Doing It with the Lights On

by rsbakker

Daily Aphorism I: Nine times out of eight, ‘open-minded’ is shorthand for saying, ‘I’ve already considered and rejected your point-of-view.’

Daily Aphorism II: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, go fuck yourself, you dirty bastard, I’m still voting Republican, because I mean, really, what could be more true than football cliches?

Once again, I would like to thank everyone for their support of this strange (to me) little experiment. It’s good to know I’m not the only three pound brain out there!

I still intend to get around to Franzen and the literature of complacency, but I’ve been busy pulling together the talks I’m scheduled to give at Aarhus University in a few weeks time–in addition to taking my first sustained stabs at The Unholy Consult.

The idea is to be as provocative (‘obnoxious’ would be the better term) as possible with these talks. Given the power of deprivation bias, I’ve decided to frame all the things I critique–Theory, the literary establishment, the humanities–as endangered species, to insinuate that all the accumulated years of toil my audience has invested in mastering this or that discourse is about to be rendered obsolete. There’s nothing quite like the threat of losing something to fire up the old rationalization modules. So the hope is that I can get them asking questions, drag them onto more Socratic ground–a place where I can shrug, smile, and chastise them for their conservatism. Ask them just what it is they’re trying to save (conserve)… when they pride themselves on being critical and radical.

I always do this: spin plans of cognitive triumph, rehearse flattering scenarios. It never works out the way I think it will, so I don’t know why I bother. But I do have a knack for giving academics pause, and this, I’ve come to think, is about as close to cognitive triumph as anyone can get in these circles.

One of the advantages of knowing the ways the brain is prone to game ambiguities for social and psychological advantage is that it allows you to become that much more sophisticated in your rhetorical manipulations. All tricksy, like. The key is to leave people feeling as if they’re somehow ahead of the curve, that they’ve glimpsed something that eludes their peers. This will make them more inclined to show off their shiny new knowledge–and even if they couch their account in can-you-believe-this-bullshit tones, they will find themselves taking it a little more seriously simply for hearing themselves repeat it. I mean, if they are talking about it, then it has to be significant somehow…

I hope this sounds as crass and as disingenuous to you as it does to me. One of the arguments I make for the ‘New Theory’ is that it has leave the myth of the ‘rational exchange’ behind (think of all the professors out there pretending to be wholly invested in their subject matter, when at some level they know they’re primarily producing discourse for institutional and interpersonal reasons), and to always be cognizant of its own ugliness.

That it cannot but play games… especially when it comes to the worldborn!

Rest assured I’ll be giving you all an account of how things go–one that is as honest as I can manage. Dollars to doughnuts I come away feeling that I had made a difference–no matter what the fact of the matter is!