Month: September 2011

Stuart Hall on the NeoLiberal Revolution

The shorter version is in the Guardian; the longer (h/t Paul Gilroy) is here in PDF. Here, he argues (rightly) for the pertinence of the term “neoliberalism,” even if it seems to capture everything and nothing:

The term ‘neoliberal’ is not a satisfactory one. Its reference to the shaping influence of capitalism on modern life sounds recidivist to contemporary ears. Intellectual critics say the term lumps together too many things to merit a single identity; it is reductive, sacrificing attention to internal complexities and geohistorical specificity. I sympathise with this critique. However, I think there are enough common features to warrant giving it a provisional conceptual identity, provided this is understood as a first approximation. Even Marx argued that analysis yields understanding at different levels of abstraction, and critical thought often begins with a ‘chaotic’ abstraction – though we then need to add ‘further determinations’ in order to ‘reproduce the concrete in thought’. I would also argue that naming neoliberalism is politically necessary, to give resistance content, focus and a cutting edge…

Can We the See the Beginning of the End of the APA-East?

For those not in philosophy, the APA-East is held each year right after Christmas. It’s also where a vast majority of departments hiring that year schedule 12-15 people to interview as the second stage in the hiring process. (The first being making an application, then the APA, then getting an invite to campus, and then the actual offer.) Last year, a number of departments, because of a major snowstorm in the northeast, had to abandon going and use Skype instead. Leiter has a post up today about whether this might lead to a permanent changeover from the APA-East-style interviews.

I cannot call for their end soon enough. Most interviews are conducted around tables in a big ballroom, where you’re fighting to be heard over all the other departments being interviewed. And where is this ballroom? Usually in a hotel that costs anywhere from $179 to $229 a night. (Those APA poo-bahs really must have terrible negotiating skills.) This was bad enough in years where landing interviews at the APA would foreseeably land you a job. But in today’s climate, you have profs in a certain class position (yes, I’m one of them), who receive reimbursement from their university to go interview fresh Ph.D.s (alas, many are not so fresh these days) who have to pay for airfare and two-night’s stay in New York or Boston or Washington D.C. There has been no year where I’ve attended the APA-East (even in years just to present) where it has cost me less than $700 all told, and I happen to spend Christmas in New York already, where it’s cheaper for me to get to the APA sites.

Now, you’re a graduate student who is winding down your lucrative grad career and you’re walloped with this bill, during the holidays, and in many cases, people have just one or two interviews, with long odds for landing those jobs. While I realize why people would prefer face-to-face interviewing–and skype interviewing often comes with various glitches–surely it’s a better way to get down to your final candidates using technology available for the last ten years.

Ah yes, you’ll say, we’ll lose the Smoker–the late night meet-and-greet where (on one night) there’s free drinks and you can have awkward conversations with other interviewees, or even worse, attend the funeral-like conversations of grad students about how just God-awful the market is this year. And invariably these last couple of years, it is.

Todd May on the Meaning of Life

He has this write-up in the Times’ Stone:

The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre thought that, without God, our lives are bereft of meaning.  He tells us in his essay “Existentialism,” “if God does not exist, we find no values or commands to turn to which legitimize our conduct.  So, in the bright realm of values, we have no excuse behind us, nor justification before us.”  On this view, God gives our lives the values upon which meaning rests. And if  God does not exist, as Sartre claims, our lives can have only the meaning we confer upon them.

This seems wrong on two counts. First, why would the existence of God guarantee the meaningfulness of each of our lives?  Is a life of unremitting drudgery or unrequited struggle really redeemed if there’s a larger plan, one to which we have no access, into which it fits?  That would be small compensation for a life that would otherwise feel like a waste — a point not lost on thinkers like Karl Marx, who called religion the “opium of the people.”  Moreover, does God actually ground the values by which we live?  Do we not, as Plato recognized 2500 years ago, already have to think of those values as good in order to ascribe them to God?

Second, and more pointedly, must the meaningfulness of our lives depend on the existence of God?  Must meaning rely upon articles of faith? Basing life’s meaningfulness on the existence of a deity not only leaves all atheists out of the picture; it leaves different believers out of one another’s picture.   What seems called for is an approach to thinking about meaning that can draw us together, one that exists alongside or instead of religious views.

The Lauer-Brokaw Dialectic of the Event

I’ve been attempting to avoid the 9/11 reminisces, not least for the reasons Paul Krugman identifies, so I’ve had on MSNBC‘s replay of NBC’s coverage from that day. You can almost time the moment–I wish I could find it online–that the event begins to be sutured over by nationalist narratives of War on Terror. It happens at 10:14 am. Matt Lauer, who for the rest of the broadcast is admirably bringing things back to catastrophe itself, is interrupted by Tom Brokaw, who announced that this is an “official declaration of war by Terrorists.” He will repeat this phrasing time and again, then interviewees will say, “as Tom Brokaw noted before…” and we’re off to discussing retribution, etc., and Brokaw himself will outline what will happen in the next ten years: “we are at war”; “we will have to revisit our freedoms in light of this”; “have no doubt, America has changed today”; “we are vulnerable…because of what makes us so great…our freedoms and so forth”; etc. (I mean, Brokaw’s interjections are just remarkably perspicuous or ominous, or both.) And between each interjection is Lauer simply trying to bring things back to the mourning underway, a testimony to the dialectic of mourning, of testimony to the event, and the Brokaw-esque war narrative that will take hold.

I got nothing on this one…

From a memo we got in the department yesterday requesting riveting philosophical vignettes:

Dr. Lisa Rankin (Archaeology) is a sharp shooter. Literally. She has to
carry a gun during field work in Labrador in case a polar bear might be
wandering by.

I¹d like all departments to be profiled in this manner and right now I don¹t
have anything for philosophy.  Sort of an answer to the question of what
skills do you use in your work that you never thought you would need …

First off, this should keep Dr. Rankin from too many rough rebukes in committee meetings. But secondly, what skills would a philosopher have to use that would be anywhere exciting: ability to withstand more dust than average after years in libraries? Able to discern the subtle difference between coffees grown in west or east Kenya?