The Utopias manuscript is going to be a very ambitious work. It’ll be the product of several years of research across several philosophical disciplines. It will combine some of the research I did for my Ecophilosophy manuscript, along with some of its conclusions and core concepts, with a more direct engagement with the philosophy of technology to emerge from the First World War.
It will critique several aspects and strains of this techno-scientistic family of philosophies from several different angles: Ernst Jünger and Filippo Marinetti’s embrace of the mechanization of man (and to some degree, Martin Heidegger’s pessimism about our ability to reverse or overcome this trend) will face the discovery of vitality in mechanism and pure material that arose from Gilles Deleuze’s mutation of Henri Bergson’s philosophy, through his understanding of core principles of ecological science and non-linear mathematics. The directly political articulation of this critique will be an embrace of network politics, an anarchism for the 21st century, which itself stands directly opposed to the two central trends of 20th century politics: absolutist statism and neo-liberalism of the Thatcher-Reagan-Harper tradition. The reason I’m reading and reading about Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia was because it’s such a foundational text in the social philosophy and political ideology of the individualistic, libertarian points of view that ground and justify contemporary neo-liberal conservatism.
So that’s a little complicated. From one perspective, I’m actually very well-served in embarking on this long-term philosophical writing project by being outside the university system. Most of the norms of academic publishing, particularly the pressure for sub-disciplinary specialization, tend to discourage people writing books with this level of ambition and scope. But there’s a key disadvantage of being outside the university system that could cause me serious credibility issues at the level of review prior to and after publication: library access.
|This isn't a literal interpretation of the university system's|
ivory tower, but sometimes it sure can feel that way.
Take Nozick, for example. Anarchy, State, and Utopia is a neo-classic text, very cheap to acquire, with bootlegs especially easy to find. Since Nozick is dead, I don’t mind using a bootleg electronic copy myself. But much of the secondary material about Nozick’s libertarian political philosophy never achieved that level of popularity. The books today, where the most noteworthy ones are available, usually reach remarkably expensive prices. They’re in university libraries and so ostensibly available, but privileged access for article and electronic book downloads are restricted to faculty and students.
Permanently outside the university system thanks to doctorate overproduction and the conversion of secure tenured positions to insecure and poorly paid contract work having passed a viability threshold, I am just one member of an entire lost generation of skilled non-fiction writers without the institutional foundation that we’ve historically depended on to produce credible works.
Without access to university library holdings, lost generation philosophical writers will find themselves barred from access to secondary literature. Without access, we won’t know, when we’re engaging with a classical text, whether we’re repeating an argument that was made and incorporated into the general criticism long ago. We won’t be able to earn the credibility that comes with intense study of all the secondary literature in a given sub-discipline. I’ve had several ideas critical of Nozick’s work as I’ve read him, but I can’t know, because I can’t access the deep databases of university libraries with philosophy departments, whether they’re original or have been made by others already.
I’ll be in this situation with many of the primary figures that I include in my philosophical writing projects. For the lost generation to thrive, we’ll have to force a kind of tipping point of our own. One possibility is that we’ll develop new styles of philosophical writing that don’t depend on referencing the dry and minor secondary literature produced in heavily audience-restricted peer reviewed academic journals whose immense subscription prices keep them behind university library firewalls.* This is my most likely strategy.
* The movement to make library holdings almost entirely electronic, especially among journals, will especially hurt the lost generation. Even if we had no privileged access for borrowing or photocopying privileges, if we wanted to read a physical journal, nothing prevented us from walking into the building, picking up a copy, and taking notes. With electronic holdings, even just being able to read a journal will require a password and an expensive library subscription, which not everyone can afford. Not to mention that true comprehensiveness will require multiple library subscriptions, since university libraries themselves are cutting their own journal subscriptions due to budget shortfalls.
I chose the more creative strategy because the only alternative I can think of is to pressure university libraries to go completely open-source: make your electronic holdings accessible to anyone who wants them, for free. This, however, is practically impossible, as it requires overcoming enormous institutional pressures to austerity that result in raising prices to access and restricting access to encourage more paying customers.
Frankly, I think it’s more likely that we’ll change the way philosophy is researched, written, and read before we’ll even have a hope of changing how institutions manage their philosophical material.