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Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 10:34 am
Relativism swings right

35CommentReplyFlag

liliski
liliski
Liliski
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 10:25 am (UTC)
Different (Vinegar) Strokes

One of the best writers tackling the issue of intellectual shackling and victim culture is Frank Furedi. Several articles of his can be found on spiked-online.com, a hughly accessible critical website.

My experience is that junior academics are censored by their 'betters' long before the students get to have a pop, which renders the status of the PhD as 'an original contribution to knowledge' highly questionable.

There are a great many lecturers working in Arts faculties the world over striving for Emeritus status in Total Fluff, diligently grinding out their 3 and a half papers a year. You can spot them by the formal conceit of their paper titles - the template is statement, colon: list of three.

I would quibble slightly with your assertion that the power asymmetry of Self and Other is being reversed by current US dogma. I think it is more akin to 'Otherising' the Self via hegemony ~ the self still remains blissfully underdefined, defined by what it is not, while the other is incorporated, consentingly, and is thus politically neutralised. Bush's rhetoric of Us and Them is still posited along classical lines. The dominant have simply styled themselves as more 'special' in a 'special bus' type way...


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 11:22 am (UTC)
Re: Different (Vinegar) Strokes

Terry Eagleton's review of Frank Furedi's Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone is very salient to today's thought. Eagleton says:

"We inherit the idea of the intellectual from the 18th-century Enlightenment, which valued truth, universality and objectivity - all highly suspect notions in a postmodern age. As Furedi points out, these ideas used to be savaged by the political right, as they undercut appeals to prejudice, hierarchy and custom. Nowadays, in a choice historical irony, they are under assault from the cultural left."

He goes on to say that an intellectual, in the 18th century sense, is someone concerned with universalist commentary, not specialised knowledge of just one field. The leaders of societies like the UK and US mistrust thought that isn't professionalised, applied, specialised.

"A society obsessed with the knowledge economy, Furedi argues, is oddly wary of knowledge. This is because truth is no longer precious for its own sake. Indeed, the idea of doing something just for the hell of it has always put the wind up philistine utilitarians, from Charles Dickens's Mr Gradgrind to our own Mr Blair. At an earlier stage of capitalism, knowledge was not so vital for economic production; once it becomes so, it turns into a commodity, while critical intellectuals turn into submissive social engineers. Now, knowledge is valuable only when it can be used as an instrument for something else: social cohesion, political control, economic production. In a brilliant insight, Furedi claims that this instrumental downgrading of knowledge is just the flip side of postmodern irrationalism. The mystical and the managerial are secretly in cahoots."

The meddling relativism built into the Academic Freedom Bill of Rights is also explained:

"Once society is considered too complex to be known as a whole, however, the idea of truth yields to both specialism and relativism. Because you can now know only your own neck of the woods, the general critique as launched by the conventional intellectual collapses. There is no longer any big picture, a fact for which our rulers are profoundly grateful. And given that anyone's view is now as good as anyone else's, the authority which underpinned that critique is downsized along with it. To suggest that your anti-racist convictions are somehow superior to my anti-Semitic ones comes to sound intolerably elitist. To claim that institutions of culture and learning should enjoy a degree of autonomy is derided as ivory-towerism. Yet autonomy means space for criticism as well as space for irresponsibility. A privileged distance from everyday life can also be a productive one. Literary academics are more likely than insurance brokers to be left-wingers."


ReplyThread Parent
stanleylieber
stanleylieber
Stanley Lieber
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 11:35 am (UTC)
Re: Different (Vinegar) Strokes

Valuable insight. This semantic drift is also useful in preventing even the emergence of dissent.




ReplyThread Parent
liliski
liliski
Liliski
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 11:49 am (UTC)
Re: Different (Vinegar) Strokes

Indeed. Previously 'left-wing' professions in the West have been utterly choked by the mystical tour de force that is Quality Assurance. Teaching is a good example. Many, like me, got into teaching as a result of failing/being failed by academia. These days the bandages must be wrapped very tight for QA to mummify the thoughtful.

How one can quantify learning, creativity or knowledge is beyond me, but it seems to involve PFI funding of a great many 'workshop' and 'think-tank' initiatives, conducted by individuals with no expertise in these fields, paid £200 per head to spout dubious cobblers about, among others, 'learning styles', 'differentiation', and 'thinking skills'. Millions of pounds of the UK's school education budget are pumped into this industry every year. Meanwhile, clever kids get bored, thick kids get more disturbed and teachers go crazy.

The most twisted aspect of all this is that these initiatives masquerade as precisely the kinds of work that teachers would like to be doing...


ReplyThread Parent
andypop
andypop
rigid codes of hierarchical binarism
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 12:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Different (Vinegar) Strokes

This is very interesting, but Eagleton and (typically for him) Furedi are making very broad and unfair generalisations. For me, the atomisation of what I see with hindsight as a very authoritarian left of the late 70s/early 80s has had a valuable effect in that there is now an acknowledgement of difference - for instance, Janice Raymond's ignorant attacks on transsexuals are not any longer widely regarded as justified or as part of a progressive agenda. The caricaturing of this awareness as a sort of ultra-relativism is just lazy. It is absolutely vital to any serious left-wing agenda that we acknowledge the kind of nuances which trad-left politics impatiently ignored. We are not talking about a transgender viewpoint vs a black lesbian viewpoint vs a working class viewpoint or whatever, we are talking about an acknowledgement that within those groups one person cannot speak for 'their' group and thus sideline all other viewpoints, which was a common feature of the left 25 yrs ago. This also means that a person's insights cannot be dismissed just because they don't belong to the social group under discussion. This opens up possibilities rather than closing them down. If some are using this to silence others, we are not going to stop them by complaining about relativism. We are going to stop them by pointing out that they are wrong.

I'm particularly suspicious of Furedi since he was a leading light in the RCP, notoriously the nastiest, most authoritarian, and most cult-like of all the groups on the left at that time. His more recent analyses strike me as often very superficial & designed more to generate publicity than to make a genuine point.

Certainly there is a lot of waffle coming out of academia. What else is new? If the people who could be agitating for social change are instead wasting their time muttering about the waffle coming out of academia, setting up straw men and knocking them down, we aren't going to get anywhere.


ReplyThread Parent
liliski
liliski
Liliski
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 12:30 pm (UTC)
Re: Different (Vinegar) Strokes

I think the point is that academia has been, and should be, a force for social change and a site of agitation. You are criticising Furedi for being an agitant, as are the New Right. Hardly a case of waffle and straw men then...


ReplyThread Parent
andypop
andypop
rigid codes of hierarchical binarism
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 01:40 pm (UTC)
Re: Different (Vinegar) Strokes

No, I'm criticising Furedi for being a shallow hypocrite. There are plenty of genuine activists out there.


ReplyThread Parent