(This was written quite fast and probably contains typos. Please be tolerant and generous.)
May Day: may it be a fiery day, a colourful day of the red and the green, a day of song and of remembrance and resistance and hope.
A day of international solidarity continuing the spirit of the Second International (and the First, or International Workers’ Association, via some of the 1886 Haymarket activists).
A day of internationalism: not the globalisation of capitalist imperialism, but solidarity and rights: of workers, humans, all beings however marginal or invisible they might seem now—remembering past histories of workers & other non-persons—and planet.
A day for remembrancing the other side to 18th-21st c. enlightened colonialist capitalism in a larger context and history: histories of humanity, of civilisation, and of human and humanist and posthuman and transhuman values.
It’s also still an other plant-associated older May Day too, in a shared “both-and” world (as contrasted with an “either/or” one) of feminist environmentalist social justice. A day for wearing red and green together; if trees can do it, why can’t humans too?
So. Next time a neoliberal (or worse) abuses the words “Western Civilisation” to glorify the capitalocene and anthropocene, remind them what civilisation is really about: the history of social justice, anti-capitalist resistance, and international solidarity.
How would 2020 look to 2012, or 1895, or 1886? How does 2020 measure up on—to quote buzzwords from our university’s strategic plan, and familiar from corporatese—transformative sustainable progress, growth and worth and success, vision, purpose, engagement, excellence, inclusion, collaboration, innovation, & systemic change for a better world?
You may have read news items such as the following recently:
Revolutionary ideas are in the air. Threats to sue for a refund of this term’s fees. Demands for online courses to be cheaper.
YES tuition fees should be reduced, as certain things are not provided; for many of them, welcome to why student costs are lower in most of the EU. As with much else in COVIDised life, it’s always productive to stop and think for a moment. About things, and people, that we took for granted and didn’t appreciate sufficiently. About things that weren’t as necessary as we’d thought they were, seduced by successful sales pitches. It should also be said that some university services have been grossly underfunded and understaffed, and are needed—actually needed—more now than ever: support for mental health and wellbeing.
YES tuition fees should be lower—and 0 for local / regional / provincial students, paid for in full—like other public education and training—by residents’ taxes. An educated questioning society is a shared common public good. This should mean an actual education, though. One that is socially-responsible, knowledgeable, historically and ethically informed, curious, critical, creative, imaginative, innovative, supportive, sustaining, and sustainable. And therefore in the arts and humanities: a scholarly area and intellectual world that include the thinking questioning parts of so-called “STEM”; one of the ways in which a “university” is “universal” is as a whole intellectual world and in opening up the life of the mind, the intelligent examined life worth living, in a worthwhile and valuable and profitable existence of lifelong learning.
YES to questioning where fees go: to all that’s not immediately or obviously part of an education. Building sports stadia. Sports coaches’ salaries. Highly-paid executives. PR, marketing, and branding campaigns.
YES to questioning public sector salaries and how they relate to work: when the highest-paid (who don’t teach) earn more than ten times what the lowest-paid do (part-time contract hourly minimum wage employees, including student workers) or five times what the lowest-paid sessional contingent precarious teaching faculty do. When the employee salaries line of a budget in a COVID-19 essential service includes non-essential administrative bloat, especially—in monetary terms—at the executive top management “leadership™” levels. And when there’s massive expenditure in subcontracting and outsourcing—to private companies—major infrastructure projects that are not directly related to teaching and learning.
Meanwhile, Arts classrooms crumble. Meanwhile, Arts faculty work massive unpaid overtime catching up with thousands of pages of reading, thousands of hours of learning, to convert courses and teaching and an entire working being. I’m grateful beyond words for the help and support of UBC’s CTLT tech people and Arts ISIT: our colleagues there are wonderful. They, too, have worked extraordinarily hard. Worse. They’ve been discreet and quiet about it, but they’ve worked more and harder than us faculty. They’ve also been at the front line when anything has gone wrong, including when it’s not their fault, 24/7. When an outsider, for example a company providing our “Learning Management System” (yes that phrase should make you wince) does not just updates but a total system overhaul and trashes material and causes havoc in an online exam (not mine).
When I see complaints from students—writing as consumers, and with “this is unacceptable, I want to talk on your manager” threatening comments—part of me is angry at the cruelty, the rank gross consumerist inhumanity.
A larger part of me is angry for these poor people: robbed of their humanity by whoever taught them to write like that; corrupted by a desire to fit in with that way of being and doing, that’s only aping the behaviours modelled by authority figures and their poor examples of adulting, stupid and ignorant, selfish and arrogant, bullying, small-minded and mean-spirited; trained into such thoughtless copying, when they could have been educated instead. While being moulded into becoming part of it, these students have been failed by their world of systemic social injustice. Being a silly hopeful idealistic person, I hope that it’s never too late for anyone to learn; that human potential is infinite, including the potential for humanity; that while there’s life there’s hope for academic kindness. And I sorrow for such students, still so young yet stripped of their ability to imagine and sympathise, of sense and sensibility; humanity removed; rendered inhuman.
Our IT colleagues’ praises should be sung to the highest heavens. Their patience has been heroic. But there is a limit to what they can do for us. As in any learning: no-one can do it for you, all they can do is open the door for you and welcome you inside, show you the way, and offer guidance and support. No-one can do the reading and research for you, the thinking, the critical work. Decisions, judgement, design, and active practice. Things going wrong while you use them, because that’s how humans work and learn: you still need to do all of that yourself. And, yes, to someone looking for the polished and glossy, for that glib superficial kind of “professionalism,” we faculty have been an epic failure. Our onlinised courses were clunky and things went wrong. (They did with students too.) But there’s a world of difference between a course turned into an online approximation over a weekend, and a course created over at least a week as an online course. I hope that we will continue to be unprofessional failures: that we do something different with our next courses, something that’s not the shiny over-produced slickness of for-profit Big Players in the online education world. That, insofar as we’re looking at any models, we’re looking at MIT and the Open University. That, unlike our neighbours, we remember that we’re a public research university in a democracy with rights and civil society.
May we never forget that we’re radical professionals.
YES (and colleagues may well disagree) the first courses to return to physical space should be lab- and fieldwork-based sciences: from anthropology to chemistry, from engineering to zoology. In the meantime, work on how to create virtual analogues for labs—submersive and immersive VR—should be a priority for instructional technology investment. And for us humanists: creating true online analogues for a browsable library complete with browsing ambulant serendipity. Above and beyond the simple capacity to download texts, or to request a PDF of a specific searched inter-library loan work.
NO to a suing movement that started, of course like any such thing would, in the USA: part of fundamentally right-wing populism. That fundament is fundamentalist: directly and consciously or unwittingly or witlessly indirectly supporting evangelical pseudo-Protestant pseudo-Christian fundamentalism. What makes this movement so worrying is its associations in a larger movement that welcomes the right-wing and the neofascist, the neoliberal and libertarian, the conservative, covidiots and the idiocratic, and anti-intellectual attacks on actual free thought and education. Focussed on the university humanities.
Sometimes this sort of thing is with collusion, at least through passive laissez-faire, from educational institutions as it is in their interests to encourage divisions between students and faculty.
Division erases the identity of the university as a collegial community uniting students and faculty as fellow knowledge-makers and intellectual workers: vs “The University™” that is a different body corporate and a different kind of corporate body. It is a commercial corporation that is its CEO, Board, management, and authorised external communications spokesmen.
Division reinforces existing power structures and institutional inequity and injustice through (the artifice of) competition for resources: here, for attention from superiors. Paternalism, patronising, patronage, patriarchy. These are artifices imposed by a managerial class—invasive, imperialist, neoliberal, neocolonialist—to suppress the essentially anarcho-syndicalist nature of the institution, its roots in mutual aid, its radical communitarianism as a knowledge-cooperative.
Division distracts from the erasure and rewriting of the university as a commodified for-profit commercial seller of products and services. With students as customers who buy education; or, as with so much in modern capitalism, rent it through loans that will create debt-servitude and thus strengthen social structures. And use it, and if feeling community-spirited contribute review their purchase. If feeling benevolent, they will give thanks and show appreciation through charitable donations (with tax-breaks, yes those same taxes that fund public education).
Welcome to post-neoliberal high capitalist neofeudalist hyperreality. The client is king. And he’s the only one with rights here, consumer rights: it would be unthinkable to make any comparison—sentience, subjectivity, agency, fellow intelligent life, shared humanity, value and values, rights—with machine-cogs and tools like faculty who teach.
Sometimes the suing phenomenon is astroturfing posing as grassroots activism. By noble valiant virtuous underdogs. With a heartfelt message in a marketing story to stir sympathy—what else are stories and what else are they for? when history and literature are perillous and therefore should be imperilled and erased?—and an ad campaign featuring as faces and figure-heads genuine individual people, ideally innocents, willing but innocent victims, set up to be savaged by critics, in turn to be savaged as heartless and inhuman.
Education is dangerous. The most dangerous education? The humanities. Prove them inhuman, show their hypocrisy on human values: The Inhumanities win. Yes, this is a game; yes, it will be presented in attractive belligerent manly terms: struggle, conflict, defence, war. Your regular reminder that there are no winners in wars, and never have been. Only comparatively greater or lesser losses. Only victims and survivors. If any legal action starts or intensifies, look as ever to the money. Follow the financial trail. Funding for strategic campaigns and for professional—communications, marketing, legal—support.
Online learning has borne witness to the specialist usage / abusage of certain words and ideas. Yes, this looked like it would be a post about politics, and it turns out to be just another perambulating meander about philology. Some words to consider whose roots go deeper, longer, older, and broader than any CorpseSpeak:
These words have been erroneously associated with being in a physical classroom in physical person, with labs and on the ground and, especially, with business/industry. Why and from where? The error’s models are from commerce, frat culture, jock culture, and contact sports. Its sole, exclusive, and blinkered perception of sociability and networking is based on hierarchy, old boy networks, vertical linear simple power structures, patronage systems, and golf. (Don’t let me digress on why golf is evil.) And networks perceived as pyramid selling, network marketing, gig economy, and disruptive entrepreneurialism. It’s a view of the world stereotypically associated with kyriarchy, most obviously with privileged white men and aspiration to be them. Or at least to seem like them, in an arriviste nouveau-riche celebrity way: conspicuous consumption, arrogant attitude, aristocratic disdain mimicked in petit-burlesque middle-class bullying and harassment. Part and parcel of capitalism as religious cult as culture, and its acceptance of a status quo—in a cycle of abuse—through hope, exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum: be that in your own lifetime or in “creating” inheritance and a dynasty.
Red flags: the use of any of the above list along with the following equally ambiguous and Corporatese-appropriated terms:
Access and accessibility
used when “accountancy” is meant
associated with “use” and “relevance,” being two further words misused abused by those of limited knowledge, imagination, and vision
Compliance and transparency:
in lieu of conversation, consultation, and consent amongt peers in mutual respect, a respect that was earned not expected on grounds of hierarchical position and power; coercion and a “confidence” of faith in lieu of voluntary cooperative interactions based in trust; see also “accountability” above
Effective and efficient
used in the liberal and neoliberal sense, the Enlightenment capitalist religion whose main tenets are blind belief in equal opportunity for all, all born equal, upwards mobility, and trickle-down economics; a mythified equality blind to realities of inequity
used as a quantified negative: inferior, not enough, sub-par
contrasting “in real life” with the virtual, which is not necessarily any less real, and may be and may long have been more real or “the” real for many: dismissing or negating the lively interactions of disabled people is insulting; relative reality is a question of access, diversity, and respect
used when “blame” and “fault” are meant; showing how far and deep the religious P in “WASP” goes in North America; continuing our arboreal metaphor, an invasive opportunistic self-clinging climber as its adventitious rootlets eventually destroy a supportive host, and its spreading darker cover damage a tree by blocking light to it
used to mean anything but long-term environmental sustainability, the wise humility of taking care as a short-term caretaker, and sustaining fellow humans as part of that ecosystem
used in association with money, rather than values
used in implied reference to a quarterly shareholder report and to financial profit; not to be confused with ideas and ideals, hopes and dreams, wishes, fantasies, hauntings, and any other communion with other worlds, strictly or broadly “supernatural” or “metaphysical,” beyond a limited narrow perception of the here and now
… and adjectives like aggressive, strong, dominant; and Top Ten lists
All that the humanities are, and always have been, is that list of words above; those words in their non-abusive true deep old senses, because the humanities are and ever were all about …
learning, thinking, thinking about learning, learning to think, learning about learning, and thinking about thinking
Being curious, critical, and creative
including conferring more accessibly and equitably
rhizomal, underground, subversive, invisible (to others / authoritative insiders, inc. online and otherwise outside gatekept authoritatively-controlled social structures), unseen / imperceptible action and interaction, communitarian cooperative community-building and community, in solidarity and mutual aid. Continuing our vegetative metaphor, this is not the false network of imported invasive parasites like colonial ivy, but the common mycorrhizal network that holds together the Wood Wide Web.
Knowledge, and knowledge-centred learning
Humanities education, including in universities, is an essential service. In the words of our provincial government definition of an essential service:
Resist imported suing cultures.
Resist being used as an imperialist pawn.
Resist by moving from The Inhumanities to an education in the humanities.
Angry? Frustrated? Upset? Feeling ill-used? Sensing injustice? Seeking vengeance?
Don’t be led by false prophets into seeking scapegoats to blame, and hunting down and ripping apart easy smaller prey.
Don’t be a tool of the kyriarchy. An acolyte of Establishment and Ascendancy. Don’t be a pseudo-Protestant.
Be a Dissenter. Question all leaders. Seek answers. If you still have a lust for revenget and you are struggling to relinquish the idea of blame: meet The [Northern Irish] Blame Game.
Complain, question, organise, resist.
Join others in activism.
Let’s be allies.
This is a matter of feminist, environmentalist, inclusive, accessible social justice.
This May Day: students and faculty, unite. You have nothing but your chains* to lose and a world to gain.
(*) not even your own chains, but someone else’s cunningly disguised and sold to you, subcontracting the middle-management of other people’s (ex. faculty) chains in a multi-level marketing scheme
MORE? SUGGESTED READING …
- NOTES TOWARDS A UTOPIA
- Radical professionalism for #AcademicTwitter #MayDay
- 31 August is Ken Campbell Day: diddling and doodling, seekers, and radical education as seeking learning outcomes
- A gratuitous rant against the hypocritical obscenity of the paedophagocene
- University undergraduate liberal arts education is #AntiFascistSFF
- a very short fable about medievalism, #medievaltwitter, and teaching
- on the liberal arts
- #Innovation – #MakePhilologyGreatAgain
- Contrapuntal commentary
- Commentary, Part Deux: What Would Ursula K. Le Guin Do?