Kant, Brand and Lucas on peaceful conflict

I was getting depressed reading all that stuff about neoliberalism and performativity; not because these phenomena are new to me, rather because I hadn’t grasped how established this body of literature was, and hence how divorced policy research must be from policy itself.

But then I read some Immanuel Kant. Actually, I glanced at The Conflict of the Faculties (with the translated pages facing the original 18th century German, crikey), and then turned to a beautifully written piece by Stephen Palmquist that juxtaposed Conflict of the Faculties (1798) with Kant’s most popular work – Perpetual Peace (1795)

17309547272_855c5c6939_mThis was one of those readings that found its way immediately into my own teaching – alongside Stephen Ball’s (2003) piece on performativity, in fact. I’m running briefing sessions at the moment to support teachers putting together their portfolios for our HEA-accredited PG Cert. My aims in doing this are as follows; I want them to think about what gaining a teaching qualification means for them, and what they think it means to the university, and to work towards reconciling the two. I want them to use this opportunity to consider and present their own manifestos as teachers; to identify their own values, and what they think they need to know in order to teach well. Finally, I want them to identify how they can play an active part in shaping the systems we work within. 17309563062_b1175ef0c1_mFor these reasons it made sense to get them thinking about the extremes of performativity through engaging with Ball, and to discuss how this resonates with their own experience. I also need to inspire them to not only feel that change is possible, but also that they can play an active part in change. Kant’s ideal of the university as not only a model for world peace, but as the actual, literal source of it, is sufficiently uplifting. Palmquist’s primary message is similar to Hogan’s; that academics need to come down from their ivory towers and get involved with the sovereign powers, rather than protesting in dead-end journals (I’m not being entirely pejorative; the journals are great; they just don’t influence policy).

My recent non-academic reading – Caroline Lucas’ Honorable Friends and Russell Brand’s Revolution – follows similar lines, diverging slightly on the means of change proposed, but both, like Kant, propose an ultimate ideal state of peaceful conflict. Brand has no confidence in central government and feels the only way to a sustainable, equitable society is through peaceful revolution; mass civil disobedience leading to the formation of autonomous self-governing collectives. Lucas, a lifelong activist and the first Green MP, sees the dysfunction of the current political system but has chosen to enter the mouth of the dragon and try to enact change from within. The two met this week on Brand’s news show The Trews. At one point Brand looks as if he has fallen in love, and the interview concludes with Brand not only conceding that those living in the Brighton Pavillion constituency *do* have something to vote for, but actually pleading with them to vote for Lucas. Brand’s interview technique being somewhat lacking in rhapsodic lachrymosity, I’m much more moved recalling this that I was watching it.

I went to Brighton myself last Sunday to canvas for Caroline, and could have done with reading Kant beforehand. I expected canvassing to be easier than it was; we were stationed outside Waitrose, and I had this weird idea people like me shopped there. But I don’t shop at Waitrose; I shop at the local fruit and veg store (run by friendly Turkish immigrants who give me free strawberries on my birthday), the health & wholefood shop (owned by a lovely, funny old guy), the butchers (who give me a huge bag of free bones every week) and the farmers’ market (where I buy unpasteurised dairy products that come with a health warning). Ergo, I’m clearly so much more of a massive hippie than the people who shop at Waitrose in Brighton, most of whom said they would be voting for UKIP. One guy shouted at me ‘I’m not voting for you! You’re a communist! I don’t vote for communists!’ Ignoring his erroneous assumption that it was I who was standing for re-election, I sweetly asked ‘why?’. ‘You’re a communist!’ he repeated. Quite a circular argument, that was.

I learned on Sunday that those who plan to vote UKIP next week are scared, because they’ve been fed a set of individualistic, materialist values and taught to fear the loss of what they have. They’ve also been shown a simplistic view of the world that is actually possible to understand, in contrast to the way things actually are, which isn’t. Fear of loss is a pretty simple emotion to instil in people. We naturally relate everything to our own experience, so when we talk about growing the economy, people relate this to the growth of their own personal finances. When we talk about protecting our country, we think of the way we protect our homes from unwanted intruders. Just like neural connections and the connections between ideas (as we discussed at the last EdD workshop on Saturday), these ideas are often erroneously conflated.

We live in a world where the underlying assumed value is that you fight for what you believe in; that you seek to destroy the conflict rather than have the reasonable conversations that constitute peaceful conflict. If you don’t think you can win (as in properly win), don’t bother. As Brand says throughout Revolution; constructive, collective decision-making is long, boring work. It doesn’t make for good telly. My boyfriend had Iron Man 3 on last night. It’s a weird story if you’re not used to that kind of thing; an arms dealer stops being an arms dealer and starts fighting baddies instead. I won’t go off on one about the gratuitous sexualisation of the female characters (I am so out of touch I was actually surprised at this); my point is that the baddies only seemed to exist as a reaction against Iron Man’s omnipotence. It could be an allegory for the end of the cold war, the sole superpower of the US and the rise of anti-American terrorism that Palmquist highlights in his paper. It probably is. Everything follows the same story…

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