Featured Post

“A Tsunami of Instrumental Rationality”: Henry Giroux Interview Pt. 2

warThis is part two of a three part interview with pedagogical theorist, activist, and teacher Henry Giroux focusing on his book The Neoliberal War on Higher Education. [Part One is here] When we left off, we were discussing how to create the case that academia is not in a crisis of funding, but of governance.

Rufus: And this brings up what might be a strange question but, if we separate out right wingers and conservatives, can we make an appeal to conservatives on this issue? It seems like such an obvious inversion of authority, which is a conservative theme.

Henry Giroux: I think that’s a terrific question. Particularly in the United States, you have conservatism now as an intellectual ideology is, for all intents and purposes dead. I mean you have a party now that is controlled by a group of illiterate, anti-intellectual, anti-public extremists. That’s basically what they are. The op-ed today in the New York Times is John Bolton wants to drop the bomb on Iraq.

Right. And it’s the same in the Washington Post.

That’s the op-ed: Drop the bomb. Can you imagine? And they print this shit.

But, I think you’re right. I mean, even someone like Allan Bloom, who I despise, made a case for a sort of intellectual culture. I do think there are plenty of conservatives in the past who have argued against this sort of technocratic or instrumental rationality that was transforming the university into something they didn’t recognize at all. And I think that the university as a public good is an argument that could mobilize both the left and the right.

The other side of this is the left isn’t innocent either. Right? One of the things I always get concerned about is that they have no understanding of education whatsoever as central to the question of politics itself, the educated nature of politics. It’s always about structures. It’s always about identities. It’s never about logical formations. Nor is it about how to win people over by speaking to their interests in a way that is meaningful.

Class gets left out of it all the time.

Exactly.

And that’s the thing with conservatives. They worry about speech codes in academia, without realizing how often speech codes are a labor issue. They’re often a way of administrations asserting control over faculty.

This is really the central issue. This is an issue about power and governance. At its heart, it’s not about simply what courses matter or don’t because that really relates to who has control over the production of knowledge. When faculty no longer have control over the productions of knowledge, then we begin to see something dreadful happening. Those courses that don’t translate immediately into markets simply don’t matter anymore. Whole fields are thrown out the window. And in the US that’s happening like a tsunami, a tsunami of instrumental rationality. It’s like a plague infecting all of these colleges. And it’s basically a labor issue. You have an institution that was once controlled by faculty. They would hire faculty. They would hire administrators.

They were administrators in many cases.

They were administrators. They shaped the curriculum. And that all changed. Under this neoliberal form of warfare, which is what it is- it’s really a war on the public good It’s a war for the consolidation of power in the hands of relatively few people. It’s a political project to consolidate power in the hands of a few people. That’s a class war. Regardless what you want to call it. Even if you don’t want to use that term. Call it “War in the interest of the financial elite” or the “one percent”. But what we have seen is that Neoliberalism has created such enormous wealth in relatively few hands and that wealth has translated into enormous political power in relatively few hands across the spectrum of all the commanding institutions that govern everyday life.

The question you got at before: Why is neoliberalism so poisonous? It’s poisonous because it doesn’t believe it can govern simply the market. It believes it can govern all of social life. Economics now drives everything. I mean it drives politics. It drives everyday life. It drives culture…

And these people talk constantly about the “reason of the market” and “rational actors”, but they rely on people- they expect the people who actually do the teaching- to be irrational, to do a job that keeps getting worse and worse and invest ten years in this job.

That’s part of its ideology. It makes an appeal to rationality but it really reproduces an enormous amount of irrationality. This is the way in which it deforms language. It talks about freedom as something that is utterly reduced to freedom from, into individual responsibility; as opposed to being able to translate how private issues get transformed into or can be understood in terms of larger public systemic considerations. That’s a deformation.

Or it says that the only form of social relations that matter are based on a kind of ruthless social Darwinism like reality TV- only one person left at the end. I mean, it undermines all forms of social solidarity. And it seems to me that, when you start to go through the basic precepts of this policies, its mode of governance, in the production of particular kinds of subjects it desires, policies that eliminate labor unions, that eliminate the common good, ideologies that say that the only thing that matters is the market, that every translation has to be a commercial transaction to matter- to me, that’s the foundation for authoritarianism.

We’re not just talking about a market system that’s overwhelming in its control. We’re talking about a system in which democracy has been eviscerated. It’s gone. Money controls politics. That’s not a democracy. Call it what you want.

It’s amazing how many people I know who are now fighting just for things that are so basic- just to pay bills or have time to do anything but work in order to do anything else.

This is really such a crucial issue. In a world of utter precarity- you don’t know long your job is going to last. Or you might be in your job for two more years and it may disappear. Or you’re not in the job you should be, given the degree you have. People just thinking everyday what it’s like to live in a world that’s so insecure. There are no foundations anymore. My friend Zygmunt Bauman talks about this idea of “liquid modernity”.

It that element of survival, it’s difficult to be an agent, except to survive. You’re thinking about how to pay your rent. You’re not reading a lot of books.

Time is not a luxury. It’s a deprivation.

Right, it’s transience. That word comes up often. My job has been defined by lawyers as “transient and unskilled labor” and that word keeps coming up in other contexts. I posed that question to someone at a conservative magazine. How are you going to build a society of people who are defined as transient? Who have transient employment and housing and transient relationships? How can you have any lasting communities or social values? I don’t think it’s a liberal or conservative issue anymore to want to have a community and be embedded in that community.

The only way it’s going to happen is if people can be convinced that their individual rights can’t be resolved through their individual means, that individual actions are meaningless and things are going to get worse. And remember you have a history of labor struggles in the 1920s and 30s and 40s in which all kinds of people were brought together who were not in unions and were in unions through the aegis of the Communist Party. They were organizing people around this stuff.

For me, I look at places like Spain and Greece and these new political formations that are emerging among young people, among workers, and they’re not union-based. They’re organizing and integrating social movements and until people can get both social movements and unions and say Okay, what kind of political formation do we want to be a part of now that doesn’t mimic the two-party system or, here, the three party system.

I mean, when I go out, liberals hate what I have to say because I just don’t believe in electoral politics anymore as it’s now defined. It’s silly. It doesn’t mean anything to me. We need a new political party and we need to imagine a new political system.

Well, this might be antithetical to your book, which is about acting to save the university, but you discuss young people “attempting to create alternative democratic public spaces”- are people trying to create alternative academic spaces?

All over the world.

[Continued in Part 3…]

 

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

10 thoughts on ““A Tsunami of Instrumental Rationality”: Henry Giroux Interview Pt. 2

  1. I mean, even someone like Allan Bloom, who I despise, made a case for a sort of intellectual culture.

    Dude’s been dead for 23 years.

    That’s one hell of a grudge.

    When faculty no longer have control over the productions of knowledge, then we begin to see something dreadful happening. Those courses that don’t translate immediately into markets simply don’t matter anymore. Whole fields are thrown out the window.

    To be honest, I can’t help but see this as a function of the price of college going up. When colleges were cheap enough that people could pay off their debts within a couple of years of getting their first real job, it was easy to include courses that didn’t translate immediately into markets. The “gut course” was something that pretty much everybody took one of a semester because, hey, you had a handful of credits that you just needed and you needed to do three hours of organic homework a night… why not lighten the burden a bit by taking a course on Underwater Basket Weaving?

    Now? You’ve got to get 120 credits and 1.5 credits of PE and you’d better get them in 4 years and it’s going to cost you the price of a house.

    You’d better not be wasting any of that on Underwater Basket Weaving.

    And if no one is wasting any of that on Underwater Basket Weaving anymore… do we really need an Underwater Basket Department?

    When college cost as much as a car, college, somehow, had room for Underwater Baskets.

    For me, I look at places like Spain and Greece and these new political formations that are emerging among young people, among workers, and they’re not union-based. They’re organizing and integrating social movements and until people can get both social movements and unions and say Okay, what kind of political formation do we want to be a part of now that doesn’t mimic the two-party system or, here, the three party system.

    I honestly suspect that Spain and Greece will be overcome by events in the next year or so. Unions will be the last of their worries.

    Report

    • I think that’s definitely the issue. The question is why the cost is increasing so much faster than the rate of inflation (although maybe not grade inflation!). Most universities say it’s because the states don’t fund like they used to and so they have no money. I’m skeptical given how they spend on things they want to spend money on.

      Report

  2. That’s part of its ideology. It makes an appeal to rationality but it really reproduces an enormous amount of irrationality. This is the way in which it deforms language. It talks about freedom as something that is utterly reduced to freedom from, into individual responsibility; as opposed to being able to translate how private issues get transformed into or can be understood in terms of larger public systemic considerations. That’s a deformation.

    I think the issue he’s identifying here is that, outside of what is considered the fringes, our political discourse no longer contains values (with a small ‘v,’ as opposed to Family Values) when it comes to what might broadly be called economic policy. From the Paul Ryan right to the Ezra Klein left our political arguments are cloaked in the language of technocratic government that don’t acknowledge that there are value judgments being made. Often left out of these conversations seems to be whether or not the commodification of everything is good for democracy or makes for a well functioning society.

    Report

    • Yes, I think that’s exactly what he’s getting at. It also makes it difficult to have a conversation on the topic without being accused of irrationality whenever you oppose one of these value judgments.

      Report

  3. For an intellectual, he really doesn’t have a good analysis or even a good gut feel of where John The Mustache Bolton actually fits into the hierarchy of Republican party as it has existed since his ambassadorship was rejected.

    Report

  4. Unless part 3 has some new revelations (or the book does) I’m deeply unconvinced that curriculum (vice funding decisions) are made anywhere but at the department level among tenured faculty and subject dean.

    You can certainly shape a college students education by funding and defunding certain departments and instructional staff that then in turn dictates what courses can and cannot be offered but that’s distinct from ‘curriculum’ decisions in the common parlance.

    Report

    • But that’s just from knowing personally some college professors (one tenured one adjunct) which is something I’m told has very little value in determining truth.

      Report

    • I could ask, but I think what he’s talking about is defunding or even abolishing certain departments and pumping up others through funding, which tends to have a greater impact, as far as I can tell, than what the departments can do. My sense of it, from back when I was in grad school, was that most departments would have fairly broad curricula, were they given the funding they’d like, but few are.

      Report

  5. are people trying to create alternative academic spaces?

    Yes, they’re called “think tanks”, and unlike universities, they’re not constrained by an appearance of impartiality, and their funding comes from people who’ll only pay for the right kinds of knowledge.

    Report

Comments are closed.