The Academicist

Jul 02

Some Laidback Recommendations

Hey folks, 

So on a whim, I’ve decided to write a blog post of three solid recommendations of… well, stuff. Just go with it, ok? I don’t ask much of you, really. And if you’re already reading this for the cynicism and political soapboxing, then you won’t mind a bit of fun.

1. ) Aivi Tran & Steven “surasshu” Velema

So, if you hadn’t guessed, I’m a fan of the cartoon Steven Universe. Because I can get away with that unironically. Anyways, in addition to some solid art direction, the show is capped off with a great score provided by the folks noted above. The pair’s work on Steven Universe (which can be found here) and on their own album is just a splendid treat for the ears, friends.

2. ) Bad Machinery and the Bobbinsverse

John Allison’s Bad Machinery is a fantastic webcomic. He describes it as such: 

Bad Machinery tells the stories of three schoolgirl sleuths and three schoolboy investigators, attending Griswalds Grammar School in Keane End, Tackleford. While not exactly enemies, a mixture of pride, mistrust and pig-headedness keep them at cross purposes.

The whole ongoing story is really, well, just a boatload of fun with an injection of mystery and comedy. Also, the whole thing is part of the wider Bobbinsverse (but this series can indeed be read solo).

3. ) Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Woah. This show could well have been an HBO-funded retread of the Daily Show with one of their more popular correspondents, but dang is this show sharp. Oliver brings his A-game to a show that consistently casts its eye more broadly than its friends and competitors — with a focus on the world beyond a centering in American political dynamics. It’s genuinely one of the best shows in the genre, already!

Anyways, that’s enough for now. Hope that was fun. Also, if you’re looking for image sources, click the image.

All the best, 
- Brad.

Jun 27

One Reason I’m not a Marxist

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So, this might come as a surprise, but I’m not particularly Marxist. I mean, as an academic I am certainly Marxian and cannot deny the influence of broadly Marxist thinking in my own — that is all the case. But, I’m not a Marxist politically. While I’ve dabbled in such theory, my socialism isn’t really Marxist (for reasons I’ll get to).

See, I was reminded about this line of thought recently. My friend David — as is his want to do when things intersect with the PSE sector —  sent me an article on the recent critiques of ‘destructive innovation’ by Jill Lepore and of those responding to her (like Christopher Newfield). Now, Lepore’s critiques of said economic theory and its key proponent Clayton M. Christensen can be best put one of the closing paragraphs. Herein, Lepore states:

Disruptive innovation is a theory about why businesses fail. It’s not more than that. It doesn’t explain change. It’s not a law of nature. It’s an artifact of history, an idea, forged in time; it’s the manufacture of a moment of upsetting and edgy uncertainty. Transfixed by change, it’s blind to continuity. It makes a very poor prophet.

I think, though, the one expansion I’d make on this point is that the failures of the capitalistic theory of Christensen is yet another example of ‘progress narrative’ failing. Said example stands to serve as a warning against attempting to use the past (and the study of history) as the basis of predictive theory.

Now, mind you, Lepore demolishes Christensen for cherry-picking and shortsightedness in his determination of examples to back his theory, but this doesn’t detract from the generality of such a warning. This is not the milieu solely of shoddy craftsmen, but indeed many historians and political theorists.

Upon reading Margaret MacMillan’s The Uses and Abuses of History (see a video from 2009 with MacMillan about it), my long suspicions as a historian (and lover of historiography) of such narratives were crystallized, As one reviewer put it, MacMillan highlights that ”[i]f there is one thing that unites people of all backgrounds, it is an ability to get history seriously wrong”. It’s an excellent book and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for an introduction to these subjects.

And this brings us back to Marx. Marx, like Christensen (albeit, much, much more successfully) brings forth an intensive theory that is based in a historical narrative. The notion of the ‘End of History’.as it were and the ultimate triumph to a final state of the human condition, while laudable in its idealism, is indeed foolish. 

Francis Fukuyama (another who engages in such theorizing), explains the Hegelian and Marxist notion of the end of history well:

This did not mean that the natural cycle of birth, life, and death would end, that important events would no longer happen, or that newspapers reporting them would cease to be published. It meant, rather, that there would be no further progress in the development of underlying principles and institutions, because all of the really big questions had been settled.

Now, if one is to condemn Christensen and embrace (at least some) of the perspective of folks like MacMillan, how can one truly be a Marxist either? What is described above is a fundamental principle of said whole school of theory and, as I reject such a principle, I can never be a Marxist. 

Instead, I look to understand the past and theorize about the immediate present, so that I and others can step into a future that can be built not according to some iron laws that guide the spirit of human development, but by collective choice. I think that’s a brighter view of the world, in the end.

All the best,
- Brad.

Jun 25

Toronto G20, 4 years later: 18 disturbing facts all Canadians should know -

cdnpoli:

The Toronto G20 Summit of June 26-27, 2010, hosted by Stephen Harper, was an incredibly expensive undertaking that resulted in massive human rights violations against members of the public at the hands of the police. Despite this, politicians refuse to call a full public inquiry and hold police—as…