Saturday, June 06, 2015

Analysis of "Schlosser"

Regarding my recent post, "Professorial whining"...

In one sense, I have a little sympathy for "Schlosser." Using academic employment as a lever is, I think, a Bad Thing. Academia needs tenure. However, that the capitalist class is using students' complaints to erode tenure is not the fault of the complaining students, but the fault of the capitalist class for joining complaints to hiring and firing, and for moving from a tenure-track faculty model to a non-tenure track adjunct model. The cause, I assert, is firmly in the capitalist class; students' complaints just makes a handy tool for dismantling academic tenure and job security.

I blame academia itself too, as part of the professional-managerial class, for handing over its power to the capitalists. I will post more on this subject soon.

There's another sense, however, where I have zero sympathy for "Schlosser." When anyone increases their power vs. anyone else, we should expect that the newly more powerful will use their power in ways that the the newly less powerful will find uncomfortable, and contrary to their own ethical beliefs. Students, being closer to the proletariat, should have more power over their education. "Schlosser's" fundamental position, that students should have zero power, is absolute bullshit. With regard to the specific complaints, professors should have obligations to respect students' emotional needs. I'm not saying that that professors must unconditionally submit to those needs, but, per Thucydides, there needs to be a negotiation between parties more equal in power.

The need for equal negotiation is especially sharp when we're talking about topics and tools used to violently repress women, people of color, LBGTQ people, [ETA other historically oppressed groups,] and, of course, the proletariat. For example, the objections noted above to the Oxford debate above have merit. Abortion is not just some abstract question of ethics: restricting abortion is about the oppression of women. As mentioned above, I think having any sort of debate about abortion is as offensive to civilized decency as a debate about the chattel slavery of black people. Having two men conduct the debate just adds insult to injury.

Academia is not an institution devoted to abstract, disinterested intellectual inquiry. Academia has, from its medieval origins, ben an institution that establishes legitimacy, using particular kinds of intellectual inquiry as tools. As academics, our work is always connected to legitimacy. The underlying question is not whether some topics are too disturbing to discuss, but how how the discussion legitimizes or delegitimizes certain topics. It is legitimate (in a meta sense) to argue that the way a professor discusses, for example, rape, legitimizes rape as a tool of violent coercion against women. It's not that we cannot discuss Ovid; it is that when we're talking about Ovid's work that includes rape, not just his language but his subject matter demands critical inquiry. To blithely dismiss the subject matter of rape without critical inquiry has not Ovid (immune from our disapproval) but the professor himself legitimizing rape. In much the same sense, we can talk about Huckleberry Finn, but we have to deal critically with the slavery depicted in the book, as well as the language. How we do so legitimizes or delegitimizes not just slavery but modern racism, and it is a valid position to use one's power to ensure that our inquiry delegitimizes racism.

"Schlosser" completely ignores the role of academia in social legitimization. This omission, not just his that he actually has to take students seriously, even when he disagrees with them, is is most serious intellectual sin.

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