Archive for the ‘About academia’ Category

Hi!  It’s me, Trivium, posting for the first time in a long while.  I tried doing the song lyrics analysis thing here last year for a while and it was fun, but I know that mostly why people still come here is for the trenchant, often economical analysis of various topics that matter.

I’ve been wanting to do something on this for a while, since the Black Lives Matter movement exploded a year or two ago, but well, a) it seems like blogs have moved on a bit, and are now a bit 2008, and b) time, time time, which they are attempting to squeeze out of even professors now more than ever.  I am resisting, but one can only resist one’s employer so much and still stay in the good books.  Basically as my professional life has taken off, it’s meant so much less mental energy for blog posts.  Today in fact, I should be organizing a conference and writing the intro to my latest edited volume, but…

So here’s a topic which interests me, the long-term economic historian, so much.  And where I think I have a genuinely useful voice to add to the din, and perhaps help people to get over their own bigotry and prejudices, and get more into actually solving today’s most serious problems.

Ok, so the world has gone a bit crazy over ‘identity politics’ in the last year or so.  This is a natural development of what has been going on in intellectual circles since about 1990, and in some ways, decades before that.  It is the trend where identifiable minorities become the darling hero of progressives.  So basically for progressives the more minority you are, the better.  So if you’re gay, great:  if you’re a gay pirate, better, if you’re a substance-abusing, sadomasochistic, gay pirate, even better~!  I know a professor who got a coveted tenure job writing about these:  no joke.  And in progressive circles, i.e., around liberal arts departments, one can hardly get a job now unless one is a minority, or ‘at least’ a woman:  a recent university of chicago ad said:  we want 3 things from candidates:  a list of publications, a list of teaching qualifications, and a statement of how you have contributed to campus diversity in the past.  Wow.  And yet, they tell you if you ask, that there is no ‘bias’ towards minority or women candidates.  In fact, while women and minority progressives harp on about how they can’t get equal pay etc., in academia, the pendulum has demonstrably turned against white male new hires, at least.  I know the old boy network is still white male, in many cases, but for new hires, you’re up shit’s creek without a paddle if you’re a white dude, who happens still to be the majority of applicants in topics like say, European philosophy.  But if you’re black and do European history or literature, you have 10 job offers in one year, while if you’re white with a much better CV of publications, you have 1 offer in 10 years if you’re lucky.  Now I exaggerate a bit, but I’ve been around and seen a lot, and this is the clear trend in academic hires.

Fine.  My point is that the conservative movement does have a bit of real ammunition, when they argue that things have moved perhaps a bit towards the hysterical regarding ‘the nightmare it is to be black in America today’ as a recent slate article about a movie about black people put it.  It assumes that at every moment, to be black in the US right now is to inhabit a special type of torture.  And I’ve been following the police brutality thing:  I am the very first to admit please note, that there are massive problems with police racism and that US cops in general are way way too aggressive:  (a lot of this has to do with the fact that guns are legal and so they are always facing death:  this might get people more on edge.) (more…)

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It’s suddenly all so clear…

‘Open access’ — this strange idea which sounds so innocuous, or so empowering even, and which has been propagated by certain powers that be so that suddenly gullible academics everywhere are talking about it as though this is an inevitable development– is doublespeak.  It pretends to ”open access” to science publications… to whom?  To a ‘larger public.’  (How many members of the public need access to highly technical/specialized knowledge at this level?)   But it’s actually a move by savvy players to create a ‘knoweledge aristocracy’.  Or, if you like, it is a deliberate use of the language of the free market, by a group of power players who are attempting to mask a monopolistic power grab (This is a favorite tactic of marketers working for large, monopolistic companies).

To explain, some background.

So a U Kansas distinguished professor (A. Townsend Peterson) writes in the Huffington post about the ‘good and the bad’ of open access journals.

The bad:  an obviously flawed article was sent to 304 open access journals by the journal Science, and it was accepted by over half of them.  So duh, this reveals that a lot of open-access journals are for-profit scams.  This seems screamingly obvious.

The good:  A. T. P. then tells us that ”the serious open access journals are very likely an important part of the future of academic publishing, so we should nurture them.”  His direct quote is this:

“These journals likely represent an important element in the future of academic publishing, so we should do our best to protect them and nurture them, while discouraging the predatory and shoddy editorial practices on the part of some. After all, let’s keep our eye on the prize: an open, inclusive, and effective system of scientific communication.”

Who paid A.T.P. to suggest that ‘we should protect and nurture them?’  For goodness sake, shouldn’t we be nurturing, say, our young faculty members?  The future generation of scientists?  How often do senior professors publicly say that?  But back to the main point.  Do we really need these OA journals that are so in need of nurturing?

First of all, some people seem to forget that what makes good science prestigious, is that it is reviewed by top peers, at top journals.  The whole function of journals is to winnow the chaff from the wheat, and provide us with the wheat.  If we wanted the chaff, we could just do a google search!  And no real science would get done – every tom, dick, and henrietta could voice their opinion, and with no editorial function, no one could tell the noise from the music.   (more…)

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So here we go again, another attack on the ‘white maleness’ of authors taught in arts and humanities university courses (this time philosophy courses), by a black woman feminist, who is touting a movement she claims is going round the US like wildfire, under the title “why is my curriculum white?”

Ok, so let’s unpack.

Why is she writing this?  B/c she wants to see the curriculum opened up so that we have a plethora of voices, which are representative of human diversity.  Fine.

She is also arguing that the curriculum is white because when they were set in the c19th and early c20th, all professors were white males.  Yes, ish.

She is also arguing that there are just as many non-white male philosophy masters out there who should be represented.  This might be true, in some contexts.

She is implying that resistance to this agenda is, deep down, due to racism on the part of white males or their unwitting supporters who have drunk the kool-aid.

She can partly get away with this, because the legacy of slavery in the US, coupled with Marxist and post-Marxist criticism in the mid and late c20th, has given self-identifying ‘minorities’ a way to link economic, political, racial, and sexual power, which is simple, clear cut, and, which has a lot of truth, but, which also after hardly any serious scrutiny tends to break down more than one would think.  We won’t go there now, it’s too much for one post.

But the long and short of it is, that, most cultures, when you know the history, have produced ‘sporadic’ philosophy, because they were monarchical, and there was nowhere safe for philosophical schools to hide, out from under the absolute rule of monarchs and their dogmatist enforcers.

It has only been in societies which contained a strong democratic/republican element, i.e., in the ancient Mediterranean, and in W. Europe from the high middle ages to the present, that we’ve seen ‘explosions’ of philosophy, where generation after generation, men (they were usually men, but, moreso than anywhere else, there were women trained in philosophy as well) were trained in rhetoric, so they could sit on the town councils, where a real culture of philosophy developed.

Thus, Athens, Florence, London, Germany at variuos times have produced more philosophy in one century, than any other culture apart from the others named above.  You can find Chinese philosophy:  a lot of it  but – not usually done in the same style of continuous revision, continuous dialogue, high standards of critical independent thought, free from monarchical influence, and continuous pushing of the envelope.  This becomes obvious when you compare the origins of the scientific history writing in China and Greece, as a recent book has done. (more…)

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As a PhD who graduated now 9 years ago, I know a lot of youngerish PhDs in the humanities as well; and I can state that out of 6 people I know personally who have gotten long-term/tenure track academic jobs in history or politics in the last 5 years, and who were active both on the North American and European markets, that 6 out of 6 have in fact gotten jobs in Europe.

It’s a relatively small sample, and a personal sample, and thus biased, but, it gives me pause; especially since 5 of the 6 are in fact North Americans.  The one European in the sample was looking actively in the US and Canada and had several temporary appointments there, and many connections, but still got a job in Europe rather than North America.  

So, in brief, it looks like the disintegration of the American academy, especially regarding entry-level professor jobs, is really taking its toll:  many of the best, brightest, and most motivated people in the humanities are saying sayonara to the US:  it is no longer the land of opportunity:  its managers have gone too job-cutting happy, and there is no scope to become middle class there any more, as a teacher or professor, unless you’re a mathematician, or hard scientist, in which case you have to put up with ridiculously long hours and continuous fatigue in order to pay for your middle class or upper middle class lifestyle.  

Guess what?  When you cut the professoriate into ribbons, there will be no professoriate left, and your talent will flee.  In my personal experience, this for the moment means that talent is fleeing to those more progressive parts of Europe where they still have jobs for people, and are willing to hire foreign talent in order to improve their own programmes.  And it’s working.  The programmes in the Netherlands where I am working are definitely getting better by the year, in part because they are deliberately mimicking the American system, and increasingly hiring foreigners from English-speaking universities, which have traditionally dominated the global top 100 rankings.  

So yeah, this is also helping the rest of the world to catch up, as the US crashes and burns.  Hey, don’t want any humanities faculty?  Well, you know from the rest of this site how essential this has always been (or its equivalent) to a free society, with human rights, etc.  The rest, as they say, is history…


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Dear Readers,

Indeed trivium has been mute for a while, only stopping by to approve comments (which are always welcome), and to post a few links here and there.

This is because he has been entirely whorled up in the process of securing tenure, or something like it.  This has been good for his academic writing, but his extracurricular writing has been on hiatus… since those energies have generally been taking up by teaching, and by learning yet another language.  I realize that I started this blog during a hiatus in my teaching, and that indeed teaching has taken up some of those same energies that gets me fired up to write here on the Platonist.  I think that much good work has been done, and indeed the readership here is growing significantly every month it seems, so I want to keep the site up, and current, and let everyone know that we’re still here, and planning on maintaining and furthering the ideals set out here.

That being said, I think that the social movement that is and probably will for the forseeable future remain closest to my heart is the notion of founding the Institute for Consumer Focused Economics.  I like the fact that the title sounds corporate, and financial.  The point is to get the attention of those who work in those worlds, to let them know that we can speak the same language, and use the same equations, and yet begin and end with a radically different ‘product,’ i.e., an economics which is about the enrichment of the average individual, rather than an economics which is about the enrichment of the nation, the corporation, or the wealthy few (who are so often in conservative think-tanks equated with the best, the most energetic, the most innovative, the hardest working, etc., even though most of them began with signficiantly greater access to wealth, education, and/or intellectual gifts than most of us.

I have been talking about something like the ICFE for a long time.  I am not even sure what form it will take.  I would like to apply for funds to open a center.  I would love to organize the publication of a newsletter, and perhaps turn the Platonist into a hub for the ICFE, or create a new website.  This will require some time and energy on my part which right now is hardly able to be forthcoming:  society has made it so difficult for us to obtain secure jobs, compared with a generation ago, that we have less and less time to pursue those interests which might actually change the world for the better… of course, the powers that be don’t tend to mind this state of affairs, really, either.

So:  let’s call this a foundation.  It is founded.  As of right now, it exists.  The ICFE.  The Institute for Consumer Focused Economics.  What are our goals?


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Last night I Watched DS9 episode “Far Beyond the Stars,” and was impressed by its grappling with the politics of being a black writer in early 1950s New York.  In the end, Sisko, as Bennie the black science fiction writer, has a breakdown, after seeing a black friend killed by the police for breaking into a car, and then being beaten himself to within an inch of his life, for daring to express outrage at the police brutality.  Later, he is fired from his job for daring to write a science fiction story about a black space captain in the future, and so this all comes together to provoke his mental breakdown, during which he repats:  “I am a human being!”  The implication that his ideas deserve just as much recognition as anyone else’s:  his story was good, so who cares if it is about black men in positions of authority?  Why do whites need to fear this, or suppress the idea?

The episode was filmed in the late 90s, and since that time the arrival of Obama has made the issues feel much less ‘present-day’ poignant, though of course anyone with humanity can still sympathize in the historical context.  While in the late 90s, the notion of a black man in charge was still a futuristic dream, less so than in the 50s of course by  a longshot, but it was still unfulfilled… today, that sort of poignancy can never be as acute, thanks to Obama.  One of the epic healing salves of the entire American and indeed western culture was his election.  And yet it is striking, one of course has to sympathize with the notion of being discriminated against, being fired, being beaten up, having your friends die, simply b/c you are not the same color as the in-group.  In a paroxyism of rage, anger, and helplessness, which was still mitigated against by his stories which dared to dream of a better future, Bennie collapses on the office floor, and is carried out in an ambulance.

It struck me, that since this was filmed in about 1998, the race issue has been more healed than perhaps ever before, but that the economic issues underlying the episode have if anything gotten much worse.   Management and administration has everywhere not only gotten stronger, but implemented a policy of systematically squeezing, downsizing, piling on work, reducing salaries, reducing benefits, making every job part-time and short-duration which used to be stable and full time and long term.

And it struck me, that all of us are Sisko/Bennie.

We are all daily subject to indignities, to discrimination, to hierarchical control, dehumanization, prejudice, and institutionalized brutality.  And it is called your job. (more…)

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We’ve had a post about the “UN as a stepping stone to world government.”  I’ve noted that the American right seems quite paranoid about the notion of a ‘world government’ (and the UN)… and if the American right is paranoid about something, one can bet that this reflects the paranoias of the corporate elite… since, need I spell this out… the American right is basically the world’s best mouthpiece for global capitalism, i.e., the interests of the main global corporations.  (Like microsoft, who took over skype, forced you to accept multiple downloads per day, and then when you go to contact skype customer service, are directed to the microsoft website, which has ‘support options’ for about 16 different ‘products’, none of which is skype!!!)

Well, one reason why the American right (and thus the global corporate elite) is paranoid about any notion of world government is that it represents the possibility of having uniform global labour laws.  Now, friends, global corporations thrive, and make most of their dough, on exploiting legal loopholes which arise between different countries.  It’s interesting, because while feudalism thrived on having many local legislations, capitalism is seen as having broken down this feudal mentality.  But now we see that the global companies are actually happy with the current fragmented world system, insofar as it gives them major tax shelters, and also, employment loopholes.

Thus, when unions in the developed world got too strong, they moved to the third world, where they can exploit the workers much more handily, for much less dinero paid.

Some day, however, it is more or less inevitable that we will come up with some global labour laws – kind of like global bills of rights.  This is simply too logical, too scientific, for it not to happen; (more…)

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