THE REIGN OF SQUALOR AND STUPIDITY: academic conformism vs individuation

Stiegler talks about « the reign of stupidity and of what so often accompanies it: cowardice and viciousness », Feyerabend talks of the reign of the illiteracy of the professionals, Deleuze denounces the reign of cruelty and infantilism. The internet is in danger of intensifying and expanding what these three thinkers identified as a characteristic pervading the whole of society, including the academy: the creation and spreading of « sinks of illiterate self-expression » (Feyerabend, SCIENCE IN A FREE SOCIETY, 10).

Feyerabend lamented the rise of a new breed of intellectuals whose illiteracy and incompetence were not signs of their failure to live up to the academic ideal but had become definitory of that ideal, of what he called « professionalized incompetence », or « standardized incompetence ». One of the amazing discoveries that he made was that of the inability of many academic intellectuals to follow even the simplest argumentative structures. Another was their tendency when confronted with an unfamiliar point of view to replace it with an absurd caricature.

Such logical failings are correlated, according to these three thinkers, with moral failings. Their doctrinal conformism  is sustained by an affective conformism: the need for « revenge », says Feyerabend (SFS 174), echoing Nietzsche, the desire of unimaginative and intellectually impoverished teachers « to reduce their wards to their own squalor and stupidity » (174). And of course we are all potentially their « wards ». »Squalor and stupidity » says it all: the stupidity of intellectual conformism allied to the squalor of affective conformism is the formula for the disindividuated academic bully who will not rest till he has reduced everyone to the same state of disindividuation.

Feyerabend talks about two attitudes when faced with an unusual object and the discomfort it provokes:

1) an attitude of openness and free exchange: one’s « whole being is affected as if it were asked to become different from itself » (note the Deleuzian resonances here: being affected, becoming, difference, espousal of alterity)

2) an attitude of closure and the acceptance of only guided exchanges: « Teachers and « people who know » are affected in the same way, but they have learned to throw their discomfort back on the world in the form of disapproval and contempt » (175).

Individuation is not comfortable: born of discomfort, it can provoke discomfort in others. But such discomfort is the very condition of any dialogue and becoming worth the effort. I hope my blog posts and my comments on other blogs are not comfortable reads, as I am constantly going outside of my own comfort zone (my self-expressive sink, in Feyerabend’s terms –  once again note the Deleuzian resonance: the black hole of expressive subjectivity). That is because my principal aims are dialogue and becoming.

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6 commentaires pour THE REIGN OF SQUALOR AND STUPIDITY: academic conformism vs individuation

  1. Bill Benzon dit :

    “sinks of illiterate self-expression” — I love it.

    I don’t know what demographic factors have affected the European academy, but I strongly suspect that one demographic factor has had a detrimental effect on the American academy. When the Russian’s beat America into space in 1957 with the launch of Sputnik that set off a small scale panic, one result of which was more Federal funding for higher education: « We can’t let the Russkies beat us in space so we have to have more college graduates. »

    Some of the money went directly to students and some of it went directly to the schools themselves. The effect was rapid expansion, which meant new Ph.D. programs all over the place to provide the faculty to teach the increased student body. But you can’t increase the population of PhDs by 50% or 100% overnight. You’ve got to recruit more candidates into the pool–how do you do that? And who’s going to train them? You can’t double the number of PhD students in a program without increasing the number of faculty teaching them. And where are you going to get those faculty?

    Well, I fear the system reacted to this call for more capacity by lowering the quality of PhD programs so that more candidates could make it in and through the programs. So, now we have more graduate programs producing more PhDs to staff more colleges and universities with a net lowering in quality of the whole system.

    And THEN the Federal money stops. The spigot started closing in the late 60s and early 70s. I remember listening in on faculty conversations: « What’s going to happen when the money dries up? » Well, what happened is that a cohort of lower quality faculty got tenured-in. So, we have a bunch of young faculty getting posts in the mid-60s and thereafter. Someone who gets a job in 1970, when they’re 30, and then gets tenure, they’ll be 65 in 2005 and they may not retire even then.

    So, the system gets a pulse of new money. It uses that money to expand while lowering quality. The money then disappears and the lower quality system becomes the norm.

    And that’s the contemporary American academy. The money still hasn’t returned and the whole ecology of higher education is changing through various factors, the most obvious of which is the internet and online education. In the sciences, especially computer tech and biology, we’ve got the industrialization of the academy, which was part of the response to lowered Federal research dollars going back to the 70s. If we can’t get research money from the Feds, then we’ll get it from industry.

    Meanwhile, perhaps the best industrial lab the world has ever seen, Bell Labs, gets dismantled in the late 80s and early 90s. Another premier industrial lab, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (when the GUI interface was born) goes down hill in the 90s.

    In the early days of the RAND Corporation, in 50s, they got half their annual budget on a contract from the Air Force. The contract had a very simple statement of work required, do work for the good of the country. I have this from my teacher, David Hays, who was there at the time. So a lot of smart and creative people at RAND were free to do whatever most interested them. But that changed in the 60s.

    So what do we have? Oceans of semi-literate self-expression staff higher education in America.

    J'aime

  2. terenceblake dit :

    My problem is not with the self-expression, nor even with the semi-literacy, if that means that we are all continuing our education. But semi-literacy becomes a problem when it means inability to follow a simple argument or even to be aware of the presence of concepts. Argument-deafness and concept-blindness alimenting the arrogance and condescension of closed minds.

    J'aime

    • jules dit :

      Agreed… i think the post modern movement, which has become the standard in academia and the arts. Is responsible. Pomo is essentially insane and self refuting, denies the existence of objective reality and therefore makes all ideas of concept, argiment to uncover the truth, futile. If they had more grounding in the hard sciences, or even had worked a lathe , they wld not be so out of touch.

      J'aime

  3. jules dit :

    Wow… so liberating to read. It synthesises all tge criticism ive had of academia, especially pomo and radical left types. Very holier than thou, and incapable of engaging in real debate. A bit like the pharisees…. they are wedded to their abstractions like the pharisee were weddded to appearances and religious law

    J'aime

  4. terenceblake dit :

    Yes, I must be able to perceive and integrate alterity into my individuation, if only to disagree. Otherwise I am not individuating but engaged in sterile repetitious narcissism.

    J'aime

  5. jules dit :

    Agreed… i think the post modern movement, which has become the standard in academia and the arts. Is responsible. Pomo is essentially insane and self refuting, denies the existence of objective reality and therefore makes all ideas of concept, argiment to uncover the truth, futile. If they had more grounding in the hard sciences, or even had worked a lathe , they wld not be so out of touch.

    J'aime

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