Soviet Racism

I want to kiss (in an entirely friendly, non-creepy way) the blogger who wrote the following:

People like Francine Hirsch have argued that we should seek to understand what the Soviet government “thought” it was doing within its own officially stated ideological conceptions and terms and not what the objective results of its actions were as measured against later scholarly and legal understandings of the concept of racial discrimination (Hirsch, pp. 40-41). Of course nobody makes such excuses for Nazi Germany or South Africa under apartheid. It is only the USSR that is still blessed with such stalwart defenders in the western academy against the charges of racism.

And also this:

Even today a lot of people don’t think Stalin’s murder of 15 million people was nearly as bad as Hitler’s killing of 5 million Jews. Minimizers of Stalin’s crimes still hold quite a bit of influence in US academia. Nobody would wear a shirt with a Swastika on it around London. But, I see lots of sickle and hammer shirts. This ability to maintain a positive PR spin decades after his death is an accomplishment of evil by Stalin that Hitler could never have dreamed of accomplishing.

This is the greatest tragedy of the Soviet people: they suffered and died for nothing. An over-fed Canadian academic recently published a long article telling the world that Stalinism was not that bad and we have all been duped into thinking it was by Solzhenitsyn’s lies. (I’m not linking to this loser because I don’t want to give him traffic.) And he is only one of many.


Don Draper Is My Colleague

I find the TV show Mad Men to be eerily appropriate to the analysis of what is happening today in my profession. Don Draper is the perfect image of an academic.

Don’s central organizing quality is that of being terrified. He can’t muster the strength to tell his boss, “You disrespected me in my own house, and that sucks.” He can’t say to his mistress, “I’m jealous and humiliated.” He can’t even dare to tell the wife who is completely dependent on him that he doesn’t want her to work. Instead, he design pathetic, childish revenges that give him an illusion of some completely imaginary power.

This is a guy who makes a very comfortable living, who has tons of free time, who can come and go at work as he pleases, who is very good with words, has charisma, and whose job is to influence people with words. If that doesn’t scream “academic”, I don’t know what does.

Draper’s irrational, all-abiding fear has no explanation. The impostor syndrome, which is also an excuse trotted out eagerly by every terrified academic under the Sun, is a very unconvincing explanation for his abject terror.

So he grew up during the Great Depression, big whoops. I grew up during the bandit wars of the FSU’s 1990s and I’m not trembling in fear all day long. So he feels like an outsider in his professional and social milieu. My accent precludes me from even trying to pretend that I’m not an outsider but I’m not fearful.

It isn’t surprising that the show is so popular. It tells us what we all know: the most creative, intelligent, resourceful people in our society are besieged by nameless terrors. This is why it’s a mistake to expect them to stand up for anything or anybody. Nothing they can do will ever amount to anything but a silly, childish prank.

Scared or Happy?

I will consider it a great personal failure if I ever get to the point of thinking, “To hell with everybody else, to hell with collective action and watching out for the good of the discipline, I’ll just concentrate on my career and watch out for nobody but myself.” I don’t want to be that person but I can’t banish the suspicion that there is no alternative.

If people have no objection to part-time instructors losing their jobs because full-timers will teach their courses for free, if there isn’t enough solidarity to oppose this blatant attempt to destroy the union representing part-timers, if everybody agrees to let the administration effectively cancel out our contracts, then I don’t see what can be done about it.

I feel like all I’m achieving is annoying people who are perfectly content with teaching 7 courses per semester instead of 3 with no salary increase and who are profoundly at peace with relinquishing self-governance and academic freedom. I don’t mind making myself obnoxious and fostering the image of myself as a grumpy malcontent and a habitual refusenik. But there’s got to be a point in this.

I see only two possible reasons for everybody’s perpetual silence: people are either terrified or perfectly happy. Since there is no reason to be terrified, I have to conclude that everybody is content with how things are developing.

Imagine you have a contract stating that you are obligated to teach 3 courses per semester. And then you are informed that, from now on, you will teach an unspecified number of extra courses for free. Would you have something to say about this? Questions to ask? What if you couldn’t be fired and have already earned a good, comfortable pension? Would you say something then?

Maybe I’m insane, and silence is the only appropriate reaction.

Or It Can Be Used As a Doorstop

Vargas Llosa’s Civilization of Spectacle has its uses aside from being a manual on how to state the painfully obvious in the most self-righteous manner ever.

Llosa points out the enormous harm modern anthropology has caused to the concept of culture. At my university, the Department of Anthropology still tries to ban everybody else from using the word “culture” because, according to our anthropologists, nobody should be allowed to talk about culture but them.

Also, Llosa ridicules Bakhtin. This might seem like an outdated project but visit a scholarly conference in my field, and you’ll see Bakhtin trotted out on regular occasions in complete earnestness. 

Of course, these ideas are also quite stale. They are, however, marginally a little less stale than everything else in Llosa’s book. Or maybe I simpy like to see them repeated as many times as possible.

Europe’s Fit of Priggishness

Instead of fighting to add photos of naked men to those of naked women, weirdos masking as feminists in the UK wave their prudishness around like a flag.

Recently, Spain has destroyed all of its reproductive rights, and it seems like the UK is following in the same direction. One sign of this descent into puritanical barbarity is the incapacity of the country’s government to oppose anything to gender segregation in UK’s universities. British “feminists” choose to fight boobs instead of fighting segregation. Europe is squirming in a fit of intense puritanism and destroying all of its achievements in the sphere of gender equality and sexual freedom.

I thank reader Kathleen for the link.