Thursday, June 04, 2015

Professorial whining

Liberal professor "Edward Schlosser" (a pseudonym) is terrified of his liberal students. I'll skip the summary; you can read the article yourself. Basically, "Schlosser" is worried (I think) that we're all becoming special snowflakes, unwilling to stand even the slightest bruise to our feelings. "Schlosser" is completely full of shit.

First, he supports his allegations with only the thinnest of evidence. I don't even really understand what he's complaining about. He mentions Oxford cancelling an abortion debate, but that was primarily because it was set up by an anti-abortion organization and, more importantly, the two debators were both men. As far as I'm concerned, a "debate" about abortion rights is about as useful as a "debate" on black slavery, so preserving the "debate" on abortion on the grounds of free speech is not our very highest priority. And I see no particular reason why we should be particularly worried that some college refuses to support blatant cultural appropriation. "Schlosser" mentions Laura Kipness (JFGI), but admits that Kipness was exonerated; the big complaint there seems to be that a professor was (gasp!) investigated. Boo fucking hoo. Apart from a tweet or two, "Schlosser" just repeats the opinions of other privileged academics. I'm usually unimpressed by opinions, however credentialed; I want evidence.

But the whole thesis is stupid. The fault is not in the ideology of the "left," nor in "identity politics." People are, as always, doing the best they can with what they have. They aren't doing much because they can't do much.

"Schlosser" completely misses the real point: academia is becoming a thoroughly capitalist institution, and capitalist institutions are, well, capitalist. Adjuncts and grad students eat shit because, as workers, they have no power. For every adjunct working (especially in the humanities), there are a hundred candidates willing to eat any amount of shit for starvation wages; should we be surprised that university administrators are eager to find out just how much shit they can force down the adjuncts' throats?

I'm an academic myself, in the adjunct pipeline (applying now for graduate school). I have no illusions about my fate: even with a graduate degree, I'll be eking out a marginal existence with Medicaid and food stamps. I personally don't mind, because I like the work itself, and there are niches in academia where I won't have to eat shit, and I fancy myself clever enough to find them. I don't personally want a lot of money: I used to have a moderately privileged upper-middle-class life, briefly hitting the top 5 percent; I didn't like that life, however, so I didn't fight too hard to keep it.

I have no sympathy for academics who whine about their loss of power. For two generations, the professional-managerial class (with academia as their primary power base) held state power and a lot of economic power, and they threw it away. They promised political and economic power to the working class, briefly gave it to them, and then allowed the capitalist class to take it all away. Even more ironically, although the professional-managerial class surrendered with a whimper, the retaliation of the capitalist class against professionals has been savage and thorough.

Whatever is happening with political and social forces today, their conformance or divergence from "Enlightenment" values is irrelevant. Notwithstanding its considerable historical achievements and some good ideas, the "Enlightenment" is now bankrupt, and does not deserve slavish adherence. And any effect on the craven sellouts and privileged whiners in an increasingly irrelevant academia is, well, irrelevant.


  1. To the degree Schlosser, or "Schlosser," isn't bitching about unreal items, what he is saying is part and parcel of the university as big biz.

    Part of the university as biz is treating customers as students. Treating customers as students leads to some of them, at least, acting the way Schlosser (and others) have shown, with trigger warnings being a prime example.

    As for your comment warnings? I agree before the semicolon in the third graf, but I don't presume Christians and Muslims to be all alike, and therefore I don't presume them to be generally wrong on everything.

    And, I'm a secularist myself.

  2. I agree with your arguments until you lose me in the last two paragraphs. Could you please elaborate on what you mean by "They promised political and economic power to the working class, briefly gave it to them, and then allowed the capitalist class to take it all away."?

    I'm also reading this thru the lens of the dismantling of tenure underway here in Wisconsin, while I'm guessing you're thinking more of the kinds of complaints voiced in the "Schlosser" article. But I don't see the two as completely unrelated: each expresses concern about the loss of academic freedom and increased self-censorship that result from job insecurity. It's a concern I share even though it's been two decades since I was a UW student, and am in no way directly impacted by this.

    I'm also missing why you're talking about the irrelevance of "Enlightenment" values. Is this referring to something in the "Schlosser" article, or something about the general political climate of today?

    1. Could you please elaborate on what you mean by "They promised political and economic power to the working class, briefly gave it to them, and then allowed the capitalist class to take it all away."?

      This is the topic of my longish honors thesis. As soon as my graduation is complete, I'll begin posting the whole thing.


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