[iDC] DIY: nightmare for humanities, social sciences, media

Brian Holmes bhcontinentaldrift at gmail.com
Wed Sep 21 16:26:54 UTC 2011

On 09/20/2011 11:41 AM, John Hopkins wrote:

> Howard Odum, in his landmark (updated) book "Environment, Power, and Society
> (for the 21st Century) The Hierarchy of Energy" (2007) demonstrates that because
> information/knowledge requires energy for it to be captured, maintained, and
> propagated, when a society (or other system) heads into an energy-poor situation
> (versus the energy-rich 200-years we've been enjoying to date), the scope of
> information AND knowledge available to the system decreases.

That's an interesting recommendation, thanks, I will follow it up.

 From my view, we live in a knowledge economy that never became a 
knowledge society. The digital communications and information-processing 
system has developed as a form of financial governance serving, on the 
one hand, to articulate the just-in-time production system, and on the 
other, to prey on the pools of savings that have accumulated throughout 
the world (from health-care funds to retirements via your home, bank 
account, negative savings on the credit card, etc). The universities 
have bloated along with the knowledge economy, to the point where they 
are now almost as corrupt as Wall Street itself.

All this is headed for a crash, not (yet) because of energy shortages, 
but simply because finance is a lousy way to govern. Long-term 
environmental determinisms should not distract from the actual trends 
that push them. The present crash is real (check the daily papers) and 
may become a lot worse as neglected ecological problems spur conflicts 
in all directions. The last big financial crash led to fascism and world 
war. This one may well lead to world civil war - a generalized societal 
struggle of all against all.

Over the last three decades, the university knowledge factories have 
produced this economy, along with a neoliberal ideology (represented in 
its pure form by so-called "public choice theory") that simply denies 
the existence of society. Philosophers and other humanities, arts and 
social-sciences profs have mostly gone along for the corporate ride, 
especially at the top ends of the system where they are seduced into 
inconsequence. As for the hard scientists, those who have stood up 
against the instrumentalization of their disciplines are extremely rare. 
Basically it is only the adjuncts who have made some efforts at 
transforming all that!

Of course, there are still a large number of thoughtful people out 
there, who now feel quite uncomfortable at the way things have gone - 
and not only at the potential loss of some of their prestige, perks, job 
security, etc. George's concern about what will happen to the humanities 
and social sciences is well founded. If they were to just disappear from 
the residual public realm, no one in power would miss them. Rich people 
will always be able to pay for their Shakespeare and their de Sade, and 
corporations have their social sciences covered pretty well (they call 
it "management"). The others will always have distance learning from 
Phoenix. The result is a country where people are either careerist 
egotists pursuing their private stars, or harried and debt-ridden 
flextimers without a single moment for collective thinking and 
organizing. In other words, a country just like the USA.

Sorry, but the complaints about the fate of the humanities seem to me 
just as shallow as the enthusiasms for DIY learning by computer. Either 
we start a revolution in the knowledge factory, or we're screwed, my 
friends! The institutions of knowledge production are overblown, but 
clearly unable to respond to the current crisis. At this point they are 
massively reproducing the corrupted basis of the knowledge economy. 
Autonomous education can help change that, if it is not just an 
imitation of the corporate model based on fragmented interactivity. We 
need critique that is turned toward action. And it has to become 
socially complex, which implies some kind of institutional form. A 
response to the crisis from inside academia is still on hold - stopped 
at the top by professors who will not risk becoming as political as 
their right-wing counterparts already are. Without such a response, the 
nightmare will not just be for your favorite humanities program.

let's act toward another future, BH

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