Some Axioms on Long March Through the Academy

  •  It is an empirical fact that left theory after 1968 largely left the factories as an organizing model and even the community organizing model and then went into Academia. Even if the overall left-wing skew of academia is overstated, which it is, one can look at where the prominent surviving members of Weather Underground and BPP work now to see this.
  • It is also an empirical fact that post-war boom in academia, in both skills training and scientific investment against the cold war, made these institutions flush with money. Since they were seen as largely traditional institutions, rent-seeking trends among administration was not predominant at first as they are now, and these institutions could count on state largess and tolerance of highly dissenting opinions in fields that were cheap to maintain (i.e., fields and posts didn’t require must research cost outside of the investment in professors’ salaries, which were marginal compared to research labs expenses, but also didn’t bring in a lot of outside investment).
  • It is also an empirical fact that in the 1990s, the pressure to increase college enrollments and make campuses more competitive increased rent-seeking among non-faculty portions of the university. One sees this in the explosion of administration and building projects in US and UK universities for this point.
  • This has meant, however, there is more pressure to cut those fields that are not professional-training grounds and not fund empirical research in fields.
  • One of the things that I don’t hear leftists talk about that much is that one of the reasons left theory is so popular in academia–beyond the fact that it is a good place for cranks to hide and get a measure of legitimacy– it doesn’t cost much to produce theory. It’s easy to a get TA or post-doc to think. Fieldwork and empirical data require capital. The reason there is more theory divorced from empirical reality in left-wing circles is not just bad faith academics, but also that there is little funding incentive for empirical research in these fields outside of education, medicine,  and other functions that are DIRECTLY tied to the state.
  • If you are a Ph.D. in some form of left theory that is driven primarily by the humanities or media studies, please forgive me for treating you with suspicion. I think getting credentials in phrenology was also suspect. The incentives aren’t there in contemporary academia for you do high-grade empirical research and the research program has largely degenerated in Lakato’s sense of the research program thas no longer has theoretical or empirical consensus.
  • Capitalists often do much better work on organizational intelligence than even pure academics do because it matters to them for survival. In areas like this, the left would do well to ACTUALLY READ the unsexy literature even if pair it with and inform their theory. So often much managerial work on organizing is miles ahead of left academic political work on the same.
  • This is not to say those studies are not mired in ideology or even self-consistent; however, if one is a critical reader one can find better empirical data from such work that is used in most left theory as well as better use of the raw data from psychological studies.
  • What capitalists (business analysts) don’t do well is historical analysis because there is not a good immediate profit incentive in understanding long-term trends and origins. There is no time preference incentive to do so.
  • This means that for the left theorists to work on NOT maintaining an institutional disadvantage for its organizing, they must rethink their relationship to academia and be far more willing to use empirical data from industry fields and pair that with its historical and economic analysis more skillfully. PhDs in academia, particularly in the humanities or softer social sciences, have little incentive to do this because of the current systemic limitations in funding as well as the way papers must be produced fairly quickly to maintain one’s career, and one can’t blame them for it.
  • It is time to end the long march through the Academy.


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