Gotta Serve Somebody

While reading articles in an academic journal recently, I was struck by how the mode of inquiry seemed derived from Management Science. The journal is written and edited by Humanities scholars and publishes articles about popular culture, yet almost every article, in the 3 issues I read through, eschewed any kind of moral or ethical argument in favor of describing the system that produces different works of art. I used to think this instinct toward systematization–in concert with a studied absence of moral critique, which I first noticed in academic literary criticism–arose from a disciplinary envy of the Sciences. The Humanities cannot prove things the same way the Sciences can, and for whatever reason, the proof offered by the Sciences has become much more valuable in the last 50 years. So, Humanities scholars have looked to a variety of systems to try and seem more objective in their scholarly work: linguistics, Marxism, structuralism, post-structuralism*, and so forth. Now, I’m beginning to think it’s not so much an envy of the Sciences, though that is surely a factor, but moreso an institutional need to appear more objective brought about by an increasingly Corporatized university system. More and more professional administrators, as opposed to scholars doing administrative work, demand the kind of proof (for advancement and tenure) that Management Science values: quasi-objective analysis of a system, preferably with some numbers of some kind, in which human beings are devoid of emotional content except inasmuch as that content is quantifiable, or is otherwise useful in helping describe the relative efficiency of a system. Management logic has become so woven into our culture, it’s hard to find examples unconditioned by it. Books and music and movies are massaged into being by editors and producers for whom quality and marketability are one in the same, celebrity identities are pre-masticated by the star-machine to the point that even bad behavior is carefully choreographed–even our speech, here in the US, is riddled with business speak. But at the end of the day, I supposed I’ve just made another system… except that my system is in the service of a moral argument: Management science has made us all less human, less able to live the best sort of life, one aware of what is meaningful and worthwhile, by causing us to see ourselves the same way that “science” sees its objects: as cogs in a machine, disposable, only as important as their ability to help the machine function.

CDs: 746) Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks; 747) DJ Spooky: Songs of a Dead Dreamer; 748) Van Morrison: What’s Wrong With This Picture?; 749) Pasty Cline: The Patsy Cline Collection; 750) Goldie: Saturnz Return; 751) Holy Modal Rounders: Too Much Fun.

* I know many post-structuralists made the argument that they were explicitly resisting systematization and hegemony, but come on, few scholarly movements were systematic in spirit and hegemonic in practice–everything but the claims they made in their books and articles.