Cultural Politics — Balance

One of my friends posted a link in twitter to this article in Truthout, a progessive US-based socio-political magazine, by Henry Giroux, on the

lethal combination of money, power and education that the right wing has had a stranglehold on since the early 1970’s and how it has used its influence to develop an institutional infrastructure and ideological apparatus to produce its own intellectuals, disseminate ideas, and eventually control most of the commanding heights and institutions in which knowledge is produced, circulated and legitimated.

Giroux engages with the so-called Powell Memo, written by Lewis F. Powell and released in 1971 to the US Chamber of Commerce with the title “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System.” Powell recognised that right-wing and conservative ideologues had to create an infrastructure for the long war of the Reaganite and post-Reagan years. Princeton University Prof. has noted how this infrastructure has supported the recent work of ‘tea party patriots’ in challenging their congressional representatives at ‘town hall’ meetings over the US health care reform. Giroux says it is essential to attack this infrastructure, not just its effects.

Any attempt to understand and engage the current right-wing assault on all vestiges of the social contract, the social state and democracy itself will have to begin with challenging this massive infrastructure, which functions as one of the most powerful teaching machines we have seen in the United States, a teaching machine that produces a culture that is increasingly poisonous and detrimental not just to liberalism, but to the formative culture that makes an aspiring democracy possible. This presence of this ideological infrastructure extending from the media to other sites of popular education suggests the need for a new kind of debate, one that is not limited to isolated issues such as health care, but is more broad-based and fundamental, a debate about how power, inequality and money constrict the educational, economic and political conditions that make democracy possible.

What I found fascinating was one of the techniques advocated by Powell for reconfiguring the ideological composition of university faculties, because it is used in Australia and not only for attacking universities:

Powell recognized that one crucial strategy in changing the political composition of higher education was to convince university administrators and boards of trustees that the most fundamental problem facing universities was “the imbalance of many faculties.” Powell insisted that “the basic concepts of balance, fairness and truth are difficult to resist, if properly presented to boards of trustees, by writing and speaking, and by appeals to alumni associations and groups.”

In Australia, calls for ‘balance’ have been made by conservatives when attacking the perceived ‘imbalance’ of public broadcasters, such as the ABC and SBS, and the ‘public institution’ of journalism. The call for ‘balance’ has no easy counter, especially when combined with the amplificatory effect of the conservative echo chamber of soft-conservatism in daily newspapers and the hard-conservatism of politicians and conservative newspaper columnists. I guess the equivalent on the left side of politics to the conservative infrastructure would be the work of NGOs and unions, but they don’t seem to have the same effect on cultural and social levels to inflect the ‘talking points’, a.k.a. what John Howard called ‘BBQ stoppers’, except in limited examples such as in the case of the work of unions to highlight the lack of fairness in the Howard governments labour and workplace relations legislation before the previous Federal election. Or am I wrong about this? Maybe I don’t see the effect?

The ‘balance’ line of attack is arguably more successful than other attempts, for example, to argue that ‘left wing theories’, a.k.a. ‘postmodernism’, has little utility in the ‘real world’. Poststructuralist theories from philosophy, literary studies, sociology and cultural studies are much more effective than neo-classical social theories at understanding social relations and cultural meanings, hence, they are exceptionally useful if your purpose is to exploit social relations or cultural meanings as economic resources. The problem for conservatives is that once you start to understand these theories properly you can’t really be a conservative anymore. To understand the complexity of social relations means that you are forced to understand, intimately, the perspective of other people or at least strive to understand other perspectives. This is the inverse of the conservative line of ‘balance’. Instead of one’s own perspective and voice being incorporated into institutions, you are forced to incorporate other perspectives into your own. The number of conservative students I saw flee from learning such theories when I was a student was hilarious. They often tried to get into law.

2 replies on “Cultural Politics — Balance”

Comments are closed.