Crush, Kill, Destroy

And So Forth

Further to recent rumblings on tenured radicals, KC Johnson has some thoughts on the latest adventures of Duke University’s infamous humanities faculty and their classroom activism. Or, as their programme puts it, “alternative political imaginaries” and – grotesquely, given recent events - “speaking truth to power”:

How many Duke parents, alumni, or trustees are aware that the University’s humanities openly state that their goal is not instructing students in the traditional disciplines of the liberal arts, but instead engaging in political activism based on a “critique of commodity culture, representational practices, colonial thought, patriarchal structures, tyrannical regimes, racial hierarchies, sexual normativities, and so forth”?

The whole thing. Related. And



Speaking of Activism...

Read this awful employment news from Iraq.


KC Johnson's Academic Non-Fan Club gets in their licks at Acephalous:


Critique this, theory that, these people are about as useful as tits on a bull. Hi, what do you do? I study theory. Oh, the theory of what? No, just theory. Oh, so you're a formal systems modeler. No, I'm an English professor. No you're not, you're a bullshit artist.

Theodore Roosevelt said, "It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; ... who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, if he wins, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat".

Erwin Rommel said, "What was really amazing was the speed with which the Americans adapted themselves. They were assisted in this by their tremendous practical and material sense and by their lack of all understanding for tradition and useless theories".

Or as George Bernard Shaw once noted, "A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing". And now the humanities do nothing useful, or worse. It's such a sad loss of the beauty of humanity, and such a waste of synapses.

We used to say that a liberal university education broadens the mind. Based on trends in weight distribution, it's now beginning to look like all it does is widen the ass. May we have the next loser please? Individual or cultural. It's not up to me.



It’s striking, to me at least, just how readily much of the humanities has become overtly and improperly politicised, overwhelmingly in one direction, and all under the auspices of “theory”. How did we arrive at a position where overt political advocacy is considered, by some, part of a professor’s job description? The Duke programme mentioned above announces that, “almost all humanities scholarship is now considered political in one sense or another, whether it names its political intention or not.” But I wonder to what extent that claim, and its implicit excesses, has been made possible by a previous generation of “radicals” whose methods and agendas were no less dubious.

Academic sack beatings. It’s the only way.

“…about as useful as tits on a bull.”

Heh. Bless you for that. It’s made my day.


Everything is political in one sense or another, at least when more than one human is involved (and I'm not even sure that I'm not political even by myself), yet when institutions find themselves without valid cause, and then descend into politics qua politics, that's not a good thing.

Politics is how people put the parts together. If one has no parts to contribute, only politics, then one is simply a shyster. Or, on a good day, a misallocated gland (glad you liked that ;-)


I think there’s something very odd about the psychology of those who parade theory’s more dubious political claims. There seems to be some dissonance between the rather grand political posturing and the actual insularity, triviality and impotence of much of the theorising. Perhaps this mismatch, and a fear of its exposure, helps explain the bluster and bitterness that so often arises.


I think it's the fear of exposure. Their postulations appear to be being rendered untenable by the advancing evidence. The sagacious adjust their aim. The dependents wallow and wail. Dr. Watson may not be pleasent news for the apparatchiki, but he's probably correct:


“The dependents wallow and wail.”

Well, for instance, if you peruse the academic “work” of Duke’s Wahneema Lubiano, you might easily mistake the author for an embittered, mediocre and paranoid racist. There are paragraphs, entire pages, of fantastical raving and unintentionally hilarious claims of persecution. (Lest we forget, Lubiano - a tenured and statusful professor at an elite PC university - is “physically traumatized and psychologically assaulted… in the dark of a power that never admits to its own existence.”) The obligatory jargon can’t quite conceal the disorder of her thoughts or the vacuity of her claims. And the less substantiated those claims are, the more sweeping and bombastic they become. But bombast doesn’t make the lie invisible. And I’m guessing that’s part of what makes her so… angry.


Wahneema is a zit on the gluteus of humanity. Humanity's problem is that it cares. There are far more important matters gluteusiumus, such as the Girl from Ipanema:


Aha! I found the original '64 Stan Getz & Astrud Gilberto version:

Tall and tan and young and lovely,
The girl from Ipanema goes walking,
And when she passes,
Each one she passes goes - ah.

When she walks, she's like a samba,
That swings so cool and sways so gently,
That when she passes,
Each one she passes goes - aah.


It has to be the Astrud version, really. Aah.


There's also an excellent "Corcovado" by Stan and Astrud here:

Which reminds me of the inimitable Sade - - what a voice.

Poor Wahneema. Just being a flat tyre with a big mouth is a tough row to hoe.


"Just being a flat tyre with a big mouth is a tough row to hoe."

Good God! Block that metaphor! :)


Ah, Robyn Wiegman. Know her far too well. She and I had the same outside department faculty member on our committees (though we were in two different departments). He liked to throw parties, and you know how that works, somebody on your committee throws a party, you'd damn well better go. That's how I know her.

She was one of those lesbian separatist collective types, clearly insane with a grating personality, and always screaming about something. At the time, she was fond of ranting about how Andrea Dworkin was a sell-out. She was a black-armbanded Angela Davis wannabe. She may very well have moved to the right since then (she couldn't have moved any further to the left). That's the only way I can see how she got a job, as loud and obnoxious and nuts as she was. It doesn't say much for Duke's faculty that they hired her.



I vaguely recall some prattling about white men secretly wanting to castrate black men. Time for a sack beating, methinks. Here’s a taste of Ms. Wiegman’s lucidity, from “Whiteness Studies and the Paradox”:

“I am interested in Forrest Gump as the specific instance and the popular imaginary as the general context for thinking about the academic emergence of an antiracist knowledge project designed to interrogate and historicize whiteness: whiteness studies... If social construction has been used to de-essentialize the racially minoritized subject - to wrestle subjectivity from its oversaturation, indeed reduction to embodiment - then whiteness studies evinces the anxiety of embodiment on the other side of racial power hierarchies, an anxiety that is in itself the consequence of counterhegemonic race discourses that have put pressure not just on what but on how the white body means…”

I love how airless, insecure blathering of this kind - and it is very much ‘of a kind’ - triggers my spellchecker into fits of underlining. Alas, my Tendentious Post-Structuralist Horseshit Detector™ is burnt out from overuse.


"I vaguely recall some prattling about white men secretly wanting to castrate black men."

Gosh, not so secret:

"She skillfully demonstrates that draconian statutes prescribing execution or castration were only one aspect, albeit an important one, of a continuum of antebellum southern white responses to accusations that African American men had raped white women."


There's a huge literature on this. I'd stifle the guffaws, frankly. Just let's be thankful (I guess) that the castration has become symbolic.


Dr Dawg,

“I’d stifle the guffaws, frankly.”

Perhaps I wasn’t clear. The prattle I recall (vaguely) concerned a much more general secret urge, supposedly still lurking in the dark, dark hearts of white folk. Or white men, anyway. I’m not mocking actual historical incidents of castration; I’m mocking those who employ “theory” and Lacanian psychoclaptrap to make absurd pseudo-political claims about people like thee and me. Mockery is most definitely in order.

As is their being fired. Out of a cannon. Into the Sun.

Horace Dunn


Some of the youngsters with whom I work frequently become vexed and dispirited by tales of celebrity excesses they read in the newspapers. Paris Hilton, in particular causes much fuming and the pursing of lips. Why is it, they wonder, that these people are so feted and privileged when they do little or nothing of any value. I tell them to ignore them. Just ignore them, and they'll go away.

I wonder whether the tiresome academics much discussed here might similarly go away if they were ignored. I wonder whether they really are causing much harm. After all, if we can remain unpersuaded by their blather, then why not their students? I don't know the answer to this. I am merely wondering out loud. But, as Mariel Hemmingway said at the end of "Manhatten", you've just got to have more faith in people.

In case you're feeling disinclined to put faith in people right now, this might prove efficacious:



“I wonder whether the tiresome academics much discussed here might similarly go away if they were ignored.”

Apparently not. If you’ve paid good money for a humanities course, or your parents have, it’s not so easy to totally ignore the content. There’s an investment, literally, and often emotionally. Don’t forget, young people are rarely so credulous as when they believe they’re being “radical”. Even if one can remain detached from the content and its contradictions, it’s easy to become bored and demoralised in the process. If you’d like the hokum merchants we’ve mentioned to go away, I think exposure and mockery are more effective tools. If they bare their little teeth in response, all the better.

There’s also the issue of their bringing the broader institution into disrepute, which is what has happened, and continues to happen with each new excess. (See above.) It’s easy to destroy credibility and trust; it’s not so easy to rebuild it. I have, I think, used the phrase “intellectual vandalism.”

But the Ukuleles were cute.


That's cerrtainly intriguing, given how fond she used to be of invoking castration for men in general. I didn't pay her much attention. She was in the humanities (comp lit, if I remember correctly), and well, we just assumed anybody in the humanities or education was best ignored.

Xanthippe Wimmin's Collective. That was it. Old memories.

Horace Dunn


Yes, you're probably right. As I said in my comment, I was only wondering out loud (I'd also been drinking a rather special bottle of pinot noir so was feeling inclined to smile upon humanity, and the humanities). The more I wonder the more I see that you've probably adopted the right tack (besides, poking fun at twaddle-merchants is good sport).

I do think, though, that, if only to stop one growing depressed about the situation, it should be recognised that the influence of these people is limited. You said "intellectual vandallism". Perhaps "intellectual onanism" might be nearer the mark.


“I’d also been drinking a rather special bottle of pinot noir so was feeling inclined to smile upon humanity, and the humanities…”

Pah, that’s foolish Earthling sentiment. The puny humans must be crushed underf… Wait a minute. Did I say that out loud?


Horace Dunn

Don't worry. I'm going to give up on poncey pinot noir. From now on it's rum all the way. Yes. Rum's a man's drink.

Grunt grunt.


Yeah, no, that won't work, David, you're definately human.


I’m assuming you mean that in the nicest possible way.


If Sun Tzu's advice could be summarized in three items, they would be: know yourself, know your enemy, and choose your battles. I meant it in the sense of the first of those items.


What do you think of Sadie Plant? Her "Zeroes + Ones : Digital Women and the New Technoculture" is a fascinating read. Do I agree with it? Not entirely. But it got me thinking.

She's easily tarnished with the same brush as the silly people discussed here. But her ideas are far more original and interesting. And, like Mr Eagleton, she can write.



“What do you think of Sadie Plant?”

I’m not sure who you’re asking. I’m not familiar with the book in question. I find the broad genre very confused, often trivial and more than a little aggravating. So I try not to spend too much time immersed in its alleged delights. I did, however, look up the following review, which may shed some light, albeit indirectly:

“Plant manages to extract a bewildering complex of often surprising, sometimes questionable feminist arguments from the implications of digital technology. She rightly makes much of the sexual symbolism of the 1 and the 0, pointing out that while psychoanalysis - and, by implication, the Western male psyche - defines women in terms of absence or lack, the 0 in binary code, in the logic gates of digital circuits, is a ‘positive gap’, the 1 being a negative block to the current. Likewise, woman's supposed lack of a soul, or central point of integrated personality, lends her a natural affinity to the decentralised networking models that have revolutionised the world.”

The “Western male psyche” seems a rather loaded idea to me, but setting that aside for a moment (along with the use of strained computing analogies), it’s more loaded and questionable still to claim that this “Western male psyche” also “defines women in terms of absence or lack.” And I have to say I had no idea that women are widely regarded as not having a soul or a “central point of integrated personality.” Who believes such things? This doesn’t remotely describe my relationships with women, or the relationships of people I know well.

Assuming the reviewer is accurately representing Plant’s book, one can only hope, perhaps vainly, that the author has some pretty solid evidence to support these statements. But such is the enormously tendentious nature of the claims (or at least the reviewer’s summary of them), and such is the expectation of finding plenty of similar assertions, I’m sure I can be forgiven for not wanting to read more.

The Thin Man

"sexual symbolism of the 1 and the 0"

So much reasoning by anaolgy. So much self absorbed rubbish. Why are feminists so completely absorbed by wanting everything to be about c*cks and p*ssies?

If I am building a circuit to deliver cans of soda from a vending machine using "AND" / "OR" boolean functions, the only thing on my mind is how to acheive the can of soda being reliably ejected from the device only when the customer has put in the correct change, using the smallest number of logical steps and thereby the smallest number of gates.

And the girl who sat next to me in my Practical Electronics Applications class seemed similarly unconcerned about the gender implications that flow from Boolean theory.

"in the logic gates of digital circuits, is a ‘positive gap’, the 1 being a negative block to the current"

In fact the transistors that form the "gates" that form logic circuits come in two flavours. PNP and NPN. NPN is the commonist type because it is easier to produce in quantity and generally gives more reliable results. NPN circuits produce a negative version of the result you are trying to acheive.

Circuits produced using this type of gate are then "corrected" by applying an inverter, which changes an output of 0 to 1 or 1 to 0, to the circuit to give the correct logical output.

In other words, for a vending machine, the logic value of "0" is the output that releases the can of Pepsi, and the inverter creates the 1 that actually switches on the release mechanism.

So you could make an argument that logic gate based systems are in fact TRANSGENDERED since most outputs have been inverted.

I really wish these twonks would get real jobs. What do they add to human knowledge? ZERO. And that result doesn't need an inverter.


I use an inverter on these sorts of people.

When they write about others, they are writing about themselves.
When they write about themselves, they are writing about how they want others to see them.


Inverter? I don't even know her. Use an Op Amp!
(Have you got all the stuffing up one end?)

While it may be the case that normatively people think of mating a plug and a jack (never mind cannon plugs), it remains the case that one can bolt two flanges together.

I see your 0 and 1, Miss Plant, and I raise you an α and an ω.


Morning all.

Judging by the examples archived here, it’s pretty clear that the “scholars” in question are much more concerned with the appearance of insight and profundity than with actually being insightful or profound. (That would be the “intellectual onanism” Horace referred to.) More often than not, the opaque language and strained metaphors seem to be an attempt to obscure what *isn’t* there – evidence, typically – and to mask logical shortcomings and endless loaded assertions. Maybe it’s best thought of as a bad facsimile of intelligence. The habitual use of the same needless, tendentious, jargon (used in the same needless and tendentious ways) is a pretty good sign that precious little original thought is actually taking place. This is no great surprise, as the “disciplines” in which the worst hokum merchants operate now appeal strongly to a subset of insecure ideologues, for whom ersatz thought is just as good as the real deal, and more in keeping with their abilities.

I can’t say much about the Plant title above, though the extracts I’ve seen don’t suggest it deserves to be taken seriously. (Some have seen fit to hail Plant as “Britain’s best and fiercest techno-theorist” – which, I fear, may be true - and the Guardian wondered if Plant might be “the most interesting woman in Britain” – which, thankfully, is not.) When I see loaded phrases such as “the guardians of the straight white world”, my eyes tend to glaze over. Plant refers to the “cultural police” and “the old guardians” of this and that several times, albeit vaguely, and with the implication that she is fighting heroically against some vast and creaking orthodoxy. But it’s not clear to me what sort of heroic radicalism is expressed by her unsupported claims, inappropriate metaphors and use of quasi-Burroughsian imagery. From ‘Becoming Positive’:

“Cultural Immunodeficiency Virus is the deep cover scrambler which rewrites the most basic programs of cultural control. Even now, and like all the retroviruses it retrospectively interconnects, it can only be seen in the effects it leaves behind - the antibodies produced by its hosts, and the havoc it plays with them.”

My objection to material of this kind is not that it’s very sloppy, which it is, but that it pretends to be something it’s not and affects a rigour and intellectual status it hasn’t actually earned. It’s a kind of pseudo-intellectual packing material and has a lowering effect on expected standards of argument and enquiry.


Speaking of Prof. Johnson, apparently there has been a bit of a dust up over there in regard of a Prof. Piot, the latter of whom has been eviscerated in the process:


Thanks for that. I’ve kept an eye on some of the exchanges. If someone takes issue with one of Johnson’s points, he usually seems prepared to address the dispute, generally with evidence or some clarification. The same cannot be said of those who’ve taken greatest exception to his commentary. I suppose this is an example of the lowering of expectations I mentioned earlier.

What strikes me is how closely the overall exchange mirrors my own debates with hard-line religious believers. Johnson’s actual specific points are rarely addressed in good faith; a great deal of ad hominem and smearing by association comes into play (“NeoCon”, “Horowitzian”, etc); and the general response is one of pompous indignation and personal venom, perhaps the result of being exposed by someone with stronger arguments.


Losers hate winners.


It’s more than resentment at losing an argument, though. After all, it’s possible to acknowledge an error or concede an argument if one’s position has been held in good faith. I think this is about exposure. Possibly involving some mismatch between self-image (“speaking truth to power”) and reality.


Point taken, yet I wasn't referring to winning or losing an argument, I was referring to winning or losing at the game of life, which is much more than an argument.


Ah. The game of life?

The Thin Man

What strikes me so often with drivel like Plants' is that we have an academic who apparently is interested in women in computing, but her work will not HELP a SINGLE woman get a career in computing.

I would have thought that if one were serious about helping ones' "sisters" (Oh god, even with the scare quotes, I feel dirty writing that word; a bit like the shiver one gets when the some situation requires the use of the word "comrade")overthrow the maleocracy that is the computing profession, a good guide to programming or networking, or indeed ANYTHING of a practical nature would be better than this "philosophy" and politics.

Such books are usually grisly and fatuous diatribes. They substitute clever wordplay and juxtaposition for serious thought and appeal to their audience by ego stroking.

Horace Dunn

Hello The Thin Man

I think you've hit the nail on the head. I can't comment on the case in point since I've never read Sadie Plant, but so much of this discourse (with apologies to Plant if she doesn't conform to this generalised view) is more about finger-wagging than finding solutions. We all tut-tut at things we find disagreeable, so it must be all but irresistable to adopt tongue-clicking as a profession, should the circumstances permit it. Goodness, I always thought I wanted to be a train driver or a fireman. Now I realise I wanted to be a professional whiner. Imagine that: getting paid for something you like to do anyway. And if you run out of things to moan about on your own account you can adopt any number of poor boobies and represent them. Magic. It makes you feel splendid (that is to say, selfless) to fight someone else's corner.

I think I'm in the wrong profession.



Alas, left unchecked, bias can go further than self-righteous finger-wagging. Tenured Duke “sociologist”, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, refers to the U.S. as “Amerikkka” and “Gringoland” – in class, no less - and denounces “white logic” and notions of colour-blind merit as justifying “contemporary white supremacy.” While at Texas A&M, Bonilla-Silva’s syllabus for Sociology 317 stated, “I will remove the three Ks from this word when the USA removes racial oppression from this country!”

Bonilla-Silva has compared opponents of “affirmative action” with 19th century supporters of slavery, and those who disagree with the humble professor are frequently labelled as racists or “Uncle Toms”. One of the more bizarre indicators of Bonilla-Silva’s mental state is his written insistence - published in the A&M course syllabus - that students must control their “body language” and avoid “irresponsible contestation” with his arguments.

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