Saturday, 24 November 2012

To tell the truth is revolutionary


Just back from the latest weekend of teaching for the professional doctorate in researching work (I'm in year two of four and progressing reasonably well)  delivered by leading academics in the field at the Working Lives Research Institute (WLRI) of London Met University.

The weekend was particularly special as it was the 10th anniversary of the creation of the WLRI and as well as featuring seminars on research completed by the Institute it was kicked off by Professor Carole Thornley, Chair of the Business School at Keele University, who is external examiner for the DProff, but also the MA in international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS) at Ruskin.

Carole's session featured an overview of her seminal text, co-authored with Dan Coffey, Globalisation & Varities of Capitalism: New Labour, Economic Policy and the Abject State. The book provides a penetrating account of the notion of the abject state (the UK under New Labour as a case in point) created as a disinct feature of a hybrid capitalist globalisation.

It was a fantastic, challenging and fitting means to both explore and underline the vital relevance of the research output of the WLRI which acts as a means to generate a critical awareness of the changing nature of work and of this impact on working lives:

The DProff weekends are always hugely enjoyable but also a crucial test of a student's grasp of dominant theoretical aspects of topics being taught. Of the many explored this weekend, and related to the theme of this blog post, was the relevance of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci's theory of hegemony as a means to generate and disperse ideology.

So, plenty to think about and reflect upon. Coming back home on the train I had the chance to read the latest Paul Krugman column in the International Herald Tribune - always a fascinating, thoughtful insight on US political life. Krugman's piece - reproduced in full below - bemoans the unwillingness of the Republican Party to deal honestly with fact, even where proved as a means of lived reality, empirical observation or rational scientific analysis.

Rubio and Romey: The striated rock of anti-rationality
Speaking of putative presidential contender in the 2016 contest, Marco Rubio, Krugman witheringly comments that, "like striated rock beds that speak of deep time, his inability to acknowledge scientific evidence speaks of the anti-rational mind-set that has taken over his political party.

Rubio, as Krugman details, is sadly just the crusty outer fringe of the molten core of an essentially vapid and ultimately stupid Republican approach to the denial of evident truths.

For Gramsci (as the title of this post proclaims) "to tell the truth is revolutionary", for the US Republican party to even acknowledge that the truth exists is illusory. But then, Gramsci would argue that the Republicans are simpy being true to form, and that in constructing their own truths a prevailing dominant ideology - already a solid feature of US hegemonic values - enables ultimate control and domination over what is seen and understood to be 'common sense'.

For decades, for example, the Republicans have been able to harness the support of the poor, uninsured white working class in attacking any means to improve upon the skeletal provision of free healthcare, ditto tax rises, trade union rights etc.

There has been much talk of the need for the Republican party in the wake of Obama 2.0 to undertake a fundamental review its core beliefs and values, not least in its stance on issues of gender and immigration. How this process can commence with an inherently congential inability to engage with hard, inconvenient truths one can only wonder.

Anyway, read the Krugman piece and see if you can figure out the answer - and treat yourself to more of his writing via the link to the original article in the New York Times:

Earlier this week, GQ magazine published an interview with Senator Marco Rubio, whom many consider a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, in which Mr. Rubio was asked how old the earth is. After declaring “I’m not a scientist, man,” the senator went into desperate evasive action, ending with the declaration that “it’s one of the great mysteries.

It’s funny stuff, and conservatives would like us to forget about it as soon as possible. Hey, they say, he was just pandering to likely voters in the 2016 Republican primaries — a claim that for some reason is supposed to comfort us.

But we shouldn’t let go that easily. Reading Mr. Rubio’s interview is like driving through a deeply eroded canyon; all at once, you can clearly see what lies below the superficial landscape. Like striated rock beds that speak of deep time, his inability to acknowledge scientific evidence speaks of the anti-rational mind-set that has taken over his political party.

By the way, that question didn’t come out of the blue. As speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Mr. Rubio provided powerful aid to creationists trying to water down science education. In one interview, he compared the teaching of evolution to Communist indoctrination tactics — although he graciously added that “I’m not equating the evolution people with Fidel Castro.” Gee, thanks.

What was Mr. Rubio’s complaint about science teaching? That it might undermine children’s faith in what their parents told them to believe. And right there you have the modern G.O.P.’s attitude, not just toward biology, but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence.

The most obvious example other than evolution is man-made climate change. As the evidence for a warming planet becomes ever stronger — and ever scarier — the G.O.P. has buried deeper into denial, into assertions that the whole thing is a hoax concocted by a vast conspiracy of scientists. And this denial has been accompanied by frantic efforts to silence and punish anyone reporting the inconvenient facts.
But the same phenomenon is visible in many other fields. The most recent demonstration came in the matter of election polls. Coming into the recent election, state-level polling clearly pointed to an Obama victory — yet more or less the whole Republican Party refused to acknowledge this reality. Instead, pundits and politicians alike fiercely denied the numbers and personally attacked anyone pointing out the obvious; the demonizing of The Times’s Nate Silver, in particular, was remarkable to behold.
What accounts for this pattern of denial? Earlier this year, the science writer Chris Mooney published “The Republican Brain,” which was not, as you might think, a partisan screed. It was, instead, a survey of the now-extensive research linking political views to personality types. As Mr. Mooney showed, modern American conservatism is highly correlated with authoritarian inclinations — and authoritarians are strongly inclined to reject any evidence contradicting their prior beliefs. Today’s Republicans cocoon themselves in an alternate reality defined by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, and only on rare occasions — like on election night — encounter any hint that what they believe might not be true.
And, no, it’s not symmetric. Liberals, being human, often give in to wishful thinking — but not in the same systematic, all-encompassing way.
Coming back to the age of the earth: Does it matter? No, says Mr. Rubio, pronouncing it “a dispute amongst theologians” — what about the geologists? — that has “has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States.” But he couldn’t be more wrong.
We are, after all, living in an era when science plays a crucial economic role. How are we going to search effectively for natural resources if schools trying to teach modern geology must give equal time to claims that the world is only 6.000 years old? How are we going to stay competitive in biotechnology if biology classes avoid any material that might offend creationists?
And then there’s the matter of using evidence to shape economic policy. You may have read about the recent study from the Congressional Research Service finding no empirical support for the dogma that cutting taxes on the wealthy leads to higher economic growth. How did Republicans respond? By suppressing the report. On economics, as in hard science, modern conservatives don’t want to hear anything challenging their preconceptions — and they don’t want anyone else to hear about it, either.
So don’t shrug off Mr. Rubio’s awkward moment. His inability to deal with geological evidence was symptomatic of a much broader problem — one that may, in the end, set America on a path of inexorable decline.
In Solidarity

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