coromandal


The merit lie
May 2, 2019, 1:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Too much belief is a sign of our times, belief in markets, merit, credentials, competition. We think we’re free but we’re trapped in a dark age captured by limiting ideologies, in perpetual struggle against each other, without the skills to free ourselves. One way out is to know the insidious nature of the beliefs that hold us captive. To know that merit for instance is a lie. Worth also to know that it’s a lie that holds us in a system that is damaging to many lives. If you’re on the top you’re smug, if you’re on the bottom you’re in a desperate angry place. Is too much belief part of a consuming feedback loop: belief makes us passive to understand its corrupting nature and to act to free ourselves?

There is no fair way to create a meritocracy. This is because the notion of “merit” is itself loaded with unfair premises. People will always have differing life histories, capacities, and opportunities, and so any assumption that those who “rise to the top” of a competition have superior deservingness will be false. That doesn’t mean that everyone is equally qualified to be a surgeon or a structural engineer or a social worker, or that there should be no evaluations to make sure the people who have certain jobs can do them. Instead, it means that we can never conclude that people got those qualifications did so because they “earned” it more than others, and we should be skeptical of any idea of a “fair competition.”

Admit Everyone, Nathan J Robinson, Current Affairs, March 2018

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virtue offsets
February 3, 2019, 4:44 pm
Filed under: brave new world, departure lounge | Tags: , , ,

The Good Samaritan

In the age of neoliberalism and market fundamentalism, even virtue is put to work for the marketplace. In the same way that a big polluter can buy carbon offsets to assuage his guilt – and avoid paying for his great big pile of toxic externalities – he can donate to a charity. He can even donate to his own charity!

But there’s an even more effective way of offsetting your financial and environmental sins. Lo a great host of uber virtuous now circles the globe and deigns occasionally to descend among us mortals to hear confession, be the balm, assuage the guilt, and offer redemption for massive sins perpetrated against the earth and her people.

It’s a good deal. It doesn’t cost anything and it results in the preservation of an unsustainable status quo.

Here is an excerpt from Thomas Frank’s Listen Liberal:

What I concluded from observing all this is that there is a global commerce in compassion, an international virtue- circuit featuring people of unquestionable moral achievement, like Bono, Malala, Sting, Yunus, Angelina Jolie, and Bishop Tutu; figures who travel the world, collecting and radiating goodness. They come into contact with the other participants in this market: the politicians and billionaires and bankers who warm themselves at the incandescent virtue of the world-traveling moral superstars.

What drives this market are the buyers. Like Wal-Mart and Goldman Sachs “partnering” with the State Department, what these virtue-consumers are doing is purchasing liberalism offsets, an ideological version of the carbon offsets that are sometimes bought by polluters in order to compensate for the smog they churn out.

At the apex of all this idealism stands the Clinton Foundation, a veritable market-maker in the world’s vast, swirling virtue-trade. The former president who stands at its head is “the world’s leading philanthropic dealmaker,” according to a book on the subject. Under his watchful eye all the concerned parties are brought together: the moral superstars, the billionaires, and of course the professionals, who organize, intone, and advise. Virtue changes hands. Good causes are funded. Compassion is radiated and absorbed.

This is modern liberalism in action: an unregulated virtue-exchange in which representatives of one class of humanity ritually forgive the sins of another class, all of it convened and facilitated by a vast army of well-graduated American professionals, their reassuring expertise propped up by bogus social science, while the unfortunate objects of their high and noble compassion sink slowly back into a preindustrial state.

Thomas Frank, Listen Liberal



Mourning and Melancholia
January 26, 2019, 8:09 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Melancholia, Lars von Trier

Mourning is remembering the sad event to forget it. Melancholia is the refusal to forget. Depression is a reaction to profound dislocation and loss, you from the world. The depressive is melancholic; she refuses to forget.

We think depressives are generally too negative and wrong. But research shows that though negative their assessments are surprisingly accurate.

They’re right for instance about climate change. They may be the canary, the bell weather we must heed about a dying world, extinction, the anthropocene, the loss that we feel for a dying world.

There’s a substantial literature on “depressive realism”—the suspicion that depressed people are actually right. In one 1979 study by Lauren B. Alloy and Lyn Y. Abramson, it was found that when compared to their nondepressed peers, depressed subjects’ “judgements of contingency were surprisingly accurate.’”

The depressive is, first of all, one who refuses to forget. In Freud’s account, while mourning is the slow release of emotional ties to something that’s vanished, melancholia is a refusal to let go. It’s not just that climate change is depressing; the determination to stop it has to begin from a depressive conviction: to not just forget that so much has been lost and more is going every day—to keep close to memory. Or as Paffard puts it, “You need to hold what’s at stake in your head enough to remember why it’s important to take action.”

Tropical Depressions, Sam Kriss and Ellie Mae O’Hagan, The Baffler



The eccentric, brilliant, and impractical
January 21, 2019, 4:51 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , ,

Don’t Blink, Lisa Rinzler

The best four years of my middle aged life were spent reading English Literature as an undergraduate. I went on and did a professional degree, which in my mind wasn’t education at all and should be immediately removed from the university and put in a trade school where it belongs. I developed a lifelong love of the humanities from the short introduction I had to it, and know I owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women who taught me for their role in introducing us to the histories, stories and ideas that make the foundation of our shared institutions, that nurture our collective imagination, and cement truth and beauty at the center of society and life.

I was aware at the time – the late eighties – of some of the cultural shifts that would a few short decades later completely alter the mission of the humanities. Third Way for instance was a term I learned during my undergrad as a bold bipartisan market based way forward. Exciting! However, no one could have known then the precision and speed with which neo liberal third way would hollow out the liberal arts education starving the core concepts of learning for it’s own sake, for the sake of shared humanism, to allow the imagination to flourish. This movement instrumentalized, quantified and monetized the universities, and the sacred heart of their mission was smothered. Deans, who used to protect the mandate of the colleges, now came in to raise money and, well, the body rotted from the head on down.

In the Baffler book No Future For You is a chapter on the liberalizing of the universities by David Graeber. He describes the result: administrative work has replaced study, research and teaching; administrators outnumber professors; corporate management techniques have led to competition instead of collegiality; study and teaching has been replaced by selling: books, grant applications, faculty, and the university itself; true creative work has been replaced by a sort of stenography. There are no new works of social theory and the eccentric and brilliant are denied tenure and languish in obscurity.

It’s time to declare: we want our universities back.

My own knowledge comes from universities, both in the United States and Britain. In both countries, the last thirty years have seen a veritable explosion of the proportion of working hours spent on administrative tasks at the expense of pretty much everything else. In my own university, for instance, we have more administrators than faculty members, and the faculty members, too, are expected to spend at least as much time on administration as on teaching and research combined. The same is true, more or less, at universities worldwide.

The growth of administrative work has directly resulted from introducing corporate management techniques. Invariably, these are justified as ways of increasing efficiency and introducing competition at every level. What they end up meaning in practice is that everyone winds up spending most of their time trying to sell things: grant proposals; book proposals; assessments of students’ jobs and grant applications; assessments of our colleagues; prospectuses for new interdisciplinary majors; institutes; conference workshops; universities themselves (which have now become brands to be marketed to prospective students or contributors); and so on.

As marketing overwhelms university life, it generates documents about fostering imagination and creativity that might just as well have been designed to strangle imagination and creativity in the cradle. No major new works of social theory have emerged in the United States in the last thirty years. We have been reduced to the equivalent of medieval scholastics, writing endless annotations of French theory from the seventies, despite the guilty awareness that if new incarnations of Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, or Pierre Bourdieu were to appear in the academy today, we would deny them tenure.

There was a time when academia was society’s refuge for the eccentric, brilliant, and impractical. No longer. It is now the domain of professional self-marketers. As a result, in one of the most bizarre fits of social self-destructiveness in history, we seem to have decided we have no place for our eccentric, brilliant, and impractical citizens. Most languish in their mothers’ basements, at best making the occasional, acute intervention on the Internet.

Bullshit Jobs, David Graeber, No Future For You, The Baffler



not a natural balance
June 17, 2018, 8:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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These are myths, which means they’re not true: depression is chemical, and antidepressants restore a natural balance in your brain.

So if depression isn’t chemical … it’s at least partly, if not nearly wholely, social.

“There’s no evidence that there’s a chemical imbalance” in depressed or anxious people’s brains, Professor Joanna Moncrieff – one of the leading experts on this question – explained to me bluntly in her office at the University College of London. The term doesn’t really make any sense, she said: we don’t know what a “chemically balanced” brain would look like. People are told that drugs like antidepressants restore a natural balance to your brain, she said, but it’s not true – they create an artificial state. The whole idea of mental distress being caused simply by a chemical imbalance is “a myth,” she has come to believe, sold to us by the drug companies.

Johann Hari, Lost Connections, p 30



best as communities
June 10, 2018, 3:10 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , ,

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Our best practices – preached to us by economists, pseudo academics, market first gurus etc – to make everything more machine-like, rational and efficient, manifest what you’d expect: failed institutions.

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you missed one of the rungs in the ladder
June 9, 2018, 6:39 pm
Filed under: brave new world, chronotopes | Tags: , , , , ,

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In his essay Such Were the Joys …, George Orwell describes the claustrophobic social realities of early century England.

The social and class milieu was rooted in low church religion and upper class unattainability and snobbery, which cancelled each other: on the one hand: sex puritanism, hard work, academic distinction, no self indulgence. And on the other: anti-intellectualism, love of games, xenophobia, contempt for working class, fear of poverty,  materialism, power and leisure.

To be socially acceptable one had to live on the interest of a sizable family endowment. It was virtually impossible to attain upper class status from the middle class: best case was a middle manager civil servant, but more likely, after a lifetime of hard work, an office boy.

Today we have indifferent boomers, a majority who can’t retire, lost millennials, the precariat, giggers etc. Was Orwell’s time any different from our own?

The various codes which were presented to you at Crossgates – religious, moral, social and intellectual – contradicted one another if you worked out their implications. The essential conflict was between the tradition of the nineteenth-century ascetism and the actually existing luxury and snobbery of the pre-1914 age. On the one side were low-church Bible Christianity, sex puritanism, insistence on hard work, respect for academic distinction, disapproval of self-indulgence: on the other, contempt for “braininess” and worship of games, contempt for foreigners and the working class, an almost neurotic dread of poverty, and, above all, the assumption not only that money and privilege are the things that matter, but that it is better to inherit them than to have to work for them. Broadly, you were bidden to be at once a Christian and a social success, which is impossible. At the time I did not perceive that the various ideals which were set before us cancelled out. I merely saw that they were all, or nearly all, unattainable, so far as I was concerned, since they all depended not only on what you did but on what you were.

Very early, at the age of only ten or eleven, I reached the conclusion – no one told me this, but on the other hand I did not simply make it up out of my own head: somehow it was in the air I breathed – that you were no good unless you had £100,000. I had perhaps fixed on this particular sum as a result of reading Thackeray. The interest on £100,000 a year (I was in favor of a safe 4 per cent), would  be £4,000, and this seemed to me the minimum income that you must possess if you were to belong to the real top crust, the people in the country houses. But it was clear that I could never find my way into that paradise, to which you did not really belong unless you were born into it. You could only make money, if at all, by a mysterious operation called “going into the City,” and when you came out of the City, having won your £10,000, you were fat and old. But the truly enviable thing about the top notchers was that they were rich while young. For people like me, the ambitious middle class, the examination passers, only a bleak, laborious kind of success was possible. You clambered upwards on a ladder of scholarships into the Home Civil Service or the Indian Civil Service, or possibly you became a barrister. And if at any point you “slacked” or “went off” and missed one of the rungs in the ladder, you became “a little office boy at forty pounds a year.” But even if you climbed to the highest niche that was open to you, you could still only be an underling, a hanger-on of the people who really counted.

George Orwell, Such Were The Joys …, p 31