Brian Holmes on Fri, 11 May 2012 21:23:50 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Another insult of the 1 percent: everybody does it!

On 05/10/2012 03:23 AM, Dan S. Wang wrote:

My friend at Yahoo, a senior engineer, tells me that his co-workers are in a
lather. Their CEO, known for a leadership style, reorganization strategy,
and corporate housecleaning method akin to swinging a double-headed axe
blindfolded, apologized twice last week for having made the mistake not of
lying, but of including an ³inadvertent² false credential on his resume:
that he had earned an undergraduate degree in computer science when in fact
he hadn¹t, and had only a degree in accounting.

A real CEO! What Veblen would've called a "business entreprenuer." That's a class whose function, with regard to the engineers, is making profit out of them by any means necessary, most often through what Veblen called the *sabotage* of productivity in order to maintain market prices and profitability. Check out the little book he wrote in the wake of the Russian revolution, during the 1919-1920 recession and the great wave of strikes that accompanied it:

Veblen, like OWS, was a genius at inventing new terminology for Marxist concepts so they could be smuggled into the United States.

Neutrality? Complexity? No. The question is this: how does one group of
people make another group of people do something that they really don¹t want to do?

That is the political question. The neutrality comes in when intellectuals, whose job it is to formulate political questions, prefer instead to retreat into a consensus which they falsely believe will protect their own positions form the arbitrary will of... guess who? Another millionaire of the 1 percent.

You're right to take this seemingly trivial case as an example, because at this point the attack is not only on the poor and marginalized, who've been treated to quite brutal aggression since Reagan, but now also on the middle classes, whose secular project of credentialization as a key to a stable and rule-governed meritocracy is just being trashed.

In this way you can see that the current attack on the universities is not just a caste issue for academics, it's a societal issue. The structure of society based on distinct professional fields defined and guarded by credentials is useless for the business entrepreneurs. The real question, imo, is not how to defend professional status but rather how to transform it into something that can have a positive social function for everyone. So instead of getting a degree to carve out a protected niche in the economy, you would get both a degree and a profession in order to contribute to a greater good.

Sounds like sheer naivete to the cynics, I know, but wait for one degree more of civilizational collapse and these questions will start to have immense practical value.

A while ago I read an excellent book by Scott Lash and John Urry, surely the best thing either of them ever wrote, called The End of Organized Capitalism (1987). It has a very detailed historical treatment of the formation of professional classes via education in the US and in various European nation-states in the early 20th century. The reason Veblen addressed the engineers, rather than the proletariat, is because the United States in particular - for better and for worse - formed such an extensive range of "middle class" positions.

I'll leave it to Eric Olin Wright to suss who is exactly where in this famous middle class, but let's say it's not entirely one-dimensional. The attacks on professional privileges are one of the drivers of the Wisconsin movements and indeed, of Occupy, which is deeply inhabited by the figure of the "graduate without a future," unable to get the job s/he is credentialed and indebted for. The shift from an instinctively defensive posture into a consciously transformational one is at the heart of any chance to make something positive and progressive out of the current political moment.

all the best, Brian

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