While many have remarked upon the presence of union members and military personal among OWS, I have yet to see anyone remark upon the almost complete absence of outspoken, if not radical, academics/intellectuals. This fact, like Sherlock Holmes' dog that didn't bark, requires an explanation.
Now this fact is implicit in the leaderless, horizontal nature of the movement. An intellectual might be a charismatic speaker who would try to pull rank, and this would lead to the cult of personality that is so rightly decried as the Achilles heel of leftism.
In this diary, I want to investigate two reasons for the absence of high-powered academics/ intellectuals in the movement: the fact that the GOP have totally demolished logical arguments and facts as the basis for political debate, and the fact that most academics today are too much at the mercy of the corporate system.
1. The (artificial) limits of logic
After the 1960s and 70s rebellions were put down, a campaign to dumb down America was put in place so that people would stop being aware of how badly they were being screwed. Movies became shallow. Historical movies began to be full of irrelevant love interests and to stray from the facts (like Mel Gibson's lying, American Revolution movie, "The Patriot"). Books were infamously described as being about "live cats and dead preppies". Critical thinking skills in schools were de-emphasized in favor of rote learning and constant testing. With the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine by Reagan, it became quite possible to lie and lie again. It became possible to create The Big Lie and make dumbed-down America believe it.
After 20 years of creating that propaganda bubble, we have reached the point where 25% of the population lives in cloud-cuckoo land. They are true believers - unreachable by logic, which many have been taught is the instrument of the devil. Based on that minority of suckers and complete control over the corporate media, logic has been removed from political debate.
The fact that neoliberalism is, and always has been, nothing but a form of looting has been disappeared from the corporate media. Climate change has been denied for twenty years as icecaps and glaciers melt at accelerating rates. The sharp decline of the US in all areas of developed economies is never mentioned; all we here is patriotic chest beating and the ever pathetic "We're number one."
Of course, the academics understood all this a long time ago. But their arguments are too logical. For example,
The point, first stressed by Quine (1961) is that any hypothesis confronts the world intertwined in a whole mesh of other hypotheses, laws, and statements of initial conditions. Given disconfirming evidence, consistency requires that some statement(s) of the premises be abandoned, but we are free to choose which premise we shall abandon and which we shall save…Typically, we choose to save those hypotheses that are most central to our conceptual web and give up peripheral hypotheses or claims about initial conditions. But that very choice renders those central claims very hard to refute, indeed, almost true by definition…One can consistently maintain that the world is flat despite almost enormous evidence to the contrary.
- Stuart Kauffman, The Origins of Order
Doesn't exactly make a soundbite on the circus we call the news, does it? So, the first reason that academic influence does not inform OWS is because the conservatives have succeeded in destroying logic and fact as the basis for political action - at least in the elite media. The elite media refuses to fact check insane lies by Bachmann, Perry, and all the rest of the Survivor cast (I mean GOP field.). It fails to do any serious investigative journalism on the uncounted racketeering scams run by the GOP: rigged voting machines, voter disenfranchisement, etc. No facts, no logic; no problem.
2. The corporatization of academia
The second reason academia is politically castrated is that academia is now a sweatshop. The publish or perish syndrome just keeps getting worse. Grant funding is down, and more professors are competing for less money. Its survival mode for people who have invested more years than anyone but medical doctors in carving out an intellectual livelihood. There is very little time left to be a political activist. Its labor's dilemma all over again - when they put the "speed up" in place, the workers are too exhausted and afraid of losing their means of living to stand up for their rights.
The funding cuts go hand in hand with corporate/university research partnerships that have all but ended the transparency and independence of academia. Research is embargoed for competitive advantage; and inconvenient results never see the light of day because the University administrators don't want to lose their funding. Needless to say, professors who speak out against corporatism are not on the fast track to tenure.
Speaking of university administrators, their salary has inflated as fast as post-docs' and lecturers' salary and job security has evaporated. Academia now resembles your average corporation, where the CEO makes a fortune, the name professors live comfortably, and everyone else busts their butt for minimal pay and doesn't dare speak up.
3. What does all this mean for dissent in America?
On the positive side, the lack of intellectuals in leadership roles (because there deliberately is no leadership) has made the movement more friendly to working people and the military and police cadres. It goes without saying that there are plenty of smart folks in OWS. Keith Olbermann had on the LiveStream guy from OWS - he is a Russian, named Vlad, who used to be a derivatives trader!
Perhaps OWS is where the 60s would have gone if social media had existed. We can collectively keep ourselves informed and coordinated. We can simply ignore the propaganda machine, which was not an option back then.
On the negative side, the message has to stay simple: you robbed us, and we want our money back and you crooks in jail. This critique is totally true, but incomplete. People like William Black have written extensively about "control fraud". There is a massive literature on the absolute intellectual and empirical failure of "free markets" and "free trade". But even in the wake of the worst economic disaster in 80 years, this valid intellectual criticism cannot break through the Quinian "flat earth" nonsense of the neoliberals.
Also, a flat organization is great for running a guerilla war and making the 1% uncomfortable. But, eventually there must be something more concrete in the way of organization. FDR had a "brain trust". OWS needs one too.
So, it is what it is. I bloveate; you decide.
Times have changed. Professors are as screwed as the rest of us. We just have to face the fact that logic and facts have been devalued by a massive propaganda apparatus that will not go away before we have broken the grip of the 1%. On the bright side, we are all in this together, in a way rarely seen in American history.