Heidegger and Nazism – a letter from the archives

From the London Review of Books, Vol. 12 No. 7 · 5 April 1990

Richard Rorty’s eulogy of Martin Heidegger (LRB, 8 February) is shamefully tasteless, insensitive, infantile, and vulgar in the extreme. He seems to think that one should not be angry with Heidegger because, despising democracy, as does every good intellectual, he also worshipped at the phallic shrine of Nazism, joined the Party (in both senses of the word), and betrayed his colleagues and his country to support a movement which, in one of its few instances of sanity, had the good sense to reject him in favour of an even greater mind, Alfred Rosenberg, whose position as the ideological and doctrinal theoretician of the most obscene, banal, puerile, and maniacal system ever devised in the entirety of human history Rorty’s hero coveted. The Nazi Heidegger was not a hypocrite; Nazism was Heideggerism authentically made flesh. To be a hypocrite would require Heidegger to think one way and act another, but surely all of Nazism is contained within the deranged, demented putrescence of his Teutonic furz, his Gesamelte Werke.

 

Sidney Halpern Temple University, Pennsylvania

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Problems with interdisciplinarity in the humanities

At a recent workshop on interdisciplinarity for researchers from the Coimbra Group in Trinity College Dublin, at the Long Room Hub, there were some interesting presentations (especially by Britta Padberg of ZiF and Christoph Horn of Bonn University) and conversations had about the challenges and opportunities within this area. It got me thinking about some of the theoretical and structural peculiarities of the humanities that makes the discussion of interdisciplinarity in the arts and humanities different from the STEM, and perhaps also the social sciences. As always, there are counter-examples and caveats, but here are some thoughts under the follow headings.

(i) The place of common theoretical structures in STEM and AHSS interdisciplinarity

(ii) Disciplinary and professional drivers and barriers to interdisciplinarity

(iii) Intra- and interdisciplinarity – or precision versus purity Continue reading

An antecedent of Searle’s “Chinese Room” argument against A.I.

[UPDATE 6/6/14: see end of post]

I should really say another antecedent, given that the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy identifies three other versions of this argument. I take the following from Stanislaw Lem’s Summa Technologiae:

Physicist and science fiction writer Anatoly Dneprov has described an experiment in his novella, whose aim was to debunk a thesis about “infusing with spirituality” a language-to-language translation machine by replacing the machine’s elements such as transistors and other switches with people who have been spatially distributed in a particular way. Performing the simple functions of signal transfer, this “machine” made of people translated a sentence from Portuguese into Russian, while its designer asked all the people who constituted the “elements” of that machine what this sentence meant. No one knew it, of course, because the language-to-language translation was carried out by the system as a dynamic whole. The designer (in the novella) concluded that “the machine was not intelligent”… [p. 324]

Lem’s book was published first in Polish in 1964, and Anatoly Dneprov died in 1975, so this comfortably predate’s John Searle’s 1980 version of the argument. I haven’t been able to identify what novella Lem is referring to here, as his notes and bibliography have no mention of Dneprov’s work. It would be great if anybody out there did know, and I could make a note of it here.

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Update 6/6/14: Internet success! As can be seen from the comments below, the Philosophy Department of Moscow State University’s Center for Consciousness Studies has posted a translation of this story. Go! Read! Enjoy. As an aside, I also like how this story is well within the bounds of the then orthodoxy of dialectical materialism.

The term “neoliberal” and the ecumenism of blame

This entire interview with Colum McCafferty is well worth reading, especially the parts referring to the contrast between liberal citizenship and republican citizenship, as well as the growing use of the word “consumer” in place of any reference to citizens. I want to mark the following for attention too though:

Regarding this use of language to limit of discourse, you refer to the expression ‘the political class’ as another term that has become widespread, even among well-regarded journalists.

Well, before this term arose you had a tendency to talk about ‘The Politicians’, which is also used as a way to eliminate discourse. It eliminates the very possibility that there are different politicians with different points of view. Michael D Higgins called it “an ecumenism of blame”.

You now see this term changing to ‘the political class’, so you have the political class and people change within it, but it’s permanent.

I have noted previously that we would do well to have a Godwin’s Law for the term ‘neoliberalism’, given that in the best case such references are exercises in taxonomy (I think I called them ‘trainspotting‘ in one of my more uncharitable harrumphs). Invoking neoliberalism is similarly a way to eliminate conversation. Zizek also refers to this rhetorical maneuver in the use of the term “fascist” as a way of shutting down an argument. There is both an ecumenism of blame as well as an agnosticism of responsibility here. If some politician or political act is identified as neoliberal, then room for alternative action and debate is effectively precluded. We don’t even think in terms of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’, ‘constitutional’ or ‘unconstitutional’. Something is simply ‘neoliberal’ – and that’s it.

This is at once a testament to how what is identified as ‘neoliberalism’ utterly suffuses our discourse. I think of the title of Zizek’s In Defense of Lost Causes here as a symptom of this, of which he is of course aware. The best an alternative to this status quo can be is to have the tragic honour of a lost cause, because the possibility of a real alternative doesn’t exist. This term is a testament to how impoverished the debate is in terms of constructing possible worlds, and scenario planning, and how so much effort has been expended in the equivalent of Late Scholastic taxonomizing of minutiae.

I recall a recent experience after a conference where the discussion of an academic by others (including one quite senior figure in the field) turned to what can best be described as a Blutreinheitsgebot. This academic, early career, on whom an anathema was declared was identified as ideologically suspect purely because he didn’t discuss the topics they did by invoking neoliberalism. His attempt to step beyond this term (for whatever reasons) was singled out as suspect and cause for censure in and of itself. This is the paranoia of the academy taken to its absurd conclusion. Thankfully, however, there may be an equivalent of the Gartner hype cycle for such ideas, and we can move beyond this limited and limiting idea, beyond the identification of problems, to a fuller concept of critique which is proactive as well as descriptive.

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Redefining academic research – capital or plural?

“University scientists still do most of the research, but increasingly the allegiance of many is to the ‘research centre’, a quasi-academic institution which draws its heat and light from the university, its directions from elsewhere.”

“Cooperative groups, from the great industrial concerns to small research teams, inevitably tend to rely on what is already acceptable as common ground, and that means established, specialized techniques.”

“Companion to the team project and planning by committee is the blight of ‘research design’. Instead of being joined together in a flexible arrangement which allows the scientist to follow his own side roads, project members are bound up in a highly detailed, prefabricated master plan of research.”

The above three quotes are not from recent blog posts regarding higher education, or reponses to EU policy initiatives, but  from William H. Whyte’s 1956 work, The Organization Man, in his chapter “The Bureaucratization of the Scientist”.  Though over half a century old, the concerns and criticisms expressed here are as timely as ever they were (with the addition of there being organization women as well as men…), and the problems that prompted such reflections still exist. Indeed, in one form or another, I have heard similar remarks made by researchers, academics, and administrators in the last few years of working in higher education.  Continue reading

Slavoj Žižek sings ‘The Great Pretender’

Video

Via http://empireofno.tumblr.com/

Quote: why consensus? Implications for research and knowledge

And why should there be consensus? Must consensus per se be the overriding goal? It is the price of progress that there never can be complete consensus. All creative advances are essentially a departure from agreed-upon ways of looking at things, and to overemphasize the agreed-upon is to legitimatize the further the hostility to that creativity upon which we all ultimately depend.

William H. Whyte, The Organization Man, p. 59.

The Organization ManWhyte makes continued reference to there being a stark difference in the requirements imposed on the member of an organization qua member-of-an-organization (that is, a constituent of a group) and what might in fact best suit this individual as an individual. It brings home to me how fecund the hermeneutic interpretation of how meaning is created can be in this context.

Paul Ricoeur made it a central part of his analysis of language that meaning does not come from denotation, from pure description as a one-to-one identity of meaning (univocity, akin to the Hebrew YHWH), nor a vector of signifier to signified (equivocity), but as  through tension, through the torsion and bending of language out of its old form into a new one (i.e., analogy – more on this in an old post, Being, metaphor, and “nothingness”). That is new meaning comes from metaphor, analogy, critique, and other ‘figurative’ forms of language. This is the analysis of meaning within language. We can extend this, however, and make analogy with society and the production of knowledge, information.

What Whyte is discussing here is the notion that consensus can be an obstacle to the discovery of solutions to problems, that consensus effectively means doing what we have always done and hoping that we will end up doing something new. Via this reductio the illogic of such a concept becomes apparent. It draws out the quite formal contradiction at the centre of this mindset. It indicates that any form of consensus (including the now fashionable consensus of so-called ‘disruption’) stifles the discovery of alternatives, or possibilities.

Making matters concrete for a moment, we find the kernel of an argument to be made for ‘blue-sky’ or pure research. Parsing current discussions of research according to the distinctions made above, consensus research is that research which is directed, which must have measureable impact. Consensus research must take place within a research framework, a research project, a research group, a research pillar, a research funding call, etc. The alternative (I don’t give it a distinctive name as that goes against its elusive, un-pin-down-able characteristics – better to define it negatively, in opposition) is not beholden to the stifling qualities of consensus, namely bureaucracy, conformity, and fitting oneself into neat boxes a-ready for the ticking. Is this a pure dichotomy, a clean distinction? Of course not. Is directed research to be done away with? Of course not. Is pure, non-consensus research more productive than it’s counterpart? Who can say. What is necessary here (in the spirit of critique, mentioned above) is to note that directed research, consensus attempts at creating knowledge and meaning are not the only game in town.