We deny to claim "any Superiority to ourself
to defyne, decyde, or determyn any Article or Poynt
of the Christian Fayth and Relligion,
or to chang any Ancient Ceremony of the Church
from the Forme before received and observed
by the Catholick and Apostolick Church."

Norman Simplicity

Norman Simplicity
Click image for original | © Vitrearum (Allan Barton)

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The World We Have Lost (Redux)

There is a contemporary tendency to put failures down to personal inadequacy. This mistaken way of thinking often colors my own perceptions, for sure. But old Adorno had it nailed, in a précis best rendered in English as "Wrong life cannot be lived rightly." When the system is corrupt, the efforts of the individual to do any sort of 'right' can only come to naught.

This is why my so-called colleagues often let me down. But it isn't my fault or even theirs (which is why I must moderate my contempt). But how can it not be anyone's fault? Because they are simply responding to the general behavioral prompts of the system, just like rats in a cage.

A professor inside the Skinner box.

In the academic setting, perhaps under the general rubric of 'neoliberal self-fashioning', it can best be elaborated as follows:

To adopt this perspective is to open up the possibility of asking how infiltration of higher education by neoliberal rationality, however uneven and contested that process may be, has fostered the formation of faculty members who are ever less likely to appreciate and still more unlikely to do what needs to be done to arrest their declining role in institutional governance. This sort of fashioning occurs not because we are duped by an ideology that legitimates our subordination to a ruling class and its duplicitous agents within the university. Rather, neoliberal academic subjects are shaped via everyday experiences in multiple domains of conduct, each of which engenders a representation of conduct as so many instrumental efforts to maximize return on investments in the self, whether this return takes shape as income, status or some other good.

We are accustomed to spotting this form of reason at work when, for example, our students treat their education as a commodity whose value is to be determined by future earning capacity. Are we, however, equally adept at recognizing its operation when we upload our publications to (as I recently did), and then frequently check our “analytics snapshots” (as I now find myself doing)? To what extent does such conduct betray internalization of the neoliberal assessment techniques and productivity metrics that are now ubiquitous throughout higher education?

... Careerism, of course, is nothing new within the academy. What is new is the inconspicuous but unrelenting disappearance of rival forms of professional identity whose persistence might trouble the figuration of individual conduct, as well as our relations with one another, in a neoliberal register. To illustrate, consider the sort of faculty member imagined by the social contract that was tacitly and sometimes expressly invoked, especially in early decades of the 20th century, to justify the distinguishing features of the academic vocation.

However idealized, the terms of this [outmoded] contract, sometimes labeled “social trustee professionalism,” portrayed the academic career as an ethical trust that entailed commitment to the disinterested pursuit of knowledge that is indispensable to the altruistic good that is progressive enlightenment. Achievement of that end required that the university be subject to neither intrusive political regulation nor marketplace imperatives. To secure such relative autonomy demanded institutionalization of its necessary conditions, including tenure, peer review, academic freedom and participation in organizational governance akin to that exercised by members of other self-regulating professions, especially law and medicine. Should faculty members fail to engage in such governance, this representation cautioned, they will endanger the profession’s claim to exemption from forms of regulation to which other enterprises, especially commercial, are appropriately subject.

If that account of the academic social contract now rings implausible or even quaint, that goes a long way toward affirming the accuracy of my claim about the insidious encroachment of neoliberal sensibilities within the academy.

The notion of a "public trust" is indeed completely laughable from the squinting perspective of today's generation and the last remnants of it -- e.g., "the Wisconsin Idea," a final vestige of progressivism -- are being swiftly eliminated. All my colleagues want is to function inside the cadre of the elite managers (in virtue of their specialized training), be respected, and take home a higher salary (alongside all the perks they can grab). They would be just as happy working for the BLAND Corporation, provided it proved sufficiently ego-systonic.

This betokens, indeed, the final moments of "The Managerial Revolution," in which, as Orwell anatomized:

Capitalism is disappearing, but Socialism is not replacing it. What is now arising is a new kind of planned, centralised society which will be neither capitalist nor, in any accepted sense of the word, democratic. The rulers of this new society will be the people who effectively control the means of production: that is, business executives, technicians, bureaucrats and soldiers, lumped together by Burnham, under the name of ‘managers’. These people will eliminate the old capitalist class, crush the working class, and so organise society that all power and economic privilege remain in their own hands. Private property rights will be abolished, but common ownership will not be established. The new ‘managerial’ societies will not consist of a patchwork of small, independent states, but of great super-states grouped round the main industrial centres in Europe, Asia, and America. These super-states will fight among themselves for possession of the remaining uncaptured portions of the earth, but will probably be unable to conquer one another completely. Internally, each society will be hierarchical, with an aristocracy of talent at the top and a mass of semi-slaves at the bottom.

The military-industrial complex or the society of the spectacle?
Are we now at war with Eastasia?
We've always been at war with Eastasia.

What was the alternative, the world we have lost? (Besides the nation state?) In the American setting, what some deemed the "Old Republic."

If the Old Right stood for anything, it stood for the conservation of the "Old Republic" that flourished in the United States between the American War for Independence and the Great Depression and the civilizational antecedents of the American republic in the history and thought of Europe, and it is precisely that political construct that the managerial revolution overthrew and rendered all but impossible to restore. The Old Republic cannot be restored today because few Americans even remember it, let alone want it back, and even a realistic description of it would frighten and alienate most citizens. The essence of a republic, articulated by almost every theorist of republicanism from Cicero to Montesquieu, is the independence of the citizens who compose it and their commitment to a sustained active participation in its public affairs, the res publica. The very nature of the managerial revolution and the regime that developed from it promotes not independence, but dependency and not civic participation, but civic passivity. Today, almost the whole of American society encourages dependency and passivity—in the economy, through the continuing absorption of independent farms and businesses by multinational corporations, through ever more minute regulation by the state and through the dragooning of mass work forces in office and factory and mass consumption through advertising and public relations; in the culture, through the regimented and centralized manufacture and manipulation of thought taste, opinion, and emotion itself by the mass media and educational organizations; and in the state, through its management of more and more dimensions of private and social existence under the color of "therapy" that does not cure, "voluntary service" that is really mandatory, and periodic "wars," against poverty, illiteracy, drugs, or other fashionable monsters, that no one ever wins. The result is an economy that does not work, a democracy that does not vote, families without fathers, classes without property, a government that passes more and more laws, a people that is more and more lawless, and a culture that neither thinks nor feels except when and what it is told or tricked to think and feel.

Trying to be a "beautiful loser" -- on many different fronts -- has almost killed me. Time for a new tactic. But what shall it be? What Then Must We Do?

Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them; While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain: In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened, And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low; Also [when] they shall be afraid of [that which is] high, and fears [shall be] in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets: Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all [is] vanity.

No comments:

Post a Comment