Link to an article by Julian Vigo:
One thing I’ve noted through the years is that there is a rough divide in academia between theory and observation. Actually, this is a pretty commonplace observation. What is less discussed, though, is the sort of hierarchy of prestige that tends to place theory above observation. Of course, there are exceptions, and unconventional theories often have to do both theory and observation in order to gain any recognition.
One sad byproduct of all this is that academics tend to cluster in tribes, and often recreate pre-existing theory under new names. Why? Well, because theory is more prestigious than observation! Take an example. “Einstein” is a household name. Why? Because Albert Einstein developed the theory of relativity in physics. But could you name someone (and there are many names here) whose observations confirmed Einstein’s theory? Probably not. If there was more parity between theory and observation, academics would probably be more willing to conduct observation according to existing theory, rather than constantly trying to posit an influential “new” theory that may disregard existing theory in a completely self-aggrandizing way.
There also is relatively little ground for synthesis of different theories. Academics tend to have “departments” in universities and other institutions, and inter-disciplinary efforts are difficult in such an environment, on top of the difficulties trying to integrate theories within a given discipline.
Add to this the problem of ideology, in that, practically speaking, most social science theorists pick out a desired solution — what they want society to look like — and then conjure up a theory that points toward that desired solution, without spending much if any time making explicit their desired solution. Put another way, many social science academics actually spend most of their time making sales pitches for their pet solutions, rather than constructing theories, testing them, and only then devising suitable solutions to theoretically verified root causes of problems. That isn’t to say such an approach is inherently wrong, but those who deny doing that should be viewed skeptically — as ideologues not “scientists” or “academics”.
I think a radical solution to much of this would be to disallow name attribution on scientific and academic work. After all, is it really about the work itself, in its “objective” advancements, or about accumulating social and cultural capital?
Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire is a founding document of the the “critical pedagogy” school of educational theory. In a nutshell, this school of thought takes Marxist–Leninist politics and combines it with the classic Socratic method. Along the way, it adds post-Leninist insights drawn from Fromm, Mao, Guevara, Fanon, and more. Freire doesn’t really ever mention it, but he approach is founded on the real Socratic method, not the bastardized anti-socratic thing called “The Socratic Method” in schools, especially western law schools. He also remains consistent with Leninist aims, citing What Is to Be Done? extensively, but really drawing from The State and Revolution principally. The most basic insights of “critical pedagogy” is this:
“Cultural action either serves domination (consciously or unconsciously) or it serves the liberation of men and women.”
This flows directly from the Leninist view that everything is political.
“Lenin’s famous statement: ‘Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement’ [What Is to Be Done?] means that a revolution is achieved with neither verbalism nor activism, but rather with praxis, that is, with reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed. The revolutionary effort to transform these structures radically cannot designate its leaders as its thinkers and the oppressed as mere doers.”
Freire is immanently practical. And just as Lenin routinely denounces “reformists” and “opportunists”, Freire picks apart the flaws of accommodations to elites and minor reforms.
“It would be naïve to expect oppressor elites to denounce the myth which absolutizes the ignorance of the people; it would be a contradiction in terms if revolutionary leaders were not to do so, and more contradictory still were they to act in accordance with that myth.”
But he also is great at pointing out common tactical errors of the political left:
“the Left is almost always tempted by a ‘quick return to power,’ forgets the necessity of joining with the oppressed to forge an organization, and strays into an impossible ‘dialogue’ with the dominant elites. It ends by being manipulated by these elites, and not infrequently itself falls into an elitist game, which it calls ‘realism.'”
This is an excellent book, just as relevant today as when it was written. It is meant to be readable by general audiences. One flaw, however, is Freire’s repeated argument that humans are different from animals. This is basically hypocritical, in that he repeatedly argues that all humans are equal, but tries to convince readers of that point by arguing that humans are superior to other animals. Aside from the flimsiness of Freire’s argument here, it is one that ecological crisis has conclusively rendered untenable. As one latter-day Leninist put it, alluding to R. Buckminster Fuller‘s “Spaceship Earth” metaphor:
“We have to accept that we live on a ‘Spaceship Earth’, responsible and accountable for its conditions. At the very moment when we become powerful enough to affect the most basic conditions of our life, we have to accept that we are just another animal species on a small planet.”
Still, that unfortunate argument can be largely ignored. Given the importance of education to Leninist political philosophy (through the October revolution, Lenin was finally able to institute educational programs that his parents had been blocked from doing under the tsarist autocracy, this being one of his most lasting concrete political achievements), Freire’s views are crucial in expanding upon the the overall organization of education, primarily at a more adult level.
“There is no such thing as a neutral educational process. Education either functions as an instrument that is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes ‘the practice of freedom,’ the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
Link to an article by M.G. Piety:
Most of this is general enough to apply outside academia. Interesting that she cited Plato in one place about just behavior, but, rather than another philosopher like Rousseau, cites cognitivist scientists regarding trusting human nature.
Link to an article by Fredrik deBoer:
Michael Hudson: “America did something that has relevance for America for today. After the North won the Civil War, they thought how are we going to teach protectionist, non-Ricardian, non- Malthusian economics. And they say, most of the economic courses were taught at prestige universities, and most universities in America were founded by religious orders to train the priesthood. And the political economy course was taught in the seniorly years, you know, the final one, and it’s all, markets are great.
“So the solution was that you can’t reform these academics. They’re hopelessly tunnel visioned. So America founded state colleges with a different faculty, new people teaching rational, protectionist economics, and the business schools. And the first business school professor was Simon Patten at the University of Pennsylvania, the Wharton School, which was funded by industrial protectionists. And so you had in America this whole body of theory that now has been whitewashed out of textbooks into a kind of Orwellian memory hole.”
Steve Keen: “Whereas the top universities are reproducing the religion [neo-classical economics]. And the thing is this is quite a successful strategy when you’re fighting an ideological war. But it’s not a successful strategy when you’re trying to manage a capitalist economy. And, unfortunately, they’re trying to do both at once. And, of course, what that leads to is the debt deflation episode we’re seeing now. Because according to the theories of this high priesthood, such things can’t happen.”
Michael Hudson: “When the graduates, who learn what you and I are talking about money, graduate, they can’t get jobs, because jobs are conditional upon being able to publish in prestigious economic reviews, and they’re all controlled by University of Chicago and by neoliberals.
“And the genius of Chicago free market theory is you can’t have a free market Chicago style unless you have a totalitarian state that will prevent any alternative to the theory. When they went to Chile, Harberger is said to have sat in a hotel room saying, here are the professors you have to kill. Pinochet and the American embassy said, here are the labor leaders you have to kill. And here are the intellectuals you have to kill.
“You cannot have a free market neoliberal style unless you are willing to either kill or exile or suppress or censor any alternative to your theory, because the theory doesn’t work. It’s fiction. It’s junk economics.”
Steve Keen: “So what they’ve had by the purge they’ve managed to achieve – not quite as drastically as Chile, thank god – but the purge they managed to achieve in intellectual economics to make them just that the sole mainstream and knock out any alternative arguments meant that they took over economic policy as well as economic theory. And pushing it forward led them to the financial crisis that they could not see coming, because they didn’t even include the variables that cause the financial system in their models.
“Now what you’re seeing 10 years after the crisis is, finally, some awareness coming through that our models are completely at variance with the real world.”
Missing from this discussion, which labels Keen and Hudson’s opponents as ideologues, is that Keen and Hudson are also ideologues. Philosophy tells us that there is no “reality” free from ideology. What these two should be saying is that their ideology is more scientific, and it benefits a wide proportion of the population. Hudson says, “You know, every economic theory begins with a conclusion and they work back from the conclusion is what kind of logic is going to lead to this.” But that is nearly a definition of “legal realism” in jurisprudence — in other words, it is not some special method that applies to certain (neo-classical) economists, it is the way most people work in any situation, including Keen and Hudson! There is a partial acknowledgement of this when Hudson says, “And all of the reformers, including you and me, look at the – we have a picture of the overall economy, because we’re showing how something whether it’s bad or good will affect the overall economy. The anti-reformers have something in common – a methodology.”
Link to an article by Barbara MacLean:
Bonus link: “The Slow Death of the University”
Link to an article by Cara Lisa Berg Powers:
“So the real problem is that—like schools, transportation, prisons, and a laundry list of other things we used to believe should be our collective responsibility—Sesame Street has become another neo-liberal compromise.”
Link to an article by Mary Anne Henderson & Brian Platt: