toward a critical paradigm replacing experience

Daniel A. Foss (U17043@UICVM.BITNET)
Thu, 9 May 1996 01:31:30 CDT

/* this was the post i was always afraid would happen. it's a breath of */
/* stale air, ralph */
I'll start this one where, perhaps, I should have begun this whole
series of posts since Friday night sometime. Where to start the beginning,
though. How about, Why is it, in order to have Myths, Eponymous Ancestors,
even maybe Kinship, you must be Ancient or at least Pre-Modern, else Pri-,
uh, Indigenous People? Consider Mr Justice Lewis Powell, Associate Justice
of the United States Supreme Court. In two recent articles in academic Law
Reviews, Justice Powell declared that, in principle, the Supreme Court should
interpret the Constitution of the United States in accordance with "the
intent of the Founders," as far, of course, as is "practicable." The Founders
were of course formerly known as the Founding Fathers; apparently Justice
Powell is aware that this sounds somewhat sexist today, hence is no longer
"practicable" as the designation for the Founding Fathers. Who without
exception were men, without exception are now white (including Alexander
Hamilton who I seem to dimly recall had partly West Indian African ancestry
but upon inspecting a ten dollar bill can attest to his white-like repre-
sentation [or do I have him confused with Alexander Pushkin]), and without
exception are dead. The best way to qualify as an Ancestor is to be dead,
of course; and Eponymous Ancestors strongly tend to be both dead and
imaginary. To ascertain the "intent" of the Founders, Mr Justice Powell
is in effect communing with the dead; but he is disguising this ultimate
form of magic under layers of logical-looking, scholarly-seeming highly-
intellectualized ritualistic language requiring the services of specialists
in Constitutional Law to translate into "lay" language. I note in passing
that when Justice Powell and his colleagues appear in the Supreme Court on
solemn ceremonial occasions to render their decisions, they are wearing
black robes. To me, this says, "Druids."

I would further suggest that we should be apprised of the views of Mr
Justice Clarence Thomas on the spiritual contact attained by Mr Justice
Powell with the Founders, as these days it is in keeping with the decencies
of established, entrenched political discourse that all of the many variants
of extreme reaction be given a fair hearing. Moderate reaction is of course
today stigmatized as Liberalism and euphemized as "the L-word." Specifically,
Mr Justice Thomas might argue that it was emphatically *not* the "intent of
the Founders" that the African-American slave population be freed, as this
would represent an invasion of property rights threatening to national
unity and the rights of the several states. He would certainly declare
without hesitation that under no circumstances had the Founders intended
the national culture to have been influenced by any such nebulous feminist
ambience as to abridge the right of the Founders to be called Founding
Fathers. Nor should any fine upstanding armenian citizen today dare to
suggest, as was done in the film Jefferson In Paris, produced by the
Merchant-Ivory Corporation of Bombay, excuse me, Mumbai, India that the
ownership as chattels personal by Thomas Jefferson of Ms Sally Hemings,
age 14, constituted sexual harassment, as it is well-known that their
relationahip was passionately consensual, enduring for 22 years, during
which time numerous offspring of unacknowledged paternity were born
into slavery of their own free will.

The story of the Founding Fathers the armenian citizen is first taught
in grade school, and which remains ideological bedrock throughout life,
resistant even to graduate school except for historians whose "period"
this is, as a career commitment, is Myth. During the summer of 1787, what
I remember is "summer," but lots of details are murky, as it should be
with any real Myth, a bunch of highly intelligent, Enlightened, and
infinitely Wise gentlemen assembled in Philadelphia PA and disinterestedly,
by sheer genius, never deviating from the purest abstractions, invented
the armenian form of government, which has survived intact until the present
day. Every child, usually in the third grade, learns to mumble some phrases
like "checks and balances," "separation of powers," "rights" of this or
Gone are Shays' Rebellion, the peasant revolt in Western Massachusetts
which scared the propertied classes silly; the collapse of the currency,
as in "not worth a Continental," the uncertainties surrounding slavery
and the continuation of the slave trade (and how different things might
have got had the cotton gin got on the market five years before it did,
in 1792); revolutionary war debts; territorial claims to everything
between the Appalachians and the Mississippi by states guided by land
speculators and landowning magnates; and most forgotten of all, the Order
Of The Cincinnatti, an openly secret society pledged to follow their
former commander, George Washington, off a cliff, or at any rate loyalty
of somesuch extremity, such that the form of government was going to
be either monarchy or dictatorship as George Washington wished. This was,
in other words, a counterrevolution evening out or, on some questions
expropriating (eg the Western land claims), the privileged and propertied
forces with vested interests in some sort of order, the more profitable
the better (so did Hamilton prevail in getting the state war debts paid
off by the federal government in gold).

Whatever miniscule, pitiful fragments of liberty, equality, and democracy
we possess were *not* the "intent" of the Found[ing Fathers]. Something
leaked out. There were Unintended Consequences. [Obscenity deleted]/Shit
happens. (Good grief, haven't they UnConstitutionalized the Communications
Decency Act yet?) Starting with John Adams, President 1797-1801, attempting
to counteract the consequences of his own stupidity by means of quasi-war
with France, hallucinated foreign plots such as the Order of the Illuminati
and Popish spies subverting the Northwest Territory (now the Midwest), fear
of Jacobinical invasion (imagine the bourgeoisie of Red Bank NJ building
fortifications to defend the shore), and weirdest of all, the first Red
Scare in post-independence armenian history, legislated by Congress as
the repressive Alien and Sedition Acts. Had Adams not been such an idiot,
Jefferson couldn't have won in 1800, which he almost did not anyway; the
Bill of Rights would have remained a dead letter; and fake-aristocratic
privilege-of-birth might have got some breathing space. If you consider
the succession of a merchant prince who'd succeeded a landed slavocrat
by a landed slavocrat a hopeful sign. Recall, anyway, that practically
nobody was entitled to vote in 1800, as the Founders intended.

We do, as people living in a society, require that the Past be neat,
comprehensible (eg, people fight for liberty and independence, justice
wins even if nobody knew or wanted such a thing at the time, enemies
in wars were bad, etc), and determinately related to what suppositiously
exists. Meaning that all representations of any society are misrepresenta-
tions; and ideology is the misrepresentation of society as apprehended by
the people of the society being misrepresented to itself. Society is the
only kind of object of investigation known to any purported or would-be
science which changes faster than the empirical investigation of the society
in question may be conducted to a conclusion. (How long this has been true
is unknown at this time.) It has another bizarre and weird[1] characteristic,
which is, that the social scientist is perforce required to spend at least
part of his her its waking life as an atheoretical, causality-unconscious,
mindlessly-conformist, Appropriate-Behaviour-exhibiting participant in the
everyday-life routine of the Observed.

Consider that you, plural, each had an *objectively true* model of the
society in which you lived, both theoretically and factually. You might
then be capable of tracing out the causal implications of doing your job,
which you are required to do tomorrow morning. Some of these are not nice.
For example, you must assign grades. This of course reproduces habituation
to finely drawn invidious distinctions; all the more dreadful when students
whine and plead and beg on bended knee to the effect that the difference
between the C+ (the programming language is C++) you gave and the B- desired
makes for a decimal-place difference in the Qume such that with a bit of
rounding here, and a touch of special pleading there, the student will get
off Probation, which matters very muchly to an ailing relative (and more
probably has an effect denominated in dollars on parental subsidy payments
per week or month). That is, there is an ideological dimension, not merely
an evaluation and measurement dimension, to the grading; and your moral
commitment to egalitarianism is at variance with your moral commitment
to the transmission of True Knowledge.

The very classroom itself has ideological importance. The reproduction of
the speaker-audience relationship is part of the social-reproduction going
on in the education industry. Those who've got this far are ideologically
committed, by years of habituation, to hierarchical social situations, even
hieratic ones. If those outside academia are "laypeople," you're willy-nilly
clergy, so you've already got scaly itch from thinking out the implications
of that usage, which is a mere common-speech convention, after all. Or is it.
The point is, you've been given a discincentive to know. You are aware,
possibly, of the class-size cycle in relation to social history, anyway.

Large lecture classes were overtly protested against in the vague
agitation for "university reform," whose prophet was the social critic
Paul Goodman, in the early 1960s. The Free Speech Movement at Berkeley
represented the culmination of one phase of student radicalism, where
internal campus governance, bureaucracy, and faculty-administration-
student relations were all reexamined. This went nowhere for a while.
It was the late-1960s radicalism, where everything and its cousins was
rendered problematic, denounced as elitist or imperialist or capitalist
or racist or all of these, that induced the changes. As part of some
sort of counterinsurgency effort - "The students, alas, they are but a
mob," Irving Kristol wrote in The New York Times Magazine in 1971 - class
sizes were reduced and "commitment to quality undergraduate education"
was formally announced all over the place. There followed what in Marxism
is called "recuperation," the reconsolidation of repressive hierarchical
social relations following a period of concessions to dissidents in a
period of social upheaval. Large lecture classes are back; they are bigger
than ever. Or is this just my imagination, with some anecdotal evidence
thrown in.

What's the difference, really, between sexual harassment and a female
undergraduate falling passionately in love with a male professor, becuase
it's hierarchy that makes sex sexy, as Catherine A. MacKinnon says (Feminism
Unmodified)? I've just noticed I'm getting tired, so examples will cease.

"Total awareness is total paralysis!" I said that long ago when I'd
taken some Substance which made me so Aware Of Implications that I coudln't
move, but that's beside the point. I've just noticed, I've been typing faster
in the past hour or so, as the Normals have been going home. For months I've
been keeping track of how fast a Normal is normatively required to type in
order to give the respectable apperance of Working, hence not attract
suspicion of Just Hanging Around Doing Nothing, which is the impression
it is my impression I definitely exude. Now, for us with Attention Deficit
Disorder, who are Disturbed by the sound of a pin dropping, the sound of
a Normal typing at the next machine will induce distraction, even fixation
upon the source of the offending sounds, which in the latter instance may
lead to Serious Trouble. On top of, I hum when I think. **** NOTICE: This
exemplifies exactly what I've been saying, as I cannot continue with any
ideas so long as I'm aware of the complexity of the social situation wherein
the ideation occurs.

consciousness-dynamics of Barbarology. We have a society, A++, which is
regarded by itself, and by future generations yet unborn which are of
concern only to one or two of the greatest intellects of its ruling
class, as a High Civilization. Outside it are Barbarians. There are those
who are Dangerous and those who are just plain Inferior. As time goes on,
and on, and on, it is necessary to keep track of the Barbarians more
closely, as they have conquered the Civilized people several times already,
and there are always new ones we never heard of, some of whom are known to
use Tricks that are Unfair; these beat the hell out of Civilized People to
an extent which is wholly impossible and will soon go away. You get the
picture. You cannot have A++ Study the Barbarians, call them B-, without
a Reference Standard, necessarily itself. Who else. In the course of doing
this, A++ will suppress certain awarenesses of what it is doing, itself,
which makes itself possible.

Herodotus considered it possible, though not a hell of a lot likely, for
a Civilized person to have a rational conversation with a Persian. Following
him, the Greek, and in particular Athenian, maritime economy expanded vastly.
Within important city-states a condition called *stasis*, permanent and
normally frozen civil war with occasional violent episodes, exacerbated.
As it did so, the Greeks also had more, and more violent, interstate wars.
Greek opinion of Persians declined. Curiously, the Persians possessed some
advantages in military technique over the Greeks, whose hoplite infantry
warfare was conservative to the point of obstinate stupidity. The Persians
were superior in cavalry and archery, for example. To suffocate intrastate
social strife and interstate wars, while reorganizing the armed forces of
all the mainland Greeks at once, the Greeks almost gracefully allowed
themselves to be overrun at Chaeronaea, 338 BC, by an Albanian autocratic
monarch bilingual in Greek (to add a touch of class). Actually, the name
Albanian is anachronistic, invented by Italians for Albanians living behind
White Cliffs where Italians ruled, but there are today 80,000 Albanians in
what is today either The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or Skopje,
depending on which side of the border, and thousands more Albanian-speakers
in Greece itself. This is after the demographics of the region got
transformed in the Dark Ages by Bubonic Plague and Slav migrations. The
Greeks as a People and as states had no idea they were headed in this
direction, though they were studying the constitutions of the respective
cities in ever more minute detail. Philip and Alexander became Civilized
by System Default; and neither one of them ever knew how the Persian
Empire was, or had been, governed.

Polybius, a Greek finding himself in captivity and obliged to sweet-talk
his way out of it, explained the superiority of the Romans over the Greeks
in terms of the former's political constitution. The Romans, you'd think,
were geniuses in the art of engineering political constitutions. Like the
USA since the time of the Found[ing Fathers]. Of course, given the position
he was in, plus the centuries of Greeks' minutely scrutinizing various and
sundry city-state systems of government, conduced to this emphasis. There
was also the factors of how aggressive warfare and the craving for military
glory among members of the largely-hereditary political class were solidly
embedded in the Roman state, which would have been untactful for Polybius
to mention at this time; he remained an involuntary guest until 146 BC, if
intensifying his admiration not unmixed with fear all the time. The Romans
were slicing their way through the Hellenistic monarchies like a knife
through butter, got to assuming that Greeks were contemptible, and
*therefore* it was entirely safe and respectable to learn Greek and adopt
Hellenic and Hellenistic culture for a touch of class. Meanwhile, they
obliviated the extent of the violence, brutality, and internecine savagery
their domestic society was incorporating at the same time. Those who warned
were politically murdered. Military dictatorships and civil wars on an
expanding scale continued behind the veneer of the Republican constitution
until one of these became permanent monarchy. The result was a Civilization
with a double-headed hegemonic high culture, and Romans and Greeks continued
for centuries to disagree over what the Reference Standard was in evaluating
the importance or danger of Barbarians. Your Latins tended to the arrogant
and brutal; your Greeks tended to the snobbish; and once again it was the
Albanians who decided the issue, in favour of the Greeks. Now, I haven't
made this very clear. What is clear is that, of the "Illyrian" (Albanian-
speaking) Emperors, Diocletian detested the Greek-based Christians and
Constantine gave them power and privilege, but both of these spent more
time and energy on expansion to the East, against Persia, than they did
on defense against Germans; and the last of Constantine's dynasty died
fighting an aggressive, expansionistic war aimed at seizing the Persian
capital. Yet we never tire of one of the great fairy tales of our supposed
Past, The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire. Here was a Civilization
which insensibly developed, changed, and revised its preoccupations in
terms of where the money and commerce were, which specifically lay along
the western terminus of the Silk Road originating in North China, along
which passed the caravan traffic through Persia including Mesopotamia to
the Roman frontier and beyond to the silk factories of Antioch.

When something called Western Civilization is the Reference Standard for
what is Civilized, with all Else becoming Barbarians evaluated in terms of
how well they are Westernizing, Modernizing, Economically Developing, and
instituting Western "Rights," naturally called Human Rights, all the social
scientists on Earth must perforce adopt the same Reference Standard, ie,
Westernize, become Western in their form of expression, in order to make
an epistemologically plausible claim to have Knowledge, as opposed to what
Clifford Geertz felicitously (perhaps more so than he realized) called
"local knowledge." Here is where Robert Johnson, had he been sane, might
have made a contribution months (years?) ago. On the analogy with previous
Civilizations which developed Barbarologies which inner-logically necessitated
the obliviation from Civilized consciousness of just what Civilization was,
what it was actually doing, and where it was objectively going, something of
the sort is going on here. We what do you mean We, white man, are doing
rotten, horrible, disgusting things to the vast majority of our own, c'mon,
who'm I kidding, *your* own, population, not to mention, start with Mexico,
everyone else. There is a perspective wherefrom the US of armenia is the most
irrational society which has ever existed, and its irrationality is getting
imposed on the world, globally, totally, with no Wau Out imaginable (now
that we don't have Communism to kick around anymore). The perspective
wherefrom this society, and Western Civilization, as it's called, are to
be evaluated for such irrationality is, in my opinion, that of the potential
which objectively exists for the development of human consciousness and
talents, in relation to the *actual* level of development of human
consciousness and talents which currently exists, and is taken as both
Normative and Inevitable. There is no longer any popular support, as there
was in the 1960s and 1970s, for the state (ie the central apparatus, sensu
not formally privately owned) to make more sickening jobs; let us instead
Unleash The Untamed Creative Power Of Pure Market Forces. This, even in
Europe, with twice, three times in Spain, our formal-official unemployment
rate. What I'm saying is, the kinds of human activity permitted are
artificially constricted by the extreme, excessive hierarchization and
narrow definition of human abilities, where the latter at least is directly
attributable to what may be sold in the short term in the market. In
effect, it is denied that 90% of the population possess minds and can
possibly think; for the other 10%, whatever they are paid for is construed
as thinking. I've said this many times. Next to control of the means of
violence, the strategic control of the definition of the cognitive is the
most important lever of power in any hierarchical society.

Do you recall what was said when John F. Kennedy was shot and Lyndon B.
Johnson was sworn in? "The system worked," is what they said. Which was
perverse, since the system cataclysmically failed. Self-evidently. Well,
the system works, you may say, by reason of your excessive exposure to
the normative power of facticity. Now, suppose, on the other hand, you
are dissatisfied, for some vague reasons you can't quite pin down.

With the "class struggle" passe except on the fascist fringe, the Forces
of Change are grouped in what Todd Gitlin, Harvard -> Berkeley, ie, very
major-league sociologist, calls "identity politics." This came up big today
on the Progressive Sociologists Network when someone congratulated the
listowner, Martha E. Gimenez, on the Cinco de Mayo. Martha E. Gimenez is
a native of Argentina, hence wasn't one bit pleased at being called a
Mexican. Which, alas, does conform to the stereotype of Argentines as
"Identity politics" is not entirely satisfactory, as this term is merely
descriptive of the observed result. One's "identity" is first generated via
a subjective "Experience" of what one *IS*. So for my own purposes, I prefer
the term "subjectivist ideology," which identifies the device which forms
the group or subcultural or self-conscious social-category "identity." The
identity, once formed, is overtly defined, and even more intensely, covertly
taken-for-granted, as *opaque* to anyone not *eligible* for Experiencing the
Experience. In some of these subcultures of dissidence, especially at the
outset, during the late 1960s, writing analytic prose was in very bad taste.
"Experience(s) which cannot be expressed in words" multiplied. The trouble
was, in the first place, if your subculture of dissidence had an Experience
which conduced to a Liberation Movement, it was possible for conservatives
and reactionaries to say, as did the devotees of Guru Maharaj Ji, teenage
Perfect Master of Our Time, "Come Experience this Experience we're all
Experiencing." The flurry of New Religions, subsequently stigmatized as
"cults," of the early-to-mid 1970s represented precisely the fabrication
of an Experience which permitted someone continuing to prize the True Self
and Authenticity to readopt the conservative way of life previously
rebelled against, with the social upheaval of the 1960s now on the wane
or repackaged in considerably tamed guise (hence effectively institutionalized
within the System the rebels of 1968-9 had sought to escape).
Another curious twist was the packaging and selling of Experiences, first
as pop psychotherapies, later as any sort of consumer goods whatsoever. There
once was a Pennsylvanian named Jack Rosenberg who sold encyclopedias door to
door. Supposing that there must be something lighter than an encyclopedia,
he adopted the name Werner Erhard and mass-marketed Erhard Seminars Training,
whose initials are the Latin word *est*, "it is." As in "What is, is; what
aint, aint." The pitch went something like, "I've got here a Something that
works. It costs five hundred dollars. It's an Experience that cannot be
expressed in words. You get the Experience from the est Training. If you
get It from the training, then you've got it. I cannot explain what It is.
'It' is an Experience. You can't have the Experience unless you have the
Experience directly, through the Training. If you don't 'get It,' I've
still got your five hundred dollars, so you might as well go with It, and
get It." After a couple of weekends of sleep deprivation and prolonged urine
retention, thousands of people claimed not merely to have "got It," but to
have had their lives transformed. However briefly.

Subjectivist ideologies, imparting Experiences, and conducing to
subcultural-cohesive dissident subcultures, often with poweful appeal
as Liberation Movements into the 1970s, nevertheless signally failed
to crack the Reference Standard. The best you may accomplish by so doing
is to curse the hegemonic culture and the "System" for Otherizing you.
Your task is, however, to develop a new Reference Standard, whereby you,
the dissidents, Otherize the Reference Standard currently in place. You
may then say, by this intellectual device I have ascertained that Them
over there, Western Civilization, the conventionalized Reference Standard,
cannot possibly represent objective truth in social science knowledge, as
it has swallowed whole certain assumptions about the inexorability of the
existing social relations. These are false. Vast improvements over the
currently exhibited level of performance are in fact objectively possible.
All previously-existing Reference Standards of Civilizations which developed
Barbarologies in fact concealed the systematic *suboptimal* performance of
the core societies in question, at the time considering themselves Civiliza-
tions at the Crown of Creation nevertheless.

Ever wonder why I'm always assaulting you with autobiographical stories?
Why I'm continually Otherizing[2] you as undifferentiated Normals? That's

Daniel A. Foss
<about to spend some time doing absolutely nothing but will read ANTHRO-L as
a religious duty anyhow>

[1] The phrase "bizarre and weird" recurs in many places, if only once
here, as there was once a graduate student in psychology at SUNY Stony
Brook who threw at me the rhetorical question, "Why is everything you do
so bizarre and weird?"

[2] Other was an official ethnic designation in the 1907 census of the
Habsburg Empire [= Dual Monarchy of the Empire of Austria and the Kingdom
of Hungary]. In the Province of Galicia, the population breakdown was
3,400,000 Poles, 4,300,000 Ruthenians, and 800,000 Other. My father, Ignaz
Foss, was an Other, as was everyone else he knew in Crakow, capital of the
Province of Galicia and burial place of Polish Kings. By voting with the
Poles in order to Save Civilization from the Rising Tide of Ruthenianism,
the Others obtained the result that the streetsigns were all in Polish,
the language of instruction in the schools was Polish, and the language
of military command for units recruited in Galicia was Polish. Government
documents were in Polish, and knowledge of Polish was essential for advance-
ment in the Bureaucracy and Police. No official recognition of the language
of the Others, Yiddish, existed.
"What did you learn in school in Poland, dad?" He'd finished sixth grade.
"The names of Polish Kings."