[iDC] DIY: nightmare for humanities, social sciences, media

Brian Holmes bhcontinentaldrift at gmail.com
Thu Sep 22 13:40:14 UTC 2011

Hello Blake, hello Janet, nice to hear from you -

Yes, I have seen the TED talk on algorithms, and it's worth watching. It 
shows how the demands of high-speed trading - in milliseconds - reshape 
the very landscape, the "ground beneath our feet" as I've often said.

For the past fifteen years I've been studying the social consequences of 
finance capitalism, and I've come to the conclusion that it has really 
been the driving and shaping force of the whole informational era, along 
with the hi-tech military of course. The reason for considering that the 
universities are almost as corrupt as Wall Street is a trip I made to 
the UC system around March 4 of last year: a little stroll down memory 
lane, since I'm a California native and grad of UCB. As Blake surely 
knows, the UC strikes produced a tremendous amount of information about 
how that formerly public university is actually run, all the way from 
"Regents" like the billionaire real-estate and construction mogul 
Richard Blum (conveniently married to long-term CA senator Dianne 
Feinstein) down to weapons labs at places like UCSB or UCSD, which cream 
off vastly disproportionate shares of state and federal grant money and 
turn it into the robotic solidiers that the US craves for its oil wars. 
Although the occupations of late 2009 were tremendously effective in 
raising consciousness, the walkout of March 4 which I went to encourage 
and support was in fact very disappointing. Notably because of how few 
professors - in southern California at least - came out in active 
support of this adjunct-driven movement. (Though a few months earlier it 
was interesting to see videos of one of my old French dept. profs, Ann 
Smock, out protesting the attempts to more or less erase the foreign 
language departments.)

Blake, I assume you were at UC Davis at the time and your read may be 

I came back from California with two words in my head, which had not 
been there when I left. The words: total corruption. My claim is that 
most of US universities have become systemically corrupt --that is, 
captured by interest groups - in the course of the neoliberal period, 
essentially since the passage of the Bayh-Dohl act in 1980 which 
reengineered the conditions under which knowledge is patented and sold 
by the intellectual property departments. Three key books on the 
systemic corruption of the universities are: The University in Ruins, by 
Bill Reading; How the University Works, by Marc Bosquet; and Unmaking 
the Public University, by Christopher Newfield. But there are many 
others, check out the work and blog of Bob Samuels which is spot on. 
It's also well worth reading Charles Schwartz's questions about the 
"public" nature of education where undergraduate tuition pays for the 
administrative execs, real-estate deals, six-figure professors and 
corporate labs:


Now, indeed, I fully agree with Blake that in an era where the critique 
of public institutions is carried on by the corporate class, the point 
is not to destroy those institutions - and that is exactly what I've 
been arguing here in various posts. However, what has actually happened 
in the UC system and in many other cases (as I infer on the basis of 
less detailed study) is not so much the destruction as the appropriation 
and remodeling of those formerly public institutions. The ground has 
already changed beneath our feet. So to worry about whether we are 
losing the Enlightenment, at this point when the universities massively 
manufacture, not only neoliberal subjectivities but also neoliberal 
policy and technology, is, I am afraid, to be exactly the kind of 
humanist that the Frankfurt School thinkers would have excoriated for 
being unable to see that - how did Adorno put it? - "the whole is the 
untrue." What would be needed, but what we don't have, is someone like 
Marcuse who would incite both students and professors to revolt on the 
basis of deep, searching and totally uncompromising work that engages 
its author body and soul. Instead of doing that in a way that would 
match the demands of the times, professors go on producing peer-reviewed 
articles on tiny details, jetting around to fancy conferences, building 
their pet gallery, media lab or whatever, and climbing the career 
ladder. They are an interest group.

Many people who think this way just want to burn the places down, they 
are active readers of The Coming Insurrection. Not me. I think it's 
necessary to create autonomous sites of egalitarian-ecological critique 
which can encourage the desires of students to ruse up against a corrupt 
system, and also challenge professors to do the same, which does not 
mean just having nice thoughts about possible arcadias. Since the Second 
World War, with just a short pause in the 60s-70s, the American middle 
class - what you might call the organic intellectuals of global capital 
- have been enriching themselves while our country despoils the planet. 
Now the wonderful neoliberal governmentality, described so well by 
Foucault in his book on The Birth of Biopower, is destroying the 
American middle class the way it destroyed the Latin American middle 
classes decades before. Intellectuals need to take risks in the name of 
equality. Unless, of course, they are just parasites...

The words are strong. But the situation is too. The whole issue of the 
middle classes, of a place situation between the dominators and the 
dominated, is which side do you take in a structurally compromised 
position? I'd say the difference between left-liberal critique and the 
corporate variety is that the latter is transformative, it has 
appropriated and remade the institutions, while ours has largely been 
just commentary, a bunch of moot points for which you get a minor prize. 
To defend the university as it is, means defending a highly advanced 
state of corruption. After all that has happened in the last decade, and 
in the face of a total makeover of society under the guise of the 
response to a crisis created by finance itself, I just don't see any 
excuse for remaining naive.

Shouldn't we try to stop business as usual? And start something else?

best, BH

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