academics as wankers


As part of my research concerning the alienated nature of the public sphere (which is normally assumed to be the domain of ‘democratic freedom’), I have been reading Hegel’s The Philosophy of Right. As I do so, I keep coming across all manner of other enlightened observations. For instance, on women:

Man therefore has his actual substantial life in the state, in learning, etc., and otherwise in work and struggle with the external world and with himself, so that it is only through his division that he fights his way to self-sufficient unity with himself … Woman, however, has her substantial vocation in the family, and her ethical disposition consists in this piety (§ 166).

In other words:

Women may well be educated, but they are not made for the higher sciences, for philosophy and certain artistic productions which require a universal element. Women may have insights, taste, and delicacy, but they do not possess the ideal … When women are in charge of government, the state is in danger, for their actions are based not on the demands of universality but on contingent inclination and opinion (§ 166).

As for barbarians:

The barbarian is lazy and differs from the educated man in his dull and solitary brooding, for practical education consists precisely in the need and habit of being occupied (§ 198).

Barbarians are governed by drives, customs and feelings, but they have no consciousness of these (§ 211).

That is, ‘uncivilised’ people simply cannot act rationally. I hear that still today in some parts, concerning Greenlanders or Australian Aborigines.

For the enlightened Hegel, barbarians and indeed women are much like the planets:

The sun and the planets also have their laws, but they are unaware of them (§ 211).

There’s plenty of ways to do this – piss off everyone else at a seminar – but I recently experienced an excellent example of how to do this. Begin by spreading your arms to encompass everyone present and saying, ‘thank you for coming to listen to my paper, based on my important research. I am honoured that so many of you have come to listen to me’. Forget the fact that people have gathered to listen to a number of papers, not yours alone. And forget the fact that you have arrived late, while everyone else has arrived a little before time. Then, speak way over your time allocation in a way that indicates your own sense of the rivetting importance of what you have to say. Make sure that you have plenty of graphs and charts to give your presentation a whiff of credibility. Couple that with some of the most bigotted assumptions you can manage. In other words, couch your racism, religious intolerance and national chauvinism in massaged statistics. Finally, reveal so many problems with your rant that the rest of those present simply can’t be bothered listening or engaging. This provides you with a sense that what you have presented is so persuasive that no one has an answer.

Comrade Iosef is a pretty good read, although few do take the time to read his work carefully. Here’s some of his thoughts on useless scholarship.

To begin with, he hasn’t got much time for metaphysicians:

This reminds me of the Russian metaphysicians of the fifties of the last century who pestered the dialecticians of those days with the question: is rain good or bad for the crops? and demanded a ‘precise’ answer (Collected Works, vol 1, p. 49).

But the best has to be the tale of the anatomist:

Once upon a time there lived a ‘learned anatomist.’ He possessed ‘everything’ a ‘real’ anatomist requires: a degree, an operating room, instruments and inordinate pretensions. He lacked only one minor detail—knowledge of anatomy. One day he was asked to explain the connection between the various parts of a skeleton that were lying scattered on his anatomical table. This gave our ‘celebrated savant’ an opportunity to show off his skill. With great pomp and solemnity he set to ‘work.’ Alas and alack, the ‘savant’ did not know even the ABC of anatomy and was entirely at a loss as to how the parts should be put together so as to produce a complete skeleton!

The poor fellow busied himself for a long time, perspired copiously, but all in vain! Finally, when nothing had come of all his efforts and he had got everything mixed up, he seized several parts of the skeleton, flung them into a far corner of the room and vented his philosophic ire on certain ‘evil-minded’ persons, who, he alleged, had placed spurious parts of a skeleton on his table (Collected Works, vol 1, pp. 46-7).

Now that sounds like some scholars of ancient texts that I happen to know.

Precisely because of his own education, Mao had little time for the majority of scholars and their institutions.

After mentioning Lenin and Stalin as positive examples (in ‘On Practice’), he notes their opposite:

The saying, ‘without stepping outside his gate the scholar knows all the wide world’s affairs,’ was mere empty talk in past times when technology was undeveloped (Selected Readings, p. 70).

Adorno made a similar point concerning the philosopher who sits in his cottage with pencil and paper and is able to produce a system that explains the whole universe. But then (in ‘Reform our Study’) Mao notes the type of intellectual that pisses him off:

When making speeches, they indulge in a long string of headings, A, B, C, D, 1, 2, 3, 4, and when writing articles, they turn out a lot of verbiage. They have no intention of seeking truth from facts, but only a desire to curry favour by claptrap. They are flashy without substance, brittle without solidity. They are always right, they are the Number One authority under Heaven, “imperial envoys” who rush everywhere (Selected Writings, p. 203).

Sounds like a standard academic conference …

Apparently, Adam Smith lived with his mother and was, as one commentator puts it, ‘unmarriageable’. Perhaps the reason may be found in one of his common practices:

He became one of the sights of Edinburgh, where he was given to rambling the streets in a trance, half-dressed and twitching all over, heatedly debating with himself in a peculiar affected voice and careering along with his inimitable “worm like” gait. (Norman Davies, Europe: A History, p. 604)

Having been tipped off at the Bible and Critical Theory Seminar, I am now in wikipedia. And sparkling entry it is too, in the List of Notable Australian Presbyterians. To wit:

“Roland Boer – Self-proclaimed Christian Communist and biblical scholar at Renmin University of China and University of Newcastle (Australia).”

 

Wealth of Nations really is a massive jumble of material, reading much like a compendium into which Adam Smith threw his opinions on the world, the universe, anything. I fail to see how mind-numbing and seemingly endless accounts of herring preservation, turnpikes on English roads and bridges, and the varying roles of the clergy since the Roman Empire, have anything much to do with what causes “wealth” among the nations. So too his reflections on the current state of universities:

If the teacher happens to be a man of sense, it must be an unpleasant thing to him to be conscious, while he is lecturing his students, that he is either speaking or reading nonsense, or what is very little better than nonsense. It must too be unpleasant to him to observe that the greater part of his students desert his lectures; or perhaps attend upon them with plain enough marks of neglect, contempt, and derision. (V.i.f.14)

An autobiographical moment perhaps, since he is, after all, a “man of sense.” As for a young man engaging in a bit of travel before studying:

he commonly returns home more conceited, more unprincipled, more dissipated, and more incapable of any serious application either to study or to business, then he could well have become in so short a time, had he lived at home. By travelling so very young, by spending in the most frivolous dissipation the most precious years of his life, at a distance from the inspection and controul of his parents and relations, every useful habit, which the earlier parts of his education might have had some tendency to form in him, instead of being rivetted and confirmed, is almost necessarily either weakened or effaced. Nothing but the discredit into which the universities are allowing themselves to fall, could ever have brought into repute so very absurd a practice as that of travelling at this early period of life. By sending his son abroad, a father delivers himself, at least for some time, from so disagreeable an object as that of a son unemployed, neglected, and going to ruin before his eyes. (V.i.f.36)

Smith was, by all accounts, a jealous and surly man given to sudden sudden bouts of extreme anger.

What is the real cause of a famine? A bad season perhaps, or greedy grain speculators. No, for Adam Smith,

a famine has never arisen from any other cause but the violence of government attempting, by improper means, to remedy the inconveniencies of a dearth.

In fact, those silly farmers and wasteful workers who complain of bad seasons are really not making the best use of their resources:

the scantiest crop, if managed with frugality and economy, will maintain, through the year, the same number of people that are commonly fed in a more affluent manner by one of moderate plenty.

But if you have a real famine, then the solution is simply to let the grain merchants and speculators loose:

The unlimited, unrestrained freedom of the corn trade, as it is the only effectual preventative of the miseries of a famine, so it is the best palliative of the inconveniencies of a dearth (Wealth of Nations, IV.v.b.5-7)

Ah, those dreadfully sinful, interfering governments.

In the rather obnoxious town of Ljubljana in Slovenia – from where Žižek hails - one finds eventually finds the university. This is the institution where he has spent most of his working life. Before the main building you may notice a circle of old men, or rather their busts:

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I presume they are the university’s former luminaries. Along with their buddies, they are gazing intently at something in the middle:

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Yes, they are simply leching away at  a naked young woman, probably sharing a smutty joke or two:

2013 June 202a (Slovenia)a

Is this perhaps the secret to Žižek’s modes of thought?

 

Sara Ahmed, the icon of liberal progressive thought, has proposed the theoretical neologism of ‘stickyness’. It’s not when honey drips on your fingers, or when you wear your undies for a week. It concerns words and ideas that are associated with a term. She proposes this in relation to race, in which a certain term has all sorts of other things that ‘stick’ to it.

Original? Hardly. I do believe that is known as connotation in semiotic circles, but it also has a much more robust presence in the work of someone like G.E.M. de Ste. Croix. Here class is the key. When Plato asks, ‘what is good?’, it is hardly an innocent term, for it evokes all manner of ruling class assumptions, in opposition to the despised slaves and rural labourers.

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