Monday, April 21, 2008

note taking, at CT.
There's so much that's skewed here it's hard to know where to begin. First off, the academy is not separate from society any more than law is separate from politics: each is a subset with its own prerogatives. Those serve a function and should be respected, but they're not Platonic absolutes.

In re: John Yoo. Though I seem to be the only one so far to bring this up, a lawyer outside the academy and in public life is a licensed professional. An engineer who builds a bridge that collapses under its own weight will lose his job. Historians and professors of comparative literature, even of jurisprudence, don't run that risk, street lawyers do.

It would also be good to remember that academic freedom is not freedom of thought, it's freedom of thought for those who've been accepted into a club. To think that this exclusivity is a good idea is not to think it justifies excess self-importance.
"Academic freedom predates free speech."
After all, even the King... I wouldn't call that something to be proud of in a democracy.

2 decades ago as a 21 year old I read Gravity's Rainbow and a pair of fragments from it became touchstones of my intellectual life: the description at different points in the novel of two acts of self-destruction, the mass suicides of the Herero in Südwest as a refusal and denial of the authority of their masters, and of the Schwarzkommando as the final act of nihilism. The significance was context: that identical actions could signify categorical opposites. Academic freedom historically has been tied to general freedom of thought and to democracy, but now it's linked to institutional privilege and defended with references to monarchy.

The classic defense of the free market is that its openness and vulgarity act as an astringent, testing and tightening thought what would otherwise risk becoming arid blather. But now that the market has reached the academy it wants to escape its roots. So we have an academy predicated not on the hopes of the humanities and of democracy but on the technocratic logic of reactionary schoolmen. Welcome to the 14th century.

First and foremost Yoo was and is jobbing lawyer. Lets see what his fellow tradesmen say.

“Academic freedom predate[d] free speech.” in the past for the same reason it’s predating free speech today in the PRC.
It’s a both a pressure vent and a distraction, and technical advancement is important.

” ‘Academic freedom” in this context is a simply phase describing the concept of academic world’s independence from the outside world, that’s all. And Dan Simon in 23 is pretending that it means something else.”

It can mean many things. To friends of mine it meant channeling their education and dissertation subjects towards aspect of their fields that were likely to get them the tenured positions they now have. They worked very hard to conform, and now spend a large part of their careers playing one school against another, Stanford against MIT against the University of Chicago, to further their own advancement. As one of them says matter-of-factly: “research support and partnership it’s all is pretty much quid pro quo.” They had no “freedom” in their choices. Careerism is not the definition of free thought.

As I’ve said more than once, including in the comment that didn’t make the grade on this post, it takes more than rules to make a system work, it takes a minimal level of trust. The defense of independent autonomous specialized bubble cultures in the arts and humanities (a legacy of post war rationalism and sputnik) is not healthy. The art world bubble, the academic bubble, the journalistic bubble, the military bubble, the born again bubble, the American political cultural bubble, none of them are healthy, politically or intellectually.

As far as the arts go, see Karen Finley, a second rate cabaret pornographer bursting into tears when she didn’t get a government grant. Try to imagine Hugo Ball getting miffed when the Swiss Government refused to pay his bills. And remember be had a cabaret act too. There’s a difference between politics and the politics of pretension.
The culture of the soi-disant.

Henry Farrell
“I’ve suggested that academic freedom is a good thing on pragmatic grounds, but also made clear that it fundamentally depends on public willingness to delegate some degree of self-governance to the academy. If the public decides that academic freedom isn’t working out in terms of the goods it provides, then too bad for academic freedom.”
If the public decides that democracy isn’t working out in terms of the goods it provides, then too bad for democracy.

No understanding of academic freedom, of the need for tenure, or even of democracy.

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