A Historical Intellectual Frame

In September, Jill Lepore’s book, These Truths: A History of the United States, will come out as a Norton publication. Yesterday, I heard the last of her three Priestley lectures at the University of Toronto respectively on Facts, Numbers and Data, the core material that went into that book. The lecture yesterday was on data. The volume offers an account of the history of the United States in terms of shifts in what counts as the key evidence for establishing what we can believe in successive eras – the Era of Truth, the Era of Numbers and the Era of Data. It is a bold neo-Hegelian thesis, and, in that very mode, runs counter to what is accepted as history by most historians.

The book, and the lectures, argue that societies change as the technologies change as the concepts embedded in those technologies change and offer new ways through which to view the world. Thomas Jefferson called “these truths” upon which the U.S. republic was founded political equality, natural rights and the sovereignty of the people. I will map onto her lectures the development of these truths, each as the primary core of the three eras she discusses and to which she only alluded in the lectures. I will not offer the political, economic and social dimensions of society arbitrarily. Instead, I will superimpose on her intellectual framework the core thesis of a French philosopher and intellectual historian, Marcel Gauchet, another rare neo-Hegelian. His ideas were put forth in his four volume, Avènement de la démocratie (The Advent of Democracy) published between 2007 and 2017, the same ten years in which Lepore developed her thesis.

If that is not complicated enough, I will superimpose my own institutional history of the university on that intellectual framework and use the Lepore and Gauchet frames to elaborate on the emergence of successive ideas of the university over the same period. As any Hegelian will do, Lepore writes of a nation that begins in contradiction and the fight over the meaning of history informed by the central preoccupation of the United States with race that brings about the special anxieties and anguish that trouble America. Given Gauchet’s work and my own, my thesis will be broader in one sense but narrower in another since my prime reference will be the emergence and development of the university worldwide but primarily by reference to that institution as it develops in Canada.

To make matters more difficult, I will first work backwards by initially discussing the third of her Priestley lectures on data that she gave yesterday and then move backwards to discuss numbers and facts. In that context, I will put forth the core idea of the university as a Social Service Station (SSS) first and then go back to discuss the idea of the University as a Sanctuary of Method and, previous to that, as a Sanctuary of Truth. Before I offer that intellectual guide map, I will present a triptych of Lepore’s, Gauchet’s and my framework in a static mode of simple succession. Only then will I go back and move forward to depict the dynamic progression of contradictions that plague each era and help yield the next stage. I will include the final stage of the university as a supermarket of ideas and a post-truth world in a separate discussion at the end of the series.

Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American history at Harvard. She is also a staff writer for The New Yorker and I may have referred to those writings on such varied subjects as barbie dolls and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in previous blogs. Relatively speaking, Lepore is a rising bright star in the intellectual heavens having received her BA in English in 1987 from Tufts, her MA in American culture in 1990 at the University of Michigan in 1990 and her PhD at Yale in 1995. In just over two decades, this sprightly and down to earth historian of popular culture has cut a swath through academe. The triptych presented below, without the additions of Gauchet and my own conceptions, is what she presented in her Priestley lectures as the character of three very different ages of determining what we know, how we know it and why we know to explain the character of these shifts.

Stages (what?) Facts Numbers Data
Themes
Modes (how?) Discernment Measurement Patterns
Goals (why?) Truth Power Prediction
Rough dates 1800’s 1900-1960 1960-2020
Primacy People Science Progress
Realms Civil Society Economics Neo-liberalism
University Sanctuary of Truth Sanctuary of Method Social Service Station

In one sense, the above depicts the stages of the birth and development of historical consciousness in modernity. For modernity itself since the development of the nation-state in the sixteenth and seventeenth century has prioritized change over stasis, a vision of dynamic transformation over pre-existing truths. In the mediaeval period, the dominant idea of the polity was of the King’s Two Bodies that provided the essential characterization of the politics of a society built on the divine right of kings, the very conception that gave rise to the notion of a ‘body politic.’ (Cf. Ernst H. Kantorowicz The King’s Two Bodies: A Study of Mediaeval Political Theology; the book was first published in 1957 and was one of the seminal works that informed my own thinking – a revised edition, which I have not read, was published recently by Princeton University Press) The core thesis, which I quote, is the following:

The king’s natural body has physical attributes, suffers, and dies, naturally, as do all humans; but the king’s other body, the spiritual body, transcends the earthly and serves as a symbol of his office as majesty with the divine right to rule. The notion of the two bodies allowed for the continuity of monarchy even when the monarch died, as summed up in the formulation “The king is dead. Long live the king.”

As in the contemporary era, the university went through four stages in the mediaeval period with its own version of a Sanctuary of Truth, A Sanctuary of Method, a Social Service Station and a Supermarket of Knowledge. (See Howard Adelman, The Holiversity) In that period, there were two radically different realms, the eternal one above that ruled over the changing one below, the realm of eternal and the realm of transience.

Gauchet dubs it the state of heteronomy in contrast to modernity governed by the concept of autonomy, the capacity for self-determination and the ability to make one’s own laws and self-legislate. According to Gauchet, in the period of modernity, democracy emerged as the prime political system and the nation-state the prime political unit to express this idea. In my view, not elaborated in this series, what we find is the rediscovery of the ancient Israelite conception of the nation-state via the Dutch thinkers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries now wedded to a revised version of the Greek concept of democracy.

In Gauchet’s version, modernity begins the process of leaving religion behind in the dustbin of history. Gauchet is an avowed French secularist. In my own view, in modernity the divine re-enters history as a process of self-revelation rather than the view of an unchanging deity ruling from a transcendent perch on its wayward and contentious empire below. On the surface, and on the surface only, modernity gives the appearance of leaving religion behind but really re-incorporates religious notions in a sense of spiritual revelation over time. The religion left behind is that of the totem of hunter-gatherer societies in which fate lies in the hands of the supernatural Other, either embedded in a world of natural spirits or disembodied from the natural world first by nomads who are not hunter-gatherers but move their domesticated flocks alongside them.

To jump to the present, we have entered a period in which democracy is in crisis, in which the university is in crisis and in which a sense of powerlessness has become the defining notion in radical contrast to the original vision of autonomy and self-determination. The symptoms include an obsession with an apocalyptic outcome and destruction of the natural world that lies at the core of environmentalism and the predominant mode of the new fiction and sci-fi movies. Instead of individual self-determination, politics has become for us liberals identity politics. Instead of politics as a collective enterprise of communal self-realization, it has become the realm in which personal fulfillment is the dominant mode. As a consequence, the core of a democracy, has been sucked from the plum to leave behind a dried and wrinkled prune. As privacy disappears, so ironically does the sense of the public.

One final note on Hegel and neo-Hegelian thought. Hegel has been radically misinterpreted through a Marxist lens and my own scholarship on Hegel focused on a reinterpretation to unpack the central religious themes of Hegel. While the dominant populist intellectual belief was that Hegel was convinced that history led to a terminus, to a final point of unity. I, and the rest of the Toronto Hegelian school, contended that history was not about the absolute as the end of history, for the absolute was always with us from the start. At each stage of historical self-revelation, the absolute takes on a new chimera and projects a new illusion of unity that will soon be fractured by its internal contradictions. Rather than coming to the end of history, rather than Hegel pronouncing on the character of that end, he wrote that, “The Owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.”

Contrary of the current character of the world of data preoccupied with its positivist emphasis on prediction, in history, we can only understand it backwards. That is the perpetual tragedy of history. As soon as we recognize the contradictions of an era we have moved on to a different age with its own internal contradiction. Hence, not a new unity but new forms of fragmentation and forces of dissolution.

I will begin next week with describing the age of data, the process of its emergence and the forces within it of dissolution with a focus on the dissolution of the Social Service Station that is in the process of being transformed into a supermarket of knowledge. Let me try to be clear. Each stage is not a discrete unit separate from the previous stage. It emerges out of the contradictions of that early stage out of elements of technology, of communication and of a mind-set emerging in that earlier stage. In this alliance of convenience of two successive stages, the defined enemy is always, not the previous stage, but the stage prior to that. It is a way of covering up current contradictions while displacing blame on that which has already been cast into the dustbin of history.

I will go back to trace the series of crisis that develop out of the contradictions in each stage to try to provide the background of why, when we have accumulated not only more knowledge than at any previous time, but the means to access even much more while, at the same time, we perhaps have never felt so impotent accompanied by the feeling that society has careened out of control. What happened to the idea of autonomy and self-determination. In the film Annihilation that I wrote about in the last blog, the central conceit hidden behind the martial mission film genre and the horror film genre was a conception of alien forces, not only taking possession of our selves and our brains in the world of big data, but of the very DNA of life in the whole of the living natural realm by becoming the ultimate body snatcher and controlling the central messaging system of our DNA to create new monsters, hybrids and mutations.

It is the roots of this dystopia of impending doom and its emergence that we need to come to understand. Just when we seem to have become the masters of our destiny, society is more than ever pervaded by a sense of helplessness and hopelessness in spite of the bursts of volcanic energy from high school students in America and women in America. Is it possible and how can we recover the original bold claim that we are masters of our destiny?

One last caveat. After Lepore’s lecture, which one of my grandsons attended with me, we went out to dinner together. He expressed an unbridled confidence in the wonders and indeed miracles that reside in the new realm of data. In my account, I will have to explain this overwhelmingly utopian vision in juxtaposition to the dystopic one that I sketched above.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Sunday: Facts, Numbers, Data: The Social Service Station

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

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Totem and Taboo: A Movie Review

 

Christopher Nolan (2010) Inception

Warren Beatty (2016) Rules Don’t Apply

What do these two films have to do with the series of blogs on the nature of the university? More particularly, what do they have to do with the transformation of the university from a Sanctuary of Truth to a Sanctuary of Method? The overall theme of the essays on the university focuses on power, influence and authority. In my last blog, I used the material from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks to explicate his thesis of power, influence and authority when offering a structural analysis of the Book of Exodus.

In his account, Sacks made reference to Sigmund Freud’s Totem and Taboo to insist that in the chiasmic pattern linking the design of the sanctuary with the construction of the sanctuary in Exodus, the story of the Golden Calf was the pivot point. Most importantly, the story of the Golden Calf was not about idolatry, but about the longing for an absent father and, out of this longing, giving one’s allegiance to a tyrant as a substitute. As the reader will see, on this subject, I take a traditionalist stance and argue that the story of the Golden Calf is indeed about idolatry, is about taking a material valuable entity as a substitute for a spiritual entity.

Are the two interpretations mutually exclusive? I will return to answer that question, but I first want to show the link to the two films. I did not choose to watch these films specifically on Saturday night. Inception was just what was on TV when I entered the den. Rules Don’t Apply followed, so I stayed to watch that film as well. As it happens, a dominant plot element in each was about an absent father. A key prop in Inception was explicitly a totem. It is a wonder how serendipity can play a part in the understanding and explication of a position.

In Freud, a totem is a primeval prohibition as well as a protection. In contrast to Inception, a totem for Freud is not self-generated, but is chosen by another or adopted by a whole tribe. The source is characterized as an authentic authority. The totem protects the individual from his or her most powerful longings, but the desire to violate persists in the subconscious. Thus, the totem is both a prohibition against surrendering to temptation and committing a transgression, and a protector that provides boundary conditions.

In both films, at the centre of the plot is a key character who suffers considerably from his relationship with his father. In Inception, he is the son of a very rich man who recently died; the young man is in the process of inheriting the old man’s extensive corporate holdings. This is a psychological heist movie in which a usual heist team, each member with complementary skills, gets together, this time not to rob a physical safe, but a psychological one. The team plans to invade the subconscious of the young heir and influence him to believe that, on his own, he must dismantle his father’s holdings. That will serve the interests of a rival tycoon who hired the heist team because they have developed the techniques for getting inside the safe of memories of an individual in order to manipulate those memories and, thereby, control his mind.

In Rules Don’t Apply, Warren Beatty plays Howard Hughes who is obsessed, not with rosebud (Orson Welles in Citizen Kane, 1941), but with his father, with ensuring the Hughes name is preserved on his father’s company which he inherited, just as bankers and shareholders of TCA close in on him as an eccentric incapable of managing a huge company. A subsequent psychological post-mortem argued that he was not so much driven to his madness by that obsession, but that his anxiety and retreat into isolation were yhe result of a very over-protective mother obsessed with the cleanliness of her child and protecting him from polio. The father is gone. Inception picks up the same theme. Powerful fathers who are absent from the films nevertheless play dominating roles.

Neither plot worked to support Jonathan Sack’s thesis about choosing tyrants to rule over you as a substitute for the longed-for father. In Inception, the son remains under the thumb of his father. The whole effort to “capture his mind” was to plant an idea that will hopefully dominate his conscious life that he needs to free himself from his father at the same time as he remains true to his father. This is to be accomplished by implanting the idea that the father was not disappointed in his son for failing to emerge as a strong leader in the mold of his father, but for failing to emerge as an independent thinker and doer who would not be under the thumb of anyone. With such a new mindset, instead of clinging to the assets he inherited as a way to cling to his father who showed him no affection as a child, he would dissolve the corporate assets to free himself and become an independent man.

Cutting across this theme is another father-child story, that of the role of the leader of the heist team, Cobb, who has mastered the art of penetrating a third level of depth to the unconscious. However, Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is the absent father. He has been cut off from contact with his children as part of his mind remains stuck in the underworld of the unconscious attached and obsessed with his wife and mother of his children whom he used as an experiment to explore the very great depth of the subconscious, but in the experiment was unable to return to earth. Guilt submerges him. The only route back to his children is by going back, both to regain access to the United States, the government of which suspects that he killed his wife, and his children.

According to that narrative, guilt can operate in multiple dimensions and in different directions just as time and experience can. The key always to preserving one’s sanity is by possession of a totem, in this case, a dreidl, a spinning top, that can be grasped and used to prevent being sucked totally into the vortex of the subconscious and to test whether you are in the real world or a world of dreams. In “primitive” societies, a totem defines the perimeter of the tribe and identification with it ensures the protection of the member. In Nolan’s film, the threat is not simply another tribe, but an extinguishing of any spatial and temporal reference points altogether. The totem becomes the the protective marker of a boundary which guards the spirit of the tribe, this time, of the whole human species.

In Beatty’s film, the totem is not explicit, but it is Howard Hughes who serves as the substitute father figure for both Maria Mabrey, a devour Baptist aspiring starlet played by Lily Collins, and her unconsummated knight, Frank Forbes played by Alden Ehrenreich, another repressed Protestant type. Both are in thrall to Harold Hughes. He dictates that there is to be no sexual involvement of his employees. Both are tied to Hughes as the god who will deliver them into stardom or magnificent wealth as an entrepreneur. They reveal themselves to be both consecrated by Hughes but also dangerously passionate about one another. Hughes in the end is right. He does not simply have an obsession with cleanliness and a fear of being defiled. Pollution lurks everywhere.

Both films are about power and the use of wealth, of material influence, to affect the behaviour of others. Power as creative energy, as enterprise and innovation, is expressed through the heist team and particularly the DiCaprio character, who in scene after scene must fight off the apparitions of Cobb’s subconscious who are determined to kill the members of the heist team. Coercive power is used as a defence, but the core tool of the offence is influence, to gain control over the mind, not through drugs, but by entering the subconscious of the other. This is not influence via information, analysis and education. But neither is it simply about tyrannical coercive power, though that is a necessary ingredient in the mix.

The Golden Calf as both a real phenomenon and an idol that dominates the imagination and character identity to promise freedom to and deliver someone from bondage and slavery to a subconscious tyrant, in this case, a father, who controls behaviour even from the grave and reduces the heir to a puppet rather than an independent autonomous being. Warren Beatty’s Citizen Kane as Howard Hughes never achieves that freedom, even though his life appeared to be that of a star lighting up the heavens as it crossed the sky and burnt itself up in the quest for free expression.

The casting couch is not portrayed in Rules Don’t Apply as a fly trap but as a prison of the woman’s own imagination – in this case, a star-struck deeply Christian young lady – driven subconsciously by her own desires to be a star in the firmament.  And for her forlorn lover and satrap of Howard Hughes, it is much more clearly a dream of becoming the author of his own initiatives in wealth accumulation. Tyranny in the case of both films is more a problem of self-identity than one of external coercion, but the desire, the longing, is not narrowly cast as a pursuit simply for a substitute father. The problem in Inception is about cognitive dissonance, is about what is real and what is a product of one’s own imagination, is about what others should be held accountable for and what is your own responsibility. As in Exodus, freedom is only attained when you actually break free and construct your own sanctuary.

In both films, God is a visible absence. There is no source of divine authority, no source of authentic being, except, and in both films, the love of a parent for a child. That is the ultimate source of authenticity. This is the repeated pattern of the tale told in Genesis about the family rather than the making of nation in Exodus. The error in Inception is that DiCaprio left his children behind, not to climb to the peak of a mountain, but to get to the valley of the third level of the subconscious on the ocean floor. The route to freedom in this film is about self-making and freeing oneself from irrational ties – father, mother, wife – in order to bond with a child. It is a Rousseau fantasy. The issue is not so much freeing oneself from a father-figure who protects, guides and supports, as becoming a father figure who protects, guides and supports.

Becoming a settled nation with boundaries, with recognized authorities and rules, requires leaving behind the nomadic life, whether that roaming takes place in the heavens above, as in the case of Howard Hughes as a pilot, or in the subconsciousness of other lives. And that means accepting responsibility for accumulating wealth without succumbing to the worship of it. In the pastoral world, yearning and desire offer fatal attractions that lead to war and violence. The object is to construct an alternative settled world in which roaming will take place in the imagination and in intellectual inquiry rather than in a quest for riches.

The job of the university is to help facilitate that process. So why must it change all the time, change the idea behind it so that the idea itself creeps in to control the mind and prevent precisely what its purpose was intended to fulfil? Why must humans return to converting a rich and flowering institution into the fatal attraction of the nomad for the consolation of a desert? What lies behind the compulsion for self-destruction and all in the name of re-creation and renewal? How and why do the horizon-struck dreamers, whether in the arts or Hollywood, whether into the unconscious or nature, end up turning the rich life of a jungle into an arid place for both the mind and body?  Where and how does the parting of the waters lead to the construction of a Golden Calf, a treasured inert object without an ounce of spiritual creativity?

In the Torah, how do the Israelites overcome the heroic world of pastoral nomads to seek an oasis in a city of stone like Jerusalem (or Amman)? How did the Israelites, transformed by forty years of desert life from slaves into alert warriors with the endurance of camels, with wells of courage, loyalty, and openness both to strangers and to new ideas at the same time, become a nation that builds walls of stone within which they find a sanctuary? What role did the portable sanctuary of the desert play in that transition?

That is the key question. The university reinvents itself as a sanctuary, transforms itself from one type of sanctuary into another, only to eventually destroy its own walls. Why? And how? Why was it necessary for the university to leave faith behind so that both faculty and students are left bereft, feel it, but largely do not recognize what they feel? Is civilization necessarily intertwined with discontent and can salvation only come from an escape from hidebound institutions and well-defined roles to return to the clean air of the desert with waters lapping on an unseen shore?

Certainly, many of the prophets believed that corruption came with civilization and all effort must be made to engage in intellectual and imaginative nomadism where rules do not apply and the power of fire guides one towards the promised land which, when reached, has already revealed itself as a betrayal of its vision of clean air and an austere landscape guided on its path by a pillar of fire to an austere desert. Has the university waxed fat and gone a whoring as Hosea declared?

Settlers are governed by rules and laws as are universities that prepare people to live in a civilized culture. But the latest rebellion is all around. The people want to worship at the feet of a Golden Calf, even those strongly rooted in a religious tradition and, perhaps even more so, for they want to return to a world of faith rather than one grounded in scepticism, forgetting that the desert world is a place of discord and feuds rather than an imaginary place of magnificent calm at one with the peace of God.

 

To be continued: From the Sanctuary of Truth to a Sanctuary of Method

Birds of a Feather

Yesterday, we went out to dinner with two friends. They had been out that day with a guide trekking through the jungle looking at the flora and fauna. I had been invited to go along, but I declined. In my terrible black humour, I said that I was allergic to getting too close to nature. That, of course, was not the real reason. After all, I had walked up, not once, but twice – not accurate, one of those times I walked down – through the jungle on the side of a mountain.

I think the real reason is that, whereas others see the beauty and bounty of nature, ever since I was educated by one of my sons about the environment, I see what is missing. In my walks through the jungle, I did not see a single bird. They did, but it was a flower, a bird of paradise. They showed me the picture they had taken. When I asked whether there were fewer birds here than when they first came to San Pancho, they indicated that the reverse was true. There seemed to them to be more.

I was sceptical. When I woke up this morning, I looked up on the internet to find whether the bird population in Nayarit, Mexico was declining or rising. I could not find an answer. There were too many sites advertising the wonders of bird watching in this area. The San Pancho Bird Observatory conducts tours for birders. However, the site also briefly mentioned another objective – to protect the population of birds, both in types and quantity. They needed protection. They needed sanctuaries. I suspect, like elsewhere, one can over a period witness the tragedy of the few and the thinning of nature. After all, I have not seen a single butterfly since I have been here and this is the area where butterflies from Canada winter.

It is not as if I had not seen many birds. You only have to walk along the beach to see egrets and ducks, herons, gulls and ibises – especially near the estuary at the south end of the long beach. But I do not have to walk along the beach to see birds. The prehistorical-looking chachalacas shriek and scream just as the sun rises every morning as they fly around playing follow the leader. Watching black hawks soar and rise on the updrafts without a flap of their wings is to truly watch grace in motion. I have also seen what look like turkey vultures and even one falcon. If I was a birdwatcher, I surely would be able to distinguish the various types of sparrows, orioles, warblers – I recognize them from their songs – finches and rushes, terns and wrens that perch on the edge of the swimming pool, taking a swig of water and resting before flying off.

I did recognize several of the birds. One was a Killdeer. I know that bird because I once reviewed a play by the Canadian poet, E.J. Pratt, called after that bird. It has two alternating white and black bands around its neck and a white patch above its very streamlined beak Another bird that returned to the edge of the pool several times was small and yellow with black and white almost striated wings and a very short and stubby beak. Another much larger bird had similar wings, but a red top and golden cheeks. I even once saw a green parrot – and one woodpecker, several times. It was red at the top and had a banded neck.

However, instead of taking great joy in the bounty of nature that is there, I mourn the genocide of birds and animals by the human species. And I believe I know the deep rather than immediate cause. It has to do partially with the university as an institution about which I have been writing.

From feedback that I have received, I clearly have not been clear enough. I will retrace my steps, depicting the university as a Sanctuary of Truth and then its transition to the Sanctuary of Method that I referred to in my last blog and then the transformation of that type of university into a Social Service Station. Finally, I will describe the type of university that is currently emerging, the university as a consumer’s supermarket.

The mediaeval university went into serious decline with the onset of modernity during the Reformation and the Enlightenment. In the final stages of its estimable evolution in that period, what had become a home for aristocrats to play and sew their wild oats was taken over by the court in its battle with the country to ensure that noblemen acquired modern technical skills in contrast to the general disdain of the landed aristocracy for higher learning. Ranks were distributed based on one’s educational achievement. However, what was being measured was not the acquisition of knowledge or critical skills, but the ethos and ability to conduct oneself according to the standards of the court. In contrast, the landed aristocracy, rooted in one form of pietism, defended their faith as a source of their countervailing values.

Though Eric Hobsbawm and Hugh Trevor-Roper differed in their explanations for the crisis that afflicted the seventeenth century and to some degree its characterization, both concurred that the seventeen-hundreds were years marked by unprecedented turmoil. There has been a general agreement that during that mini-ice age and a severe decline in population levels, societies were riven with shifts in the political order and the well-being of society. A central component was, in my mind, a crisis of faith and it pervaded the whole world in that early expression of globalization. The English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 brought William of Orange into the possession of the British crown. The Thirty Years’ War, the revolts against the Spanish Crown from Holland to Naples, the collapse of the Ming Dynasty and of the Shogun in Japan – one can go on and on to document the crisis of the seventeenth century.

And Mexico played a central role as gold, but especially silver, from this area flooded the world economy bringing about significant inflation. In this fraught atmosphere, society was pulled apart. A powerful and centralizing bureaucracy under the crown fought a locally-focused and land-based aristocracy rooted in deep-seated religious beliefs. The university was caught up as an instrument and representative of the battle between what has been called Crown and Country. The University of Königsberg in East Prussia, founded in the middle of the sixteenth century, was no exception. One reader sent me a message about Mark Twain’s portrait of the University of Heidelberg where the children of aristocrats spent their time duelling and frittering away parental wealth as they sought degrees guaranteeing them a place in the new state bureaucracies. It was just a typical example of the malaise that overhung universities.

As this tension moved into the eighteenth century, great scholars began to appear in the interstices of these decrepit institutions, at least decrepit from the perspective of any dedication to the preservation, creation and transmission of knowledge through the education of students. Immanuel Kant was born in 1724 in that city as a child of artisans (harness makers) rather than of the landed aristocracy. His family’s pietism celebrated religious emotion and the divine authority of the Lutheran Church. But Kant, in spite of his enormous regard for his parents, was influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in France. He struggled and wrote, earned money as a tutor and lectured students for pay until he finally received an appointment at the University of Königsberg. Only then did he articulate his revolutionary philosophical principles in the 1780s that breached the divide between rationalism and empiricism, science and morality, the inner world of thought and the outer world of experience.

Humans achieved certainty because there were laws such as causation etched in our brains that were necessary conditions of any knowledge. In ethics, imperatives were also there as preconditions of any morality whatsoever. And beneath the whole edifice was the autonomous thinking self that gave us both our freedom to think and act. But, as we shall see in my next blog, no sooner had a new basis for certainty been forged as a substitute for faith than it all fell apart and the Sanctuary of Truth evolved into the Sanctuary of Method initially at the beginning of the nineteenth century at the University of Berlin.

However, I am getting ahead of myself. At the end of the eighteenth century, it was very widely believed that Kant had resurrected and saved the idea of final causes, of a teleology of reason that gave the world a purpose. But there was an inherent contradiction. As Kant opted for reason in place of emotional piety, as he chose the autonomy of thought over the dependency on grace, he tried to preserve a lofty place for his parents in the noumenal world of faith that lay beyond sensibility and reason as he inherited and imbibed their artisan attention to hard work, discipline and rigid order. He had linked the sentimental thinking of the Scottish philosophers – David Hume and Adam Smith – with Newtonian science and Leibnizian mathematics. But he did so by surrendering and submitting to the authority of the Crown and relegated the Country to a backwater of faith which he respected and put on a pedestal. Otherwise, country was ignored. His justification: faith was beyond reason and used reason to demarcate that sacred space and leave it alone.

So whence the corruption? Aristocrats may now have attended such a university to earn a status that allowed them to serve the state rather than to pursue and advance knowledge, but the core of the university, though only a core, had been resurrected as a place for the pursuit of truth. To make a long story very short, I will jump to the 1930s and 1940s when the Sanctuary of Method was leaving behind the Sanctuary of Truth as a respected and admired backwater, but no longer the centre for the advancement of knowledge. I jump to Oxford and Cambridge and the breeding of spies who betrayed rather than served the crown. I refer to the well-known story of Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess, of Kim Philby and Donald Maclean.

They were all scions of the aristocracy, sometimes the lower aristocracy, but the aristocracy nonetheless. Born into privilege, they were children of the Country being trained in Cambridge to serve the Crown. They had been raised at Eton with a grand sense of entitlement and of hierarchy, perhaps even more rigid, though not as explicitly depicted as in Prussia. That made it even more powerful in being understood rather than articulated, thereby instilling a deeper sense of disappointment if one failed to grab the brass ring of status rather than of money.

But why through an adherence to communism and, in particular, Stalin’s Russia? Because communism did not represent for them any identity with the working class, but resentment and revenge on the aristocracy in which they did not achieve the highest honours and recognition to which they felt was their due. Brilliance, wit, an ability to mimic the foibles and follies of one’s class, were all prerequisites. But insufficient. And if one failed, one was left with a set of tools with possibly no real outlet.

John Maynard Keynes in his intellectual brilliance and as a member of the Apostles – not quite the highest order in the hierarchy – or E. M. Forster, who would write Passage to India, one of the greatest novels of English literature, may have both belonged to the secret fellowship of Apostles that revered cleverness and wit, idiosyncratic rituals and a special jargon, but their intelligence and creativity offered them a positive outlet for their class resentment. Guy Burgess and Walter Maclean, Anthony Blunt and Kim Philby all chose to become moles rather than attempt to soar as birds to the heights to which they believed they were destined.

They betrayed a decaying empire to serve a rising one, not the working class, but a fresh – and ruthless new imperial order. They belonged to the swamp of London in service to Moscow. Instead of free thought they chose a closed system so they could express themselves in actions untrammeled by the norms of their society. They were rebels with a cause, but the cause was driven by the psychology of resentment rather than any concern for the suffering and the deprived. Further, the crisis of both capitalism and liberalism as it faced the rise of fascism offered a ready excuse. They could ostensibly be high-minded even if they failed to achieve the highest status.

They had the perfect cover. They belonged, even as in their idiosyncratic beliefs and decadent behaviour merely served to reassure their acceptance as members in a privileged order. There were no real security clearances. They were all trusted as “good old boys”. They had been brought up to be irresponsible and they would prove that they had absorbed those values to the nth degree. Devoted to opulence rather than frugality, to cynicism rather than faith, to hypocrisy rather than a reverence for the truth, and to superficial display rather than deep thought, they had become members of a higher order than even the Apostles, an even more secret order.

As birds of a feather, one by one they went into exile together in that idyllic imaginary centre of a utopian higher order. The secret and exclusive order of M15 and M16 were merely waystations. Defensive snobbery and anxiety about slipping into the bourgeoisie combined to propel them to risk their own turf for a different hierarchy of privilege and crony network into which not one of them was really accepted as they lived out their lives in exile as ex-pats in Moscow.

Let me end by returning to the eighteenth century and the glory of the Sanctuary of Truth in a period when birds did not have to be protected by living in sanctuaries. Carl Linnaeus, the famous eighteenth century Swedish botanist and zoologist, was educated and ended up lecturing at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. He was one of the greatest scientists of the century famed for his binomial nomenclature for naming organisms as he became the godfather of modern biology. He had already done for nature what Kant would accomplish for consciousness. But both were still rooted in an ahistorical conviction about both nature and the mind which was only set aside when the classifications and characterizations of both of these very original thinkers were reconfigured as part of a developmental and historically emergent system where classes and rules became convenient conventions for understanding, grasping and using the external world.

Instead of a fixed hierarchy of the social world, Linnaeus developed the concept of a nested hierarchy of kingdoms (later also phyla), classes, orders (later also families), genera, species and taxa (varieties in botany and subspecies in zoology). These were not hierarchies of power and coercion or of formal authority, but simply ways of comprehending the world. Instead of class being used to establish hierarchies, hierarchies were used to establish a method of classification. Similarities counted more than differences, observations counted rather than prejudices.

Further, as in Cambridge, Linnaeus had his Apostles at Uppsala, but they shared a kinship with the apostles who surrounded Jesus rather than those who gathered together in Cambridge. There were seventeen rather than twelve. Many of them sacrificed their lives as they went on dangerous expeditions around the world to gather specimens of plants, animals and minerals. There would have been no Darwin without an earlier Linnaeus and the methods he instilled in his charges for preserving and classifying plants and animals.

When my friends went on their walk in the jungle yesterday, they were paying homage to Linnaeus and the best that the Sanctuary of Truth had to offer even though the university at that time played a critical role between competing forces in society and even though most students attended to obtain, not knowledge, but credentials to enter into unnatural hierarchies.

To be continued.

Turf and Surf

I am sitting at the kitchen table in our rented casa, writing and listening to the surf roll in and out. For me, the sound is so soothing. But for Karen Bentley Pollick, a brilliant violinist who played with Don Slepian on keyboard in an extraordinary combination of classical and American mountain music that I had never heard at the San Pancho Music Festival, the rolling in-and-out of surf is unnerving to her highly sensitive ears. Some of us listen to the same thing but hear it in opposite ways.

Amongst many terrific performances, the duo stood out – way out. In between each crash of the waves, I hear the music grow fainter and fainter. Except, the waves clash more than crash. They war against the wall of rock protecting the shoreline. The rocks are resolute. They refuse to give, refuse to bend, refuse to submit. Wave after wave they come. But the resistance is powerful. It will take aeons of these clashes for that persistence to wear away the stonewalling of that rock wall.

The waves clash and crash but do not really roar. Nor do they just rumble, even though they tumble onto the beach. The latter sound is drowned out when the waves hit the rocky promontory just a few degrees north of the sand. There is a very slow long buildup until you hear what is just a splash of a wave hitting the rock and then a rapid crescendo. However, that does not do the rhythm justice. For I listen again and the next wave comes in with stealth. Then the next in a short staccato. And then the next in a roll. I cannot find a pattern. Perhaps that is what unnerves Karen. I, on the other hand, love the variety and unpredictability. Or is it just the low-pitched growl of my hungry stomach projected out to sea?

Perhaps what I really hear is the silences, the quiet between the clashes, the whispers between the ripples. Not the beats of a percussion instrument, but the rhythm units created by the quiet, the sound of silence without a metronome. Whatever the correct way to capture what I hear, as if there is a correct way, the sound of surf has always been a puzzle. Not just its irregularity. It does not make sense. For surf is a derivative of susurrus which is a whispering or rustling sound and what I hear sounds nothing like that.

The paradox is just like that of the word ‘turf’. Last Wednesday, we went out to eat. Just for a change from the usual fish – most often mahi-mahi – I ordered a steak. Evidently not the regular steak, but the special, one with two enormous grilled prawns stuck into the slab of meat and forming a giant arch. And the whole dinner all for the equivalent of the enormous sum of $15. So I had surf and turf for the first time. And that is the other puzzle.

What connection is there between such a meal, or the steak in such a meal, and a square slab of earth with a dense growth of grass, such as a section of sod we put down after we have neglected our lawn for too long? If the shape is the connection, why not call the dish surf and slab. Because that would not be very appetizing? But why “turf”? I think I know the answer. Turf is home. Grilled steak is home. I have been away too long.

A little while ago, I wrote a blog about the gangs of Toronto after WWII, each with its very boundaried turf which it guarded and defended. In a gang mentality, turf is not so much a home as a castle with a moat and drawbridge to keep out or “turf” out the unwanted rather than welcome the stranger. However, for me turf is home and I now know the reason I chose the title for this blog even though I had no idea when I began. For I was determined to write about the university and somehow ended up on surf and turf. My holiday is approaching its end and I have been away too long.

The university was my bailiwick for fifty-eight years. Not just the territory in which I worked, did my research, taught and helped with the administration. It was my mental home as well. The first two books I wrote were called The Beds of Academe, about the close connection between student residences and the founding and development of the university, and The Holiversity, about the changes in the development of the idea of the university since 1185.  But the university was my bailiwick in a more literal sense, for it was a place of increasing impotence but decreasing authority and influence.

I had written and published a scholarly article on power, influence and authority. There are two varieties of each. An individual has genuine authority as an expert in a particular field. One of the purposes of the university has been to develop a cadre of experts with just such authority. And the best universities have succeeded marvellously in that task. But a university is also a place, not only for the exercise of authentic authority, but to inculcate its sense of formal authority in a breed who would lead the businesses and governance of the corporations and the polity. Turf is a bailiwick, a bureaucracy concerned with tenure and promotion, hiring but rarely firing in my home university, budgets and pensions. I had played my part in all these areas as a department chair, as an associate and acting dean, as a senator and even as a chair of Senate.

My record was mixed. One of the first committees on which I sat was “Tenure and Promotions.” I lasted a year and never sat on such a committee ever again. I never applied to such a committee for my own promotions and tenure, but my colleagues were generous and far-sighted. They gave me tenure because they thought that I needed protection for being so outspoken. They also awarded me promotions though I never requested one. However, I was vain enough to be pleased, at least inwardly, when the promotions came. I do not believe I ever thanked my fellow academics for what they did.

The reason I opted out of the tenure and promotion system, at least in being a responsible participant, was because in that year when I was on the committee considering a tenure application as a very junior professor, I thought one applicant, given his abuse of his teaching responsibilities, did not deserve tenure. He was given tenure over my objections. However, one case does not make a pattern. I investigated. In my early career I could not find one candidate who had been rejected for tenure. Sitting on such a committee at my university I decided was a waste of time.

This was definitely not true of all committees. After I had been at the university awhile, I learned that a woman colleague who was retiring would get a smaller pension that a male retiree with the same years of experience and a similar level of accomplishments. I was flabbergasted. I investigated. I was given the following rationale. Women on average lived longer than men. So they were receiving the same pension, but spread over a longer period. I could not believe what I had heard.

I campaigned and easily was elected to the pension committee. It was small – only five members, including the Vice-President Administration. At the very first meeting I asked to put an item on the agenda in the form of a motion. I was allowed to introduce my motion. I moved that black members of the faculty should receive higher pensions than white members. Needless to say, the members of the committee were uniformly startled. They asked why I was moving such a motion. I said that I would discuss that if my motion had a seconder because those were the rules of procedure. The VP, a man of extraordinary reasonableness and fairness who had once been my first wife’s high school teacher in her boarding school in West China, agreed to second the motion.

I then explained my motion. According to statistics at the time, blacks lived shorter lives than whites. If women were given equal pensions, but just spread over a longer period, then blacks too should receive equal pensions but spread over a shorter period. The actuary from the company managing our pensions was dumbfounded by such reasoning. “But,” he blustered, “that would mean that whites would have to get smaller pension payments each year.” He actually said that, not as a racist, but as an actuary steeped in the hidebound categories of his calling at the time.

It took two years of commissioned studies and a great deal of debate to change what was simply a category mistake. Humans can be diced and spliced into a myriad of categories. Which ones we choose for administrative tasks have an implicit ethical and social judgement embedded in them. It was a fundamental principle in my mind that women faculty members who retired needed the same amount of funds as their male colleagues each year without regard to life expectancy. If one class statistically had shorter life spans – as disabled professors had even more than black ones – on that reasoning, they should receive higher pensions.

The correction to the York University pension system had either direct or  indirect repercussions on parallel struggles throughout Ontario. Within five years the whole idea of paying women retirees less per year because on average they lived longer was seen to be the absurdity it was. That was a productive committee.

But the overall trend drifted in the opposite direction. Committees multiplied and flourished at the expense of efforts that should have been devoted to teaching and research. Often their efforts were counter-productive in themselves. I offer one other example. When I was a young faculty member, if a student was caught plagiarizing, a teacher had four options. The faculty member, generally if the plagiarizing was incidental and/or the student was unaware of the precept, could ask the student to rewrite. Or the faculty member could award a zero for that assignment. The faculty member could also allow the student to withdraw from the course, but the charge of plagiarism would remain on his or her record. Finally, the professor could take the issue up to a higher level and ask the faculty to expel the student or suspend that student for a year or two. The latter was a remedy rarely used.

Near the end of my career in response to principles of fairness, the right to be heard, the right to have legal representation and other claimed rights, and before computers became so acute in spotting plagiarism, in a case of alleged plagiarism, as of decades earlier, the student was called in for an interview. But now a second faculty member had to be present to assure there was no intimidation. That faculty member had to read the assigned work as well. Usually, this process took several meetings as the students, having been advised of the process, would often ask for time to arrange for representation.

If the original charge was sustained, the student had several opportunities to appeal – to a faculty committee, to the dean and then to a senate committee. Each time, the faculty member making the original charge would have to be present. It should be no surprise that the number of charges of plagiarism declined precipitously. Not, I believe, because there was less plagiarism. With the onset of the internet, I believe there was probably more. However, faculty members did not want to invest their time in such a drawn-out process where often enough the charge was often rejected on a technicality. They made quiet arrangements with the student offering him or her the opportunity to withdraw from the course, even with a late withdrawal, but without any entry on their record of a charge of plagiarism.

Everyone knows about the proliferation of the mechanisms for ensuring transparency and protecting rights of students. Everyone is aware of the vast increase in university expenditures on student counselling. However, it is not clear when and whether these innovations have proven to serve student interests overall, and, more importantly perhaps, whether they have enhanced their education. These innovations have evidently sustained the lives of many students who might have fallen by the wayside or dropped out under the pressure of a tertiary education.

This is clearly a superficial examination of my personal historic turf. I have barely skimmed or surfed the surface. However, I want to introduce the other two concepts I mentioned above before I delve into the future with any greater depth.

Tomorrow: Power and Influence in the university

 

Expliaiing the new Anti-Zionism/Anti-Semitism

Explaining the New Anti-Semitism/Anti-Zionism

by

Howard Adelman

Introduction

In part 1 I have included my son Jeremy’s response to my blog on “The New Anti-Semitism?” as he wrote it. In part 2, I repeat what he wrote but broken down into ten points and then include my responses to each point. In part 3, the most important, I convert the comments and responses into an argument and thesis explaining the phenomenon. Because there is a lot of repetition, if you do not require the repetition for comprehension, I advise you to skip reading the first two sections and simply jump to the third. However, if you need repetition for comprehension and/or if you are interested in one of the methods I use, you might be interested in following the process through.

Part 1: Jeremy’s Response (unedited)

I like this piece a lot.  There’s a feeling in the air (speaking historiographically) that the trentes glorieuses (1945-75) — or Since 1980, we’ve seen slower growth, more social exclusion, rising inequality, and fundamentalisms of all sorts the Mad Magazine Moment — look pretty good in retrospect: economic growth, social inclusion, pluralism, and the spread to democracy even in places that seemed allergic to it.  Jews were, one might say, were big beneficiaries.  Anti-Semitism waned, but so did other forms of bigotry

A paradox of globalization is that it has yielded more multi-cultural societies yet less social mobility. (Though, it’s worth saying, there is a lot of variation — Canada is remarkable for being so inclusive and having high rates of social mobility; the data comparing Canada to the US is really illuminating.  See Miles Corak’s work: http://milescorak.com/).  We are so befuddled because we live in worlds that are more and more mixed and yet display more and more friction.  And when the economy is not spreading the pie, the frictions rise. .  .  (The jury on democracy, paradoxically, came out in favor — though in the last 15 years we’ve seen backsliding on that front, too).

One effect (some might say the cause) of the wearing out of the social fabric that buoyed the tolerance and inclusion of the trentes glorieuses is the validation of one kind of argument about personal identity — that it is under threat, which justifies lashing out against what are perceived to be hostile forces.  My friend Dan Rodgers’ book, The Age of Fracture, is brilliant on this dissolution of the concept of “society.”

Increasingly, personal identities under threat need Safety Zones.  Maybe this is a phenomenon that’s restricted to American universities, which are increasingly seen as institutions that should defend Safety Zones.  But as one of my students, a Jew, noted in my seminar this semester after our discussion of Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, he felt that the kind of open talk we’d just had about compassion (in this case, we were debating whether Arendt lacked compassion), was really rare.  I was surprised.  Asked to explain, he told the rest of the class that he felt that students and professors shied away from talking about social tensions.  Classes in engineering were, in a sense, danger-free zones.  History had become perilous.

Something to consider: what’s the difference between renewed anti-Semitism and the more general rise in intolerance in which perceived slights or “micro-aggressions” are taken as hostile acts directed at others for their group traits?  In the eyes of some, Israel’s right to exist should be rescinded because it is a state — they claim — committed to exclusion.  That’s not so new.  The new twist is that now, people who defend that kind of state’s right to exist belong to the camp of micro-aggressors.  To defend Israel’s right to exist is an act of aggression.  The argument goes beyond Israel, though last summer’s war made it a lightning rod.  Universities across the US are under assault as institutions for defending free speech and open inquiry that shut down the Safety Zones.  The president of Princeton was publicly heckled by students at a service in which he tried to defend pluralism and encounters; he was condoning racism.

I think the question addresses your query about continuity vs discontinuity.  Is the new anti-Semitism new, or old?  I tend to think it’s new, and part of a Zeitgeist about the status of arguments about victimhood, its causes and its remedies.  During the Mad Magazine Moment, the view was that social policies and public institutions (including the creation of nation-states to support them, like Israel or Ghana) should act as vehicles for inclusion.  Now, those policies and institutions are treated as the threat because inclusion is seen to undermine the recognition of victims of “aggression.”

What I don’t know is whether this is a peculiarly American phenomenon.  From what I can tell, it’s not.  The French, too, are getting tied in knots over inclusion vs recognition.

Part 2: Breaking the Response into Points and Comments in CAPITALS

  1. The Mad Magazine Moment — looks pretty good in retrospect: economic growth, social inclusion, pluralism, and the spread to democracy even in places that seemed allergic to it.  Jews were, one might say, big beneficiaries.  Anti-Semitism waned, but so did other forms of bigotry;

YES

  1. A paradox of globalization is that it has yielded more multi-cultural societies yet less social mobility. (Though, it’s worth saying, there is a lot of variation — Canada is remarkable for being so inclusive andhaving high rates of social mobility; the data comparing Canada to the US is really illuminating.  See Miles Corak’s work: http://milescorak.com/).  We are so befuddled because we live in worlds that are more and more mixed and yet display more and more friction.  And when the economy is not spreading the pie, the frictions rise. .  .  (The jury on democracy, paradoxically, came out in favor — though in the last 15 years we’ve seen backsliding on that front, too).

YES

  1. One effect (some might say the cause) of the wearing out of the social fabric that buoyed the tolerance and inclusion of the trentes glorieusesis the validation of one kind of argument about personal identity — that it is under threat, which justifies lashing out against what are perceived to be hostile forces.  My friend Dan Rodgers’ book, The Age of Fracture, is brilliant on this dissolution of the concept of “society.”

VERY INTERESTING. I WILL READ THE BOOK. DOES HE EXPLAIN WHY QUESTIONS ABOUT PERSONAL IDENTITY TRUMP OTHER ISSUES? WHY BLAME CERTAIN INSTITUTIONS AND PRACTICES AS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE THREAT TO IDENTITY?

  1. Increasingly, personal identities under threat need Safety Zones. American universities, which are increasingly seen as institutions, should defend Safety Zones.  One of my students, a Jew, felt that students and professors shied away from talking about social tensions.  Classes in engineering were, in a sense, danger-free zones.  History had become perilous.

WHY ARE THE SOCIAL SCIENCES AND HUMANITIES DEPICTED AS PART OF THE THREAT RATHER THAN SAFETY ZONES?

  1. Something to consider: what’s the difference between renewed anti-Semitism and the more general rise in intolerance in which perceived slights or “micro-aggressions” are taken as hostile acts directed at others for their group traits?

WHY DO MICRO-AGGRESSORS TARGET OTHERS FOR THEIR GROUP TRAITS AS THE SOURCE OF THREAT? WHY, IN PARTICULAR, FOCUS ON JEWS?

  1. In the eyes of some, Israel’s right to exist should be rescinded because it is a state — they claim — committed to exclusion.  That’s not so new.  The new twist is that now, people who attack [my emendation], Israel’s right to exist belong to the camp of micro-aggressors.  To defend Israel’s right to exist is perceived as an act of aggression.

I NEED TO THINK MORE ABOUT THE CONNECTION BETWEEN MICRO-AGGRESSORS AND THE ATTACK ON JEWS AND ISRAEL.

  1. Universities across the US are under assault as institutions for defending free speech and open inquiry that shut down the Safety Zones.  The president of Princeton was publicly heckled by students at a service in which he tried to defend pluralism and encounters; he was accused of condoning racism.

I NEED TO THINK ABOUT THE CONNECTION BETWEEN MICRO-AGGRESSION AND UNIVERSITIES AS A TARGET.

  1. Is the new anti-Semitism new, or old?  I tend to think it’s new, and part of a Zeitgeist about the status of arguments about victimhood, its causes and its remedies.

PERCEIVED VICTIMHOOD CONVERTS TO VICTIMIZING JEWS AND ISRAEL

  1. During the Mad Magazine Moment, the view was that social policies and public institutions (including the creation of nation-states to support them, like Israel or Ghana) should act as vehicles for inclusion.  Now, those policies and institutions are treated as the threat because inclusion is seen to undermine the recognition of victims of “aggression.”

UNIVERSITIES ARE TARGETED AS THREAT BECAUSE THEY PLACE THE HIGHEST VALUE ON RIGHTS, ON KNOWLEDGE, ON TRUTH, ON CONSISTENCY, ON CORRESPONDENCE WITH FACTS, NAMELY VALUES CONNECTED WITH THE IMPERSONAL AND UNIVERSAL VERSUS THE PERSONAL AND PARTICULAR RELATED TO IDENTITY. THE CLAIM FOR UNIVERSALITY IS PERCEIVED AS A CLOAK USED TO COVER A PERSONAL IDENTITY, HENCE, UNIVERSALITY AND THE IMPERSONAL ARE REGARDED AS MAGIC TRICKS AND ILLUSIONS AT ODDS WITH THE EXPRESSION OF AN AUTHENTIC PERSONAL IDENTITY.

  1. Is this is a peculiarly American phenomenon?  From what I can tell, it’s not.   Frhttp://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Alfred+E.+Newman%27s+face&id=39FF790EBC02341069AA65EFFFD81AD7BA51FB39&FORM=IQFRBA The French, too, are getting tied in knots over inclusion vs recognition.

A UNIVERSAL PHENOMENON WITH DIFFERENT EXPRESSIONS IN DIFFEENT COUNTRIES. IN FRANCE WITH THE STATE IDEOLOGY EQUATED WITH SECULARIZATION, THE STATE IS A THREAT TO PERSONAL IDENTITY EXPRESSED THROUGH CLOTHING THAT CHALLENGES THE SECULAR FAITH IN LAÏICITÉ.

Reflections and Considerations

  1. The Mad Magazine Moment epitomized by the character of Mad Magazine which satirized the fetishizing of differences, either as positives or negatives. Perceived differences were seen to be both contingent and particular rather than eternal and universal (racism). Hence, the waning of anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry and the heyday of the university as a social service station as an authentic universalist foundation committed to the resolution of social ills. But the contradictions were obvious. Look at Alfred E. Newman, the mascot of the magazine.

His eyes are misaligned so that what he sees is disjointed and at odds rather than synthesized into a coherent picture. He has a gap-toothed smile, a broad nose and cauliflower protruding ears intended to catch every nuance which only makes him grin even more at the incongruencies and disjunctures. His bulbous cheeks and tussled red hair convey at once a healthy skepticism and bemusement. The sign that he wears – “What me worry?” – satirizes the exaggerated self-confidence self-satisfaction and faith in progress and blindness to the contradictions of this new triumphalist liberal faith.

  1. Globalization, which was supposed to be the extension of that faith to take in the entire world, ends up enhancing and expanding differences instead of reducing inequalities.
  2. Therefore, what was seen as the solution for identity problems gets blamed as the cause of those problems.
  3. The social sciences and humanities are the weak link in this vision of the university as borders between disciplines dissolve, and as a belief in a classic body of knowledge necessary for professional practice disintegrates and is reconceived as an agent of repression rather than a permit for freedom. The belief in a singular methodology for a discipline fractures and disintegrates so that, in the extreme, in the postmodern moment, there is neither method nor subject matter nor discipline.
  4. Jews are particularly targeted because they, specifically those Jews who have not discarded their group identity into the ash heap of history, remain affiliated instead of restless and rebellious, because they have retained a group identity but claim to be and occupy many of the pinnacles of the old universal institutional order and its faith in objectivity and universality. How can you be consistent and coherent if you carry your particularity up with you to the pinnacle of the ivory tower? The Jewish utopians who have abandoned their particularity fail to recognize that their selectivity, the passion and venom behind their denunciations of such contradictory behaviour, reveals in a much starker light their own internal contradictions between passion now emerging as visceral hate and an insistence that they embody the pure and true universalism. The utopian Jewish liberal cannot stand the pragmatic Jewish liberal who both recognizes and lives with his internal contradictions. Alfred E. Newman sits on the side amused and bemused by the spectacle of Jews with all their peculiarities best exhibited in the claims of each side that each sub-entity has captured the holy grail of universalism.
  5. The state of Israel emerges from its early socialist illusions to become the poster boy of globalized capitalism as the Start-Up Nation par excellence while exhibiting the bad temper of a society which is both very inclusionist and very exclusionist, allowing its enemies dedicated to destroying the state to not only vote but sit in Parliament at the same time as they are treated as second class citizens, allowing and encouraging that minority to achieve the highest ranks in the professions while exhibiting the historical deep-seated belief that the goyim cannot be trusted. That distrust becomes objectified into micro-aggressors who act out their extreme distrust of a leadership in the most powerful state and its closest satrap but determinately individual state. Hence, the BDS movement emerges as an alliance of micro-aggressors rooted in the politics of resentment and universalist utopian Jews, for they are united in their hatred of the group that seems to be able to live with those contradictions in a relatively healthy way.
  6. So these critics denounce the university for failing to defend universality as their mobs viciously attack and sling verbal arrows in the name of universal human rights to defend the particular rights of Palestinians of self-determination at the expense of the Jewish self-determination and do their best to undermine the university as a safety zone for civility, discourse and debate and set up a program of academic exclusion rather than inclusion, of shouting down speakers they dislike in the name of the rights of others.
  7. That is how self-perceived victims convert into victimizers.
  8. The resentment is heightened by the recognition that Jews were the first and benefited most from the university values of a faith in knowledge, a belief in truth, an adherence to coherence and consistency, and a reverence for facts. They have also been among the most successful examples of the use of particular self-determination to foster and enhance these universal values.
  9. France is an interesting perversion of that success as the repository of the rights of man that turns that faith into a secular religion that makes it illegal to emphasize and express particularities of religion yet treats its own citizens from a particularistic background in a most demeaning manner.