[iDC] (no subject)

Danny Butt dbdannybutt at gmail.com
Sat Feb 3 01:25:21 EST 2007

By way of giving some support to Kevin who has toiled so diligently  
on behalf of our recent discussions in a more generous way than I  
would (Brian, you *are* rude :)!), can I identify what bugs me about  
the recent (no subject) thread in more general terms, because the  
issues are fundamentally about pragmatism on mailing lists and not  
about academia.

In any group dynamic, but particularly in politics, someone will  
attempt to shift the agenda of the group by saying one or both of the  

1) There are events outside the discussion which are more important  
than what is being discussed.

2) The discussion is simply a function of a larger problem, if we  
address the larger problem we no longer need to have this discussion.

These statements are almost always true - there is a "mom and apple  
pie" quality to them. Aliette Guibert's forward of information on  
ethnic cleansing in the West bank is undoubtedly more important than  
practice-based Ph.Ds. As someone who did my postgraduate work on  
marxist cultural theory, I share with Brian the knowledge that there  
is a global economic system called capitalism and its decomposition  
would result in the transformation of many of the critical problems  
we face in the world.

In my experience, both these kinds of statements are demotivating to  
groups, because groups work best when they are focussed on issues  
where they can make a difference. There is a reason why this group of  
predominantly Nth-American new media academics came alive in the  
discussion on programs and curriculum, and it's because the  
discussion has the opportunity to expand and transform the  
participants' impact on their surroundings.

I have no doubt that the tiny, yet tangible world of postgraduate  
arts education has been affected by the last months' dialogue. I have  
no faith in the ability of the group contributing any meaningful  
difference through its discussions to the overthrow of the capitalist  
university system, or the human tragedy of Israel/Palestine, or the  
many other issues that many of us make meaningful changes to in the  
world outside this list. So I am unimpressed by arguments that we  
need to "break silence" on "more important issues" - I think those  
making such arguments carry a responsibility to show how the group is  
likely to affect those issues, really affect them.

Frankly, for the "more important" issues that I am personally  
involved with away from academic mailing lists, I can't see what this  
group would do by caring more about them. So why beat my head against  
a wall? To make myself feel more radical because I am introducing  
more important issues? People get tired of being made to feel  
politically inferior because they are not  engaged in a movement  
which they have no investment in, and in a "virtual community" that  
means they leave, because everyone has a lot on their plate. Self- 
styled "moral entrepreneurship" is always seductive but rarely  
subjected to rigorous evaluation as to its effectiveness.


On 02/02/2007, at 6:01 PM, Kevin Hamilton wrote:

> Malian,
> Not everything is complicated, and not every complex problem  
> requires the presence of academics in order to be solved.
> But surely the ways in which we as individuals and collectives  
> contribute on a daily basis to the real problems you and others  
> describe require a less simplistic summary than yours in the last  
> post.
> I did not question the necessity of discussing our work and worlds  
> on the scale introduced by Luis or Brian. I don't think anyone did  
> in this thread. If my actions here towards you, Brian or Luis have  
> been received as an attempt to silence dissent, then I deserve  
> correction.
> I did seek clarification as to the intent of the manner in which  
> Brian addressed the (no) subject. He generously addressed this query.
> You describe one trajectory when there have been many represented  
> on recent threads. Admittedly, when compared to many other  
> contemporary trajectories of action and decline, the ones  
> represented on this list and in recent discussions begin to resolve  
> themselves into a single shade. But I don't think we should let  
> that form the basis of action, or dismiss action and inquiry  
> without examining the expressed (and unacknowledged) assumptions  
> unique to each effort.
> I agree that the problems are deep, that the assessments offered by  
> Brian and Luis cogent and real. But I disagree with your broad  
> ascription of motivations to the actions of whatever unified group  
> you think you are addressing.
> Calling attention to overlooked concerns and contexts within  
> earshot of privileged conversations is wholly called for, and  
> necessary. Assuming and describing complicity and complacency  
> without close reading and attention to the specifics of a person's  
> practice, let alone their posts, is mis-informed, and  
> counterproductive.
> Kevin
> mlahey at artic.edu wrote:
>> So, I think that the answer to Kevin's question
>>> But since you've framed the problem existentially, I'll put it  
>>> back to
>>> you existentially - can't collective inquiry into the effects of  
>>> small
>>> decisions on the world be more than self-justified indulgence or
>>> delusion?
>> Is: Not on our current trajectory, sweetheart.
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Danny Butt
db at dannybutt.net | http://www.dannybutt.net
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