07 March 2007

Surviving in a mediocracy (part 3)

The full article can be read here.

Intellectual taboos

It should be obvious by now, to anyone who cares, that the principle of free speech is being gradually eroded in the West. Either by straightforward ditching, or — more subtly — by redefining it in ways designed to legitimise the prohibition of ideologically incorrect viewpoints. For example, not long ago an editor at the Index on Censorship admonished us for being too literalist about the issue.

"People shouldn’t think that the Index is against censorship on principle. It may have been so in its radical youth, but it is now as concerned with fighting hate speech as protecting free speech." (Rohan Jayasekera, commenting about the murder of Theo van Gogh.)
Modern collectivised academia (which ought in theory to act as a forum for free debate) is no different in this respect. Sacking academics for “racism”, because they have dared to consider the possibility that average IQs might differ between ethnic groups, is the thin end of the wedge. Next on the list is prohibiting climate change scepticism. After that may come the protection of other dogmas, e.g. that inequality is increasing. (I’m not advocating particular views on these issues; I simply note that some of the possible answers are becoming impossible to debate.)

Where we get dissident research being done at all, it is — inevitably — funded by bodies with links to commerce and/or right wing politics, since those are the only organisations with an incentive to challenge the il-liberal consensus. This is used by the mainstream both (a) to prove that there isn't a restriction on what research gets done, and (b) to discredit that research.

Some academics are starting to protest, and to demand that the state should stay out of higher education, but they’re too late. The state is now intimately involved with the university system, and it’s regarded as legitimate that society should control what goes on in publicly funded institutions, and should demand "value for money". It hasn't helped that intellectuals are generally much keener to blame marketisation than to blame a leftist government claiming to act in the public interest. Thus, as in other areas, criticism has been focused on the wrong target.

In any case, the issue of free speech only hits the papers when an established academic dares to deviate from the consensus. The more important censorship goes on inside the academy every day, as younger researchers find they are not going to get anywhere in terms of funding or career progression unless they toe the fashionable line.

To be continued.

PS If you want free speech, you have to be willing to stand up for people whose views you don't like, and regardless of whether you think the people are “nice”. Once it starts to depend on the views (or the individuals expressing them) being sufficiently inoffensive, you can basically kiss free speech goodbye.

10 comments:

Mister Anonymous the First said...

"Modern collectivised academia (which ought in theory to act as a forum for free debate) is no different in this respect. Sacking academics for “racism”, because they have dared to consider the possibility that average IQs might differ between ethnic groups, is the thin end of the wedge. "

It's safe to say you don't have a job to lose anymore. (You can't tell peoples tone on the internet, just imagine me saying that in a conciliatory non-rude voice)

"by redefining it in ways designed to legitimise the prohibition of ideologically incorrect viewpoints."

Slavoj Zizek, the current philosopher/psycho-analyst celebrity says that the role of philosophy is to 'redefine' problems.

Watch the first 30 seconds of the this youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDNXS3NrVdE

If you read the comments below you can find out how Zizek is regarded as a "difficult" philosopher.

He's certainly a quirky writer. But not difficult. More of a culmination of decades of 20th century philosophy.

Mediocracy on Analysis:

"The mediocratic version of analysis is designed to be usable only for criticising capitalism. It is incomprehensible, in order to prevent anyone from analysing it."

The Human Evasion:

"There is now no need to think about 'reality' except in the sense of 'what all right thinking humans are in agreement about'. "

Which neatly sums up Wittgenstein. And the redefining of philosophical questions.

"Thank the Lord, that reality is social. God is other people"

Fabian Tassano said...

Thank you for that reference to Zizek, a textbook case of mediocratic philosophy. What do you get when you mix (a) dumbed down Wittgenstein, (b) rehashed Baudrillard, and (c) punked up Jeff Koons? Answer: the philosopher as celebrity, spouting tripe. It’s so phoney one almost wonders whether it’s someone like Sacha Baron-Cohen doing a parody. I doubt Zizek’s fans would be able to tell the difference.

The idea that philosophy’s job is to perform a kind of hygiene is pretty old hat. Wittgenstein did it, Rorty did it, McGinn did it. Modern art has picked up on it too.

What is the significance of your last sentence?

“It's safe to say you don't have a job to lose anymore.” Your point being?

Mister Anonymous the First Emperor of Space said...

"I doubt Zizek's fans would be able to tell the difference."

They really can't.

He also once said (something along the lines of)

"Some say that psychoanalysis is dead. They say that there's no empirical evidence and its all old-hat. I say no, it's time is just beginning."

The concentrating crowd nods its head in approval. And,

"the 'late Derrida' was a polyphonic [WTF???] linguo-conceptual magician, 'playing' micro-variations of the same phrase in a bid to spin-out mortality."

An excellent writer indeed.

Translation: The late Derrida had no more ideas but continued philosophy for money. Critics said he was like a stuck record.

I've got a pile of Zizek books. A reviewer once said:

"Zizek 'writes like a DJ', splicing one theoretical track into another, producing books in the way that DJs produce sets. You become used to seeing familiar material cut and pasted into new books, which often function more like remixes than original texts."

Translation : Zizek gets his articles ghost written by secretaries; with frequent recycling from earlier books, and then presents the jumbled up tracts as an important part of the overall philosophical project.

Cargo Cult philosophy?

" “It's safe to say you don't have a job to lose anymore.” Your point being?" "

Anyone who criticises Tabula Rasa, however small, is in the only radical opposition to the current state of affairs imaginable. And they must be destroyed. After all, according to Celia Green, the big 'them' don't like IQ because they don't like the idea of autonomous mental activity.

Thank you for reminding me of Jeff Koons, I had a very good laugh indeed.

Fabian Tassano said...

“Anyone who criticises Tabula Rasa, however small, is in the only radical opposition to the current state of affairs imaginable. And they must be destroyed.”

Yes, but my point here is that IQ and heredity, which is the issue that mostly gets into the media at the moment - though views on climate [scroll down to Holick interview] are starting to run a close second - is only the tip of the iceberg. In my own case, the ideological incompatibility which prevented me getting on wasn’t opposition to tabula rasa, but my scepticism about the validity of the pseudo-scientific technical apparatus which economists have built for themselves over the last forty years. Having said which, there may well be links between the ideology of gobbledygook and that of the blank slate. (That, after all, was a guiding hypothesis of Mediocracy.)

The trouble with “free speech”, especially for those who don’t already see why it matters, is that it tends to get bogged down in disputes about the most controversial issues, because that’s where we see the principle (or its absence) in action. And for those issues, most people react as if they are being asked to decide whether to condone the views which are being banned. They don’t seem to get the approach which Voltaire is said to have advocated, and which is really the essence of the free speech principle: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

If you want free speech, you have to be willing to stand up for people whose views you don't like, and regardless of whether you think the people are “nice”. Once it starts to depend on the views (or the individuals expressing them) being sufficiently inoffensive, you can basically kiss free speech goodbye.

Captain Kirkham said...

Of course, there is a difference between defending a subjective, though different, opinion on something and defending something that is, factually, objectively, wrong. Not everything is a "point of view", some of it is just sub-academic bollocks. Just a thought.

Fabian Tassano said...

“Not everything is a ‘point of view’, some of it is just sub-academic bollocks.”

Depends what you mean by ‘sub-academic’. My cynical impression of contemporary academia is that in most subjects it’s much easier to get on if you (a) generate stuff of mediocre quality but with the right ideological and technical qualities, than if you (b) generate stuff of a high intellectual standard but too clear and with the ‘wrong’ conclusions. I would say there’s plenty of sub-academic stuff in academia, particularly in literary/cultural studies.

“Of course, there is a difference between defending a subjective, though different, opinion on something and defending something that is, factually, objectively, wrong.”
Are you thinking of something in particular?

Neil Welton said...

"If you want free speech, you have to be willing to stand up for people whose views you don't like, and regardless of whether you think the people are “nice”. Once it starts to depend on the views (or the individuals expressing them) being sufficiently inoffensive, you can basically kiss free speech goodbye."

This is the main reason why I admire Fabian.

Mister Anonymous the Solar One said...

Lenin said: "What is freedom of speech for? For action. And what do they want? To derail the revolution. So we will not tolerate dissenters." Something like that.

Fabian Tassano said...

Evan Harris MP
"Does the Home Secretary accept that the [Racial and Religious Hatred Act] will have a chilling effect and that the [requirement to get the consent of] the Attorney-General is no consolation to those who have been arrested or questioned by the police?"

Charles Clarke (Home Secretary)
"... What the hon. Gentleman must take very seriously indeed when he uses the word "chilling" [is that] the chilling nature of what happens is experienced by people who are subject to the incitement to hatred, and we must deal with removing that chill."

Ref

Mister Anonymous the Persistent said...

*Above*

Yes that sums it up quite nicely.