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.]
It's nearly a priori that they won't impanel me for death penalty or war-on-drugs type cases, since I'm up front about exercising my right to jury nullify in the case of unjust laws or state sanctioned murder.*
But I have no idea what to do with respect to someone who has both broken a just law and who should not be on the streets.
How can anyone in good conscience send another human being to an American prison?
But as a juror the only choice they give you is sending the person to prison or releasing them. And many people are too predatory to be allowed to operate in normal society.
I've got two weeks until I have to go in. Any advice about from people agree with me that this is a genuine dilemma** and/or have some experience negotiating the system would be greatly appreciated.
In the same manner that world history is a struggle between grasses and trees*, the internet is a struggle between producers and consumers of media for control of the way in which media is displayed on the user's screen.
The earliest versions of HTML were specifically designed so that the consumer had maximal control over how the information was presented. The exeption was <table>, which allowed the producer to order the information in rows (<tr>) and columns (<td>). But one of the cool things about <table> is that it allowed nesting. You could do a new table inside the cell of an existing table. Producers of content very quickly begain to use this nesting to control how the information displayed itself on the user's desktop.**
And then along came movable gifs, videos that start automatically, and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Things seemed to shift decisively in favor of the producer's colonization of the laptop.
Weirdly, in the early phases of this just about every "Web Design for Dummies" type book warned content producers not to put movable gifs on their web-pages, because they are distracting and a non-trivial percentage of users hate them. But as the web commercialized, "distractability" became a feature, not a bug, and most commercial web pages are like seething mounds of cockroaches, little bits moving here and there all over the place.
A few days ago, while trying to open the interwebs thingy to allow me to start entering my grades, I was prevented from doing so by a pop-up menu that referenced LSU's Policy Statement 67. The text included unsubstantiated and highly dubious claims such as that most workplace problems are the result of drugs and alcohol abuse by workers. And this was only a few weeks after all of the chairs at LSU had to provide verification that every single faculty member had read a hysterical message from our staff and administrative overlords that justified expanding the extension of pee-tested employees at LSU to now include faculty. The wretched communiqué justified pee-testing faculty because of new evidence showing that marijuana is harmful to 13 year olds.*
Anyhow, when I scrolled to the bottom of the popup, I had to click a button saying not only that I read the document but also that I "agreed" with it.
I honestly don't get this. Are my beliefs a condition of employment at LSU? There was no button that said I read it but didn't agree with it.
While reading this recent KCNA article about the execution of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un's uncle, I was really struck by just how transparently stupid the thing is from beginning to end. It never really tells you what the uncle did that was so bad, but just accuses him of broad classes of sin:
The accused Jang brought together undesirable forces and formed a faction as the boss of a modern day factional group for a long time and thus committed such hideous crime as attempting to overthrow the state by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods with a wild ambition to grab the supreme power of our party and state.
The closest it ever gets to actually specifying anything is when it says that Jang didn't clap enthusiastically enough at one meeting!
When his cunning move proved futile and the decision that Kim Jong Un was elected vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea at the Third Conference of the WPK in reflection of the unanimous will of all party members, service personnel and people was proclaimed, making all participants break into enthusiastic cheers that shook the conference hall, he behaved so arrogantly and insolently as unwillingly standing up from his seat and half-heartedly clapping, touching off towering resentment of our service personnel and people.
Clearly this functions to get people in line so as to be enthusiastic in their public displays of affection for dear leader. But I think there's something more universal going on in the whole piece.
It should be clear that bludgeoning people into publicly acquiescing to transparent stupidity is a powerful way to make them complicit in their own immiseration. Orwell came very close with the 2+2=5 thing, but he didn't quite get it. It's much more subtle and powerful. The linked to article doesn't state any mathematical falsities, but just insults the intelligence through vagueness, unsubstantiated insults, and insults that presuppose ridiculous world views ("thrice cursed dog" etc.).
I think this kind of thing is much more common than we presuppose. For example, even to be able to talk about Obamacare in many contexts you have to go along with the presupposition that private insurance for health makes sense in the first place. Or when you are at an assessment meeting at your University, you just have to go along with a lot of pernicious, false presuppositions even just to discuss how to use the newest interation of the unhelpful web interface. Or consider Protevi's recent expose of a bit of utterly typical administrative newspeak.
Just to get along and navigate basic things in life you have to communicate as if a bunch of stupid nonsense actually makes sense.
Obviously this trope is used to much more destructive effect in North Korea (mass starvation, intergenerational gulags, etc.) but I'm not sure that our own public discourse is any less ridiculous than that of the KCNA. Jello Biafra is perhaps our saving grace on this score.
If the links don't work, just reset your browser history and they will open up. Here's a nice bit:
But the pilot classes, of about 100 people each, failed. Despite access to the Udacity mentors, the online students last spring — including many from a charter high school in Oakland — did worse than those who took the classes on campus. In the algebra class, fewer than a quarter of the students — and only 12 percent of the high school students — earned a passing grade.
The program was suspended in July, and it is unclear when, if or how the program will resume. Neither the provost nor the president of San Jose State returned calls, and spokesmen said the university had no comment.
But like "conservatism" for the Republican party, for academic administrators MOOCs apparently aren't something that can ever fail us, but rather only something we can fail.
Mr. Siemens said what was happening was part of a natural process. “We’re moving from the hype to the implementation,” he said. “It’s exciting to see universities saying, ‘Fine, you woke us up,’ and beginning to grapple with how the Internet can change the university, how it doesn’t have to be all about teaching 25 people in a room.
“Now that we have the technology to teach 100,000 students online,” he said, “the next challenge will be scaling creativity, and finding a way that even in a class of 100,000, adaptive learning can give each student a personal experience.”
Nice discussion of Philip Mirowski’s Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Wastehere. The first half of the book theorizes neo-liberalism from a Foucaultian perspective and the second half excoriates the economics profession, e.g.
According to Mirowski, there was a moment after the 2008 crash when the economics profession could have performed some rigorous self-criticism and made an honest assessment of what had gone wrong. But the proposed technocratic fixes — addressing the “efficient markets hypothesis” in finance, adding so-called bounded rationality to microeconomic models to make them “behavioral,” and adding various bells and whistles to macroeconomic models — were particularly ineffective in reforming or even clarifying what is going on in financial markets. And the various “explanations” of the crisis that were brought up for debate in mainstream publications and through a network of economic policy “experts” ended up not serving any notion of scientific inquiry but instead were means of deflecting, confusing, and delaying any progress toward uncovering truth or consensus.
So how did the economists get away? According to Mirowski, they are protected through a web of prestige that stretches across the academy to quasi-accountable offices of the government like the Federal Reserve, as well as the network of policy think tanks that provide so-called expertise. This miasma of prestige has become too important to the actual logic of financial capitalism at this moment — elite economics dominates all these important international institutions, and there’s been a subtle wagon-circling at that level. Thus, like the banks, economists themselves are too big to fail.
The whole article is a fascinating read, and shows what a scam neo-liberalism is. It's weird to think that we live in a carny-like reality, where something only succeeds to the extent that a certain number of marks systematically misunderstand how it succeeds.
My six year old Thomas is reading Star Wars books designed for six year olds. He's actually very good at it, but he does consistently misread the word "universe" as "university." Since it occurs quite a lot in these books, he's constantly telling me things like the following:
My name is Qui-Gon Jinn.
I am a Jedi.
The Jedi are a very special group of beings.
For many thousands of years, we have worked to promote peace and justice in the university.
In the end, that’s the real danger we are now facing. Not just the
shutdown, but the rise of the shutdown strategy. By unraveling the
threads of our joint commitment to shared governance, it raises the
chances those threads will be rewoven into something else: something
deeply, and tragically, undemocratic.--Michael Lynch, Opinionator, New York Times, 10/15/2013
Plato's most important observation in political philosophy is that no constitutional system lasts forever. As Michael Lynch discerns in the important piece that I quote above (it's the concluding paragraph), there are dynamics internal to the democratic process that may lead to its own unraveling. Lynch mentions three distinct ones: (i) if "legislative gridlock" becomes "a fixture of American
political life, it will be more tempting, more reasonable, to think that
someone should “step in” to make the decisions. The chorus
calling for action — for the president, for example, to go around the
Congress — will only increase." (ii) When politics stops being perceived to be about (Madisonian) give-and-take, then the sense of shared identity will unravel. (iii) A permanent albeit powerful minority systematically makes normal state functioning impossible--the so-called regular "shut-down strategy." [In (iii) I blend Lynch and Schliesser.]
In response to (i) the Cato's Institute's Roger Pilon, remarks: "Well, that’s already happening – witness the many lawless changes to the
Obamacare law that have been unilaterally imposed by the president,
without so much as a notice to Congress. But it’s not because of any
shutdown threat. It’s because (iv) respect for constitutional limits is today
so atrophied." [HT Jason Stanley on Facebook] From context, it is clear that Pilon is thinking of the growth of the welfare state ("special interest juggernaut poured through with one redistributive
program after another, leading to the unsustainable war of all against
all we see today.") Given his focus on limitations, it is surprising that Pilon does not express concern about the limitless growth of executive power that leads to permanent foreign wars and the surveillance state. Either way, we can recognize in (iv) Hayek's old road to serfdom thesis. But with this particular twist that, rather than edging our way toward totalitarianism, we have already returned to the state of nature ("war of all against
all.") Obviously, if we are in the state of nature then the need for a Hobbesian sovereign to get us out of it will be embraced by all minimally rational agents.
As a follow up to the discussion prompted by this post, please see the fascinating article in Nature (here) which chronicles a rift between pure and applied mathemeticians about NSA's paying pure mathemeticians to help breach global internet security standards.
Another great article from Slate can be found here on how strange it is that the NSA has convinced mathemeticians not to share the results that have been useful for NSA's dangerous gutting of internet security. Not only does this prevent people from building a more secure internet, but also (according to the author) represents a betrayal of mathematics itself. The conclusion could not be more apposite:
You can hide a formula, but you can't prevent others from finding it. One might only need a pencil and a piece of paper to do that. And once the secret is out in the open, it’s not just Big Brother that will be watching us—other “brothers” will be spying on us, intercepting our messages, and hacking our bank accounts.
We live in a new era in which mathematics has become a powerful weapon. It can be used for good—we all benefit from technological advances based on math—but also for ill. When the nuclear bomb was built, theoretical physicists who had inadvertently contributed to creating something monstrous were forced to confront deep ethical questions. What is happening now with mathematics may have similarly grave implications. Members of my community must initiate a serious discussion about our role in this brave new world. We need to find mechanisms to protect the freedom of mathematical knowledge that we love and cherish. And we have to help the public understand both the awesome power of math and the serious consequences that await all of us if that power is misused.
Yesterday I had one of those thank God for tenure moments.
At a meeting of the"Assessment Officers" of over 100 LSU programs as well as most of the relevant deans, I blurted out, "Well, that's perfectly silly," after a dean announced that she would send back for substantial rewriting annual report that did not interpret the assessment "data sets" to entail problems that would be rectified in the "action plan."**[Please read notes ** and **** below to get some idea of just how much make-work this is.]
Then, when the hundred plus group of otherwise intelligent people looked at me, I didn't do a very good job articulating why this kind of thing was stupid during the cultural revolution in China and just as stupid today. I just said that if a unit is doing well there's no reason to find problems and that you can't expect units to get better to infinity.
This precipitated another long speech by the poor man in charge of LSU's compliance with SAAC's accreditation mandates involving assessment.*** This speech reiterated how there's always room for improvement and how this process should be helpful.**** I wanted to explain to him that he had John Calvin's doctrine on the depravity of man dreadfully wrong, but didn't say anything. Besides, everyone present needed guidance on the constantly changing computer interface that makes us enter data in all sorts of new ways and also at six months intervals recursively assess how well we are assessing.
Neil has an interesting analysis of "why Congressional Republicans are taking extreme bargaining positions
that shut down the government and risk defaulting on debt." He points to Republican "primary problem, which "makes Republican officeholders do the crazy things that the Tea
Party likes, because they fear losing their primaries even more than
they fear losing the general election." This has it backward in two important respects. First, it fails to understand the rationality of the Tea Party caucus. Second, by demonizing the Tea Party as "crazy," it facilitates the far more dangerous tendency among educated people to grow impatient with democracy and pine for rule by experts.
First, since 1988, the Republicans have won the popular vote once: in 2004. Their House majority is now primarily a product of gerrymandering and superior mid-term turn-out. If you look at the congressional Tea Party heartland (see this good map at the New Yorker), it is primarily rural, elderly, white, and Evangelical. With the exception of 'Evangelical,' perhaps, this is not the future of America. And even born again America is remarkably fluid when it comes to so-called 'life-style' choices--the generational shift of opinion on Gay Marriage has been phenomenally fast. That is to say, these are folk that know they will loose national elections time and again. Obviously Republicans can still put together winning national coalitions, but as the Tea Party heartland learned under the three Bush presidencies, these will not reflect their values and interests. They are not acting as co-partners in government awaiting their turn at the helm, but as the legal opposition. They are playing a lousy hand superbly and -- best of all -- by democratic means.
That's not crazy.
Herman Melville got it wrong. Bartleby the Scrivener did not in fact die in that prison cell. Instead, he was awarded tenure.
Of course today's Bartlebies cannot just say "I prefer not to" when asked to run the committee charged with collating all of his colleagues' TPS reports* (and entering into a fairly inscrutable database the raw data, the collated reports, and lies about how this data will improve the department to infinity, as well as attending brainwashing sessions about how the TPS reports and database is changing, and then doing all the work over again when the people at the TPS office find something wrong with the formatting, etc., etc. etc.)
Instead what today's Bartlebies do is just make sure that every time they are asked to do service, they do a horrible job. And they do a horrible job with so much unapologetic aplomb that the resulting cluster-**** becomes the fault of the person who actually asked them to contribute to departmental service. If you are really good at the jujitsu, you make it significantly more work for others whenever you are asked to help them with anything, and soon they stop asking.
Everyone reading this has at least one colleague or professor who has made an art form of this very kind of passive-aggressive jujitsu. And the learned helplessness is always a bit of a con. If your organizational skills are good enough to do all the things necessary to get tenure, they are good enough to do your bit of the soul crushing meaningless labor handed down by the administrative class.
Prior to the reign of "assessment," (I am *just* old enough to remember those halcyon days) I was significantly bitter towards the Bartlebies among us. I mean, someone has to do the administrative work and passive-aggressive helplessness is taking advantage of people who are willing to do it (plus, it shows that anarchism probably won't work, which is a sad commentary on humanity).
But in the era of TPS reports, I can't help but admire the Bartleby.
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.
What follows a little bit after the jump is shamelessly plagiarized from a couple of years ago post from my old blog.
I'd initially wanted to write something today new about how soul destroying I'm finding having to write a proposal for Sabbatical Leave for Fall 2014, but I realized I was probably just cranky. . .
The thing is, it's not that big a deal if I don't get the sabbatical. And it's not that big a deal the way the non-academic suits lording it over us have changed the social contract, where these things used to be pretty guaranteed as long as you've been getting good annual reviews. Maybe they are still pretty much guaranteed, and the proposal is just more hoops for us to jump through. I don't know.
And I don't think that my general extreme discomfort with having to sell myself in this way is suitable for a post. [i.e. Why can't I just honestly say that
I'm competent most of the time? Sometimes I'm inspired, but about a
third of those times it turns out that I was inspired to do something terrible. In my experience, this describes just about everybody. What does
this do to our souls to have to constantly pretend otherwise when we sell ourselves to employers and administrative overlords? I don't know.] I suspect that this problem is both too specific (concerning my own social neuroses) and too general (in a capitalist society everyone has to violate all sorts of Gricean norms the while selling themselves).
Instead, what I'd like to post about concerns the presuppositions the designers of these reports make us assent to. For example, in my report I am specifically ordered to show how what I write will make a non-trivial contribution to LSU's own "flagship agenda." This is a classic case of lawyer's presupposition. "Are you going to contribute to the flagship agenda? Yes or no." is just as bad as "Have you stopped beating your wife? Yes or no."
I've been to four on-campus Barnes and Nobles across the country in the last six months and at this point all of them have two distressing things in common: (1) no matter what the floor-space, far less than 1/4ths the amount of trade books as a regular store, and (2) televisions all over the place (both in and outside the cafe) droning insidious submental crap.
Who decided that it would be a good idea if one of the primary places students, faculty, and staff gather on college campuses should be horrible in the same manner as an American airport? I'm serious, who made this decision? And by what possible reasoning? It's not like they are doing this with their regular stores (yet).
I know for a fact that the faculty didn't get input on this. At LSU the Faculty Senate twice had drawn-out struggles with Barns and Noble to get them to turn the volumes of the televisions off. We finally won both of those because they were in the student union building at the time. But since they've moved to their (much, much bigger but with a fraction of the trade books) new campus building no longer being rented from the student union they've broken the agreement yet again, and instead of the loop tape of T.V. commercials they now have advertising on in the cafe and Fox News throughout the rest of the store. What used to be a cafe where people would talk about actual stuff they might be studying is now one where everybody sits solipsistically immersed behind protective earbuds. Welcome to college, lemmings! You are all individuals! Now stare gape-jawed at this blue jeans commercial that tells you so.
What complicates the picture is the [Turkish] protests’ anti-capitalist thrust:
protesters intuitively sense that free-market fundamentalism and
fundamentalist Islam are not mutually exclusive. The privatisation of
public space by an Islamist government shows that the two forms of
fundamentalism can work hand in hand: it’s a clear sign that the
‘eternal’ marriage between democracy and capitalism is nearing divorce....Global capitalism is a complex process which affects different countries
in different ways. What unites the protests, for all their
multifariousness, is that they are all reactions against different
facets of capitalist globalisation. The general tendency of today’s
global capitalism is towards further expansion of the market, creeping
enclosure of public space, reduction of public services (healthcare,
education, culture), and increasingly authoritarian political power....Just because the underlying cause of the protests is global capitalism,
that doesn’t mean the only solution is directly to overthrow it. Nor is
it viable to pursue the pragmatic alternative, which is to deal with
individual problems and wait for a radical transformation. That ignores
the fact that global capitalism is necessarily inconsistent:--Slavoj Žižek in LRB [HT Jan Dumolyn]
[I] We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though
frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this
account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of
the subject. Masters are always and every where in a sort of tacit, but
constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above
their actual rate. To violate this combination is every where a most
unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his
neighbours and equals. We seldom, indeed, hear of this combination,
because it is the usual, and one may say, the natural state of things
which nobody ever hears of.--Adam Smith (1776) Wealth of Nations.
[II] Servants, labourers and workmen of different kinds, make up the far
greater part of every great political society. But what improves the
circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an
inconveniency to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and
happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and
miserable. It is but equity,
besides, that they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the
people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as
to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed and lodged.--Adam Smith (1776) Wealth of Nations.
you could do much worse than Graham Harman's blog (the American Press, as well as Al Jazeera, are pretty hopeless thus-far).
In addition to what's happening outside of his window, his posts today have links to the most important twitter feeds of people out and about in the protests. The twitter posts also have some really good links to long-form essays explaining what's been going on.
This is the most beautifully haunting song ever recorded.
The title is from an older gospel song that is about the day Jesus died. I'm also pretty sure that Ry Cooder studied it intensely while preparing the Paris, Texas soundtrack, musical accompaniment to another sad story.
I was talking a couple of months ago with a very close friend of mine who works in commercial information technology and we were comparing the ways that academia and industry differed. One of the ways surprised me a great deal.
In academia, when you get a job offer from another institution, you are expected to go to the administrators in your institution and see if they'll make a counter-offer. If the counter-offer is big enough, you might stay. I should note that in an era of flat pay, this is a perfectly rational thing for employees to do. But my friend has made me worry whether it is rational for administrators to make counteroffers. My friend said that a lot of managers in I.T. refuse to make counteroffers, for the following sorts of reasons:
The skills involved in getting a job offer and actually doing excellent work are not tightly correlated enough for it to be rational for managers to play the game. If you always meet counteroffers the end result is that you'll be overpaying all of the "Mr. Hair and Teeth" (I"m not being faceitous when I say that this is actually a technical term in indusrial I.T.) types and underpaying the weird people who actually do the work.
I.T. work is collaborative and great pay disparities on working teams is profoundly destructive to the kind of esprit de corps necessary for doing a great job.
Lots of people don't go on the job market because they are happy with how you are running the company; if you waste your payroll rewarding job hoppers you are punishing the very people who are happy with how you are doing things.
It takes a lot of effort to go on the market; if you make counteroffers you are effectively paying people for not working.
Independent of whether the prospective job hopper thinks she is acting in good faith, if you as a manager reward it you are encouraging massive dishonesty. People will string along other companies just to get a pay raise in your company. This will justifiably make other companies angry with you the manager for fostering an environment that encourages duplicity and wastes time (which equals money) of everyone concerned. It also infuriates the other employees who are clearer about when they are acting in good faith and refuse to play the game of stringing along other companies.
My friend was really emphatic about the above and in fact tells his employees not to come to him for counteroffers, and whenever one of them gets a job offer says "that sounds like a very good opportunity, you should think carefully about it."
The thing is, everything he said makes sense to me as applied to the practice in academia. I should also say that in our case the counteroffer practice seems to have leaked down from the job hopping administrative class (the average tenure for a provost is under three years, at which point they take another job) and is one of the ways they inflate their salaries so much beyond market value.
I think in some ways academia is where bad management ideas come to die. Anyone who has been subject to "strategic planning" or "assessment" knows that any business that went in for such nonsense would get decimated by competition that didn't. I think that this business of counteroffers is something similar. When I've seen it happen the relevant administrators all too often act like bad movie imitations of business people.
Am I missing anything? This is I hope merely academic (in the pejorative sense) for me since one of my prayers is that I'll never be a chair.
By now, the protests in Brazil of the last week have been extensively
discussed in the international and social media. This is a very special time, and the
first time that substantive public protests take place in 21 years. (The last
time was in 1992, to demand the impeachment of then-president Fernando
Collor – who was indeed impeached but is now an elected senator…) While signaling massive discontent
with the government, and in particular with the excessive investments in
preparation for the World Cup and the Olympic Games in Rio at the expenses of
the population’s basic needs (see here for an informative analysis), the level of repression and police brutality has been lower than in
the sibling-protests in Turkey at the moment. But just yesterday, an estimate of a million people were on the streets, protesting in different cities; in some of them, Rio in particular, there were incidents and clashes with the police prompted by a small minority resorting to vandalism (see here).
BMoF will join the protests today and feature two of the songs serving as 'soundtrack' for the protests, both by the same band, Titãs. (The very first 'adult' concert that I went to was one of their concerts, in 1987 I think -- great memories!) These are ‘Polícia’ (1986), which gives a clear idea of how much Brazilians are
used to ‘trusting’ the police (not!) (check also the Sepultura cover of the song); and ‘Comida’ (1987) -- two
‘oldies’ from the time of my childhood, but still entirely topical. ‘Comida’ (check also this cover of the song by Marisa Monte, from her first album in 1989) is particularly appropriate in the current situation in Brazil: now that there
has been a significant improvement with the worst of the poverty and misery through social
programs such as Bolsa Familia, and most people finally have the bare minimum
supply of food, it is time to say:
After burning part of my summer writing "assessment reports," it is a relief to find kindred spirits. In the middle of an epic rant about E. Gorden Gee, Paul Campos writes:
One thing that rarely gets asked in the context of all this getting and spending is: What exactly is that money supposed to be for? In theory, of course, it’s for “education.” In practice, a whole lot of it goes directly into the pockets of a metastasizing cadre of university administrators, whose jobs, as nearly as I’ve been able to determine after being on a research university’s faculty for nearly a quarter-century, consist of inventing justifications for their own existence, while harassing faculty to fill out evaluations of various kinds (in a particularly Kafkaesque twist, many of these evaluations are supposed to be of the administrators’ own job performance).
The thing I hated most about church camp when I was a kid was feeling pressured to partake in totalitarian pretend happiness. Everybody is singing an overwhelmingly hokey and in fact manifestly stupid song like "Rise and Shine" (I refuse to provide a link) while vying with themselves to exceed one another in amounts of phoney enthusiasm for Dear Leader.
As an adult I actually don't feel this way in church any more (the purpose of liturgical conservatism is to prevent the kind of thing manifest in the song to right). And I'm sure part of the reason I became an academic is because it's one of the few places where you might find yourself colleagues with an older Holden Caufield (and s/he's thriving, doing cool stuff and with an equally grumpy spouse). But my God these assessment meetings bring back unhappy memories. Too many otherwise intelligent people go to ridiculous links to demonstrate that they buy into the pretense that God Assessment could possibly intervene to improve the lot of their unit. It's submental.
I've been reading Walter Cerf's wonderful preface to the Harris and Cerf edition of Hegel'sDifferenzschrift. The nicest thing about it is the long speech that Cerf imagines Schelling and Hegel making upon a visit to Kant, explaining to the snoozing man how critical philosophy leads to speculative philosophy. It's just a wonderful pulling together of so many important dialectical strands in German Idealism.
Another thing kind of weirded me out though. Cerf really interestingly notes how the conceptual divisions that Hegel attempted to overcome were not some kind of abstract game but in some sense constitutive anxieties of the age. The root distinction between particular and universal has all sorts of historical resonances such as issues concerning the relation between an autonomous, yet alienated, individual and the community that both nurtures and stifles him (and it is a "him" with Hegel). In order to be able to be intellectuals, the young Hegel and friends lived in a kind of painful monastic self-denial that exacerbated these tensions (cf. Kierkegaard), and they (unlike Soren) really did for a time at least hope that the French Revolution would somehow be the historical overcoming of them.
Of course existentialism turned necessity into a virtue, taking the very tensions that Hegel and friends analyzed to not be things that could be sublimated, but instead things just constitutive of the human condition. Some strains of Speculative Realism go this one better, and see these tensions as inscribed in the non-human universe itself. Tristan Garcia is to some extent a metaphysical (that is British, not American) Hegelian with no Aufhebung.
Reading Garcia and Cerf together made me wonder if our current time has any constitutive tensions analogous to all of the particular/universal dichotomies that haunted Hegel. With Garcia, I think many of Hegel's are still with us. But to some extent we are used to many of them now. Again, the tension between liberal autonomism and communitarianism, and crap aspects of both, are just facts of life we all unsuccessfully navigate now in ways big and little. What interests me tonight is whether there is anything like this that future Walter Cerfs might describe as distinctive of our point in history? I realize that this is probably a silly game, but I'm interested if anyone has any suggestions.
Across U.S. higher education, nonclassroom costs have ballooned, administrative payrolls being a prime example. The number of employees hired by colleges and universities to manage or administer people, programs and regulations increased 50% faster than the number of instructors between 2001 and 2011, the U.S. Department of Education says. It's part of the reason that tuition, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has risen even faster than health-care costs.
The Economist's takeaway:
That is to say, students have faced rapidly rising tuition costs not due to large increases in the cost of instruction, but mostly due to the dramatic, rapid growth of the university bureaucratic class, which offers nothing of obvious worth to the education of their universities' increasingly cash-strapped and indebted students.
According to a 2010 study on administrative bloat from the libertarian Goldwater Institute, tuition tripled from 1993 to 2007 at my own school, the University of Houston. Over that period, instructional spending per student changed not at all, while administrative spending per pupil nearly doubled. This is fairly representative of the national pattern. This seems to me to suggest that state university systems might first seek savings in leaner management before outsourcing instruction to glorified versions of YouTube.
Obviously leaner management isn't going to happen anywhere in this country any time soon, but there's some consolation that even otherwise reliable neo-liberals realize that there might be some limit to how much of our time and wealth our overlords can hoover away from us.
*At some point I'll try to describe assessment processes in all of their surreality and also try to discern the effects on all of us that these various collective dishonesties this kind of bureaucratic makework requires, but right now the whole thing has made me too stupid to say anything intelligent about anything at all.]