On (Non)Separation of Academic and Public Spheres

Richard Javad Heydarian

This is a circumferential argument on a certain text from Richard Javad Heydarian’s Facebook wall. Heydarian is a political analyst and assistant professor in De La Salle University.

Heydarian’s text conceives a separatist relation between intellectual and public wherein the academic ‘tends to annihilate common sense by boiling down to the most arcane’ and the public ‘tends to boil down to semantics’ and refuse to engage with ‘evidence-driven, systematic analysis.’ What Heydarian renders legible is an unstable binary relation between academic and public. It is a ‘versus’ relation of an allegedly two separate spheres, each sphere described at their disadvantage, particularly their tendencies to ‘boil down’ the productive potential of their debates. Of what particular debate? We are not entirely sure. But Heydarian’s involvement with the foreign policy dispute may give us a context of where this is coming from – a comparison between intellectuals debating with each other and public officials arguing on semantics related to resolving a foreign policy dispute. Heydarian insists that in order to resolve the disadvantaged positions of both the intellectual and public debates, a public intellectual must emerge in-between (maybe as an arbiter?) and whose primary job is to ‘bridge the gaps in both spheres’. This writing does not directly invalidate Heydarian’s positions and arguments raised in the text, but moves in circumferential direction, as an appendage, a preface or a postface, or a note of a note. Consider this a dissemination in Heydarian’s text. By lifting the binary that Heydarian conspired, this text seeks to problematize the binary relation between academic vs. public and propose a new configuration of their relation.

The separation between academic and public has to end. Why? Because it is impractical to continue thinking that the academic and public inhabit two separate worlds. In affirming Alain Badiou’s platonism, there is only One world and we, including non-human animals and objects, all live in it. Each is a parasite and a host to one another. It is only the relations we humans invent that created these hierarchies and division among people, objects and things. In other words, we created the ‘walls’ that divide people from people and objects from things, all for the dissemination of our self-interest. We created the logic of stratification for the class system, the nation-state, the linguistic divide, the institutional divide, the private/public divide. We even created a machine that generates infinite walls based on juridical provisions of the state apparatus – the bureaucracy.

Is the intellectual within the public sphere? Yes, she IS in the public sphere even if she denies it, unless of course if she chooses to be hermetic for the rest of her life. There is no ‘ivory tower’ for academics because these academics live with us. They shape and influence the public sphere more than how the public sphere shapes itself. They are our teachers, Facebook friends, colleagues, government officials, people in the media, etc. They are our lawmakers and justices/judges in the judicial sector. They are our engineers and scientists. They compose the Left, the Center, and the Right flank of the ideological divides, which also includes the apologist, the reactionary, and the apolitical. They are our financial experts who embody all the necessary tenets of neoliberalism and Ayn Rand’s objectivisim, because like any hospitable intellectual, a ‘progress’-ive intellectual can be a host to neoliberal ideas.

Is this binary again a problem of ‘access’ i.e. ‘access’ of the public to the imagined and arcane world of the intellectual contrary to the public that uses a normalized and understandable language? Their binarized conflict centers and hinges on the question of language favoring the primacy of the ‘normal’ tongue of the public against the ‘hermeneutic and archaic’ tongue of the intellectual, urging that the academic should be persecuted, marginalized or ‘forced’ to accept and speak the unclothed lucidity of ‘normative’ language following the logic ‘everyone should be normal like everybody else’. There is a danger to this logic. What exists in this relation is a dictatorship of the norm, and in this sense a lumpenized depoliticized norm, that sutures a sedentary vision of the world. It also mistakes the intellectual’s function in the society as a subject or object of utility, that his ideas must have direct use value to the production of the nation-state. Intellectuals have no direct usable product to offer to the GDP of the nation-state. CERN’s discovery of the Higgs’ boson, Andrew Wiles’ solution to Fermat’s last theorem, or Quentin Meillassoux’s critique of correlationism in poststructuralist philosophy are several intellectual events that do not have a direct impact to social production of capitalist economies and nation-states. But they do have a direct impact to shape and arrangement of existing relations in their respective fields. Utility of theory is nil. But in order to effect an intensive transformation on the intelligibility of fields, one has to create a radical theory that would displace the order of things.

The dictatorship of the norm must not be mistaken to what I mentioned earlier of Badiou proclaiming that there is only One world. In Badiou’s Platonic configuration, the One-ness envisions a flatness or horizontal arrangement of humans, things and objects where hierarchy and interiority/exteriority does not exist. It is a space where justice is infinite. In the dictatorship of the norm, one language, the normative language, is favored above the rest. It is a world of elimination and competition, of absolute subjugation to and protection of the ‘norm’, where human exhibits pure dictatorship and lording over any other living creatures within a planetary ecological framework. Another problem on the notion of ‘access’ is that conventions put too much primacy on the role of language and education in shaping thinking. Thinking is beyond the linguistic regime or the educational enterprise.

It is evident that the fulcrum of the relation between academic and public revolves around the problematique of ‘thinking’: what is really the image of thought? Can the whole of ‘thought’ be communicated intelligibly and understandably without reducing its complexity and excesses? Once you think about your condition as a worker in the company, or think about your next decisive step for your career, or think about your mother, or ‘social change’, or the next brush stroke on your painting, or even the quark in the atom and its relation to the fundamental forces of nature, or the complex constellation of your friends in facebook and twitter, there is a lot going on in your brain. When one thinks about a certain object or anticipates a certain act, what occurs in the brain is not just one thinking process. Rather, various syntactic and synaptic conjunctive and disjunctive processes constitute the interweaving of thinking, which occurs without a pattern. Some of which are unconscious events occurs without our prior knowing. Thinking is a multiplicity, irreducible to One. You can recall this or that idea, while thinking about a totally unconnected thing, while being reminded of this or that experience.

There is no commonsense in thinking. Thinking, even the most ‘uneducated’ form, is chaotic, complex, non-commonsensical. You cannot routinize thinking or find a ‘common’ thinking among people. It always has excesses, inconsistencies, mistakes or errors. Sensing is even more complicated. So commonsense does not reside in the practical and processual reality of things. It is a signifier and a representation, a conceived relation related to issues on educational access, class stratification, and language. It is a political term and an instrument used to promulgate the dictatorship of the norm. What it lacks is a concrete epistemological basis of existence. Even ‘following’ a set of ethical standards does not produce commonsense. Ethical response may or may not apply in every event. Each event accompanies varying degree of intervention or immediacy.

‘Understanding one another’ means one has access to the same set of rules, same language games, and same educational background. There is no absolute ‘truth’ that applies to all things at all times, neither is there a subjective ‘truth’ in each of us that inscribes our position in reference to the world of multiple ‘subjective’ truths. There is only ‘understanding’ – a set of agreements and degrees of tolerance espoused by basic linguistic or gestural relations. Complete understanding is pure subjugation – that which does not require thinking (an absence of thinking), wherein the participant, out of habit and conduct, executes an action without a self-conscious examination – a pure automation of the body wherein the human can be conceived as a machine wired to respond to a single button of command. Complete understanding is a militaristic concept with a statist and centric image of thought, which can be conceived as the totalitarian idea of governmentlity. Thinking must go beyond its commonsensical form as ‘mere understanding’ because thinking is beyond ‘educational access’ or ‘class’. Thinking, not knowledge, is power. It must be constituted as autonomous and exterior to any modes of stratification, which, like language, arrests or oppresses the powers of thinking.

Academic jargon (philosophical jargon is a better term) is difficult because there is a struggle to use ‘thinking’ to break language open, to destroy and transform pre-established conventions of writing, reasoning, logic, accepted ‘truths’, facts and facticity. Philosophy uses thinking to mobilize language, objects and relations, similar to how activists use collective action to mobilize the geopolitics of the street or a public space, or how a mathematician mobilizes symbols and their relations to create new mathematics. Thinking is a radical act. It must go beyond the limitations of educational, linguistic or economic access.

A marginalized uneducated sector can think about the ‘subaltern’ better than Indian philosopher Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, but the marginalized does not have the linguistic faculties similar to Spivak to articulate their condition, so they struggle in many ways, in many creative ways to tell their story – the narrative of their struggle and condition. They create stories, songs, speech and gestural acts to illustrate their struggle. Spivak and the uneducated marginalized intellectual think of the same thing: ‘the oppression of the subaltern,’ but they tell it differently. But we do not choose what version to believe. Instead we integrate the two (and many) as compossible worlds. What is important is the emergence of the event: the becoming-visible of the oppression that each narrative jointly affirms. This event arises from this integration and compossibility of narratives, which must involve the ‘silence’ of others.

To make the problem visible, to state what relations are at stake or most critical, then to find the solutions based on the relation conceived while accounting the possibility that the solution to a problem may not arise from the posited relation – that is the job of the public intellectual. No, it is not about bridging the gaps between academic and public spheres, as Heydarian insisted. That is intellectual masturbation.

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