May 19, 2003

Take no prisoners?

Ken Parish has a good post on the proposed market reforms to the universities by the Howard Government in the Costello Budget. Ken basically supports the general deregulatory thrust of the proposed reforms, even though he works at a regional university that will be disadvantaged by them.

However, he is worried about the impact deregulation will have on the humanities and he addresses one of the abiding concerns of this weblog:---the plight of the non-vocational humanities. Ken says that the:

"...non-vocational humanities disciplines are unlikely to attract substantial numbers of full fee-paying students, with the result that these faculties will probably continue to wither on the vine at an even faster rate than over the last decade. The "sandstones" will maintain viable non-vocational humanities faculties for prestige reasons, but regional universities will probably move incrementally towards an almost entirely vocational mix of course offerings. NTU's abolition of its English department a few years ago will be seen as the "cutting edge", though not in a favourable sense.

I would like to see substantial numbers of full-fee scholarships offered for undergraduates enrolling in non-vocational humanities disciplines, in recognition of their value to an enlightened, truly civil society and the fact that market mechanisms are simply not an appropriate means of funding them."

This recognises the connection the humanties have to fostering a democratic liberal society:---an education for citizenship. It is a good point that needs to be made again. It is an argument that is the same as advanced by public opinion and in a corporate university the non-vocational humanities have little future.

Brendon Nelson, the federal Minister of Education knows it, but his reforms are selling the humanities short. In these reforms he is acting as a mouth piece for John Howard wearing his neo-liberal hat.

Ken then changes tack to address the postmodern humanities that have become politicized since the 1980s. He says that his desire for a substantial commitment to the humanities in the corporate university:

"...isn't likely to occur under a Coalition government, because most conservatives appear to see the humanities in caricatured terms as the "enemy": hotbeds of ratbag leftist activism intent on neo-marxist resistance to neo-conservative orthodoxy. There are some Labor politicians with not dissimilar views, while Simon the Unlikeable shows no sign that he even understands the dimensions of the problem."

Why is it unlikely that a revitalised non-vocational humanities will occur int he near future.? Ken says that the humanities have only themselves to blame:

"One of the problems, of course, is that the Tories' caricatured perception contains a certain core of truth. You only need to visit Gary Sauer-Thompson's blog to see what I'm talking about. In the rarefied, if increasingly poverty-stricken, domains of humanities academia, "take no prisoners" class warfare against the "neocons" is the name of the game. Either it hasn't occurred to Gary and his comrades that they're acting out a latter day version of Rorke's Drift with the "neocons" cast as the Zulus, or they've decided "death or glory" is the only honourable alternative."

This is a bit quick. I have no idea of what Rorke's Drift with the "neocons" cast as the Zulus means---but it does sound suicidal. Is it then death or glory? Hardly. Public opinion takes a very different pathway to the "take-no prisoners class warfare against the neo-cons. Public opinion has a philosophical bias in so far as it is an example of a reinvented or transformed philosophy. There is some background to reinvention here. Public opinion is a a rhetorically-informed one that operates outside the academy as a critical voice in public life.

Why so? Because, as has been argued in this weblog, philosophy needs to do something about its current situation, given the ongoing destruction of philosophy in the corporate university. Philosophy needs to find a way to survive --- to find an afterlife to being caught up in academic politics. Philosophy can do this if it sloughs off a lot of its academic baggage, undertakes a critique of itself as an professional academic discipline, takes the applied turn, recovers its roots in rhetoric and becomes engaged with public issues, such as the environmental crisis in the Murray-Darling Basin.

If philosophy is to be true to its heritage of critical thinking, then the way for a public philosophy to facilitate or foster an enlightened, truly civil society is to be critical of conventional opinion, prejudice, habitual thinking, myths, ideology associated with a neo-liberal mode of governing a population etc. Being critical of the current orthodoxy in public life is what the ethos of the enlightenment means. Critique is the lifeblood of federal democracy.

Ken Parish distorts this conception of a rhetorically-informed philosophy in political life to the extent that he locates a public eco-philosophy back inside the academy, where it is a part of the embattled humanities fighting the cultural wars by defending postmodernism and political correctness from the conservatives through a politics of difference. In doing so he makes the philosophical voice of public opinion stand for the postmodern humanities inside the sancturies of the academy. Or is it a placeholder for a bunch of old Marxists singing the Red Flag, and talking passionately about the class politics of a blood drenched history of Australian capitalism?

Not so. Public opinion takes its bearings from those old Romans who thought that philosophy can and should be a part of political life. Its approach is shaped by an Aristotlean concern for a good and flourishing life. And it works within an Australian ecological tradition

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at May 19, 2003 09:23 PM | TrackBack

it also show the proddies have won

i went to a catholic boy school were every now and then a nun or brother would venture to talk about "vocation" or calling

specifically the "calling" to be a nun or brother, or even priest

now of course "calling" means economic calling:- the shopkeeper is the priest

Posted by: meika on May 22, 2003 02:24 PM

lawyers are not trained to interpret

that eco trad links links to my old school profs and supervisors old chum

Posted by: meika on May 22, 2003 02:55 PM
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