One of the most consequential issues of our epoch will no doubt be the question of the metaverse—this as in the entire digital semiosphere—coupled with a triumphant technorationalism espoused from within the new digital habitat. Its effects are already permeating every category of sociopolitical consideration, putting into question no less than sovereignty, legitimacy, the status of civic rights and so forth, substantially fixing the future between the looming threats of totalitarianism and a teleology that seems oriented towards the implementation of no less than open tyranny.
Technocratic metaversality threatens to radicalize the forms against humanity, this through an ever-widening separation between theory and practice, evocative of both nihilism and the very essence of pure ideology. The metaverse is hence open to an expanded version of Kant’s critique of Leibnizian metaphysics, an updated take on the Marxist theory of ideology, as well as (ironically) Hayek’s calculation problem. Yet, the technorationalist metaverse—a seemingly Platonic world of forms increasingly dominating terrestrial existence—nevertheless appears inimical to the good society as seen by Plato, which, of course, Popper saw as leading straight to totalitarianism. At issue is what the inversion of that same system will represent.
The dominant hypermodern mode conceives many or all problems as solvable through Brattonian “planetary scale computation.” Meritocracy now comes with an instrumental-technical imperative that explicitly privileges metaversality. Objects find their reference point in form rather than function and this is all merged with the specific claims that have accompanied the putative immanentization of metaphysics, hence the completion of nihilism proper. Thus, there are a number reasons for having doubts about the actual efficacy of technocratic metaversality as governance, which I’ll seek to only briefly hint at here.
The claim is that the crowning achievement of Cartesian representation and the implementation of Bacon’s Novum Organum has now set humanity catapulting towards a surveiled, cybernetic manifold where theory and practice, education and experience, credentials and competence, all come to achieve an ultimate separation, each coming unbounded from the other, and culminating in a pathological mode of virtual leadership consistent with the world-destroying doctrine of technoscientific irrationalism: mythology-enhanced science coupled with scientific extremism, or what Virilio called “extreme science.”
Metaversality may claim itself as “open,” but it cannot tolerate division between fact and value. Instead, there’s a vicious circularity: the mantra of the metaverse is “flourishing” and “flourishing” is metaversality; beyond that, we’re left only to believe that “terabyte makes right.” The only thing techobureaucratization comes to lack is genius—and in its place we see the flourishing of a digital inebriation that is only possible when nestled within an almost entirely synthetic world system.
While the Platonic auxiliaries were required to have the qualia and hard-nosed practical experience necessary to make informed interpretative judgments, the phenomenology and practice of civic life is being increasingly replaced by the propaganda of progress, deliverances of the culture industry and other assorted (and phenomenologically-devoid) simulacra. While in the Platonic “system” the only justification for poetics would be an unjust regime, under a fully-realized technocratic metaverse, humanistically oriented poetics would be both justified and rationally subjected to criminalization. Thus, ala Julian Assange, the post-academic digital humanities may wind up having to be heavily encrypted.
There’s little question that the Baby Boomer cohort has been subjected to scathing criticism: the term is frequently hurled as an insult or form of mockery across social media, an ad homeniem that seems to allege one as ineffectual or outdated. Recent publications characterize Boomers as “A Generation of Sociopaths” or as “the Generation that Promised Freedom and brought Disaster.” In the context of this sort of invective, seeking to criticize “the ideas rather than the people” may be well warranted. I want to claim while the term “Boomer” may have a justifiably negative affective charge, this seemingly quaint term masks some extremely dangerous patterns of thought. And rather than being obsolete, what it represents simply couldn’t be any more current.
While the Baby Boomer generation is obviously named for the post-World War II birthrate explosion, there’s a much more sinister association: that the conditions of this generation’s world entry were also punctuated by the birth of thermonuclear warfare. Indeed, it was the militarized domination of most of the world that facilitated just that birthrate—and this connection between violence, economics, and the Boomer cohort is perhaps inseparable from gaining a true understanding of their influence. And lurking even deeper is the question of dialectical or historical materialism versus the development of an ideology that threatens to destroy all material conditions.
On view of realpolitik, the Corvettes and cultural laissez faire were spoils of war, largely connected with a world historical shift where the surplus value of most of the world was rerouted to the US. While neoliberalism may be the ascendant form of contemporary political understanding, TheBoomer Ideology is an appropriately contexualized and historicized understanding of neoliberalism consistent with the ostensible move towards a heightened sense of intergenerational consciousness.
Of course, the popular social movements of the 1960’s and 70’s may be offered as proof of the contrary, this in that these movements were largely anti-war, a repudiation of the Greatest Generation’s fighting ethos. To be sure, many young Boomers followed Marcuse, Horkheimer and Adorno in attacking the instrumental and technical rationality at the heart of the One Dimensional Man—the corporate squares leading the burgeoning system of narcissistic consumer capitalism. Yet if economic warfare is credited with leading to the demise of the USSR—or as representing a new geopolitical battlefield—it thus raises questions concerning any putative Boomer claims on the virtue of “Peace.”
As some of the 70’s radicals went on to lucrative careers in investment banking, Boomers facilitated some of the most damaging “advances” in human history, driving new modes of social, economic and ecological devastation. Technological advancement, financialization, and the overall globalizing project have led to new outlets for aggression: outsourcing facilitated the development of the sweatshop industrial complex, financial deregulation brought us the Great Recession, and the drive towards multinational corporate profits has led to rising inequalities, social fragmentation and unprecedented anthropogenic catastrophe. For a generation that may celebrate its own supposed “non-violence,” the Boomer cohort has done irreparable harm through distinctive modes of social, financial and cultural domination, including nearly perfecting the use of economic violence. Boomers have been instrumental in the rise of the total neoliberal state, just all-the-while rarely ever taking out their guns.
TheBoomer Ideology is what I call the highly distinctive cultural inheritance transmitted by its namesake generation. And though such a heritage is bound up with nearly all Post-Enlightenment Western culture, I think that this varietal reflects especially undesirable features that cut against the common good, human dignity, social solidarity and so on. A key feature of TheBoomer Ideology is that it comprises a radically centrist position including both neoliberal and neoconservative stances as found in North American politics. This centrist, supposedly pluralistic ideological political block has come to dominate the corporate state apparatus, NGO’s, academia, the entire technical intelligentsia and has imbued them all with a hollow corporate ethos tantamount to pure nihilism. This is the doctrine of the Last Man, likely to bring the much-discussed End of History, the death of thinking, and perhaps even the end of the species.
TheBoomer Ideology is threefold, consisting of: 1). technoeconomic optimism, 2). acquisitive individualism, and, 3). culture industry credulity.
In brief, this is to say that Boomers have been conditioned to view technology, development, and industry as being preconditions for, and pathways to, the putative good life; that Boomers display a predisposition towards narcissistic consumerism and adopting consumer identities as part of their narrative self-understanding; and, through what Lippman called “rational ignorance,” that the Boomer cohort is largely comprised of low-information consumers of mass-marketed public opinion—including Boomers otherwise considered educated based on completing college-level vocational training.
Installments to follow will attempt to trace the contours of The Boomer Ideology across these main themes. And while I may be accused of simply burdening and scapegoating Boomers with the entire weight of history, this is in no way my primary goal—instead trying to highlight these drawbacks as an object lesson for future generations. In any case, if it’s possible for them to save themselves (or us all), it just won’t be through the distinctive patterns of thought that are now dominant.
A central problem in the philosophy of education—whether it is known or unknown—is the lack of an adequate framework for understanding the contemporary university. This essay aims to provide a fundamental characterization of the present-day academy, this towards the end of unconcealing the inner logic of academia, something increasingly necessary for understanding the status of knowledge today.
At issue is that a great number of commentators seem to presuppose just what a university is or should be while leaving the question totally open-ended. What’s more, many scholars appear to be referencing antiquated and even totally obsolete models as the basis for analysis. When the credentialed experts are seen not only appealing to some mythic educational past but even going to great lengths to portray today’s university in rather flattering terms, we might take that as invitation to think more deeply. And it’s exactly against these sorts of trends that we should employ a strict academic realism. The claim is that when viewed through a proper lens, the true character of the contemporary university begins to show itself.
Before offering an alternative model, I do want to give a slight overview of what’s going on in the literature and otherwise. From across the political spectrum we can identify a few main themes subjected to pretty rancorous critique, and yet few commentators seem to connect it all together. From the right we see tracts against political correctness, identity struggle, moral relativism and, of course, the discussion of tenured radicals. And from the left we have critiques of corporatization, commercialization, privitization, in a word, neoliberalism and falling under this also academic labor issues, adjunctification, student loan indenture, and so forth. At the level of network news—whatever that means—and social media discourse (same question), the university is sometimes labeled a hotbed of Marxism—and even postmodern Neo-Marxism as you may be aware. I wondered if a more comprehensive analysis was possible, in fact, one that might explain the whole.
Just for starters it appears that in the contemporary academy—against the university of the 1960s and 70s—that the influence of Marx has waned (even if his citations haven’t). We don’t exactly see students dropping out to join trade unions as in generations past, although this isn’t to say the revolution can’t happen in the future. The view is that much of the emancipatory potential of Marx and of Freud have been digested and reterritorialized by liberal capital and the Gramscian march subjected to a war of attrition—basically ruthless neoliberal selection pressures exerted throughout the academy. Long story short, the idea is that the key to understanding the university no longer really hinges on Marx.
The claim I want to make is that the contemporary university system can be most comprehensively understood as Inverted Platonism. And while the term immediately brings Nietzsche to mind, the attempted overcoming of Plato as well as philosophy in general has been a dominant theme across the academy. This has manifestly been the case in the sciences and social sciences stretching even from Aristotle, to Francis Bacon, the radical enlighteners, to Auguste Comte and the positivists, and more recently from Karl Popper all the way to the current crop of scientists. This might be even more true in the humanities and posthumanities with the influence of Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida, Rorty, Quine, Wittgenstein etc., and broad commitments to nominalism, antiessentialism, emotivism, and perspectivism.
What I mean by Inverted Platonism, I’ll now seek to clarify drawing from Heidegger’s lecture course on Nietzsche, Volume 1, Will to Power as Art: “To overturn Platonism thus means to reverse the standard relation […]. When the inversion is fully executed, the sensuous becomes Being proper i.e., the true, i.e., Truth. The true is the senuous. That is what positivism teaches.”
Of course, we should note that Nietzsche is not quite finished: after overturning Platonism he strives to escape positivism, a maneuver that requires a full “metamorphosis of man” (in Heidegger’s phrase).
Nevertheless, with Inverted Platonism we have the:
Sensuous over the Ideal
The decertification of morality
And, if lacking Nietzsche’s commitment to overcoming, we’re left with an axiological vaccum.
What’s more, the commitment to the sensuous is not JUST the dominant theme of the natural sciences but also found in historical materialism, as well as many postmodern theoretical formations. Thus, the model of Inverted Platonism has an uncanny ability to bring together such diverse views as postivism, poststructuralism, critical rationalism, model dependent realism, deconstruction, and basically every other dominant theme in academic fashion—science, social science, & humanities—under one roof.
So what are the implications of this, if, in fact, true?
Overturning Platonism has thus transformed the university into a simulacrum of Plato’s model for education, just inverted. Foremost is that the notion of virtue is replaced by market valuation. Technocratic meritocracy is the necessary result and Plato’s philosopher kings are replaced by professional bureaucrats—managers with a seeming mandate towards the eradication of all high values. The Republic’s “Noble Lie”—that some people possess precious metals in their souls—even finds its counterpart in the ignoble lie of the contemporary university: “that student loans will set you free.” And just as Plato’s censorship was a natural extension of his teaching on virtue, we could reasonably expect to see the same vis a vis Inverted Platonism, thus accounting for cancel culture. And finally we see the full flowering of the hollow corporate ethos as administrators increasingly try to “run the university like general motors,” committing themselves to an eternally recurring corporate nihilism. The university has thus become the most elaborate justification for power in human history, a legitimation mechanism of unparalleled scale dedicated to producing precisely what Nietzsche called “The Last Man.”
Who is The Last Man or The Last Human Being? This is the one who does not overcome but is overtaken, by such desires as for comfortable self-preservation, honor in fashionable circles & the pleasures attending wealth. Both a “laughingstock and an embarrassment” they only destroy rather than build. And, what’s more, the last human being has a particular sort of conceit: “And what do they call that which makes them proud? Education, they call it, it distinguishes them from goatherds.”
Just as Plato started the academy dedicated to philosophy and therefore justice, the rise of Postivism, the decertification of morality and the spread of technoeconomic optimism have seemingly destined us for what Habermas called a “rationally totalitarian society.” At the same time, the abyss has been open at least since Nietzsche’s exploding of the Kantian system—and, at least according to the perspective of Inverted Platonism, there can be no source of external light. Hence, the Academy has become akin to the Cave.
To philosophize after this calamity, at least for those still of good faith, thus requires one to enter into the university and literally help drag academics out to the light. This is the task of Academiology, all irony aside, which is basically both the apex and the absolute nadir in the philosophy of education. And what this means for the student, the figure of the academic, and for greater society will be discussed going forward, with the aim of achieving even fuller disclosure of the meaning of the contemporary university beyond that.
Academiology seeks to unconceal the inner logic of the academy as well as the scope of its effects on our world. The claim is that prior analyses, such as those by Weber, Veblen, Bourdieu, Readings, et al., can be extended through critical distance, potentially opening new forms of world access. In the knowledge economy, just such an investigation may be crucial for any larger inquiry into the status of knowledge today.
Academiology seeks to provide a phenomenological account of the academic habitus, a hermenutics of academic consciousness, and a complete ideological unmasking and disclosure of the academic qua academic. Placing the academic subject under a critical lens, Academiology seeks to interrogate the whole of the academic enterprise including the legitimacy of academic authority itself.
While some academics and independent thinkers have attempted to resist neoliberal capture and commercialization via Critical University Studies (CUS), Academiology radically deviates in terms of its aims, deference and venue. Academiology seeks to hold a mirror to the “academic gaze,” exposing manifold epistemic vulnerabilities and contributing to a more theoretically robust discourse. Curating ideas from across the political spectrum, the idea is to aggressively and unrelentingly wield them against corruption—i.e., putting academia “in the dock.” To achieve the fulfillment of critical theory, raised within manicured ivy walls, we now seek its culmination outside of crumbling ivory towers and into the emergent digital intellectual semiosphere.
Academiology offers many potential trajectories for analysis: the military-industrial complex, the nexus between research and global technocapital, government complicity with high finance, student loan indenture, the emerging underclass of academic adjuncts, and so on. Such an interrogation stands to teach us how academia went from the scenic groves of Hekademos to a commercial network of vocational training centers dominated by corporations and managed by professional bureaucrats.
Foucault’s analysis of the classic disciplinary site highlighted the domain-specific rules and mechanisms that encourage self-monitoring. When the aura of bureaucratic control is extended by digital technology and forms cybernetic feedback loops, we arrive at Deleuze’s notion of “societies of control.” Viewing academia through this interpretive lens can help illuminate both the prevailing academic logic and its ideological underpinnings.
Every level of academia is now awash in a barrage of data, constant social reputation updating mechanisms and optimization metrics. “Total quality management,” a vague desire to implement the latest Six Sigma-style Agile fad or add to the 360-degree performance assessment process operating at the cyclic rate. And as soon as US News & World Report spits out some new metric, a legion of zombie bureaucrats start scrambling to trick it out once again. Productivity metrics, publish or perish, peer-review rigging and citation rings, everything points to ceaseless productivity.
As Deleuze notes: “[…] just as the corporation replaces the factory, perpetual training tends to replace the school, and continuous control to replace the examination. Which is the surest way of delivering the school over to the corporation.” Thus far we’ve had Enron and Harvard, Berkeley and Biotech, Columbia and the Financial Crisis (Inside Job). More recently we’ve had leading researchers taking money from foreign governments, spending time on islands with certain hedge fund billionaires, and found taking undisclosed payments for writing deregulatory papers, and so forth.
This is not to mention the near total command over a students’ future by way of the student loan-sharking racket. The student’s consciousness is thus seized, molded, imprinted, and shaped by a hollow corporate ethos. The end result is the phenomenon discussed both by Deleuze and by Mark Fisher, that sees students “boasting of being strangely motivated”—even when applying for unpaid internships.
The increasingly corporatized and commercialized US university has collapsed a place of moral self-cultivation and emergenced as a loose network of vocational training centers. Further, what’s more, the university has increasingly become a nexus where the society of spectacle meets the cult of celebrity. College and university campuses have become marquis conduits of the culture industry—culminating in the sociological analysis of reality television.
As Adorno and Horkheimer put it:“The fusion of culture and entertainment is brought about today not only by the debasement of culture but equally by the compulsory intellectualization of amusement.” They continue: “Amusement itself has become an ideal, taking the place of the higher values it eradicates from the masses by repeating them in an even more stereotyped form than the advertising slogans paid for by private interests.” I want to claim that this emergent fusion of culture and entertainment spoken of by Horkheimer & Adorno has become de rigueur in the US university system.
Less than ten years ago Rutgers—the 8th oldest university in the US—hosted “Snooki” of Jersey Shore fame to liven things up a bit. While this says something by itself, it turns out that the University ended up paying Snooki more to speak than Toni Morrison, a Nobel laureate! As Deleuze writes: “If the most idiotic television game shows are so successful, it’s because they express the corporate situation with great precision.” Considering various course listings offered in the past decade or so seem to align with this point: “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus” (Skidmore College) “What if Harry Potter is Real” (Appalachian State), “Alien Sex” (Rochester University), “Zombies in Popular Media” (Columbia College in Illinois), “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame” (University of South Carolina). Many other examples suggest the university is increasingly emerging as a site of edutainment with an emphasis on customer satisfaction via professional business marketing campaigns and click-bait advertising tactics.
In his work “Education and Experience,” John Dewey claimed that “collateral learning” plays an important role in shaping the “enduring attitudes” of the student. In this vein, a recent study by Purdue University revealed only 4 percent of their university computing resources were being used for academic purposes. Recall that Marshall McLuhan’s dictum was that “the medium is the message.” In US colleges and universities, it increasingly seems that the “message” tends to involve mindless entertainment. This also might be one way to make sense of the overall political situation.
Recently, Inside Higher Ed announced that a coterie of scholars from universities such as Stanford and Georgetown, were a conducting “computational textual analysis” of The Baby Sitters Club, ostensibly seeking to do an ideological unmasking of underlying presuppositions in the work. I believe that another ideological unmasking can done that poses even more radical emancipatory potential: the ideology to be “unmasked” here is the one that entails college professors reading The Baby Sitters Club while the university morally collapses. The objection is that while you can logically justify much of the above research (which you can absolutely do), no one can justify bourgeois academics teaching reality television to largely well-to-do students while surrounding communities happen to be in shambles.
The entertainment comes to reference the consumption, the consumption reinforces the entertainment, and the “education” becomes a form of both luxury amusement as well as conspicuous consumption. This is all perhaps the surest way to firm up the interests of global technocapital at the heart of neoliberalism. Due to issues like the above, our educational system, as Martha Nussbaum put it, risks: “producing generations of useful machines, rather than complete citizens who can think for themselves […].” I’d say we’re rewiring the brains of our students to crave endless dopaminergic stimulation—thus creating a class of zombie super-consumers—many of whom happen to be sacrificing huge blocks of their future wages for what is basically an initiation into the “global petty bourgeoisie.”
The question arises as to vectors of escape from the present milieu. This, I claim, is what is already occurring. Academia is being decoded, deterritorialized, circumvented by communities across the digital intellectual semiosphere. This calls for celebration and lament. How will we educate for democracy? And can we preserve some form of substantive reason? As outer portions of the Ivory Tower collapse, and those we call “wise” are busy reading The Baby Sitters Club, we should consider the diagnosis offered by Deleuze in Postscript:
“There is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons.”