Love and the DSM by Sophie Dodd

It’s all tumbling down
Because we have half an army
I’m facedown with the rest
And you don’t find this alarming

Bliss in your ignorance
Blisters my innocence
And my blood boils to leave this scarring

Altered behaviours and distorted messages
Attempted relays of my country’s deficits
To take care and empathise
Evaluate and recognise
The harm of which they started

The majority are broken hearted
The disenfranchised now departing
Leaving the rest of us in the darkness
So yes, it’s safe to say our hope is tarnished

The sympomology you’re currently following
Natural conclusions I can’t face swallowing
For the capital
It’s magical
Another fucking happy pill
The vacant trail to apathy-vile
Can you feel the brave new world ?

Diagnostic-myths, factor-analysed fairytales
Dreams leading us down, underground
Into the dungeon
The curse of a slave is the spell that you’re under
Did you ever come to wonder how this life seems so hard?
Whilst you’re pouring money down the local bars
Wishing for fast cars and film stars
Canapés and caviar farce

I wait until the day you’re asking how we’ve got this far
When you too are bombarded
Just another to discover how the truth seems disregarded
When you are aware of how awareness has developed the darkest scarceness
Then we can forget the problem for the moment cos the cure is ours – it’s
The future in that this feeling is mutual
When the reason for being becomes crucial
Awake to the vision that this life is beautiful.

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Neo-Barbarian University [NBU] / Neo-Liberal University [NLU] # 1: The Problem

Roy Coleman

“As professors, we have duties which are not those of merchants” (Durkheim, Professional Ethics and Civic Morals)

Early sociological thinkers were not easy-going followers of capitalist modernity: rationalisation, economics, utilitarianism and mediated human communication. It was not a case of these thinkers turning back the clock on such developments but theirs was a concern to find a way to re-kindle emotional bonds and attachments related to compassion and love that modernity placed in danger. Durkheim argued that economics was the major concern in this respect. Free-market economics generated the social and psychic derangement of human life by encouraging excessive egoism, shredding the potential; for other, more compassionate, forms of social attachment. When such derangement becomes widespread the “individual ego” predominates over “the social ego” (Durkheim, Suicide). Durkheim called this anomie which requires “moderating forces” or a new morality to combat it (Professional Ethics and Civic Morals). These anomic conditions resonate with Veblen’s notion of rationalized barbarianism which he attacked in relation business practices that reflect and reinforce barbarian tendencies in human social relations. It is Veblen who signposts these corrosive tendencies as they came to dominate the universities in the early 20th C.

When in 1918 economic sociologist Thorstein Veblen spoke of the “barbarian university” he could have been describing the NLU. His incisive criticism of the university over a century ago invites us to move beyond the chronology of ‘neoliberalism’ [NL] as the culprit:

“The underlying business-like presumption [is] that learning is a merchantable commodity to be produced on a piece-rate plan, rated, bought and sold by standard units, measured, counted and reduced to staple equivalence by impersonal, mechanical rests” (The Higher Learning)

For Veblen, institutions like the university do – to varying degrees – display a continuation of barbarism by ‘civilized’ and economized means – creating competitive, egotistic and aggressive subjectivities and practices which any contemporary academic can recognise. With Durkheim, he agreed that such practices reinforce and appeal to aspects of human nature – for Durkheim, this was the more destructive side of “homo-duplex” The dominance of the barbarian temperament – it’s taken for grantedness – reinforces a perception among us that the “peaceable” and compassionate academic is a weak, “useless” and inflexible individual. What we today call neoliberal management-speak prefers a subjectivity of ‘competitiveness’, ‘toughness’, ‘flexibility’ and ‘resilience’ among its employees and students. As Veblen would have said, this makes wars of prestige between institutions and individuals the norm and the bedrock of ‘how to get on’. Durkheim was clear that these kinds of marketized relations encouraged feelings related to economic drives (fear, aggressiveness and pride) that underpinned unrealistic desires indicative of dogged self-interest. For all its talk of rationality, Durkheim and Veblen show us that, at root the market is emotional and demonstrative of emotional and physical violence. In fact, for Durkheim excessive freedom (to unleash one’s desires, cravings and wants which free markets purport to do) is in fact a form of coercion (you will accrue wealth, status and material goods). This is a problem of the modern psyche as well as the economic institution, where freedom knows no limits and constraint (morality) is unknown/banished or uncertain:

“Limits are unknown between the possible and the impossible, what is just and what is unjust, legitimate claims and hopes and those which are immoderate” (Durkheim, Suicide)

Like Veblen, he sees society in a “malaise” (Division of Labour) and this market-inspired malaise has institutional and psychic manifestations.

Critical scholars today discuss the possibilities and avenues to challenge the NLU. Following Veblen and Durkheim, the economization of rational-modern institutions (leading to demoralization) is not inevitable and can be resisted. For Durkheim, bringing about change is a moral challenge that can be neither forced nor imposed. The development of a morality is always emotionally based and for him an alternative morality must temper greed, envy, pride and the destructiveness resulting from economic competition. This is interesting in that he is immediately challenging rational collective agreement (or contract) as a source for change. Instead, he replaces this with a call for collective effervescent emotional resonances capable of crystalizing (or having a cognitive expression) that sustains momentum to social change. The question that arises from this is how can we cultivate what Veblen termed a peaceable morality that transforms, contains or does away with the barbarian tendencies in economic-egoism and rational self-interested grounds for action?

Durkheim and Veblen did not argue that individuals in these rational growth orientated institutions are simple dupes or victims of ‘the system’. Although these institutions are recognised as coercive there is more than a suggestion in their writing that the success of the NLU/NBU lies in combination with their cultural-emotional appeal. So, the ‘success’ of rationalized barbarism and its many forms throughout modern history, lies in what Durkheim and Veblen (and I would argue Gramsci) were clear about – practices of barbarian power are culturally (and emotionally) resonant. and their ‘successes’ reflect and remake habits and traditions that have a long history.

When Stuart Hall and colleagues inquired into the appeal of Thatcherism, they focused on the role of cultural processes and spaces in which the winning of consent for Thatcherite monetarization and its violence was partly determined. The emotional resonances of Thatcherism were key in the birthing of what we now call neoliberal capitalism. Thatchersim was a successful appeal to what Gramsci called “passional-egotistical” drives, Durkheim termed “extreme individualism” and Veblen “the pecuniary man” – have roots in the barbaric tendencies of human nature and it should be no surprise that many academics (however ambivalently) play a part in and lend consent (and their fear) to the institutional rationales that ideal-typically construct the entrepreneurial academic whose consciousness of themselves as a marketable product or a walking advertisement for their own economized worth become a notable and normal feature of the academy. This is evident in, for example, the ego-inflated “rock star academic” or wannabe variants.

These tendencies have refractions in social and individual behaviour that predate capitalism itself and, following Veblen and Durkheim, we need to be mindful of continuity and discontinuity in the history of institution-building and social change and not over-play cataclysmic breaks between historical moments – capitalism, socialism, feudalism etc. If we take these writers seriously (which most do not), then how does NLU/NBU acknowledge, extend and exploit aspects of human irrationality, emotion and other cultural habits and traditions (some of which are barbaric in Veblen’s sense)? How do intuitions obsess on performance and bond metrics and ranking to our emotion selves – whether through egoism or fear? How is the barbaric within us and how do we acknowledge it and change it without some simple notion of ‘overthrowing the structure/system’?

In what sense has the NLU/NBU resonated with and redeveloped forms of ‘the academic self’ and how do academics wittingly and unwittingly lend their support in performing this self in the process of ‘getting on’ in the contemporary university? How far are academics prepared to go in forsaking elements of the hierarchical game playing they are implicated in (career positioning and aspiration) and indicative of a barbaric structure. As Durkheim and Veblen warned, the ‘success’ of the NLU/NBU has been the almost complete eradication of compassion with the unleashing of an economized/barbaric self and the emotional dynamics of fear, joy, pride and self-destructiveness that accompany this. Without compassion we are not only reliant on mere rational agreement as the basis of our challenge (albeit one that is more just on paper, but not necessarily felt as such) but we are also disadvantaged when cultivating the moral feeling and language to arrive at a “limiting authority” placed on economic and ego growth. Paradoxically, to place limits on freedom is – under NL/NB conditions – to be less subject to coercion and the stressors of precarity. Limiting NL/NB freedoms is a restraint on capital as it is currently felt and will reduce self-harms associated with assessing ones economized worth and other contemporary barbaric tendencies.

The next blog will be shorter (!) and considers a radical Durkheimian response to the crisis of the universities which would begin with academics and students engaged in teach-ins, occupations and a renewal of political associations.

Emotion in War and Peace

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Roy Coleman and Madeleine Rungius

What is the role of emotion in war and peace? Many scholars on the topic focus on the rational causes of war and the role of rationality in moving towards peace. Thomas Scheff may be an exception to this when he argues that emotions such as shame can be implicated in causing war. Shame, can in certain circumstances, stimulate violence on the part of the shamed. Conversely, he argues that ‘respect’ between adversaries provide a pathway to peace (partly through uncoupling feelings of shame from violent urges). In particular, “exaggerated respect” can be deployed in moves to peace along with a negotiating process that should be led only by women. The associations Scheff makes – women, peace emotions on one side and men, war and reason on the other – are problematic and dangerous. Part of this binary has been to place women as the ‘over-emotional’ (meaning ‘too soft’, loving, empathetic) and men as ‘the rational’. This stance reflects a dualism in Western masculinist thinking in which emotions are pathologized and cognition is promoted. Despite 50 years of feminist scholarship on the fallacies and power-maintaining consequences of such a dualism remains intact.  Contributions like Scheff’s do not only enforce white Western masculinist thinking they also overshadow the experiences and knowledge of those outside of the hegemonic power structures. This forecloses a discussion around emotion as being implicated not only in the cause but are also part of the solution to war. We need to stop seeing emotion in the negative or in assigning its ‘positive’ attributes to one gender.

The rationalization of states, for example, has effectively hidden emotional underpinnings of state practice. Scholars, too, are often careful not to emphasize the cultural and emotional basis of their work. Modernist sociology mirrors the state to the extent that it is stuck with the idea that rational decision making is the (real) glue of social order. This idea is continuously reproduced and upheld in ‘real’ and ‘valuable’ research. Some research continues to challenge this and rightly so. We need to be critical of views that downgrade emotion or misrecognize its role and portray it as the villain for our social ills. Scheff has started to do this. However, despite his efforts to incorporate emotions related to warfare, he eventually reproduces the dualisms around knowledge production and gender that need to be overcome.

Scheff’s master concept ‘shame’ plays a central role in that aversion to shame is fundamental in modern societies: it is the threat of humiliation, the denting of pride that fuels vengeance and eventually war. It is “exaggerated respect” that Sheff highlights to achieve peace. Such ‘respect’ displayed by potential combatants should figure in peace talks no matter how unfelt”. This neatly captures a problem in that it is assumed that respect is not necessarily felt. It is, instead, a tactic for peace and, as such, firmly in the realms of diplomatic bluff and smoke.

‘Respect’ has all the hallmarks of state diplomacy and all the duplicity and feigned emotional niceties that go with it.

For us, ‘respect’ is not based on the emotional (which it either denies or hides) but is instead tied to interests, masculine posturing and rational thinking. If deployed tactically it will maintain the game of interests, hierarchies and the narcissism these promote. Thus, ‘respect’ bolsters the defence and recognition of power interests: it does not lead us to understand and feel someone else’s emotional lifeworld and/or suffering.

Furthermore, respect carries a temporality and rationalization of emotions that hides the actual emotions in play. This is potentially harmful when we think that respect is often discussed as something based on ‘respect of interests’. This falls squarely into the modernist dualism mentioned earlier and expresses the supposed superiority of cognition and rational decision making. ‘Respect’ has all the hallmarks of state diplomacy and all the duplicity and feigned emotional niceties that go with it. The emotional and sensual dynamics of state power – the narcissism that can reflect and reinforce national interests, for example, is not problematised in this posturing. It fails also to ask: What is being respected in such diplomatic game-plays? Which interests are worthy of respect? Trump respects Putin. Putin respects Trump. And, all at the same time, both these figureheads promote interests, tough national sensibilities and value systems that incite violence against non-heterosexual bodies, non-nationals and genders that don’t fit the binary.

We would claim a different approach that suggests that emotions are not only the cause of war but are also necessary in moving towards peaceful cooperation. Respect of interests needs to be put aside to really understand and identify with others and to be able to understand peace as a meaningful category and not something equated with stalemate. Interests and their domination in world politics has only led to fallacious rationalizations for intervention and non-intervention in wars, conflicts and disputes.

 

Strike Action! Unmasking the University Leisure Class

ucu 1

As we have noted here before, the barbarian temperament in management culture represents a major impediment to a critical free-thinking and compassionate teaching and learning environment in Higher Education (HE). Challenging this temperament is happening thanks to the current University and Colleges Union strike over pensions and the wider commodification of teaching, researching and learning. There is hope in this current struggle that we can expose the deceptions of a degraded management culture who dictate a university experience wedded to the imperatives of commerce, metrification and ranking. As this post indicates, these imperatives are the hallmarks of barbarian rule with its intensified levels of corruption and deception in the university sector.

For Thorstein Veblen – the sociologist who most clearly grasps the barbarian temperament – barbarians are not ‘dumb’ or ‘less civilized’. Vice Chancellors (VCs) are a potent contemporary example of the barbarian temperament and constitute a “leisure class” – a wasteful and unproductive kernel of barbarian rule residing in the increasingly globally mobile corporate university board room. To use Veblen’s language such “primitive communities” are barbarian to the extent that they are “sticklers for form, precedent, gradations of rank, ritual, ceremonial vestments and learned paraphernalia generally”. While academics are tutored and enticed into these primitive ways (care of the ‘career’, ‘impact’ and ‘influence’), VC’s have attempted to rule through a dispossessing politics that is impressed upon students and staff alike.

For Veblen, the leisure class displays its power through waste and excess to distinguish itself and its power base from those it dispossesses. In the university sector this translates into VCs and their minions utilising public funds to promote their supposed indispensability. Reflecting the entrepreneurial spirit of ‘go-getting’ competitiveness the university leisure class has awarded itself a freedom to roam in first class air travel and fine dining and top-class hotels and in VCs setting the terms of their own salaries (averaging at £246,000 with 60 VC’s paid over £300,000 annually). The excess of this leisure class is demonstrated in VCs maintaining lavish expense accounts alongside ‘perks’ such as second homes and chauffeured transport. This excess amounts to about £8 million in expenses (2015-2017) ….that’s just the figure we can see. This waste provides us with evidence of the barbarian in full flow and, in what Veblen described as their “predatory nature”, with the hiking of tuition fees and other ‘value-added’ incentives imposed on students. The deliberate unburdening by management of pension commitments to university staff embodies this barbarian temperament and a continuation of their war via profit-maximisation directed against workers and students.

Such practices prey on students and academics through what Veblen called the “quantity production of consumers” and in both groups being placed increasingly “under the surveillance …. of publicity engineers”. Sought-after superior ranking in institutional reputation and perception tables are the norms of leisure class rule. We think of ‘the barbaric’ in terms of henchmen, fear mongering clergy and violent feudal lords and their bowed serf subjects. Veblen reminds us that this has its contemporary translation in taken-for-granted practices in the university: these being “salesmanship”, the entrepreneurial combative spirit and the “competitive system”. The result? A fantasy university depicting impact-conscious, bright-sided ambassadorial students and lecturers. The flip side of this is increased economic precarity and anxiety for the academic and student body.

This strike exposes these issues and if we lose the public university will continue to be asset stripped with increased tuition fees and the normalization of debt, more cuts in real term staff pay and the further deterioration of teaching and learning. As we struggle, we hope to see the barbarian mask slip further – rather like the scandal over MPs expenses. A great success of the strike has been to work with our students who are themselves seeing through the leisure class inspired ‘student experience’ deflections and siding with lecturers in this dispute. Through this action we are beginning to become conscious of a new kind of university: one that orientates us away from the fevered imaginations and narco-economics that bloat the current leisure class and reduces learning to salesmanship. Student campaigns to boycott the National Student Survey (and its monetarist imperative to hike charges in return for ‘greater satisfaction’) is one strand in this new consciousness. So is a willingness to occupy the VC’s private spaces in protest at marketisation.

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Students occupy VC Janet Beer’s private meeting rooms at the University of Liverpool 27 February 2018.

There is more vice than chancellorship in today’s universities. Although writing in the 1920s, Veblen would not be surprised at contemporary dispossession and asset stripping in the HE sector. But the biggest asset being stripped – as Veblen saw it – was a form of learning as “idle curiosity”. Being dispossessed of this was the greatest danger posed by what he saw as creeping “salesmanship” whose barbaric tendencies aim to “to deceive, circumvent, ensnare and capture”. Unfortunately, salesmanship has penetrated the wider academic culture as a kind of common-sense that will not be easy to budge. We must continue to work with students in our imaginings of a more inquisitive, de-financialized and empathetic teaching and learning experience. With the strike action we have begun to expose the primitive practices of the university leisure class and, on this basis, there are reasons to hope for a more compassionate and just university.

Report on the ‘Emotional State’: Nov 3rd 2017, Queen’s University Belfast

by Madeleine Rungius

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Speakers: Dr Jonathan G. Heaney (Queen’s University) invited Dr Daniel Savery (National University of Ireland, Galway), Dr Emmet Fox and Madeleine Rungius (University of Liverpool) to explore and discuss the conceptualization of the (Western industrialised) ‘emotional state’.

The event in Belfast organised by Jonathan Heaney reflects and reinforces interests and concerns shared between the writers and readers who make up the States, Power, Emotion blog. The Belfast event started with Heaney pointing out that the political sociology of emotions has been to a large extend under-explored. Looking at emotions in classical theories of the state (Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes etc.) and modern accounts (Durkheim, Marx, Weber, Elias etc.) he argued ‑ in contrast to dominant interpretations of the state as a rational construct ‑ that emotions play a central, if occluded role in states. Heaney argued: All states are fundamentally emotional states. This argument resonated in all presentations and set the tone for following discussions. Using the example of Hobbes’ ‘Leviathan’ Heaney argued that passion and happiness in the pursuit of power and glory form the epicentre of the state that organizes power for the emotional life. Therefore, it was the lack of common measure of emotions that brought about the state.

Heaney’s conception of the ‘emotional state’ is influenced by Pierre Bourdieu – the state “as the symbolic underwriter of the constitution of emotional life, within a dispositional theory of social action, where emotions are understood as practices generated by social (emotional) habitus” (Scheer). Hence, the control of emotions is fundamental to the idea of the state as such. Heaney used the concept of habitus to flesh out the emotional state, which he provisionally understands as “the various ways in which the nation-state has been directly and indirectly involved in the construction and deconstruction of the emotional life of the polity; the degree to which it reflects (and constructs) the dominant emotional regime(s) and norms; and how these processes change through time.” Heaney demonstrated how the emotional state becomes visible in education, a space in which the habitus is constituted in social, historical and cultural context. Using the example of the global emotional literacy movement (SEL/SEAL) that teaches children emotional literacy he demonstrated how children learn ‘desirable’ emotional behaviour, how education is underpinned by the emotional state and its symbolic power.

Savery approached the topic of the ‘emotional state’ by discussing the relationship between emotions, freedom and republican theory. He referred to Rousseau to discuss: What does it mean to be free? Rousseau argued that desire and passion make a person less free. Rousseau’s amour propre describes compassion, empathy but also the desire for the good opinions of others and most importantly the channelling of good behaviour for the state. Giving it a Bourdiesian twist, Savery argued that being concerned with freedom means being concerned with habitus; suggesting the existence of a desired set of emotions in a republican state and therefore an emotional habitus of the state.

Fox discussed the state as a monopoly of symbolic violence and the cleft emotionality of climate change. He argued that analysing symbolic violence makes the emotional state visible, bodily and emotionally, and emphasized the materialistic side of emotional practices. Here, symbolic state violence structures emotions into an order with ascribed values to different emotions. He argued that states presently do not engage with climate change on an emotional level for there is no social capital for it. This suggests that the government has no sincere interest in discussing and tackling climate change since motivating emotions like anger and resentment are not given a stage. Thus, policy making is bound to a hierarchy of emotions that lies within the symbolic power of the state.

Whereas Heaney, Savery and Fox position Bourdieu’s habitus as origin of their thought, Rungius departs from Stjepan Mestrovic’s interpretation of Emile Durkheim. Rungius explored the emotional state through moral facts. Moral facts are understood as representations of values embodied in emotional practices in a specific time and place. Using the example of the guillotine during the French revolution, Rungius argued that modern state sanctioning is essentially embedded in emotions in a reasoned world which is supposedly more humane and civilized. She argued that modern states try to hide emotions (like vengeance and anger) that surround practices of sanctioning behind rational narratives, and suggested that moral facts can help seeing how the rational (self-)imagination of the state translates into actual practices that are emotional, like all practices are. This is where the emotional state reveals itself.

Throughout the discussions it became obvious that particular epistemological and ontological traditions in sociology and political science make it difficult to discuss states as emotional states. The Kantian and Neo-Kantian tradition were specifically addressed as problematic since they reproduce the image of the state as a rational construct and thereby limit imagining the state as emotional. This reproduces a cognitivist approach, the very dualism between rationality and emotions the sociology of emotions intends to overcome.

The workshop participants rejected the idea of a total rationalization/hiding of emotions in and by the state like Mestrovic suggests. His understanding of the postemotional society does not capture the complexities within (e.g. power relations based on gender, race, class, sexuality etc.). Much more are all states emotional with culture-bound emphasised and desired emotions and disguised, unwanted emotions. The workshop participants explored the idea of thinking about emotions in and of the state as a hierarchy, which can potentially capture the complexities within and is not blind to power relations. For further discussions around the emotional state, the workshop participants suggested to have a close look on how the state imagines itself, how the state states things, how the state talks and narrates stories of legitimacy.

The following questions guided the workshop and emerged in the discussions – food for thought:

  • Is there a typology of the emotional state?
  • What is the role of freedom in the emotional state?
  • How does nationalism fit within the emotional state?
  • How does globalization fit within the emotional state?
  • How can we reveal the emotionality of the state?
  • Why is there such a big interest in continuing the imagination of the state as a rational construct?
  • Is the ascription of rationality, despite emotional undertones, enough to legitimize a practice?
  • Who is in the position to use ‘rational arguments’ to give their emotional actions credibility and legitimacy?
  • What is the role of gender when we think about the authorship of the argument as the state as rational? / In which ways do feminist theories of the state discuss the ‘emotional state’?
  • How can we overcome the engrained duality of emotions and rationality that is so prevalent in the way we think and imagine the state?
  • How can we unlearn to think about and teach about the state as a rational construct in universities? / Do feelings of the state become legitimate when they are included in the school syllabus?

The workshop has been organized by Dr Jonathan G Heaney, School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work (Queen’s University Belfast), and was funded by the British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant.

Submissions welcome!

Emotional Politics

This one-day interdisciplinary conference will bring together academic researchers, activists, policy-makers and practitioners to exchange and discuss current concerns and developments in the research and practice surrounding emotion, organizing and social movements.

Veteran activist and scholar Angela Y. Davis (2016) claims that in order for a movement to be effective it needs to mobilize the masses. How does one do this? What motivates people to join a movement, especially if they are not directly affected by the campaign’s agenda and the successful implementation of its goals? Deborah Gould (2009) argues that the purposeful channelling of emotion can be decisive for the success or failure of a movement. Recent campaigns such as Black Lives Matter or the Women’s Marches, though US-centric, have managed to garner the support from millions of people worldwide. According to Carolyn Pedwell (2014) and Sara Ahmed (2004), the key lies in the relational nature of such elusive…

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Academic egos and ‘Self-forgetting’

Roy Coleman

“If we follow our well understood self-interest, how can we learn to depend upon disinterestedness, on self-forgetfulness, on sacrifice?” (Durkheim)

Elsewhere this blog has posted on the neo-barbarian university. This post looks at the role of the academic considering Durkheim’s claim that self-interest runs counter to the possibility of solidarity in a society forged on morality, compassion and self-forgetfulness. Self-interest drives homo-economus and represents not the death of emotion but the unleashing of an intemperate passion of fevered ego-promotion. The trick is pretending self-interest is merely cold calculus without a hint of desire. But as Durkheim, Veblen and Schopenhauer knew, rational interests are the representative driving force of human insatiability, violence and injustice.

Durkheim’s words warn of the dangers of academic egoism manifest at the institutional and individual level and confluent with marketing, self-promotion and ostentatious displays of prowess. Such ego-display is indicative of Durkheim’s “infinite desire” and manifest in honours, ranking and ‘skill-set enhancement’ over and above the work-a-day teaching and research process. Thorstein Veblen argued that honours, ranking and display of the skill-set are illustrative of the prowess of the relatively affluent. It is they who cut the contemporary barbaric figure, because that is where status seeking, distinctiveness and acquisitiveness are instilled as aspirant middle-class values. Early sociologists argued that such strivings and the need for ‘success’ reinforce social forms of derangement and morbidity (as Durkheim defined them in relation to human narcissism, weariness and exhaustion).

As academics we live and work within the self-interest machine. Our academic process – its professionalisation, ‘intellectual’ hierarchy and career structure – is not the best grounding for promoting what Gramsci called “good sense” and Durkheim called “moral sense”. These ideals should be on-going talking points if academics are to work on equal terms with each other and with those outside of university. Is there a danger that many of us, as academics, do not have a feeling for what makes good and moral sense?

We do many things, not necessarily unthinkingly, that go against good and moral sense such as:

– talk to each other in sealed, expensive and elitist gatherings and/or in journals with no ‘public’ relevance as defined in the widest possible terms

– strive for new concepts, sometimes with high middle-class chic status but zero real world applicability

– endlessly describe the world with better ever more nuanced post relevant concepts

– cultivate incomprehensibility as a token of prestige and significance (a sign, as Veblen argued, of the barbarian)

– rank themselves in barbarian fashion under the plume of self-congratulatory and self-referential hierarchies that bestow honour and prestige upon the individual academic

– extend, ostentatiously, curriculum vitae as noted in nebulous phrases such as special invited speaker, keynote speech or high impact work.

– groan about the difficult but only real public speaking most academics do, i.e.: lecturing to their students.

– avoid a moral position or just avoid the word ‘moral’ (itself a sign support for the ‘superiority’ of rationally thought out plans and interests and a shield accusations of relativism)

– avoid any mention of human nature (in the ways that early Marx, Durkheim, Weber and Veblen did)

– display a “cheerful robotic” persona (C Wright Mills) at the expense of a healthy pessimism towards rational ‘living’

In short, we seldom practice disinterestedness and self-forgetfulness whilst careering. Many academics do want to create a world less hierarchical but do so from hierarchical divisions between themselves which in turn mirrors the latter-day barbarism enshrined in the corporation.  Like the entrepreneur, the academic increasingly musters ostentatious displays of mobility, publication, citing of work, social media followings and invitations to speak.

Academics may not choose these practices, and some are critical of them, but they never-the-less engage in status aggrandisement and distinction as a sign of cultural and institutional prowess. In this sense enlightened self-interest is alive and normalized. Durkheim was closer to the truth when he said that self-interest was encouraging the wrong kind of emotional energies in the disguise of rational interests, obligation and duty.

Durkheim’s point? Academic striving negates our ability to let go of the ego and cultivate the compassionality that obliterates hierarchy with a love of, and a desire for, mutual understanding. For Durkheim this was the moral basis he was trying to establish for sociology (as was the case with Robert Park). For Gramscians too, compassionality that breaks down interests is the basis for social change and the forging of ‘progressive’ cultural formations.

Should we challenge hierarchies, inequalities and status differentials where we find them or should we do the challenging in someone else’s backyard? Do academics want to hang on to their status differentials and, if they do, on what basis? What is the basis for them anyway? It seems that this basis is something more than intellectual curiosity.

As the physicist Richard Feynman said of the role of honouring and status distinction in his field: “I’ve already got the prize. The prize is the pleasure finding out, the discovery, other people using it. Those are the real things. The honours are unreal. Honours are epaulettes. Honours are uniforms”. The disinterested pursuit of knowledge – for Durkheim and Feynman – meant sacrifice of the individual ego. The latter expresses an essential insatiability and tyranny in not allowing us to self-forget. This in turn hampers a kind of knowledge  that would challenge individual, corporate and national interests – their violence and injustices.