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  on honest scholarship & such...

(and the manifest dangers of trust...in those who fail this basic standard)




To whom it may concern...


I’m quite willing to debate any important issue - at length -
(and I mean this)  that relates to the “Humanities” as presently prosecuted....


One proviso though - and I’m very serious about this - I've decided not to enter into any more correspondence - or conversations - on the purported “value” of specific theorists (as opposed to ideas) that I've basically written off (after extensive research),  except with people that can be bothered to read some of the genuinely important work in such areas...

So, for example...if you wanna defend Marx & Foucault in my hearing, to cite only the most egregious examples, then I'll definitely expect you to have read Karl Wittfogel, and so on - or W.G. Runciman, at the very least...

Now, that's not actually very difficult (especially Runciman’s The Social Animal, which was written as a popular book, designed to interest potential students in the real meat of the social sciences - and cut through all the bullshit in doing so), and any potential reader'd also learn something damned valuable - about genuine scholarship in the human sciences - as well as much better ways to think about power, structures & economic activity, to cite only the most obvious examples...

Far too many times of late, correspondents have (unpleasantly) reminded me of just - exactly - why I bloody well walked out of academia:  which wasn't (really) the lack of proper employment...or, of decent money...or (even) the "corrupting the youth" bit (although we're getting much, much closer, here)...

No, what really made me gag (literally, in one case), was having to listen to high-priced academic experts spout hero-worshipping nonsense...when they couldn't even be bothered to read the genuine scholarship - let alone the empirical work - on the topic, if it didn't happen to’ve emerged from their particular pinheaded "tradition"...

To be sure, there is real meat in Marx & Foucault - just as there is in Plato, and plenty of others I basically dismiss...and, just possibly, even Hegel (a genuine "walking intellectual plague", if ever there was one - and if you think I’m unfairly bagging Marx here, you oughta try me out on that particular garbage-peddling Prussian apologist/shithead)...as well as Freud, Heidegger, Derrida - and plenty of others that I completely dismiss.

Lacan & Althusser, however - the French “Freud” & “Marx” - are another thing... Evidence is damned strong (Althusser even admitted in his - posthumous! - autobiography, that he never read much of Marx) that those swine were simple frauds as scholar/researchers, right from the word go...

In addition, Lacan spent most of his time feeling up his young female acolytes - whom he was supposed to be “training” - and the big A killed his wife, amongst other sordid acts. Now, remember, that’s two of the original big four of postmodernism marked down already, and - as we’re talking about an incestuously self-promoting intellectual clique here (a v.common pattern) - it really doesn’t say much for Derrida & Foucault that they’d associate with (and strongly promote) such  out&out scum.

Anyway...well on the other side of the big divide, we’ve got several intermediate cases - prime examples’d clearly be Chomsky in linguistics (see Harris’s The Linguistics Wars for the evidence, not to mention his activist promotion of the Khmer Rouge...for which he has - to this day - failed to apologise), or - "best" of all -  the great Descartes, the real founder of the current (a priori) French tradition of so-called “philososophy”....

In physics - and psychology, as well - Descartes was a complete disaster...in philosophy, he was a curate's egg (see Toulmin's Cosmopolis for the most accurate  account...and, also, the best intellectual history of modernity/postmodernity - but; completely ignored by the pomo crowd), still...in some areas (maths especially), Descartes' influence has been crucial, and mostly to the good... However, see also Reuben Hersh for a much more jaundiced - and very well-informed - critique, as part of his radically humanist history/philosophy of mathematics, that I've mostly bought...but, only after reading about a dozen accessible mathematicians in depth over the last ten years....

Notice that I said "mostly" here - and I'm deeply impressed w/Hersh - because the genuine problem, at root, w/the humanities (and the human “sciences” in general) isn't really the decayed & unneccesarily jargon-ridden prose style, or - even - the stupidly narrow obsessions w/methodology - because...to be honest; those're all over the work of many scientists, even though they're much more usefully employed...

No, the real problem is much, much simpler -  and even more basic than that.

It's that they're badly stuck in the same stage that the physical sciences almost were, way back in the seventeenth century - you remember, the one when the Brits chopped off their damned King's head, and invented communism... 

- Oh no...so sorry! - Marx invented communism, didn't he - even if all he actually said about it was that everyone'd get a free lunch...f’chrissakes, at least the diggers tried to put it into practice, and didn't advocate "necessary" suffering - read bloodbaths - whilst sitting pretty (if smelly & boil-ridden) in the Reading Room of the British Museum,  to get there...

They were only harmless little guys that just wanted something to put in their mouths, and were prepared to work for it...without taking anything from anyone else - and it ill-befits any “leftist” worth his salt to ignore them (although almost all do) in favour of a vicious proven intellectual fraud (in major areas, and note...I didn't say all), who treated his family and friends like shit - in just about every imaginable way.

As far as I'm concerned, anyone who presumes to lecture us on ethics (and let's face it, the case for communism is ethical, or it's nothing), needs to be judged on their personal behaviour - BEFORE we tackle their ideas in depth - and on that score, to all of his (serious) intellectual followers today, Marx doesn't even get off the bus...

Whereas...I’d make great efforts to meet the diggers anyday...

Now, back to the analogy - because it's extremely illuminating.... Physics in the seventeenth century (actually, we're talking seventeenth into eighteenth, but that's the shorthand people mostly use) was partially stuck in hero-worshipping mode, divided into armed camps that mocked each others ideas w/scant regard for the evidence, once the “war” got out of hand, and appeared to stall for several decades until the key players were all safely dead, and the work of experimentalists - who tended to stay out of the fray - had finally tipped the scales on all the important issues...

[Sadly...the only "experimentalists" in the humanities are our artists - whose works are far too easily misinterpreted - and, anyway, it's been decades since their own ideas were taken "seriously" by our "esteemed" gatekeepers.]

The main culprits were Descartes & Newton (w/Leibniz in a minor key, especially in the late stages), all of whom had huge egos & fancied themselves - on top of their genuine discoveries - as universal bloody geniuses...who could reinvent the world of learning whole cloth (except for disciples). Sound  familiar?

It damn well should...

The biggest joke is that Newton had a real genius for mock humility - in print only, apparently (in person, by all accounts, he was a glacially aloof and immensely arrogant pig), and so is best remembered today - on general intellectual matters - for quotes like the “standing on the shoulders of giants” bit, even though his entire approach when it came to the (crucial) social structure of science definitely belied this...

Anyway, both Newton and Descartes found it extremely difficult to admit to influences (and...this is definitely the key to the syndrome) and, when you look at what they did say along those lines - on specific issues - you'll invariably find that they deliberately distorted what they'd picked up, so as to minimize any really important contributions by their genuine predecessors...

Think about it, now -  what (exactly) does this say about intellectual work?

It says is that the thing to do is win at all costs, bugger the truth (except where convenient - because your apologist's'll excuse the rest - don't you worry about that) and exalt the rare universal genius/marketer (ie: ME)...instead of the patient collaborative processes that (actually) tend to deliver the real goods, over time...

And,  just remember this: every time (without exception) that anyone unreservedly praises one of these self-promoting turds by name, they’re actually supporting exactly this stance, partly, I suppose, because they've too easily bought the lines peddled by their apologist/shills...and partly because they’ve been too lazy to seriously ask themselves whether there's any genuine truth in them...  I (reluctantly) draw the veil, here, on much uglier reasons, as I think the “polite” version is already sufficiently distasteful for any reader w/real standards on such matters...

ENOUGH! - I've heard all of that shit repeatedly...both in my "official" career as a scholar, and in my subsequent & much more serious vocation since, as a talent scout for a reformed humanities...I've certainly read much more serious explicitly Marxist stuff than most - and almost certainly many times more cutting-edge work in the general tradition - and the same'd go for stuff explicitly influenced by Foucault, although I've never managed to make it through a whole book by either of the swine....

Mostly out of sheer damn annoyance - but also because I prefer to let others w/more tolerance for ego displays and rampant intellectual dishonesty do most of my mining for me....

To put the Foucault thing bluntly, for example...as it hasn’t conveniently been put together at book length (yet) - partly because virtually no-one reads contemporary classical studies -  is that, in his early career, he read very, very widely in careful (mostly very) obscure scholarship that no-one much on the European left even knew of (such as the dissident social sciences critique work following on from w/the Cybernetics Group of the 1940s: see Gregory Bateson, Margaret Mead, and Norman Weiner as the best-known members - but, it’s not them I’m talking about), as well as better-known but unfashionable stuff....

Hell, even Wittfogel was a (left) hate-figure by this stage - so almost none of French left would’ve actually ploughed through Oriental Despotism - A Comparative Study of Total Power...

And, then...he repackaged that stuff, in tendentious syntheses that flattered left sensibilities, by blaming all evils on Western traditions - never honestly admitting his full debts - for the new French structuralist left.  Fine  (or - unless I’m being v.charitable,  just borderline...but really, in actual terms...irrelevant - since no-one but Foucault scholars reads that shit today),  although fundamentally dishonest....

In mid-career - which is his best-known work - he went much more readable, recycled a lot of his earlier stuff, but in even more tendentious forms (ie.: he dropped most of the care in at least suggesting that counter-arguments were being honestly assessed - which made it even more devastating to the naive), and started mining laboriously detailed institutional histories produced by old-fashioned - but very dull - scholars of things like asylums and prisons.

This time, because he was even less honest about his sources - and historians (as opposed to critique-mongers) keep track of such things -  varied complaints from specialists started to pile up. But, let’s face it - how many histories of penology or asylums have YOU read? - the sources were still v.obscure to most and, given that the Foucault industry was in full swing by this point...no-one paid that much attention...

The really disgraceful stuff (on a scholarly level - since that’s what we’re talkin’ here) doesn’t start until the final stage. Scuttlebutt it may be, but word is definitely out that, by the the mid-70s...at least, the “sainted” one was spending all of his spare time hanging around the ugliest gay S&M dives he could find - reason his career was so slow to take off in the US is that he wasn’t too interested in spending any time in New England, rather than NY, LA & SF...

Anyway, the nadir was “achieved” w/the “histories” of sexuality. People who develop monomanias - especially when their standards were never too high to begin with...and slipping - tend to lose focus on anything else.... like evidence, for example.

Because so few read the contemporary scholarship on the classics, it wasn’t until the publication of Courtesans & Fishcakes - a freak minor bestseller by a classicist in the 90s - that many in the broader Humanities became aware just how deeply wrongheaded he was on the ancient Greeks...

Hell...you can repeatedly cruise the Bryn Mawr Review (the best contemporary online classics scholarship source), and you won’t find ONE avowed Foucauldian, or I haven’t, anyway, and I’ve cherry-picked that (great) resource for years (on the other hand, there are still plenty trying to deconstruct the classics), because...he blotted his copybook so badly w/them - by egregious errors, dumb arrogance, and just plain ignorance (since this was obviously new territory), that no-one in the field has ever really taken him seriously since.

Maybe the odd idea, sure...but that’s it....

And this is someone that the contemporary “Humanities” is STILL insisting that I need to read? I could give you a similar line on Marx (final stage is much less disgraceful - in both senses - but the earliest stage is much, much worse - after all, Hegel was no humanist by any sensible definition), and Freud’s case'd be parallel, albeit w/variations - I even own the comprehensive demolition jobs on that particular fraud, if you’d soil your hands by actually bothering to read the same...

Funnily enough, there’s a very easy way to spot these turds - you only need to read very widely, and use one extremely simple rule....  My criterion of judgement - simple as it is - is to concentrate on work that gets praised by several serious scholars that I respect (people who do groundbreaking original research & then fit the results into things generally, via wide & careful mining of theory) - preferably from more than one intellectual tradition, and even more preferably from widely scattered disciplines.

Basically, it's just triangulation (you know, what surveyer’s do) - which is why I certainly claim no great personal innovation. And also, note the key shorthand terms that I tend to use - "serious" "scholars" "respect" "honest" "lower intellectual profiles" - all ways of saying that genuine understanding of the great collaborative work (over deep time) that’s the real guts of the intellectual community ends up delivering the goods...even if the resulting theories are usually much less neat packages.

...and (please),  just tell me when the real world was ever neat, eh?

Whereas - in direct contrast - all of the so-called "major" intellectual traditions in the humanities & human sciences, that’re really strongly marked by marketing genius (and I'll give them that much, at least), as far as I'm able to see (and I've given them a damn close investigation - closer than they deserve), have turned out to be albatrosses around the neck of the academic community in particular - which invariably ends up bloated by careerist hacks that do no useful work at all...and serve mostly to stifle anything new that comes along.

When things get too bad - see the original Greek academies under Roman rule, or the  European universities under late scholasticism (and well beyond - they were totally moribund for hundreds of years) for the worst examples - real learning & innovation simply takes itself elsewhere, when the vocation is strong enough - and mine definitely is,  let me tell you...

So, if you want to defend Foucault by dismissing his followers - and without knowing anything of the real alternatives - well, you can surely get my drift by now. It's just a hangover from shoddy intellectual training - I blame myself (amongst others) here, as dissaffected postgrads have “taught” you most of what you "know",  given the current academic climate...

It's also - exactly - the type of thinking that keeps such lousy "traditions" going - and is always seen throughout history...A tradition can best be judged by its followers - the "genius" of the founder(s) is bloody well irrelevant to what's going on now - unless you subscribe to the (particularly) dumb myth of an eternal fall...from some mythical golden age - and I don't/life in the trees was frequently pretty nasty, and dental work nonexistent...

So...next time that you find yourself thinking along such lines - however distantly - just remind yourself that all you're (really) doing, is setting yourself up for the "intellectual" version of an old con trick... You know the one:

"ANCIENT knowledge, believed lost, can now be YOURS!"

Because...that's all these calls for new re-readings of the "greats" actually are - unless very carefully delimited by genuinely new data, from the full variety of relevant approaches.

Now, try thinking over this one, if you've just - naively - assumed that the great dishonest die easily. Despite very strong counter-arguments (and I’d say devastating, except that we’ve only got the barest fragments)  at the time (and I certainly can’t better them on the basics), plus the massive successes over recent centuries of the physical sciences and technology, it's probably only in the last 50 years or so that there've really ceased to be new (serious) philosophers who’ve considered themselves Platonists - and then, very rapidly, all of that postmodernist shit arrived, to provide yet another safe haven, for those that still wanna make light of consensual reality via “Theory”....

Now, that's well over two millennia...And, you could definitely make a much stronger case for re-reading Plato than Marx & Foucault put together - although I'd've (personally) denied that only a few short years ago...

As Eric Havelock carefully proved, in the year I was born, and about a thinker he in very many ways deeply despised (think about it - YES? - would Marx, or Foucault, or any other “theorist” whom you’ve been trained to revere...have been fundamentally honest enough to’ve done this? And Havelock was twice the original thinker - at least - that those two particular turds were, put together...and his best book’s still out of print, by the way)...Plato was much more of an innovator than even most of his disciples claimed.

He didn't invent the idealism which they all loved him for - that was from the Pythagoreans & others, as Plato admitted, since he was carefully selective about whose views he distorted  -  just the realists/democrats, basically...

No, Plato's actual genius (and I don’t actually think the term is meaningless - try looking up it’s origins sometime) was as a prose stylist, whose coinages furnished the new philosophies (and they soon multiplied - which he would’ve hated) with a hell of a lot of key terms that we all now take for granted - which is why his interpretations lived, even as those of his original opponents died, or went underground...

They, unfortunately, tended to concentrate on teaching - for money - and orally, to boot...and used their relatively brief writings as teaching aids (and, please note: I’m doing neither, whilst my opponents’re doing both).

In contrast, Plato lived the live of a leisured gentleman, mainly taught only those he wanted to...when he wanted to try things out;  and concentrated on honing his terminology/prose style to demolish rhetoric (which he named - purely to damn) and the nascent sciences, with a (then) uniquely smooth style which was a pleasure to read & that presented itself as the light of pure reason - as it was well above all that vulgar hustling shit...

If you don’t think that he won - overwhelmingly - then remember, it took about two millennia for the sciences to get (roughly) back on track, and - even more damningly - essentialism/idealism (in the philosophical sense) is still the commonest intellectual error (as it definitely wasn’t at the time he wrote)...and rhetoric, which is just an older term for “argumentation”, is still an insult to anyone that hasn’t studied it.

Also note that we’ve (eventually) learned - very carefully - exactly what he got up to & why it worked. As intellectual culture finally becomes more demotic, we're ripe - overripe, in fact - for a counter-revolution that'll revisit Plato properly & reverse what basically went wrong when the literate Western intellectual tradition got fully into gear after Plato - and yes, Heidegger/Derrida were right (if only here); there is a genuine problem... 

It's not actually that difficult to correct, as the real war will actually be over prose style/terminology - as the alternative traditions're already in place & over-ready for integration into an unbeatable pattern.

That's the one where high culture is - finally - set aside as not central to understanding culture...where pragmatism/pluralism (not the parody, but the real thing) replaces idealism/monism as the underlying framework for philosophy, where the sciences & the humanities stop making war on each other (at least in general - there are no utopias here), and where pluralist democracy is freely admitted to be the best we can manage, and serious intellectuals mostly stop pining for impossible social orders & start seriously upon the task of trying to fix the damned thing...and concentrate their energies on arguing about which versions’re best...

If you think that's insanely ambitious, then you're wrong, bluntly...as I've learned (from bitter experience) that only plans road-tested when seriously depressed are genuinely reliable, and this one was actually hammered together in that state - and mostly against my will (because I knew that it’d be a hell of a job keeping all of those balls in the air).

Anyway, to return to Plato proper, just to make a point I noted in passing, now...when I said strong counter-arguments, I wasn't joking. To my mind, still, the great Greek intellectual contribution wasn't that of Plato, or even Aristotle - it was from people like Democritus - the original atomic theorist & the (last) major figure in the biologically naturalistic anthropological theory that died a - very - quiet death after Plato and, also, a natural democratic pluralist...who moved to Athens (even though he couldn't be a citizen there) so's he could live in the greatest democracy of the age...

Sadly, he also believed in simple, reasonable arguments - and didn't bother getting stuck into his opponents - so his work survives only in fragments. And I've learned the lesson from that, too...

What you do - when you can do no other - is hone your approach in isolation, get all the key ingredients - and nearly all the secondary ones - ready to roll, nail your "discourse" style, and - perhaps most importantly - get your terminology exactly right, so that it appears the natural way of discussing such issues, so that your opponents seem (to outsiders) to be weirdly baroque &/or far too simplistic, given the actual diversity of issues involved.

That’s why “discourse” is OUT - like memes, sociobiology, texts, differance - you name it...  As far as I’m concerned, it’s crucial to play to the crowd in this demotic age, and - even if I didn’t dislike all but a few recent theoretical coinages - tactical considerations’d still rule ‘em out, as using “their” terms is giving comfort to the enemy, after all (unfortunately, we’re pretty much stuck w/most of Plato’s, as they’re now the common tongue of intellectuals of all stripes).

To give you a real sense of how important this is, I’m even going to strongly advocate dropping most of Mikhail Bakhtin’s individual terminology - and I rate his as the most crucial contribution to cultural theory of the last century. After all, as Plato proved - and Darwin too, in the reverse direction - the important thing is to win the ideas game, because the terms then mean what you want...and so, then, exactly why do we need Bakhtin’s “chronotope”, when we might be able to redefine "genre" to mean exactly that?

A nice thought just occurred to me - can conventional genre approaches straightforwardly explain why it’s so easy to parody any genre, simply by shifting the language register far enough...but keeping the action model roughly similar? Answer is NO, bluntly...as, if everything is within language in the first place, then that particular division just doesn’t really operate. With Bakhtin, it’s dead easy. As the guts of “chronotopes” are complex modes of action in space/time in the first place, all you have to do is move the language (or the action) far enough away from anything sensible (however defined) and, there you go - instant parody!

I’m damned if I can see why this (bloody simple) approach hasn’t yet subsumed the rest of genre theory - guess it must be too "obvious" & non-textual for yer genuinely "scholarly" types....

Back to the chase.... Darwin was much smarter than Bakhtin on the terminology front - he invariably used simple common-language composites like “natural selection”, and even adopted phrases like “survival of the fittest” (Spencer) when everyone else did - even though he markedly disliked most of them (he’d worked hard on his terminology, after all) - and then re-wrote his greatest work repeatedly, for new & “improved” editions, albeit all current scholar/biologists prefer the original...

However, this (eventually) meant that everyone who actually went to same - back then - ended up interpreting other people’s phrases/terms in his fashion - whilst the (actually Spencerian) “Social Darwinists” gradually dwindled to a crank fringe, since they were so obviously out of tune with Darwin himself.

Now, those are unbeatable tactics in support of the right argument, but can only be used by someone w/some real modesty in his makeup - and I just (then) wondered if Darwin studied Plato on tactics (a century before Havelock), since he, rather than the theologians, was really Darwin’s great opponent on the most basic level...

And...if you think that there’ll be massive resistance by the current humanities academia to a massively researched proposal to dump postmodernism, in favour of a firmly based & carefully selected theoretical pluralism - then, think again...

The state of play today - but one that’s hardly visible to the undergrads - is that hardly anyone really believes most of that shit - and they certainly can't defend it convincingly when pushed, as I know full well from experience - but they’re still riding it in lieu of anything else available....

Sad, but true...careerism will generate that kind of fundamental dishonesty.

In addition, their by-now long-term stress on "Theory" has made going back to serious scholarship, deeply informed by commonsense intuitions that’ve been properly thought through (the best of the old package) deeply unattractive - which is also fair enough, I suppose...(hell...I must be getting tolerant in my old age).

And careerism has also meant that there was simply no time to investigate all of the areas needed to replace an overarching model like postmodernism (however defined). Result is, there's a bunch of separate cabals all over, who've nailed critiques in one area - and very little attempt to try & ask what a positive theoretical program might mean overall...

Another aside, here...on my favourite current question for postmodernists: “...so, you’ve influenced a bunch of undergrads - who have to satisfy YOU to do well, so that’s no fair - and (as well) you’ve got another bunch - the badly disgruntled postgrads trapped in serf-like conditions - but (please) just ask them off the record & you’ll get a shock - but otherwise, tell me... just who else believes in your shit?

Now...let me pick a nice example - if you can find me ONE postmodernist mechanic, just one, then I’ll eat everything I’ve said here today.... And don’t try to weasel out of it by claiming mechanics can’t have serious intellectual interests - because that’s elitist nonsense of the sort you’re always claiming to be subverting...

Good mechanics - after all - are master practitioners...and their “practices” damn well work - so, why NO converts?

Well...I’ll tell you why, since you so evidently can’t...it’s because they have to deal, on a daily basis, with complex, real-world physical systems - and the sheer recalcitrance of these makes a mockery of your systemic nominalism/radical skepticism, to such a degree, that they couldn’t even begin to entertain your ideas seriously for one minute & still function effectively.

Now...forget what that "says" about them - they’re fine - and think about YOU.... just what does this have to say about your precious theories, eh?”

Allright - enough w/the aside...I think I’ve rubbed enough salt into that wound - I’ve established that times’re over-ripe...but, then...why ME?  Well, I’ve thought this through in (at least) a dozen ways - and, like Darwin, I think I can well deny overweening arrogance...and, as you’ve seen, I think there’s a damn good case to be made for that particular problem crippling a lot of potentially great synthesists - and all I can (really) say is this...

After all, if I started out on this project full-tilt (as opposed to reading lots of science/history etc... (well after getting Bakhtin in place as my key cultural & language theorist) only in 1994, and didn't feel I was ready to start producing seriously 'till 2003, and I read faster than almost anyone else (fact)...plus, I devoted most of my time to same - no job, remember, means no responsibilities - then, given the additional fact that so much of the crucial work only came out in the last ten years, I just don't think anyone w/real responsibilities (ie.: academics) could've managed a fraction of same....

Remember, you've gotta know the fields concerned, not just "miraculously" light upon the best book, and said fields're too dynamic for histories (or even survey articles) to help that much. Add in the (crucial) importance of group musical "practice" as guide to thinking about complex open human systems, and I think you can get the picture...

Still, I'd've considered floating the result as a thesis - but (sadly) supervision'd be a joke - however, I'd also have had to play “their” rhetorical game, not mine... And I've - definitely - got much better rhetoric...

And real theoretical pluralism - not some "scientific" takeover bid - should prove a very attractive rallying call for those who genuinely want to build something useful....


John Henry Calvinist