Wednesday, May 19, 2010

To go back to the post post before the last, regarding the continuing arguments from passivity here.

It's the same passivity democrats have shown in the face of Republican advances over the past 35 years. There's absolutely no sense that people could or should choose to change their behavior and decide that teaching is an important even primary function for an academic. The language in the post and comments goes against everything I was raised to assume regarding the importance of education in the humanities: the passing down of knowledge from one generation to the next, and not just knowledge itself but the subtlety of apperception and of use, to whatever ends, and even of education being an end in itself.

The democrats abrogated all responsibility to lead people to be better than they were. They accepted the conservative mantra that people are basically lazy and corrupt. While allowing themselves to feel guilty about it, they refused to intervene, and ghettoized themselves in passive moral superiority. Academia likewise has made individualism the model for behavior, mixed with the model of a collaborative vanguard, human in most ways but with the otherwise now superhuman capacity for disinterested reason. But somehow disinterested reason hasn't allowed them to figure out that education is a primary function of wise men, and that giving to others is a primary good so Harry Brighouse goes out of his way to argue for a market-based response.
"Alito, Sotomayor and Kagan’s successes appear purely meritocratic:"

Not in the least. Each benefitted from the role as representatives or defenders of specific positions. The number of intellectually qualified candidates is very large, including a number much more qualified intellectually if not politically. Justices of the Supreme Court are rarely geniuses. I thought that was understood by now. Alito is a conservative whose interests fit well with those who chose him. Sotomayor's and Kagan's positions parallel Obama's: a stronger executive and what's now called moderate law and order policy.
Sotomayor and Kagan both benefitted in terms of gender and ethnicity, as Thomas and, as we know now, Scalia did: Reagan thought an Italian-American was a great idea. Kagan is more a politician than a scholar, which is no sin. Jack Balkin called it early for her.

#152 "I’d say that, on average the value of the credential is about equal to the value added in education" That's incredibly self-serving from an academic among other academics invested in the moral and intellectual authority of simple elitism within a bureaucratic regime. I think again it was Balkin who pointed out that you don't want geniuses on Supreme Court precisely because geniuses are outliers and you want a court whose conflicts match those of society at large. All bureaucracies are political before intellectual. To see otherwise is to ignore their weakness and their strength: their importance as representative of the community at large rather than as some sort of "truth" producing machine.

As it stands now the academy is a bubble economy precisely because of the confusion between idealism and functionalism. Academics now talk about ideas and "ideal" functions as a way to stay both superior and up-to-date, while the un-ideal world beats them at every turn. At the same time they measure absolute brilliance in the terms of functional bureaucracy so they dumb themselves down even more. Brilliance is now more likely to appear outside the academy because preconceptions are a hindrance in a crisis, and what is the academy teaching these days but preconceptions, not the least of its own authority?

To end where this post began: teaching may not be self-interest but it's noble. The sense that nobility or the choice to help others is not even discussed is a mark of how far we've come to mark the mediocre as the inevitable and the mastery of the mediocre by intellectuals as the ideal.

Oddly enough though I still like my argument, I glossed some of the comments here too quickly. I should follow my own advice.
“To firm this up, I’d say that, on average the value of the credential is about equal to the value added in education”
So together they double your value to the plutocracy, yes.

Dr.Science: "I think Sotomayor is a great example of a process Jerome Karabel described in his book The Chosen: the elite universities knew that change was coming, and it was important for the new faces in the American power structure have some of the old labels: “Bottled at Princeton” or “Bottled at Harvard”. The strength of the Expensive Higher Education brand, as it were, depended both on helping those who should succeed, and making sure that those who would succeed regardless (because of their inherited money and family) still passed through their gates. And they had to make these decisions 20-30 years in advance.

What is also clear in retrospect is how close the Expensive Higher Education brand came to catastrophic failure. Think of what these people have in common: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Paul Allen, Steve Wozniak, Michael Dell, Ted Waitt & Mike Hammond (founders of Gateway)."

So then we can say that the world order is made up of greedy assholes who made it big without a degree and bureaucratic minders who stayed in school who serve them. Nothing new. But the minders are more multi-culti than they used to be.

“they rose through the class system substantially”… by mastering personal politics and intellectual mediocrity.

My mother’s first husband, who came from not much as far as I know, is remembered by experts in his field for selling two things to the American public: The Great Society and the Vietnam war. He served the White House. My mother considered him a sell-out and a shyster. and his boss a war criminal. She also considered him an intellectual lightweight.

“Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result.” [Oscar Wilde] I was raised to expect more of those who called themselves intellectuals: between success and moral integrity I choose the latter. But if success is a science and science is objective truth, then science is morality.
I disagree.

"So I agree that human power relations are important, and that studying, appreciating and understanding them is also important. But I think these efforts should be in service to the main goal of getting at reality as best we can; as opposed to (what I think of as) the po-mo view that access to reality will always be so hopelessly compromised that one would be foolish/naive even to try."

Democracy is a formal system of decision-making not a system of truth production. Idealists either know this and are therefore opposed to democracy or lie to themselves and pretend democracy is something it's not. The academy is full of idealists of both sorts, complimented by third: anti-idealists who call black white and white black. But negative idealism is still idealism. Ideas are taught and learned by rote and the fostering of the capacity for critical judgement is eschewed for knowledge of ideas and concepts, that can be learned from books. But teaching is a function of social life. One of the things taught and learned in a classroom is an understanding of the subtleties of social exchange. You learn not just about the subject but about people, and how they behave.
Unfortunately, a focus on individualism reduces the awareness of individual experience.

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