Where are the experts on *who we are*, in the social sciences, or in the arts, … anywhere?

downtownsky

Over at Research as a Second Language: Writing, Representation, and the Crisis of Social Science, Danish writer Thomas Basbøll does not view this question as an academic one. Neither would he give “both” as his answer.

In his stirring dissection of the United States election, “The Liberal Arts of Being Ruled,” Thomas writes:

The past few years have seen an intense effort to “purify” our political organisations, not least within the university and it would seem that university students and their teachers are now the least equipped to understand how Trump was able to win the highest office in the land.

You can’t beat a political opponent that paralyzes you with fear simply when he expresses his opinion. It’s because the left demonized Trump that they were unable to defeat him. In a word that I hope to give a particular meaning to in this post, they dehumanized him. In that sense, the rise of Trump can be attributed to the fall of the humanities. …

And that means that it can also be attributed to the inextricably related rise of the social sciences. For over a century, funded by a network of powerful foundations, they have wrested our understanding of our own selves away from, well, our own selves, and placed it under the tutelage of confederacy of academics and journalists, a convocation of politic worms, who are more comfortable with ideologies than actual ideas. …

Think of rhetoric as the liberal art of humanizing your enemy, of converting animosity into language. Not for the sake of your enemy but for the sake of your own moral orientation in the universe. Once you have decided that half your country has chosen a leader to represent only its bigotries, you have lost your way. Your ethics have been compromised by generalities. You have allowed a vague “theory” to overwhelm your data, which you have, I am afraid, taken too much for given. You’ve been taken in. And now you are living in fear of an inhuman oppressor. …

I think we may have to face the fact that social science and democracy are incompatible. The social sciences conduct an undemocratic inquiry into society. Democracy is an unscientific way of governing it. It is because psychologists and sociologists have supplanted poets and novelists as experts on who “we” are that we have lost faith in democracy—at a deeper level, we have simply lost faith in each other. Democracy is possible only on a “humanist” foundation. As Pound tried to tell us a hundred years ago, the arts provide the “data of ethics”.

Basbøll is a brilliant writer and thinker. I can recommend all his work to you without reservation.

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