Brian Holmes on Sat, 12 May 2012 23:16:07 +0200 (CEST)

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

Thanks to Keith for the brilliant recap of Veblen's Business Enterprise (which is definitely the foundation behind The Engineers and the Price System). For anyone who hasn't read Veblen, Keith's choice phrases occasionally quoted in parentheses are there as a writer's homage to one of the greats -- because Veblen, in addition to be being brilliant and angry and the founder of institutional economics, was also a tremendously inventive prose stylist. So when I say he's the shining beacon of radical American sociology, I do mean it!

On 05/12/2012 11:00 AM, Keith Hart wrote:

So I wonder if, instead of harking back to Talcott Parsons' dream of a
middle class division of labour where doctors, professors and engineers
are valued because they are good for society, we might revive a more
romantic vision which holds that, if the world's structures are going to
hell in a basket, there is no point in acquiring stable knowledge of
their functioning. rather, each of us should concentrate on improving
what is between our ears in the hope that it will help us to respiond
creatively to the chaos around us, even perhaps to build something new

Keith, you're sounding positively Deleuzian these days! And that is a compliment, btw.

The problem I see in the States is that we have this hugely productive society (it still is, despite the useless waste and misdirection of so much of it) that oscillates continually between fevers of predatory financialism and outbursts of military aggression. So chaos is something you can feel responsible for when you live in such a place. It's ugly, the 1 percent are in the pilot seats, and the educated people don't know what to do. I think you're right that neither the functionalist moralism of Talcott Parsons nor the Hegelian ideal of the enlightened state functionary are going to come back. However, students are now burning their loan contracts the way the students in the 60s burned their draft cards. The student loan is currently the foundation stone of the social contract of education: it's the place where you sign up for an American Dream that can no longer be realized in any way, shape or form. The radicalization of systematically harassed graduates without any chance of a so-called decent job -- which they now realize would be an indecent job in any case -- is a palpable and growing reality.

Something should be done with this moment. I think education has to acquire a new social meaning. I can't place my bets on the existing systems to provide it, so I agitate on the edges. However, in my view the existing system can't be just ignored. In the same way that the neoliberal economics of science has led to a profusion of profit-hungry start-ups sprouting like mushrooms all around the research universities, so we radicals inspired by Veblen's institutional sociology should kick off a profusion of alternative answers to the current deliquescent state of "the higher learning." And in that way, like a tenacious rastafarian collective out in a squatted building in Luton, England, in the good 'ol Nineties, those of us who care about these things could finally say to the barbarian establishment: "Exodus -- and we're stayin' right here."

best, Brian

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