19 Matching Annotations
  1. Jun 2021
    1. Engineering and the sciences have, to a greater degree, been spared this isolation and genetic drift because of crass commercial necessity.

      Or maybe rather, engineering and the sciences, have, to a greater degree, been very differently shaped due to their different connections to commercial forces.

      Critical theory invites us to step away from an idea of there being some kind of realm of pure, valid thinking/knowledge that might be corrupted/shaped by either academic structures (as Morningstar finds in critical theory), or commerce (as Morningstar finds in engineering and science), or connections to reality and instead explore how any human practice is connected to, shaped by and shaping of all those things and more.

    2. It is a cautionary lesson about the consequences of allowing a branch of academia that has been entrusted with the study of important problems to become isolated and inbred.

      Morningstar is on to something here in explaining critical theory's faults as the result of some structural, social/culture forces, but ends up misrecognizing his own insight for something that derives from intrinsic qualities of critical theory itself rather than how it participates in specific historical periods.

    3. Buried in the muck, however, are a set of important and interesting ideas: that in reading a work it is illuminating to consider the contrast between what is said and what is not said, between what is explicit and what is assumed, and that popular notions of truth and value depend to a disturbingly high degree on the reader's credulity and willingness to accept the text's own claims as to its validity.

      Morningstar steps away from his clever ridicule to finally reveal what he found valuable in his exploration of critical theory.

    4. Baudrillard

      Surprised to see Baudrillard categorized as harder? more opaque? more sophisticated? than Derrida... Someone who had read both might switch the order...

    5. he intellectual equivalent of peacock feathers

      I can't find it right now, but recently came across an example of how a different field, perhaps closer to Morningstar's, has experienced a kind of "drift", wherein a sizable portion of artificial intelligence research was characterized as being of low quality and published only due to a small "in group" colluding.

    6. Another minor point, by the way, is that we don't say that we deconstruct the text but that the text deconstructs itself. This way it looks less like we are making things up.

      One of the things critical theory does is try to understand how culture works beyond this or that individual human interaction with say, one specific text. Part of this line of thinking is that culture (a critical theorist might say "discourse") has its own patterns, histories, structures, effects, etc. This might be why Morningstar finds the idea that a text could "deconstruct itself" fantastical.

    7. being gainfully employed, I don't have to worry about graduation or tenure

      Again Morningstar shows a lack of recognition that academia (most especially in the USA) operates in a marketplace, even though he describes some of its market characteristics elsewhere.

    8. Programmers and computer scientists may find the concept of a hierarchy consisting of only two elements to be a bit odd

      So for example, if a computer program had one primary database and one replica of the primary database that copied the primary database nightly, a computer scientist wouldn't recognize that setup as a hierarchy with two elements?

    9. cheap trick

      Does Morningstar think that math too suffers from the same issues he finds in critical theory, or just Godel's incompleteness theorem (I'm assuming that's what Morningstar is alluding to)? Explore a deep discussion about whether Godel's incompleteness theorem is a cheap trick.

    10. stir up metaphysical confusion by questioning the very idea of labels and categories

      Or is questioning labels and categories a quite legitimate move given that one of the primary focuses of critical theory is to look at how labels and catetgories shape understanding?

    11. with a sufficient amount of clever handwaving and artful verbiage, you can interpret any piece of writing as a statement about anything at all

      Morningstar's big takeaway.

    12. guilty suspects

      Morningstar frames his inquiry as a crime investigation.

    13. one of the beliefs that seems to be characteristic of the postmodernist mind set is the idea that politics and cleverness are the basis for all judgments about quality or truth, regardless of the subject matter or who is making the judgment

      hmmm...this needs to be unpacked...I might start by suggesting that critical theory does indeed often explore how judgements of quality and truth are shaped by politics, power, desire, knowledge, etc, but that's not a point against such work, but rather a recognition of part of its main practice.

      Cleverness is another matter...there's quite a bit of cleverness here in Morningstar's post, so should we judge it less worthy?

    14. an isolated population with unique selective pressures resulting in evolutionary divergence from the mainland population

      I would suggest a different understanding: Much of what's happened in critical theory (especially the parts more visible to "outsiders") is deeply embedded in "mainland" contexts, including, most importantly for critical theory, being embedded in the expansion of higher education in the USA after the GI Bill and the long tradition of "pragmatic" thinking in mainstream US thought that may find its roots in Protestantism and flower in the mythic "American" "everyman".

    15. Contrast this situation with that of academia.

      Morningstar misses here how he goes on to describe exactly how academia acts as a marketplace and how academics do get paid by convincing somebody else that "what [they] are doing is worth" payment. The idea that academia is not participating in market-based dynamics seems like just the old "ivory tower" myth.

    16. in order to remain employed I have to convince somebody else that what I'm doing is worth having them pay for it

      hmmm...so projects that participate in the marketplace are inherently...what? this needs to be thought through...see below where Morningstar returns to this point and suggests the answer is something like "more tied to reality".

    17. require precise language in order to talk about it clearly

      This is a key point: Complex, unobvious topics can not always be talked about in simple, plain language anyone can understand. There are texts that needlessly obfuscate and maybe something easier to understand can be said about almost anything by way of an introduction or at least to explain "why it matters", but critical theory at its core is pretty deep work, resting on a lot of other material (eg, philosophy), and exploring areas that a lot of folks aren't deeply acquainted with. The fact that much critical theory is not easy of a newcomer to understand is not proof that it is bogus.

    18. On Deconstruction by Jonathan Culler

      I wouldn't recommend Culler's worthy book as a primer — it's more like an advanced read. One might actually do far better just reading wikipedia entries on a few critical theorists and theories, or maybe a book like Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory, which I might not agree with in places but can be an approachable starting place for someone new to critical theory.

    19. I figured that one of three cases must apply. It could be that there was truly some content there of value, once you learned the lingo. If this was the case, then I wanted to know what it was. On the other hand, perhaps there was actually content there but it was bogus (my working hypothesis), in which case I wanted to be able to respond to it credibly. On the third hand, maybe there was no content there after all, in which case I wanted to be able to write these clowns off without feeling guilty that I hadn't given them due consideration.

      These seem like the three most common uninformed opinions about critical theory, with maybe the middle being most commonly held, though perhaps in close competition with the third, but with most adherents unwilling to undertake Morningstar's due diligence and so just jump directly to writing it all off as the bogus work of clowns.