Everything is Awful

The title is a Lego Movie reference. I’m not going to be talking about the Lego Movie. I’m a terrible person.

I have been reading Marxist literature, as well as literature written by Marx. So much of what I have been reading is symbolic of the issues that I have with my degree as a whole.

What are the implications of Marxist analysis? If the state, and all social phenomena are moments of class antagonism then what? What does this mean for monetary policy or the race relations act or any number of never-introduced alternative policies? What is class antagonism? If class antagonism occurs wherever there is a struggle or use of power then we seem to have simply introduced a new phrase to describe something else and no new information. The danger in contemporary Marxist analysis is that we loose sight of what we are looking for and become obsessed with characterisations and categories instead. It is meaningless to describe the state as either autonomous or as a moment in class antagonism if these descriptions cannot be brought to bear on any political facts.

Perhaps I am being unfair because in my time and my work reading I have not found any facts in most of the politics or philosophy or economics reading that I do, but this suggests a deeper malaise. Academics in politics and economics departments are not interested in facts. That’s why everything we’re given to read is ultimately so boring – because it doesn’t have anything to do with anything real.

Of course the ideas, categories and descriptions are in some sense real. They exist in the minds of professors and to a lesser extent in those of students. And they are based on things that are observable or at least deducible. But my problem with so much of my degree – and I think this is a problem that people who do almost any humanities or arts subjects experience – is that I don’t feel like any of the reading or writing or discussions or lectures has done anything to make me understand my subject.

I’m supposed to be a politics student. I’m supposed to know what has happened and what is happening and why. But I feel lost. I am made to engage with an academic community which is uninterested (really lets be honest about this) in the subjects it teaches.

I’m supposed to be studying politics. I’m supposed to be studying what happens and how. But instead all I get are ideas and frameworks. Everyone is trying to invent grand theories of everything. “Here’s what the state is” “These are the different kinds of economies” “This is how to measure development”. But that is useless. The grand sweep doesn’t tell us anything. Tell us about policy and things. Tell us what Tony Blair said to Alistair Campbell the day before he went into Iraq. Tell us what the minimum wage has actually done to the British economy. I want facts. I want answers. I want science. And where there are no facts I want people to be honest.

The biggest problem is because I know so little, because all I’ve studied is my degree, I have no idea of even where to begin in coming up with some alternative approach. I know that I want to be marked on the essays that I write rather than on the essays that module conveners want me to write. I know that I want things that are disprovable by empirical analysis to be discredited. The problem is that facts are never enough. They need to be explained and put in context and analysed. But the analysis always comes first and then the facts are forgotten about. And you can analyse your way to any conclusion if you don’t have the facts.

Sociologists discovered that after the Second World War soldiers who were from the town had much greater levels of psychological distress than those from the country. They explained this in terms of the pressures of city life and the lack of support for those from cities. Only, those facts given to sociologists were wrong. The soldiers from farms experienced higher levels of psychological distress. And the sociologists explained that in terms of the isolation of country life etc etc.

This is exactly my point. University just seems to train us to reproduce viewpoints. But we don’t know the truth. It’s almost as bad as the world of news. We have no idea what actual reality is like. Everything is distorted through the lens of human perspective. And we all bring preconceptions to our analyses. Even where we accept new evidence and allow it to change our world view, what we judge as important or right is entirely subjective.

I suppose my argument is not just about university or newspapers or sociology but about everything. Life is so confusing and disorienting and ultimately even the most intelligent, most well informed human being will only know the tiniest fraction of what is knowable. And the vast majority of truth is probably ultimately unknowable. But I want a better degree. I want a better understanding. And I want to be done with Marx and the Marxists.

I lied. Go see the Lego Movie. It is awesome.

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