’s letters, and other documents of the era, leaving aside cultural Marxists such as Herbert Marcuse, which was when things began to go off track; the Supreme Court’s catastrophic Griggs decision (1971) then threw everything into a tailspin from which it has never recovered. Read someone such as sociologist C. Wright Mills. Start with his The Power Elite (1956), to get a sense of how globalist forces looked to scholars at the time, in comparison to how those have advanced since. It is always helpful to remember that the globe’s real ruling class does not care about minority groups, it does not care about women as such, it does not care about homosexuals, it does not care about transgenders. It has no ideology other than money and power, although this does not prevent it from using ideologies, sometimes of the left and sometimes of the right, depending on what serves its purposes at a given time with a given audience.

In sum, there is no repairing this damage from the inside. The dominant organizations in the U.S. are gone. What needs to be done will require organization, education, and conversation directed from outside, including from outside of academia. It will require the eventual formation (and funding) of new institutions to carry whatever is left of Western ideas forward. If this is impossible, then we have indeed signed Western civilization’s death warrant. Given that identity politics is now affecting demographics on an enlarging scale, all we will have to do is wait for whites to become a minority group in the U.S., the one minority group with no legal protections, and then for the U.S. to end up like a much larger version of South Africa.

If you approve of ideas like these, support them! Go to my Patreon site and sign up to make a pledge. This is your civilization, too! If you want to preserve it, then do something about it! Remember, the promoters of “diversity” are receiving millions from centralized governmental and corporate entities to further their goals! A few pledges of, e.g., $25 or $50 per month won’t do much against that, but it is a place to start and it is better than nothing at all!

 

Posted in Academia, Culture, Higher Education Generally, Where is Civilization Going? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Is Higher Education Undergoing a Long-Term Structural Collapse?

Is higher education in the U.S., and almost surely in the West generally, undergoing a long-term structural collapse?

The question sounds histrionic, perhaps even hysterical and would be treated as such in many (most?) mainstream academic circles. But if we see collapse as a long-term process rather than a singular catastrophic event, then there is much we can point to that tells us that, Yes, higher education is undergoing collapse and has been for a long time … for at least four decades, in fact.

We can argue over the reasons for the collapse, including whether we are looking at mere bad decisions, accidents, or whether something more malevolent has been going on, but we can’t argue over the fact of the matter: higher education is collapsing.

What makes the problem even more serious is that contrary to what a lot of tech types will say regarding online options for learning, nothing is in place to replace existing brick and mortar higher education on a large scale. I’ll make a few remarks about this last.

I probably don’t have to discuss the rise and influence of the Frankfurt School, Herbert Marcuse (that school’s most influential philosopher), so for completeness sake I limit it to two paragraphs: the institution of “affirmative action” preferences based on race and gender in the 1970s following the Supreme Court’s catastrophic Griggs decision (1971). This decision invented out of thin air the idea that “discrimination” equals a lack of proportional statistical outcomes. This being practically impossible — no society anywhere in the world has achieved it — within 15 years the emergency of political correctness to protect the idea of government-designated victimhood and preferential treatment to attempt to rectify it from intellectual challenge, as well as protect the various movements created by government-designated or self-identified victims from any kind of intellectually serious evaluation.

For any such evaluation would have to accord with objective standards of logicality, evidence that premises are correct, practicality of the implementation of ideas, etc., and by the late 1980s and even more in the 1990s, these were dismissed ad hominem as the social constructs of straight white males (sometimes straight white Christian males, although it was hard even then to maintain that Christianity had any influence in academia worth speaking of).

Less evident to those who focus almost exclusively on Frankfurt School “cultural Marxism” is the corporatization of higher education that began, also in 1971, with the Powell Memorandum handed down by future Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. In his statement Powell actually singled out Marcuse as a deleterious influence in academia, and also Ralph Nader. He was far less concerned, I would submit, about the integrity of scholarship and dusty philosophical conceptions of objectivity than the fact that the interests of corporations, and of corporate-dominated capitalism itself, had been called into question in the late 1960s. His Memorandum signaled the beginning of a stealth counterattack which was fueled by the rise of the neoliberalism that emanated over the next couple of decades, e.g., from the University of Chicago (founded and endowed originally with Rockefeller money, with Rockefeller and similar big business interests remaining dominant in the school’s governing ethos). Neoconservatism, meanwhile, was replacing traditional conservatism in the Republican Party and would spread to the Democratic Party during the Clinton presidency.

Arguably, neoliberalism-neoconservatism had become the dominant consensus among the elites by the mid-1990s. Utterly materialistic, driven by the desire for profit and the extension of a mass consumption ethos across the entire planet, and willing to launch various degrees of aggression against any and all who refused to fall into compliance, I would think it hard to argue against the destructive effects this ethos has had on the world — a world in which the lion’s share of jobs are meaningless, time-wasting affairs serving one overriding purpose, earning the money to pay rent or the mortgage, put food on one’s table, and keep one’s lights turned on. I often suspect this ethos, which divides families and sets people apart more broadly via pointless competition for jobs and other resources, has long underwritten the escape of many populations into substance abuse (think: opioid epidemic), and the fact that one of the leading causes of preventable death is now suicide.

Against this background, how can higher education as a serious enterprise, able to educate people not just in marketable skills, but in the ability to think critically, act autonomously, buy intelligently, and vote intelligently, possibly survive?!

Notice, first of all, how little the neoliberal-neoconservative consensus actually has to say to women and minorities. Much less whether it has delivered on promises made back in the 1960s and 1970s. The percentage of black philosophy professors back during Martin Luther King Jr.’s day was between 1 and 2 percent. What is it now? Between 1 and 2 percent. I’ve no reason to believe other academic disciplines differ significantly. Small wonder we have groups like Black Lives Matter, born not just of deadly violence by police against unarmed black kids but, on campuses, of frustration over the system’s failure to deliver on its promises. BLM wants more diversity in the form of more black faculty members. Okay. Where are universities supposed to find them? I have often noted (no one has ever responded, much less disputed the claim): the claim that African-Americans cannot find academic jobs because of rampant discrimination rests on the assumption that really there is a population of would-be African-American academics out there.

White women, as middle class as middle class can be, have received the lion’s share of “affirmative action” benefits. And if we can believe the MeToo’ers, their situation is hardly Utopian, whether in academia or in other arenas such as Hollywood! I’ve hardly investigated all or even most of the claims of sexual misconduct that have floated around for many years. How would I? There are too many, too much doubt over who can be believed, and in the effort to untangle all the he-said-she-said and try to determine the truth, nothing else would get done! But while some of these allegations are probably exaggerations and some may be retaliatory, I don’t believe for a minute that all of them are. Is there any doubt, for example, that Harvey Weinstein is a sexual predator … or that at least some male professors are guilty as charged?

Colleges and universities have arguably become cesspools of corruption and greed, and it is hard to believe this ethos, which includes the prevailing materialism, has nothing whatsoever to do with the situation minorities — which include intellectual minorities such as Christian and conservative intellectuals — find themselves in.

Over the past four decades or so, administrations have bloated while the population of tenured faculty has dropped. Higher education is arguably phasing out tenure as the older, tenured generation dies out and is not replaced. In a commonly cited statistic, in some institutions 70% of faculty are now adjuncts: part-timers working for starvation wages, sometimes at multiple campuses or at multiple institutions. Their efforts to conduct scholarship fade into oblivion, as between the lengthy commutes and piles of papers to grade from five or six classes (necessary, to keep those lights on and food in the freezer) consume all their time. There are cases of adjunct faculty discovered to have been living in their automobiles and sneaking into student dorms to take showers.

It is also very difficult to believe that colleges and universities do not have the money to pay their faculty living wages. The reason: the money taken in via athletic programs (in many institutions millions per year), the salaries paid university presidents and other top administrators (six figures, sometimes even seven figures at prestigious institutions), and the money spent on new buildings, new technology and facilities, new gyms and gym equipment, and on campus beautification projects. Many of these last seem intended to create and reinforce in students’ minds, almost subliminally, the mindset of a corporate environment.

The problem is not scarcity but allocation, based on intelligent priorities which support and do not work against the interests of faculty and students, as well as against the institutions themselves. Living wages for faculty might be reciprocated in many ways, as faculty have the time to do their best teaching and research, and can serve as articulate voices supporting the institution raising its visibility at national conferences … instead of having to spend all their available free time looking for their next job.

If what we see is the future of the faculty, which is more corporatization and more “adjunctification,” the most intelligent and talented are going to leave academia, because most of the skills that make one, e.g., a good philosopher, are transferable to other occupations (computer programming, app design, health care, freelance writing, copywriting, etc.). There are now many accounts of recent Ph.Ds opting to leave, or in some cases newly-minted faculty accepting one of the kinds of jobs that are now all that is available for the majority of newly-minted Ph.D.s and realize they have made a mistake.

None of this touches what has been done to students during recent decades. As administrations have bloated and faculty have been forced into decisions between humiliating conditions of servitude amidst near-starvation and departure, it is common knowledge that students are graduating with five and sometimes six figures of student loan debt.

A cynical arrangement exists: colleges and universities can raise tuition without risk because the government pays them, not the students. Administrators know the institution will be paid, in other words, and their upper echelons couldn’t care less how that money is paid back.

They do not have, as Nassim Taleb would say, skin in the game!

The students, almost none of whom have had a class in personal finance or anything close, are willing to go massively into debt in order to get that education they are told they must have in order to be employable. They are vulnerable to the wiles of predatory lenders.

Yet when they cannot find jobs that pay well enough to enable them to pay off their debt, they default; and their credit rating is ruined. When former students cannot make large purchases such as homes due to lack of decent-paying work, outstanding debt, and/or bad credit, does this or does this not hurt the economy in any sense of that phrase?

Here are a few stories of student loan debt.

In aggregate, total student loan debt is now around $1.53 trillion.

Many students, finally, should not be in college. As far back as the 1950s, we saw the rise of the idea that Everybody Should Go To College. There are, however, many, many worthwhile skills that can be developed, and trades practiced, that do not require a university degree. While it is arguable that a college education gives students the “soft skills” they need to be, e.g., intelligent voters and participants in our so-called democracy, it is equally arguable that these can be dispensed at the secondary level, or at home. A study appeared a number of years ago that showed conclusively that university students are not really learning anything! Many, of course, are there for no other reason than to get a degree in order to get a job. They are not truly suited for academic work, and should not be forced to pursue it.

In the present “bubble” environment, student enrollment has begun to drop. In some cases, where campuses have experienced PC-related disruptions, students are speaking with their feet. Others, however, may just be weighing the perceived benefits (too small) versus the very real future costs (too large). One futurist argues that higher education can only go in one direction: down. That is our inevitable long-term collapse.

Another author observes that creeping corporatization has descended even to the lower grades, and that there are objective measures for when not just a university but an educational system more broadly is simply exploiting its teachers. She predicts: either we reverse these trends, or the system will self-destruct as people avoid teaching as a career choice.

In South Carolina, where I used to live, there were already shortages of teachers in crucial subjects such as math and the sciences. This did not stop the bureaucrats from erecting ridiculous barriers to entry. I know this for fact because I ran into them. A woman I dated for a while there, having jumped through all the bureaucratic hoops necessary to jump through in order to be a teacher in that state, was then paid less than $30,000 a year. She was — what else? — a part-timer. This designation served corporate-bureaucratic purposes of keeping wages down but was not an honest measure of her work-load, which amounted to well over 40 hours per week.

With these kinds of abuses in place, is it any wonder that people leave the teaching profession?

Invariably, we face a dilemma: is education in any sense that would have been recognizable as such even 70 years ago compatible with the corporatization that appears to be inevitable in the political economy the neoliberal-neoconservative axis has served up? What adjectives and descriptions apply to this political economy? How about: centralized, consolidated, surveyed, money-focused, obedience-focused, with massive real privileges for a tiny elite and precarity outside its corporatized enclaves and gated communities.

What do we want from an educational system? What should we want? “We” here refers — I hope — to a people whose hope is to maximize personal freedom and autonomy, while living satisfying lives — as opposed to living a present-day equivalent of Hobbes’s “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

We have the technological capabilities to create such a system. There are, as I see it, three things standing in our way.

One is the fact that a truly educated people, valuing autonomy and able to think critically, will eventually turn its attention to those who are really running the show and begin to question some (or more than some) of its policies. This began to happen, at least in part, during the 1960s, which wasn’t exclusively about Marcuse, and gave rise to the fears that prompted the Powell Memo. Modernity’s ruling class did not want, e.g., its wars questioned, and although the story is longer than I can get into here (there are abundant resources available on the topic), one has to suspect that what one might call the “destruction of the American mind” was partly deliberate. Both corporations and government, working together, long ago had wanted, and possibly needed, a compliant population. They designed schools, including colleges and universities, and teaching methods, etc., that would serve up such a population.

Postmodernity’s ruling class is no different, of course. There may be a greater diversity of visible faces, lifestyle choices, etc., and a lot more hedonism, but there is no difference of overall political-economic orientation, which is inevitably about control. Unless a critical mass of common people rejects being controlled, we cannot expect things to change.

This hints at the second thing standing in the way: ourselves. Tech types, whom I mentioned near the outset, will offer online education as an alternative to the four-year college degree. Education writer and futurist Kevin Carey argues that the Internet, the “University of Everywhere,” will make the brick-and-mortar higher educational institutions we’ve been discussing obsolete, just as new technological systems have always rendered older ways of doing things obsolete.

There are, of course, abundant opportunities for educating ourselves online. That much is true. There’s Udemy.com where one will find many structured courses on a wide variety of subjects; there are at least a dozen similar sites; and obviously, there’s YouTube where we can go to learn about any conceivable subject.

The drawback, as I see it (and wrote about here): educating oneself requires behavioral skills many people do not have, as they’ve neither learned them at home or in school. These include self-discipline and time management. If you choose the route of self-education, no one — no teacher or other superior — is standing over you, telling you to get the work done, or even to get up early enough in the morning to get the day started at a reasonable hour. It is just too easy to be a layabout, in other words. Plus, if one is trying to take classes and has to work at the same time, there are likely to be problems as the two run interference patterns with one another (and think of the mother who has kids to take care of in addition!). This all calls for time management skills many people simply do not have, or could easily develop themselves. Not being able to do this should not be judged a sign of weakness, or some such. This is just reality for many people in the real world, as opposed to the world of abstract theorists where all sorts of things look good on paper.

Finally there is the problem of knowing what to view online, and how to organize it into a logical sequence, i.e., a structured curriculum. YouTube, moreover, has a lot of great videos, but also tons of misinformation. It is very easy to go down blind alleys. The Internet itself is full of myriad temptations just to surf and waste time, moreover. The person using it has to discipline himself or herself and say, I am educating myself, when learning, just as the self-employed person must say, I am at work, when working. Otherwise nothing gets done!

The final thing standing in the way is that few employers are able to think outside the sheepskin box. They look at a resume and expect to see at least one college or university degree there. Some tech corporations might be exceptions to this, as the abilities of some of the self-educated teenage whiz kids they see are obvious. In most cases, however, the employer does not want to see a list of certificates of completion of Udemy courses, or one of YouTube videos viewed. They do not have tests the person can pass to prove himself / herself, which is why self-employment might be the only route for someone able to educate himself this way. But again, self-employment requires skills the multitudes simply do not have, and possibly never will, which is why they will remain the multitudes.

Until these bridges are identified and crossed, online self-education will not be an option except for a select few.

And if higher education continues with its present trajectory and would-be students continue to speak with their feet, many lesser institutions will be forced to close, and higher education might well return to what it was over a hundred years ago: a source of privilege for the children of the elites and out of reach (because unaffordable) for everyone else.

This leaves us with a huge and largely unrecognized predicament of major proportions.

For this result, compared to what my generation grew up with (1960s, 1970s), can only be described as a collapse. And if we do not have an educated population, very soon we will not have a civilization.

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#MeToo Feminism Claims Its Latest Male Victim(s) in Academia

I don’t plan to spend as much time on this as on previous recent blog entries, if only because these kinds of situations are becoming a dime a dozen. What will be surprising is if they do not discourage more men from pursuing academic careers. I sent as many specifics as I was able to dig up to Brian Leiter, but he’s chosen to sit on them at least as of this writing, which is unfortunate since far more people are reading his philosophy everyday than read this one.

What happened is that another male philosopher has found himself relieved of his teaching job under somewhat questionable circumstances.

A reasonably clear account of Mark McIntire’s situation is here. McIntire, it is important to note, was not accused of actual sexual misconduct. Michael Shermer (History of Science, Chapman University) was the accused. What McIntire had done, probably not even knowing that Shermer had been accused of sexual misconduct, was invite him to speak on Santa Barbara City College campus. When another faculty member, a female chemistry professor named Raeanne Napoleon, blew the whistle publicly, McIntire responded with a sharply worded defense of Shermer.

Shermer, an author and editor noted for his supposed skepticism toward religion, the so-called paranormal, etc., had defended himself here, describing the allegations against him as “unseemly and suitable for tabloid trash…”  He doesn’t stop there, of course, but describes the details of some of the allegations against him and, if his account can be believed, shows them to be utterly ridiculous. Example:

…there was an Orange County conference in 2010 at which I spoke and did a public book signing. Oppenheimer quotes a woman who says that while I was sitting at a book table signing books and talking to her (in her view, “hitting on me”) I started “playing with my crotch” to get her to look at it, and apparently I did this for three or four minutes. Have you any idea how long that is? Would any man do such a preposterous thing at a public event with many people standing around, in a line to get signed books, where each exchange lasts perhaps 30 seconds at most?

The case against Shermer appears to be, shall we say, somewhat weak. He threatened legal action for defamation, but has since withdrawn the threat.

McIntire’s statement, which I’d had in front of me but for some reason was unable to locate again following a browser crash, criticized the faculty members, singling out Napoleon as she’d been the one leading the charge. He spoke of Shermer’s accusers as “calumniators” who “secreted the venom” of social justice warriors and launched “a Pearl-Harbor sneak attack” against an innocent man.

He found himself slapped with a Title IX harassment complaint, first by the Napoleon and then by three other female professors at SBCC. The complaint itself has not to my knowledge been made public, so I’ve no way to evaluate it — but are we truly to believe it is anything more than retaliation against his public criticism? In light of the prevailing ethos on campuses, and in the absence of any good reason for thinking otherwise….

The administration has (to the best of my knowledge) declined to discuss McIntire’s firing beyond statements like “the topics he chose for his course term papers and exams were too “politically charged,” his Facebook postings were inappropriate, and he failed to grasp “basic philosophical concepts.””

Failed to grasp “basic philosophical concepts”? What the dickens does that mean?

Cutting to the chase, what this looks like is the usual she-said, he said — which may well have begun with an instance of the sort of bad judgment to which we’ve all been prone from time to time (especially when alcohol is involved). McIntire looks to have done nothing except criticize his woman colleagues for accusing Shermer without any evidence beyond an inflammatory article on a website noted for its clickbait content and questionable credibility.

This is now grounds for a Title IX harassment complaint in academia?

All of this was followed by administrations doing what administrations usually do: taking the easy way out and unloading a person who has become inconvenient in the face of the dominant political tendencies of the present-day zeitgeist. The fact that Mark McIntire was an adjunct made this all the easier, and suggests that this case should be filed in with other evidence of the effects of the “adjunctification” of academia.

 

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Why Marx Now? Part 2

[Author’s Note: I received complaints that Part 1 was too long. “TLDR,” said one person: Too Long Didn’t Read. Part of me is saddened by this. I wonder if essayists such as Albert Jay Nock, or James T. Farrell, or even H.L. Mencken, succinct when the situation called for it but capable of writing far lengthier and nuanced and demanding prose than anything found on this blog, could earn livings as writers today. We now have studies showing that technology, however much it has gifted us with communications across oceans via Skype or Zoom, is also shortening our attention spans and sapping our efficiency. I noticed this back when I was teaching: students who couldn’t go five minutes without checking their phones. Many of us, the first thing we do in the morning is go to Facebook or Twitter and start scrolling aimlessly, while important work sits undone. Thus another part of me sees dramatic confirmation of what I am investigating here. The idea that we are free and autonomous agents is undercut by the fact, for fact it is, that technology affects — even controls — some of our behavior, confirming that systemic coercion in  “free” societies is as real as gravity! Shortened attention spans are just one of many factors encircling us, manifesting as a whole what political philosopher Sheldon Wolin called inverted totalitarianism, which operates by reinforcing ritualistic and submissive behaviors of various sorts. Systemic coercion is both harder to see and diagnose than overt coercion — especially by those who define coercion as overt. A Marxian worldview is conscious of this, whatever else it gets wrong; the individualistic-atomistic worldview characteristic of most Libertarians is not. The latter is therefore naïve in crucial respects. Short attention spans make us vulnerable to the machinations of powerful interests, especially economic ones. That makes discussions like this all the more important! Those who cannot make the time or maintain sufficient attention to read and mentally process four or five pages of modestly demanding material will be buffeted and ultimately controlled by forces they do not see — whether they think so or not. Having said all this, I realize it will not bring new readers to this site, and so this will likely be the last piece I write of this length and complexity — completed mainly because I like to finish what I start.]

For Part 1, go here.

At this point, let’s pass the reins of the conversation into the hands of Yanis Varoufakis, surely one of the more interesting voices to surface over the last few years. Varoufakis’s work is essential reading for anyone curious about the recent interest in Karl Marx. There are several authors and/or activists we could consult, but this being an overview and not a comprehensive treatise, I will stick with Varoufakis to keep the discussion manageable.

Who is he? Best known for his role as former Finance Minister of Greece’s Syriza Party which was elected back in 2014 to end that country’s debt crisis. The Syrizas soon found themselves on collision course with the European Central Bank. Varoufakis resigned in frustration in the face of divisions within the new government as well as ECB power-playing, as Greece became a nationwide debtors prison.

In a 2015 essay, Varoufakis described himself as an “erratic Marxist,” more recently penning a searching introduction to the new edition of Marx’s and Engel’s The Communist Manifesto issued on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth (short version here).

He’s a trained economist who avoided succumbing to the academic illness of microspecialization. He survived by looking like a microspecialist: burying the Marxian lens through which he viewed current events, teaching the charts, graphs, and equations that form the warp and woof of most academic economics. His use of the term erratic Marxist means that while he agrees with the Marxian worldview in its outlines, he challenges Marx on various grounds, and by extension most thinking about him, whether by his followers or his detractors.

Varoufakis’s criticisms of Marx are far more interesting than his areas of agreement.

Marx committed two key errors, he argues, one of “omission” and one of “commission.” The Communist Manifesto presented a worldview in outline form, forcefully and elegantly stated, and Marx spent the rest of his life fleshing it out, galvanizing a following in the process. Within that following, there would appear a few power-hungry sociopaths who knew instinctively how to use Marx’s ideas for their own twisted advantage. As Varoufakis puts it, Marx “failed to give sufficient thought to the impact of his own theorising on the world that he was theorising about. His theory is discursively exceptionally powerful, and Marx had a sense of its power. So how come he showed no concern that his disciples, people with a better grasp of these powerful ideas than the average worker, might use the power bestowed upon them, via Marx’s own ideas, in order to abuse other comrades, to build their own power base, to gain positions of influence?”

Marx’s error of omission, in other words, led to the 1917 Revolution and the Soviet Union, and eventually Maoist China and Fidel Castro’s Cuba; also the rise of sadists like Romania’s Nicolae Ceauşescu, Cambodia’s Pol Pot, the Kim Dynasty in North Korea, and other hellholes that the abusers of Marx’s ideas spawned. It is important to note: the sociopaths neither understood Marx nor cared. They were politicians, not intellectuals like Marx.

The Soviet error is not hard to see, in this case. Marx stated that history proceeds in stages. At any given stage, a specific set of economic arrangements is dominant, to be destroyed by the internal conflicts these arrangements generate (this is the dialectic). The resolution of these conflicts will generate the next stage, and no stages are skipped. The Leninists — the Stalinists even more — tried to do just this: build industrialized socialism on top of agrarian feudalism without going through the industrial capitalist wealth-generating stage. Marx had never denied the wealth-generating capacities of capitalism! The sociopaths were motivated by blind hatred of it, so they did not allow it to develop. The result was totalitarianism and mass deprivation, including mass murder of those who wouldn’t comply. Mao Tse-Tung repeated the mistake, the result being a “Cultural Revolution” for which we still do not have an accurate body count!

What has been unclear until recently is that these atrocities do not refute the Marxian worldview. They happened not because Marx’s ideas were followed; they happened because those who ascended to power in Marx’s name were sociopathic monsters who couldn’t have cared less about getting him right. (What ought to truly give us pause is how the sociopaths had help from Western sources of financing, who needed an “enemy” in order to build up a military machine that would be profitable for corporate suppliers of military equipment, defense contractors, and other such types: Eisenhower’s infamous military-industrial complex!)

To sum up, Varoufakis notes how Marx erred horribly by not anticipating that his ideas would be abused. If anything, he understates the matter (as does nearly everyone on the left).

He then identifies the second of Marx’s errors, the one of “commission.” Like many (most?) philosophers before him, at least since Descartes but going ultimately back to Plato, Marx often treated abstractions as more “real” than the concrete particulars of the world we live in: this despite his “historical materialism.” Varoufakis explains: “It was his assumption that truth about capitalism could be discovered in the mathematics of his models. This was the worst disservice he could have delivered to his own theoretical system. The man who equipped us with human freedom as a first-order economic concept; the scholar who elevated radical indeterminacy to its rightful place within political economics; he was the same person who ended up toying around with simplistic algebraic models, in which labour units were, naturally, fully quantified, hoping against hope to evince from these equations some additional insights about capitalism.”

One result was to cede the idea of freedom to the right — eventually, and disastrously, to neoliberalism. Rationality was also ceded to the right and to neoliberals, via the left’s focus on the supposed unfairness of capitalism — the fact that it generates inequality — at the expense of a focus on its irrationality and wastefulness, its being riddled with contradictions or, as we’ve called them, tensions. This is the Varoufakis who understands these models well!

He angrily asks of Marx’s ghost, “How could [you] be so deluded? Why did [you] not recognise that no truth about capitalism can ever spring out of any mathematical model, however brilliant the modeler might be? Did [you] not have the intellectual tools to realise that capitalist dynamics spring from the unquantifiable part of human labour: i.e., from a variable that can never be well-defined mathematically? Of course [you] did, since [you] forged those tools!” He then accuses Marx of having “coveted the power that mathematical ‘proof’ afforded him….”  That being the power of finality.

Varoufakis then teases out a basic tension in Marx’s thought: “a comprehensive theory of value cannot be accommodated within a mathematical model of a dynamic capitalist economy.” For Marx to acknowledge this, he would also have to acknowledge that the profitability of capitalist enterprises is not reducible to their capacity to extract labor from workers: “some capitalists can extract more from a given pool of labour or from a given community of consumers for reasons that are external to Marx’s own theory.”

This means, further, that Marx’s pronouncements contained an indeterminacy that rendered them provisional instead of final. This Marx could not accept. “This determination,” Varoufakis concludes this part of his discussion, “to have the complete, closed story, or model, the final word, is something I cannot forgive Marx for. It proved, after all, responsible for a great deal of error and, more significantly, authoritarianism. Errors and authoritarianism that are largely responsible for the left’s current impotence as a force for good and as a check on the abuses of reason and liberty that the neoliberal crew are overseeing today.”

What are Varoufakis’s prescriptions? These are even more interesting than his criticisms of Marx. The EU is in a crisis of its own making. It could implode. Varoufakis does not advocate revolutionary action: “the left,” he says, “must admit that we are just not ready to plug the chasm that a collapse of European capitalism would open up with a functioning socialist system. Our task should be twofold. First, to put forward an analysis of the current state of play that non-Marxist, well-meaning Europeans who have been lured by the sirens of neoliberalism, find insightful. Second, to follow this sound analysis up with proposals for stabilising Europe — for ending the downward spiral that, in the end, only reinforces the bigots.” That is, stabilize Europe in ways that will stave off the inevitable rising tides of nationalism and anti-immigration sentiment. This means shoring up capitalism, however this is accomplished, in order to buy time: even though “I shall not pretend to be enthusiastic about it.”

Varoufakis more than understands the consequences of this; it means supporting the globalization of capital despite “its less desirable ramifications … unbearable inequality, brazen greed, climate change, and the hijacking of our parliamentary democracies by bankers and the ultra-rich.” The Marxian view requires this. Remember: its logic is that capitalism must “go global” before conditions for revolution will be realized. This means supporting it — even present-day neoliberal capitalism-on-steroids!  Varoufakis comments on the irony of history: the faux Marxist Soviet Union had to collapse, and China had to embrace state-sponsored capitalism, before capitalism as a system could become truly global in scope!

Marx would have understood, even if the majority of those on the left did not, and do not. What did he say, after all, about so-called free trade: for centuries now, an instrument increasing capital’s reach? In “On the Question of Free Trade” (1848), having argued at length that free trade is just the freedom of capital to do as it pleases — “the freedom of capital to crush the worker” — by driving down wages as it drives up profits, Marx concludes: “in general, the protective system of our day is conservative, while the free trade system is destructive. It breaks up old nationalities and pushes the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the extreme point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the social revolution. It is in this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, that I vote in favor of free trade.”

In other words, anyone who truly understands Marx and wants what Marx claimed he wanted will do almost the opposite of what most of the left is currently doing!

An enlightened left, that is, will support every “free trade” deal that comes down the pike! It will support every globalizing agreement, every job-eliminating technological advance, everything bringing about a world where capital is everywhere and encirclement by Mammon is inescapable. It will promote, as Marx implied, whatever will disrupt cultures, destroy traditions, undermine stable systems!

This, of course, dislocates and disorients, while impoverishing and demoralizing, masses everywhere. So Varoufakis qualifies: “… the trick is to help speed up capital’s development (so that it burns up like a meteor rushing through the atmosphere) while, on the other hand, resisting (through rational, collective action) its tendency to steamroller our human spirit … we push capital to its limits while limiting its consequences and preparing for its socialisation.”

There is a crucial tension in this last. Capitalism having achieved global reach, a movement large enough to overthrow it would have to have equal reach, or the equivalent. Technology makes this conceivable, but could it take place, organized and with hope of transformative victory, with labor impoverished if not totally disoriented and immiserated? Could revolution get started with capital controlling every resource (including the Internet), so that “only two classes remain standing: the class that owns everything and the class that owns nothing …”? There will be — I presume — a small class of highly mobile entrepreneurial types who are not tied directly to the system’s authority structures and may have made out like bandits during the period of global capitalization. I know such people. Their focus, while international, is not global in scope. It is on their private projects, and on those who, e.g., have paid to be mentored so that the process is duplicated. These “cowboy entrepreneurs,” we might call them, will have neither the motivation nor the organization to further the cause Varoufakis is talking about? For one thing, they like capitalism as they understand it, and see it (as did the economists of the Austrian school) as humanity’s highest achievement. Why wouldn’t they? They have thrived in it! If all of humanity were of their mindset, capitalism might become the kind of system the Austrians and other Libertarians envisioned: a technological and cultural Utopia of everyone dealing and trading freely with everyone else of their choice. But all of humanity is not of such a mindset, which must be cultivated and is clearly not for everyone. Thus we have the capitalism we have.

Varoufakis is smart enough not to make promises, as Marx and Engels did. He writes: “Humanity may succeed in securing social arrangements that allow for ‘the free development of each’ as the ‘condition for the free development of all.’ But then again, we may end up in the ‘common ruin’ of nuclear war, environmental disaster or agonizing discontent. In our present moment there are no guarantees. We can turn to the manifesto for inspiration, wisdom and energy but, in the end, what prevails is up to us.”

Hear that? It’s up to us.

So much for economic determinacy. If what occurs is “up to us,” then indeed the Marxian view is provisional, and there is nothing inevitable about revolution. It may be likely that accelerating neoliberal globalism will make enough people sufficiently miserable that they write, organize, launch “populist” revolts here and there, possibly gum up globalism’s works sufficiently to force it to slow up … or simply separate themselves and live out their lives on the margins of society: perhaps joining the “cowboy entrepreneurs” in not caring what occurs outside their bailiwicks as they’ve concluded they cannot affect it anyway.

I have argued elsewhere that technofeudalism, not some kind of socialism, is a more plausible “end game” for the trajectory we’ve pursued for the past 30 years. I am not alone with this prognosis. It is not what Varoufakis would like, but indeterminacy makes it possible. My essay predated Brexit and the Trump election, which were predicated on the hope of turning back from the globalist brink. Both are now struggling, the former against bureaucratic entanglements imposed by the EU, the latter against Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s circling sharks in “deep state” waters as well as Trump’s inexperience with the role into which history thrust him as well as the likelihood that his presidency has been compromised.

So-called “populism,” meanwhile, has been demonized in (corporation-controlled) mass media and attacked technologically via the algorithm changes made by Google, Facebook, and other information-controlling tech giants. Thus information and ideas favorable to “populism” simply do not appear in searches or on newsfeeds. Google and the social media giants are constantly improving their algorithms. If this continues, it will gradually undercut all informed resistance to globalism, understood as I have defined it: gradual movement, via “free trade” deals, other international agreements and the organizations they create, furthered by disruptive mass migration and capital flows across increasingly porous borders, towards a centralized world state answering to increasingly interlocked global corporate leviathans — possibly in the name of recovery after economic debacle, war, or just security measures.

Also undercutting “populism” at least in the West, is its association not just with the right, but with the authoritarian right — demonized as fascist, fallacious but rhetorically highly effective!

The left has no effective “populism” of its own. Bernie Sanders and his followers (e.g.) could not overcome the globalists in control of the Democratic Party, whose 2016 anointed candidate was going to be Hillary Clinton — no matter what! Arguably, globalist technocrats control the emocrats more effectively than they control the Republicans! The Democrats have added distractions like identity-politics and gender bending, protecting the legal right of women to kill their unborn children, gun control advocacy, etc. Those with real power couldn’t care less about such things.

The reality and long-term concerted activities of globalist power elites — superelites, I call them in Four Cardinal Errors, owners of capital and controllers of more visible political elites (“the state”) — would probably seem more evident had it not been for rigorous and largely successful propaganda campaigns branding such notions as “conspiracy theories.” This makes it easy to refuse to engage them, to keep one’s head in the sand.

I have to remind readers who have stuck with me to this point that I am not a materialist, much less a Marxist. Here I part company with Varoufakis and crew. Left to their devices, they may avoid repeating the mistakes Marx made, but they will have made a different one — one made by all secular political strategists who envision a new Tower of Babel different from the old ones. As a Christian philosopher, I believe we inhabit a fallen world (Rom. 3:23). What makes us miserable is not just socioeconomic conditions, but what resides in our hearts. Changing socioeconomic conditions will not change our hearts. Any Tower of Babel must therefore fall. We are not going to save ourselves with a new political economy, “revolutionary” or otherwise.

Why Marx now, in that case? Because the secular materialist standpoint reigns supreme, at least for now. If one works from that premise in an honest effort to see where it leads, and then asks which description of advanced civilization has more verisimilitude, one that views us as autonomous individuals running around on our own, actually making our own choices, or one that looks at systems and structures, sees encirclements and the systemic coercion of persons who, e.g., have had their livelihoods and possibly their health destroyed by these forces? The former ignores all the direct experiential support of many persons that militates in favor of the latter. Marx got a few things right by drawing attention to these forces and trying to describe their role in how advancing capitalist civilization works. I hope it is clear by now that the abuses of Marx’s ideas in Soviet Russia and Red China have nothing whatsoever to do with this.

Why Marx now? Because there is no use in pretending something fundamentally structural didn’t occur in 2007-09. We can single out policy decisions such as the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999 which allowed commercial and investment banks to merge operations and opened the door to creating dangerous financial instruments (e.g., credit default swaps) and abuses of the public. But these did not emerge out of a vacuum. The rise and triumph of neoliberalism in the 1990s brought with it great systemic pressure on Congress to “deregulate”: freeing the Wall Street leviathans to do as they pleased. We saw the results. We are still seeing them.

Why Marx now? Because I do not think one has to be some kind of egalitarian to think something has gone seriously awry when capitalism does not just “go global” but reaches a point in which a group of people small enough to fit comfortably into a university auditorium controls more wealth than the bottom half of the world’s population. It is difficult to blame secularists for tilting left and turning to someone like Marx for ideas, given that mainstream economists seem clueless, something clearly being amiss with official statistics pointing at “recovery” (3.9% U-3 unemployment with wages barely budging). Most secularists mean well ethically even if their presuppositions are wrong. The decent instinctively reject arrangements that dehumanize human beings. They look for alternatives.

What we’ve seen since the Soviet collapse isn’t “real” capitalism, say Libertarians. It is crony capitalism. “Real” capitalism will happen only if we abolish the state and allow the free market to operate. What they cannot tell us is how they propose to do such a thing; or, assuming it possible, what would prevent corporations from recreating the state almost immediately. Could We The People prevent it? We don’t have those kinds of resources!! Could the “cowboy entrepreneurs” do it? Living on the edges where their actual contact with the state is minimal, they aren’t all that interested!

Let’s face it. The idea of “abolishing the state” is simply absurd; and would doubtless be opposed anyway, e.g., by those who have paid into Social Security and Medicare their entire working lives and quite reasonably expect returns on what they consider an investment (not an “entitlement”) late in life: something that will be impossible if there is no “state” to administer it.

We are left with actually existing capitalism. In this fallen world, is there truly any other?

Marx and his latter-day followers help us see that actually existing capitalism is indeed vulnerable to the human weaknesses and peccadillos that brought us to this point, in which we realize that however we label the presently dominant political economy, even if we call it crony capitalism and refuse to call it real capitalism, it is as capable of generating totalitarian forms of life as its presumed opposite (socialism?). Systemic coercion is far more subtle than systematic coercion. Instead of creating conditions for the manning of machine guns, as with the minions of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, etc., systemic coercion encircles, so that noncompliance results in one’s eventually finding oneself unable to live a normal life. Decades ago, there were no computers, much less the Internet. Imagine trying to do business today without email! Notice, too, how Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard systemically coerce consumers into upgrading through refusing to service older editions of the one’s software and the other’s hardware, with the lifespans of each getting progressively shorter due to built-in obsolescence. Is this purposeful? Perhaps not. It keeps technical labor employed, and forces consumers to spend. Without these, actually existing capitalism falls into crisis. Is this system wasteful? Of course it is! What happens to used computers components? They go into landfills!

Ultimately we are seeing failures not just of capitalism, but of secular materialism given human nature as it is, and not what we may wish it were. There is more to life, and society, than its political-economic arrangements. Whether secular materialism is a stage an advancing civilization must go through in order to continue advancing is a very interesting question. Technological advances require great focus on the here-and-now, and on Mammon acquisition as a measure of what is working. Both make us more comfortable, moreover, and it takes a special kind of broad vision to recognize when one is trading personal freedom for comfort and convenience — not to mention collectivization. Suffice it to say, our civilization must transcend this stage, or its pretenses to have generated and preserved freedom in the face of, e.g., massive job losses and general precarity, will seem increasingly laughable — not to mention how its systems perturb surrounding ones and potentially threaten the habitability of what futurist R. Buckminster Fuller pointedly called Spaceship Earth. In this case, we see capitalism and socialism not as opposites but parts of a continuous process with secular materialism at its core. Reject secular materialism, and a range of new possibilities opens up!

But if we Christians know anything, it is that the secular world will reject us — which in arrangements like those just described consist more of efforts to hobble our capacity to earn a living and influence the conversation than through overt repression. Christianity, having been driven from public schools long ago through spurious establishment-of-religion arguments, is now banned by many corporations as “offensive” (although Muslim, Buddhist, and symbols of other religions including atheism are allowed in our “multicultural” workplaces).

My surmise, in this case: at present, technofeudalism is a more likely future, given continued secular globalist development and the lack of a coordinated, sustainable response to it. It will not be utterly dystopian: there will continue to be room on its edges for those “cowboy entrepreneurs” provided they present no threat to the power arrangements. Technofeudalism will prove unsustainable in the long run, of course, as with all Towers of Babel. It may stand until its founders’ children or perhaps their grandchildren get complacent, entitled, soft, careless, and possibly incompetent at responding to unexpected crises, e.g., a massive hurricane that leaves a devastated region in its wake, or perhaps an earthquake that levels a city of ten million people. The emperors will again be seen to have no clothes.

Then someone must rise from outside the power system, ready and able to lead when the emperors drop the ball. Such a person must be supremely focused in rejecting all the premises on which the order he is rebelling against was erected, including its metaphysical ones (materialism) and its worship of Mammon. And he must command a technology able to solve problems and supply abundance!

At present, corporate leviathans profit from scarcity. They will oppose a technology of abundance.

Mammon is worshipped in the West, because that is what its systems have required: endless growth, whether needed by humans or not, despite the finiteness of space and resources.

Only when we see Mammon tossed from its pedestal will we see the possibility of a truly humane world system that begins to eradicate poverty.

Could a world leader arise capable of all this?

A Christian will surmise at this point that the only Leader able to accomplish such a genuinely transformative and revolutionary goal will be Jesus Christ Himself.

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