Saturday, November 21, 2015

Pedantry is a form of immaturity, but pedants by definition see themselves as the most serious of serious adults. Though their opinions adapt, the pedantry is constant; the illusion of consistency is all that matters.

I forget how many times I've said this. Weimarization begins with an elite isolated from the experience of the larger community: one part openly corrupt, concerned with wealth and power, the other engaged with intellectual formalisms, earnestly but as a result of the arbitrariness of their constructions -the foundations are contingent- with the same concern as their peers for power politics, on a much smaller scale.

America and technology have spread the neotenization of the elite to the broader middle class. Our new sophisticates have the arrogant provincialism of the petty bourgeois.

Academics as a group are the most unobservant, unintellectual, anti-intellectual people I know, and yet they see themselves as justified in leading. The academicization of intellectual life, bureaucratic reason from Max Weber to the Frankfurt School, is the proximate cause of the rise of the radical right. If technocracy is authoritarian rationalism, the governing of individuals as tokens, as the mass, irrationalism becomes the only model for life as individual experience. Anger is the only agency that's left.

Weber was a model of technocratic anti-humanism. Adorno was a petulant, moralizing, self-hating adolescent. Benjamin was a child. They were the confused children of technocracy.

If you live for ideas then you're living for the next test. Every experience must fit into one or another narrow predetermined category, living life by inches, or by millimeters. Mechanistic authoritarianism is fundamentally perverse, and it dumbs you down.

Art schools and degrees in creative writing: the academic study of ourselves by ourselves is a prescription for brittle mediocrity. Film schools are still trade schools; that saves them from the worst of it.

I'm tired of being right. I just want to enjoy my life.


  1. I'm often thinking that if the academic study of international relations is perverse, there's an even greater perversity within it: international relations *theory*, as its own subject, almost totally divorced from the practice of diplomacy (knowing what the other side wants, what the costs of our respective actions might be, etc), and concerned with a faux-metaphysics. It's not even as bad as regular metaphysics, but it's wannabe metaphysics - it's Lord of the Rings metaphysics. Maybe internally consistent, but it doesn't touch reality at any point. There's no feedback to discipline ideas.

    I like the point about film school as trade school - would you say that all education should in some sense be vocational? I'm often tempted to think so. The academic objection to such an idea is that it instrumentalises knowledge, subjects it to political ends, narrows its purview, suppresses creativity, etc. But it's better to have the practical nous of the lawyer, than the chops of the philosopher, right?

    But further: it's not just that "this knowledge produces a practical outcome, that knowledge is just specuation" - it's that the *intellectual* procedure involved in thinking the practical task is of a different -and arguably- preferable kind.

    Have you read Matthew Crawford?

  2. My parents were PhDs in American lit. Both were against creative writing classes for the same reason they were against teaching contemporary fiction: schools are for studying things we only know through documents. We have no choice but to live the present. We can't pretend to have perspective. You shouldn't need a college professor to tell you what to read of your own time, what kind of books to write or art to make. Schools can teach you to read, and help you to read the books of the past, but not to write. Film schools whatever else are still tech schools. Art schools are a disaster.

    But focusing on shop class is ghettoizing the issue, which is bringing an open form of curiosity to whatever interests you. "I'm interested in X" "Why am I interested in X?" Second order curiosity brings you back to yourself as agent and as subject. Any fiddle player knows this, but it's no more than a very basic self-awareness, the sort that's necessary for social interaction, so for politics. It doesn't mean you're not an asshole, but that if you are you're not surprised when someone says so. In the vernacular, you're not "clueless".

    As to IR and the rest, Oxbridge crap, including Rawls. It's all the most empty form of abstract art.

    People aren't rational; they're predictable. Two months ago Trump was saying he could get the black vote. Now he's going for the Klan voters. We'd be a stronger republic if academics spent less studying the idea of citizenship and more time living the responsibilities of it. Democracy isn't a theory; it's a practice.

  3. Even for Crawford, it wasn't about valorising shop class alone - it was about going from thinking about shop class, to thinking about applied knowledge generally, as a 'way' of knowing something. And he doesn't claim to be original in pointing this out, merely timely. He writes as someone who left academia to fix motorcycles.

    What is the different kind of knowledge involved in practicing democracy rather than theorising about it? It's easier to think about democratic practice when it's direct, Athenian, face-to-face, rhetorical. But when it's indirect - what is the practice more than following the news, indexing preferences, marking a ballot?

  4. This is why I post repeats.

    A recent post I've wanted to link, but haven't gotten around to it. I'm not a fan of Tushnet, but we're from the same tradition. His post belongs with the ones above.

    "A fair number of the mathematicians say that in the course of their work they have made more than a few mistakes -- pursued lines of analysis that didn't pan out, thought they had proved something when they hadn't, and the like....
    That led me to wonder whether academic law really has a category of "mistakes." One test that occurred to me was this: What's your estimate of the number of papers presented at workshops that are never published, just put back in the drawer, because the author[s] concluded that the paper was just wrong? My own estimate is "not many at all" (I don't exempt myself from this -- I do have a handful of papers in my "drawer" that I'm never going to publish because they didn't work out, but not many)."

    You write: "What is the different kind of knowledge involved in practicing democracy rather than theorising about it?"

    Language is a social construction. The meanings of words change as values change. When we argue we argue over change but the arguments themselves are part of the process of change. Language is drift. Argument is practice. Theorists argue as of their own preferences are stable, as if by claiming a preference for the absolute they represent it. My page is an archive of quotes from theorists philosophers and political scientists that document the unacknowledged drift in their opinions over time, and also of philosophers saying flat out that history of bunk.

    Lawyers are craftspeople; lawyering is an intellectual activity. "Lawyering as soulcraft" is a much more dangerous threat to the presumptions of philosophers than a defense of shop class. And I've spent most of my adult life as a carpenter. Lawyers and poets are foundational to democracy. Philosophers serve kings.


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