pk’s Ph.D. Orals Scrapbook

2006 07 17

Poking around in Arthur O. Lovejoy’s Essays in the History of Ideas, his history of deism in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries put contemporary academic hubris into an enlightening perspective:

The presumption of the universal accessibility and verifiability of all that it is really needful for men to know implied that all subtle, elaborate, intricate reasonings about abstruse questions beyond the grasp of the majority are certainly unimportant, and probably untrue. Thus any view difficult to understand, or requiring a long and complex exercise of the intellect for its verification, could be legitimately dismissed without examination, at least if it concerned any issue in which man’s moral or religious interests were involved. A “system” was a legitimate object of suspicion simply because it was a system.

The Titanic cannot be shown
that the Titanic can sink
2004 06 01

Universities are feudally organized — top down hierarchy — to make sure that those with their label play ball: play ball with them: honor the hierarchy: wait patiently for advancement: no Alexanders, please. I wanted to take the ball and run with it: show them how it should be done.

2002 05 28

Long before students begin their long series of tests differentiating them by “intelligence” or “skill” they’ve already “passed” a long series of stupidity tests: beginning with the fact that they showed up in the first place. I knew that. I knew that since I was five or six. Yet here I was, aged thirty something, still at it, still using the cage to hide in. So: I was almost as stupid as the group for half of my life: at least I didn’t allow it to waste both halves. Yet I’m not sorry. What meaning would FLEX have had it been founded by a six year old? I offered a free educational marketplace, only after I’d been screwed, blued, and tattooed by the government monopoly for a trio of decades.

… until it sinks.
2004 09 12

I’ll do something with the following quote. Right now I merely quote it:

The majority of academic historians have as their first and foremost goal remaining a member in good standing of their profession. This means never seriously challenging the template of ideas that is closely guarded by the gatekeepers of the profession – the “senior scholars” who edit the journals, make recommendations for jobs and research grants, sit on editorial boards of university presses, review books in the New York Times and other prominent newspapers, and even appear frequently on cable television documentaries. These are people who have built reputations and careers on perpetuating their view of history, and they do all they can to protect their “human capital.” “Academic freedom” is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

2004 09 15

Kevin Carson [] adds:

The process of getting tenure, with its requirement of publication in peer-reviewed journals, sucking up to faculties, etc., pretty well guarantees selection of people who won’t suddenly turn maverick once they get it.

It amazes me to hear people talk about academics like they were philosopher-kings, with a disinterested desire for truth. Worst of all are those who think academics have some advantage in this regard over ordinary politicians, and that the world would be better off if “rationally” governed by some kind of academic technocracy. There’s more bureaucratic back-stabbing and fighting over corner offices in academia than anywhere else.

2002 08 13

The other day I made a new note to pen my argument relating private universities to the public variety. Parts of the argument have long been here, but I still haven’t coordinated or completed them. Cars monopolize transportation even though we have Ford as well as General Motors. Banks monopolize credit and interest even though there’s more than one bank. And with universities: they’ve taken fed money! They’ve accepted ROTC programs. Having partnered with Washington yesterday, you can’t just walk out today. Why should they: when the money flows so freely to the imbecile docile?

Then they don’t need to be shown.
So of what help are intelligence, communicational channels …
to vainly sentient species?
2001 07 27

Years are slipping by without my having been able to complete any of the most important narratives let alone directories of themes at Today I just came up with a couple of concepts highly germane to the above:

in relation to

The circle of faith that was medieval Christendom had a strong communication-resistance to the tenets of the nominalists. By the time I was ready to present my thesis in the late 1960s I found that that resistance had grown if anything stronger. The circle of faith that was the United States (including NYU) had near absolute resistance to hearing lots of things in those years. Neither Pilate nor Herod would or could hear Jesus’ messages from God much earlier. Nothing has changed. That is to say: circles of faith still rule and communication is still resisted here while being lubricated there.

I’ll make these points in a proper series of modules ASAP. They’ll receive the most attention soonest at Macroinformation.

2001 11 25

Apparently the Pope has recently apologized for millennia of sexual abuse by religious against the faithful and against other religious. Apparently one nun was raped by a priest after some twenty years of her being a nun. The nun’s “superiors” placed her under a gag order.

(What force would a Church gag order have in the present time? Of old, the Church had all kinds of torture instruments and a population well versed in the Church’s effectiveness with such instruments. Still, martyrs died, went to the stake … What force does a contemporary gag order have? Pipe down or we’ll cease to intervene on your behalf with that ferocious but bribable sucker above? Can’t get into heaven without the Mafia? Who wants to go?)

Any fool can hang the wisest man in the country. Nothing he likes better.
Blanco Posnet (GBS)

I’ve been telling my tales against NYU and my other schools since my teens, most audibly and articulately since loading Illich’s ammunition into my own weapons. It’s made no difference that I can perceive. There’s no doubt in my mind that the reason my son’s mother kidnapped him from me at age five was that she feared I would try to keep him out of school and would refuse to discuss it reasonably. There’s no doubt in my mind that the reason the law backed her, in the face of tradition, was that the schooled will always band together, breaking any laws necessary, against the deschooler. But it doesn’t matter what I shout or from where. My salvoes have no resonance with the public.

The basic question as always is: why does the public routinely gang up to defend its oppressors? Whispers against the clergy have seldom been rewhispered. The US had a giddy few hours last January of being without a president. Why didn’t we just say hallelujah and continue?

It’s remarkable that today we have a Pope who actually has apologized for a few of the major grievances of centuries against the Church. But why is there still a Church at all?

When Caligula was killed, Claudius went and hid behind the curtains. Oh, no. Please. Beat me, kill me; but don’t make me emperor. The soldiers found him and emperor he was made. Why?

I answer that last question elsewhere at but ask it again here to emphasize: our institutions are not evil all by themselves. They need mountains of collusion: from the public. Before it can possibly pretend to know itself, the public needs to recognize its addiction to morally bankrupt institutions.

Illich has somehow managed to live in some comfort since standing his ground against the Church. I have never lived in any but a moments comfort. Never have I “owned” my own circumstances.

Of course the public does know itself. That’s why it’s Jewish. Or Christian. The Jews tell over and over how undeserving they are. The Christians enact again and again the killing of the god by the ignorant, the eating of the god by the faithful. I am a sinner.
My childhood was filled with Americans ratifying, replaying again and again, the genocides against the indigenous peoples of the Americas: cowboys and Indians. Bang, bang, you’re dead.
We’re so close we don’t see our own message. So we translate it into new forms. In The Twelve Monkeys a boy watches, over and over again, airport security gunning down an unruly unshaved man. A well groomed man steps smiling onto a plane, his carry-on secure in his hand. The audience comes to know only at the end that the man straining in his blood is that boy, grown up. The audience further comes to know that that boy, grown up, was valiantly trying to save civilization from the smiling, well-groomed bio-assassin: that our culture’s death is in that carry-on. But of course: the police slay the savior, protect the assassin.

Once we’re dead it will all be so obvious: or would be if there were anyone to see.

2003 05 03

Triggered by watching a Classics Illustrated video of Nelly Bly, I just thought of another wrinkle: Nellie Bly is a young middle class woman who’s pounded her head against the glass ceiling of the Philadelphia publishing world when it was an opaque floor: she couldn’t get in at all, let alone rise. No silly women wanted here among us serious men. But she prevailed. She became a reporter. So she goes to New York City to try the same stunt again: in the big time. Same treatment, same perseverance. Finally she lucks out when Joseph Pulizer himself overhears her appeals to his editor: and the editor is forced to listen. She swiftly becomes their main man. Much of this is well known. Where I especially enjoyed the film was in how Pulitzer and his editor continue to be the big cheeses, patting themselves on the back for accepting her as a peer: of a junior sort. Screw: she’s their superior: at least as shown in the comic-book melodrama bio pic.

And I found myself picturing Jesus preaching at the Temple in Jerusalem at Passover, triggering his arrest and execution. What if Jesus had groveled up to the priests, begging (while showing off) to be their junior peer? Well, maybe they would have let him clean the spittoons: and finally speak: twelve or fifteen years later. No, he came on heavy: I’m right. I’m inspired. You’re … less than that.

I make this comparison (one “historical,” the other imagined-historical) to confess: in part, by accepted standards, my reception at graduate school was my own fault. I knew how the seniority worked. I knew how you were supposed to climb the ladder, not skip any rungs. I went in, valuing myself the way I value myself, valuing myself the way I believe I should be valued. I valued my professors the way I believe they should have been valued: not much. I showed off, but without the ring kissing, the groveling.

Everyone has the choice: do you want to fare in this world the way it is? Or behave the way you believe you should behave? And take the consequences.

The analogy between professional schools and fraternity initiations cannot be overemphasized.

2004 10 22

An ideal accepted by academic specialists is that a candidate should have read everything in some particular niche: everything written in English (at least in England in the 1300s …, everything written on evolution (in say three different languages) since 1859 … When you’re ready to say you have, then you’re ready to be reviewed by your superiors.

The very fact that I finally agreed to be tested proves my dishonesty. My committee had already proved theirs.

Kleptocracy wants only kleptocrats to have resources.

2005 01 03

I now want to concentrate and emphasize a couple of points already made more than once around and at Deschooling. Society exerts ubiquitous and omnidirectional homeostatic forces. The university sets an intellectual standard. The university sets a low intellectual standard: low if you’re higher, high if you’re lower. The university is well aware that its perks can be taken away. The Library of Alexandria was burned, Hypatia was torn to pieces. Any library, any librarian may lose heaven’s mandate the moment some mob is sufficiently irked. Intellectuals adjust their intellectualism accordingly. Anyone may say that Nixon was a liar in 2000, only his enemies said it in 1960: knowing they were vulnerable.

In 1968 more than half of my English department was fired, no firee having tenure. The bulk of them had stood silent in one or another silent vigil on the Chapel steps. The student newspaper made the association. The administration denied any such connection. That was the end of it. The administration had the last word. (Though they settled when I sued: my case not having been mentioned by the paper, no denial necessary by the administration.) The department was twenty-one strong. Eleven were fired in one salvo. I wish I could trace the subsequent careers of the other ten. How many remained in teaching? The bulk I imagine. (I remained in teaching: as in: FLEX was teaching, is teaching, Deschooling, Macroinformation is teaching, my novels and stories were teaching …) But I also imagine them thinking twice before joining any more vigils. The spirit of the First Amendment, academic freedom, the responsibility of conscience … Ah, but most of us also want to eat, want to live in a house, want to mate and raise our children unpilloried …

After my orals committee made it impossible for me to answer a single question that they didn’t like the first two words of my answer to (actually I recall them interrupting the bulk of my answers, and I don’t think they objected to quite everything that I said: they repressed facts as well as interpretations), I could have gone back and limited myself to saying what I know they approved. Instead of loading my answers with new information, I could have leeched information from them. (Don’t forget: information is the reciprocal of the probability. If what you say is predictable, safe, then there’s little information content. Most human communication takes place at very low levels of information pablum, not lobster.) First, I could have aimed for a job, then job security. Ah, but then would I have ever ever said what I thought?

How many tenured professors have ever ever said what they thought? I suspect that by the time one has a Ph.D., thought is not exactly the word for what one does.

Anyway: think of this tie-in: Kieslowski stunned the world with his ten part Dekalog, made for Polish TV (under the Communists!) It was artful. It was intelligent! It was made for TV. Who disagrees with the generalization that films are better than TV because TV executives assume the audience is moronic whereas movie makers believe that there might be some audience (paying) for intelligent work? One can also say that Hollywood, though it makes some intelligent, artful films, in general bets the safe bet: dumb it down. Italians and Swedes and Indians can make dumb movies, but they also produce Rosselini, Bergman, Ray …

So, here’s my point: and a question: how many academics dumb down their research, their papers, their inquiry?

Now, I know: the bulk of students, the bulk of professionals may strive to attain the bottom edge of their leaders’ achievement, few of the students being Galileo or Kepler, damn few of the leaders being Galileo or Kepler. But some Galileos and Keplers are statistically inevitable. What portion of potential Galileos and Keplers dumb down their work for the sake of their leaders who are no Galileos or Keplers? How Hollywood, how TV, are the universities?

2005 02 28

Different context; same meaning:

I think it’s an outrage that certain questions — that real, important questions — can’t be raised in an academic atmosphere, that research that’s well-known can’t be presented without some sort of hysterical response.

Linda S. Gottfredson, University of Delaware
My universities were like black holes, my ideas disappeared into them without a trace.


Lived in Some Comfort: I meant when I wrote the above merely that CIDOC was one beautiful place with nice grounds and nice gardens: and of course he had the run of it. I did not when there visit his private room: which I would have expected to be Spartan: monastic. I add this note today, a few weeks after his death, because I’ve learned that in dying he refused pain relief from the doctors: altogether in keeping with his Medical Nemesis. Medication would have compromised his ability to work. He preferred to work with the pain than to be spared the pain at the cost of his work. The man’s saintliness is inestimable.

2003 05 03: I’ve learned since writing the above note that toward the end Ivan Illich’s self-prescriptions did not both deal with the pain and allow him to work at his normal level. John Quintero, recently returned from his grave in Germany, saw Illich a few times in the final years. He reports that Ivan spoke less and less, allowing his students and companions the bulk of the floor.

Back when, there were times (as he himself routinely pointed out) when the fact that Illich was speaking (especially holding a microphone) that someone else couldn’t be speaking (to the same effect); but there was never a time when any better voice could have been heard.

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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