Tag Archives: Anti-Capitalism

The political economy of cynicism

19 Feb

Hypothesis 1:

The  cynicism, flippancy, snarkiness, and anxious arrogance of the American  intelligentsia is produced by obnoxious shards of academic humanities programs clashing with each other as the wrecking ball of austerity hits US universities.

Evidence: 

As the bourgeoisie restructures education, there are fewer tenure track positions at universities, especially in the humanities. So the existing pool of graduate students must compete with each other to get those jobs. This turns graduate school into something like a training camp for an academic American Idol contest.  Postmodernists and Enlightenment Grand Masters go at it like characters in the Hunger Games.   The social mission of the graduate student is to destroy the competition, to come up with some new boutique intellectual product that can be sold.  Often this is a critique of someone else’s product, like an up-and-coming Pacific Northwest coffee shop with it’s sarcastic anti-Starbucks ads.

This competition does not drive up the quality of intellectual production; it incentivizes splitting hairs and trivializing language and analysis.  Niche markets proliferate to the point where everything becomes a niche, so nothing is.

To make it as the next Intellectual ™,  grad students and young professors have to hate on each other, get into all sorts of petty fake rivalries that drive up each others’ status, use their  privilege, critique their  privilege, critique other people’s  privilege, use this to gain privilege, critique themselves for doing that,  participate in social movements, wish they were participating in movements, critique movements for not confirming their theories, and so on.

Out of the thousands who do this, a few emerge as the next  Slavoj Zizek.  Most become overworked functionaries who entertain people with sarcastic jokes when they are drunk.

There are graduate student comrades who resist these immense social pressures and end up playing sincere roles in social movements or in the education of future undergrads.  They are less snarky because they learn to think and act with others.  But most of them will never be recognized by academia and will become adjunct community college professors if they’re lucky.

Given these pressures,  people should think twice before they encourage young intellectuals  to enter PHD programs in the hope of becoming professors.

One possible alternative:

Over time, those of us who like thinking and learning creatively will end up building communities where we can learn all the things people try to learn in PHD programs and more –  in a healthier, less competitive  environment.

Hypothesis 2: 

The snarkiness, cynicism, flippancy, and anxious arrogance of the American  intelligentsia is also a product of journalists competing for attention in a world overstimulated by an unprecedented level of media production.   Shock value becomes an asset if you want to be heard above the chatter of the Internet.  So does  that old modern sarcastic game of “whatever you can do, I can do meta”.   Like graduate students, journalists compete to find the hidden truth behind what other people say, to the point of reducing everything to cynical games of words and images.  Expose everyone’s hypocrisy except for your own – unless a market for self-deprecation emerges.

Evidence: 

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One possible alternative:

Over time, those of us who like searching for truths will end up building communities where we can share difficult stories fearlessly without fake objectivity or cynical self-consciousness.  We will realize we are all hypocrites in some way, which is why we need to communicate with each other, finding out what’s going on together.

How to Overthrow the Illuminati (Theory)

24 Oct

cropped-illuminati-blog-final-renderTeaching in the ‘hood, I hear a lot about the Illuminati.   Some of my smartest students are hardcore conspiracy theorists, and they are quite good at preaching about the Illuminati,  a secret group of elites who supposedly control the world.  When we get into dynamic class discussions about police brutality, about the economic crisis, or about hip hop,  someone will inevitably bring up the Illuminati as an explanation for why Black people are oppressed, for why politicians or hip hop artists mislead people, or for why society increasingly seems like it’s on the verge of breaking down.

pamphlet-coverMy friends and I wrote this pamphlet to engage with these young intellectuals.   We argue against the Illuminati conspiracy theory, but we do so in a way that aims to engage with the questions these folks are trying to answer, instead of patronizingly dismissing them as ignorant:

Illuminati theory helps oppressed people to explain our experiences in the hood. Society throws horrible stuff in our faces: our family members get locked up for bullshit. Our friends kill each other over beefs, money or turf. Our future is full of dead-end jobs that don’t pay shit. We struggle to pay bills while others live in luxury. On TV, we see people all over the world dying in poverty, even though we live in the most materially abundant society in history. Most people act like none of these terrible things are happening. Why does this occur? We start looking for answers, and Illuminati theory provides one.

We believe Illuminati theory is wrong, and we wrote this pamphlet to offer a different answer. We wrote this pamphlet because we know people who think about the Illuminati usually want to stop oppression and exploitation. They’re some of the smartest people in the hood today. Forty years ago, Illuminati theorists would’ve been in the Black Panther Party. Today most of them sit around and talk endlessly about conspiracies. This is a waste of talent.

I am sharing this pamphlet mostly to reach any youth reading this blog.  For teachers reading this, I also wonder whether it might be useful in the classroom?  I imagine if you teach a lesson on the Illuminati theory, your students will probably be engaged and interested since many of them are studying this stuff  already on their own.  I’m not sure if you can get away with assigning this pamphlet as part of such a lesson; it may be too direct and too radical for most schools.   But at the very least, I hope it can serve as a reference to help get you started.

In any case, I will cover the printing costs of a class set of pamphlets for the first person who manages to teach this text in a school classroom.  I will do the same for the first person who convinces your colleagues and administrators that teaching it aligns with the new Common Core standards we are required to teach.   If you do that, send me your lesson plan, and we can post it here so others can use it. 

We tried as hard as possible to make the pamphlet a considerate text, meaning we define key vocabulary within the narrative, or in the glossary, and attempt to break down complex social theories in everyday language, with references to daily life experiences.   The intended audience is not necessarily all youth; it is written for intellectuals in the ‘hood who are already interested in the Illuminati, so it presumes some level of prior knowledge.  But it is intentionally written in a non-academic way with as little jargon as possible.

We are trying to reach intellectuals in the ‘hood because we think they could have a tremendous impact on the world  if they end up catalyzing social movements, but their conspiracy theories are holding them back.  Also, we see many of these young intellectuals dealing with similar problems that older  intellectuals and activists are dealing with; they are asking “why do more people around me not see what’s  wrong with our society?  If they do see it, why aren’t they willing to take action to change it”?

Many academics and activists answer these questions by suggesting that they are the only enlightened ones,  destined to teach others who are too blinded by false consciousness, too brainwashed by the media, by their privilege, or by their religion.  Young intellectuals in the ‘hood develop an analogous explanation when they say they are the only ones who are not fooled by the Illuminati’s lies.  These elitist reactions to our alienation fail to help us overcome it, and fail to explain why more people are not fighting back,  and how this might change; instead, they simply widen the gap between the intellectuals and everyone else.

We need a theory we can use to overcome this alienation, to catalyze the processes through which we all  fight back together.  Conspiracy theories are a roadblock in the way of this.

I am confident that some of my students will  overcome his roadblock and will come up with  new explanations for their social oppression, and creative strategies for overcoming it.