Thursday, 29 April 2010

Middlesex Closure

Difficult to know what to contribute to the righteous fury over the closure of the Philosophy Department at Middlesex University. Check out the updates and background at Infinite Thought, sign up to the Facebook group and the petitions; more importantly, write to the main players with influence at Middlesex. Do what you can because, in my view, Middlesex has a better fighting chance than most. The logic of capitalism is grinding its way through HE at the moment, intensified and accelerated by the recent recession.

What more can I say without channeling some deep pessimism? Wading through the comments of philosophers at Leiter Reports, I was fortunate enough to come across Grahame Lock's wonderful post. I find myself in near total agreement.
The broad lines of the above comments are of course true.
But what explains this "madness"? I am terribly sorry to use the following old-fashioned term, and it certainly involves simplification, but I think it is at least more adequate than any new-fangled vocabulary: in a word, what explains the madness is the logos of capitalism, in its consequent form.

Capitalism is concerned, in its pure variety, solely with quantifiable results, quantified in the last instance in money terms. Thus all other than such quantifiable criteria of success are deemed to be eliminable: that is, all intrinsic values (if this short list is not too "edifying": beauty, learning, morality, even the quest for truth, except in the instrumental sense) are "for the chop".

Many (but not all) academics usually, at some level, still believe in the intrinsic value of scholarship and learning. Thus they do not fit into the new world of British (or western) "education policy". So they are eliminable too, to be replaced by a new, conformist generation of manipulable academic technicians. All government audit and control instruments, like the QAA, RAE and REF, are oriented towards the slow but sure, even if de facto inefficient, production of this result.

Existing academic postholders express their disagreement and anger in reactions like the above. However, theirs is a rearguard action, for an evident reason: power in western society is not in their hands.

Up to fairly recently, say a quarter or half century ago, many liberals (in the broad sense of the term) were not consequent: they believed in the market, but made exceptions, like the family, or art, or music, or religion ... or the universities. This exceptionalism has largely come to an end. The political and business classes are ever more characterized by a philistine mind-set. (There are some admirable members of these classes who still support such intrinsically valuable activities, but e.g. fund-raisers will know how difficult it is to locate them.)
What is happening at Middlesex will therefore be repeated elsewhere, even though we do not know the exact timetable, which depends on many contingent factors, and will take some time to come close to being fully implemented.

There are still niches, and many colleagues fighting to keep them intact. This is a marvellous thing. But they are fighting against the Zeitgeist, which is (broadly) a spirit of barbarism. Many "deans" and the like, those who implement particular plans of destruction, are agents or bearers of this Zeitgeist, but otherwise, for this reason, of very little interest. As the system demands, they too are interchangeable.
What to conclude?

Indeed, what to conclude, but also, what to do?

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