Why do things like "professional development," "continuing education," "team-building," and (yes, this too) "assessment" always have to tend towards infantalizing the poor people subjected to them?
It's one thing to bureaucratically humiliate people by making them waste huge gobs of time. But this business of making them engage in ritualistic idiotic performances (which always involve to some extent enthusiastically presupposing that everyone is not in fact wasting time) is a much higher echelon of evil. How can the adult human beings in this video (courtesy Washington Post) have any self-respect?*
Mark my words. First they came for the high school teachers. . .**
[*To be fair, everyone involved in making the video and smuggling it to the Washington Post gained back their self-respect fourfold.
**If I was doing my normal thing and putting a rock video in the upper right hand corner, it would probably have been Jane's Addiction's "Idiots Rule." But I realized that it didn't scan because even if team-builder/professional development/assessment types are self-deluded enough to believe in the rightness of what they make the rest of us do, it takes quite a bit of intelligence to get people so complicit in their own immiseration.]
Sometimes combat might be the right stance, but seeing that as the default mode for philosophical discussion leads far too often to destructive Q&A sessions that aim at destroying the opponent and bolstering the amour propre of the aggressor. Where the aim is victory, then all kinds of rhetorical moves can prove effective: there’s no reason to think that truth will emerge as a by-product.
For my part, regarding blood-on-the-floor seminar rooms, I wonder to what extent the practice of awarding individual grades creates the impression among students of a zero-sum game in grades (whether or not a true zero-sum game is in operation*), exacerbating the combativeness aspect: “if I tear down Jones, that’s one less person in the top grade cohort I have to worry about.”
Perhaps more of a reach -- but that's supposed to exceed one's grasp, isn't it? -- is the connection of individualized grades with the neoliberal self-entrepreneur, which Jon discusses below, in relation to Mike Konczal's review of Mirowski.
(1) Denigrate public education, and public institutions in general, as drains on private wealth and “job makers” to the point that no one would dare ask for increased support. This will assure that public universities are relegated to second-rate status with inferior facilities and loads of part-time faculty members, and will forever have a negative stigma placed on them relative to private universities.
(2) Take advantage of economic downturns to instigate “taxpayer outrage” in order to remove support from public universities so that they must either raise tuition or cut back on their programs. Afterward, condemn those institutions for raising tuition in order to support lazy, socialist professors teaching irrelevant subjects like anthropology and philosophy.
(3) As state support recedes, encourage a student-loan system that will create a “market for higher education.” Saddling students with lots of debt will make them enterprising and rational consumers of educational products and will encourage them to safeguard their economic interests. Refer to these changes as “empowering students.”
It goes on. Some of the comments aren't bad either. Emphasis on "some," however.
Why write at all if one respects the authority of canonical texts?
Our reading habits reveal our minds; reciprocally, the way and what we read can also shape, even nourish our minds. The words we read are not merely, as the saying goes, food for thought (and sometimes, thus, the semblance of thought), or trusted friends, but they can even be medicine of the mind. Seneca's second letter thus, takes for granted that words can impact us greatly. (The letter -- a compact 321 words -- turns on a series of equations among words, potions, nourishment, friendship, and location.) As we have already seen, this fact is crucial to the very possibility of escaping the ordinary exchange economy.
In the second letter, Seneca distinguishes sharply between unsteady, wandering minds and firmer ones. Now, it is possible that these are so by nature. But even the better sort of minds need cultivation; Seneca suggests that one can copy better readers (like him) and by imitating these good habits improve our minds. The better sort of readers have a limited set of enduring [certis] books that through repeated rediscovery nourish. By example Seneca shows that the better sort of reader is willing to be critical of such, canonical works--he makes a point of criticizing Epicurus. It's not that he disagrees with what Epicurus wishes to convey -- the opinion of the market-place can be wrong in rejecting all what it takes to be poverty --, but Seneca also criticizes Epicurus, in part, for embracing the axiology and conceptual apparatus of the market-place: Epicurus mistakenly treats poverty as something substantial that can be the subject of predication (such that there can be contented and miserable forms of poverty). Famously, Seneca insists that if one is cheerful, that is self-sufficient (i.e., one's needs do not go beyond one's possessions), one cannot be poor [Illa vero non est paupertas, si laeta est.], a position he already announces in his first letter.
At 280 words -- shorter than most frivolous blog posts -- Seneca's first letter to Lucilius takes full advantage of the economy of Latin prose. Its brevity may, thus, be thought to be an exemplar of what it seems to preach (in the first sentence): not to lose time.* Economy is a major theme of the letter as it explores the nature of possession, scarcity, value, profit, and other familiar economic concepts. In fact, in the brief span of the letter Seneca introduces two conceptions of economy (or axiological frameworks): in one we exchange commodities governed by the values established in the market, that is, uncertain popular opinion; in the second necessary loss reigns.+ Given that Seneca devalues the "foolish" attachments formed in the former (and seems to embrace the latter), we ought to reconsider the idea that losing time is a problem.
In order to teach a political economy that is an alternative to the usual one, Seneca turns to a bit of metaphysics: time is our only intrinsic property--our other properties are alienable. Seneca suggests that time's supreme value is due both to this peculiar fact and the necessity of our mortality. In this first letter, Seneca does not fully explain why the time(s) of our lives is the only such intrinsic property. (One may wonder why not the space of our lives?) If we substitute dying (for time(s) of our lives), the thought presents itself that the reason why the time of our life is our only intrinsic property may be that one's death(s) is the only necessity in a life. (We can, after all, not pay our taxes.)
Clearly, for Seneca to think or have a name is not necessary.
Jeremy Gilbert (see also Monday's post) writes on the relation of social media networks and individualism; below the fold some reflections on his essay for the philosophy profession.
On the one hand we have a social logic which tends towards the promotion of egalitarian collective creativity. On the other, we have an ideology which demands that we remain commited to the liberal individualist obsession with our private, interior lives and our separability from all other beings. It insists that the outputs of all such creativity - and even the condition of possibility for those outputs - manifest themselves only as forms of private property: from the ‘transferrable skill sets’ which we ‘sell’ in the labour market [*] to the carefully-defined pieces of intellectual property that are the substance of the ‘knowledge economy’.... [**]
Competition in education (both amongst institutions and amongst individuals) is not something that spontaneously emerges once state regulation is removed - on the contrary, it is something actively produced by new kinds of state control. The REF and the school inspections regime overseen in the UK by OFSTED are both classic examples of this syndrome.