Tag Archives: Slavoj Zizek

The need for a Hawaiian College

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have produced many of the most prominent African American figures in US history, including Martin Luther King (Morehouse, 1948), Spike Lee (Morehouse 1979), Toni Morrison (Howard, 1953), W.E.B. DuBois (Fisk, 1888), and Jesse Jackson (North Carolina A&T, 1964). The inner politics and purpose of a typical HBC are seen in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. The idea was that traditional (read: white) colleges either did not admit African Americans or discriminated against them once they were there.

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According to collegecures.com:

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) have been around since 1837, the first one being Cheney University in Pennsylvania.

Today there are 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the United States. A lot of people questions whether they’re necessary or not, but these colleges and universities have done great things for the African American community.

While HBCU’s only make up 3% of the college institutions in the United States, 75% more African Americans graduate from an HBCU than any other school, and over half of America’s African American professionals have graduated from an HBCU.

Similar to Native American tribal colleges, their progressive approach was to create their own institutions, as much racism is institutional and therefore invisible. Similarly, Hawaiians are often discriminated against in institutions of higher education. These instances are hard to see when they happen, but clear when outcomes are examined; Hawaiians comprised at one point only 8% of students at the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa and only 2% of the faculty. This needs to be compared to Hawaiians’ 19% in the general population and 40-50% in the prison population. One Hawaiian educator, now in his 60s, relates that when he was in elementary school and said he wanted to go to college, his teacher said “Hawaiians donʻt go to college.”

We are a long way from that now, but many problems remain. Even Kamehameha graduates only complete college at a rate of between 48 – 68%, and as a group these are the highest performing Hawaiian students, as Kamehameha has a 7-10% acceptance rate and a 98% college acceptance rate.

Hawaiians have begun to redesign education at all levels, especially K-12, and experiment with alternative, and specifically Hawaiian pedagogy. The verdict remains out on these experiments, but relatively few have been performed at the tertiary level, partly because of institutional, state and Federal constraints.

This is not to disparage the real progress that has occurred at UHM’s Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, Hawaiʻinuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge or UH Hilo’s Ka Haka ʻUla o Keʻelikōlani, but merely to offer another alternative. What does not exist is a Hawaiian liberal arts college.

It is beginning to become clear that the explosion in college costs can be attributed to the rise in non-teaching positions. For one college it was recently reported that of 19,000 employees, only 5,000 were teaching positions. Many of these positions were created with good intentions, but it canʻt be argued that it is fair to pass all these costs on to students, who are already drowning in debt.

What is implicated is a college that refocuses on teaching and is light on administration – such a model could keep costs much lower than is currently considered normal. Lecturers are already teaching for as little at $1000 per course at local colleges, so teaching talent is not expensive to attract. 70% of all teaching faculty in US universities today are lecturers, and less than a quarter are tenured faculty.

I am suggesting a private college that could charge tuition under $5000 per year by eliminating non-teaching positions. Its private status could be used to avoid the many restrictions which force public institutions into creating expensive “specialist” and administrative positions.

I grew  up from age 9 around the campus of the only private, non-religious college in the South Pacific, Atenisi University. Atenisi has existed – though several times this existence has been in jeopardy – since 1975, charging tuition of around $100 (Tongan – about $200 USD) per year, with no government or church support, or grants. This brainchild of the great Tongan sage Futa Helu is probably where I got the notion that such an institution is possible. A New Zealand film maker was inspired enough to make a documentary about Helu and Atenisi, linking them to the Tongan democracy movement (Atenisi is a transliteration of Athens):

Similarly, frustrated by the increasingly corporate-driven model of academia, the scholars Creston Davis and my PhD class/cohort-mate Jason Adams started their own university, the Global Center for Advanced Studies. GCAS features on its faculty many of the top philosophers and theorists in the world, such as Slavoj Zizek and Gayatri Spivak. Alain Badiou, formerly chair of Philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure and who Zizek has called “Hegel walking amongst us” is its Honorary President.

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Adams formed another school in 2014, the New Centre for Research and Practice, in Michigan.

There is beginning to be a small group of Hawaiian college administrators who could lead such an institution. As Ron Paul has noted, the current college funding system (debt – $1 trillion of it) is broken. This is just an idea of an alternative that could return university study to what it was originally meant to be – a place of teaching, learning and the building of skills, rather than a machine processing the monies from tuition, grants and sports. If nation-building is a serious goal for Hawaiians – and it is – an institution to educate our people our way is crucial.

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Imagination

IN his web chat on The Guardian website, Slavoj Zizek noted that “we were all Fukuyamaists,” meaning that everyone, even the left, believed in a sense that we were at Fukuyama’s “end of history.” The meaning of this end of history was widely debated, but it argued that with liberal democracy, no further progress was required or possible.

Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History and the Last Man

Fukuyama actually meant this in a Hegelian sense – that the thesis of monarchical authoritarianism and its liberal communitarian antithesis had been resolved with the synthesis of moderate liberal capitalist democracy. [Hegel’s most influential idea was that an idea, or thesis, confronts its opposite, or antithesis, and the two resolve at a higher level in a synthesis.]  Zizek’s point was that even the left had failed to imagine possibilities other than the same liberal democracy and that debate came to be about what kinds of reforms – essentially tweaks – could be made to make the system more just.

Prof. Slavoj Zizek is international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at the University of London and senior researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.

We continue to find ourselves in this rut, caused by an inability to imagine alternatives to the system we find ourselves in. This is particularly perilous for Hawaiians, who are in various ways trying to imagine an alternative society, but are trapped in the paradigms imposed on us over the past century.

When trying to imagine alternative social arrangements, it may be helpful to think about what kinds of assumptions can be made of people in any given system. In capitalism, for example, we assume that most people do not steal (most stores do not have security guards, but often a 100 pound teenage girl as the only one “guarding” the store – this is only seen as dangerous in “dangerous” neighborhoods, not in “normal” ones), but in fact believe in the system to the extent that people will go out of their way to show that they have the money to buy even overpriced goods (to which prestige may be attached). Those who do steal are shunned, perhaps shown on reality or crime shows as examples of social misfits. They are, in the terminology of [transpersonal] psychology, pre-conventional; they do not adhere to the expectations of the society, but to one “below” it. The ability to assume people do not steal is quite an accomplishment, because it is an assumption that people do not always do what is in their blatant self-interest – or perhaps that their self-interest can be much more complex.

NOW imagine a society in which one could assume that people are pro-social, and that they do not behave in ways that damage the natural world – this society is already beginning to emerge and its norms are being constantly enforced (see the film version of The Grinch). These people are “post-conventional,” but this view is quickly becoming “conventional” – Noam Chomsky noted recently that in his youth, women’s rights and the environmental movement did not exist. Now imagine further a society in which it can be assumed that history, law and intellectual and artistic pursuits are actually important and should be encouraged, even if they don’t have “market value” – or where they’re given market value (or where there is no market). This exercise may be viewed as utopian, but that is exactly the point, as Robert Kennedy said, “to imagine a world which has not been and say ʻwhy not?'”

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Filed under academia, Environment, ʻĀina, Globalization, intellect, Uncategorized

Law and Power

The fundamental disconnect among Hawaiians today is that between law and power. As I noted in Sovereignty and Mental Models, “one side [the independence movement] sees law as the driving force behind Hawaiʻi’s ʻlimits and opportunities,’ the other [Fed rec] sees only power.” What is needed is an analysis that bridges these two ways of looking at our political reality. The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek offers one such analysis. He uses film as a gauge of the state of contemporary political ideology, but in doing so, shows our relationship with our respective governments – whether democratic or totalitarian.* He often uses films that appear to have liberal themes to show underlying, conservative, anti-democratic “micro-textures.”

Slavoj Zizek

Zizek shows that embedded in ostensible democratic narratives are fascist or totalitarian undercurrents. In relation to even our most democratic governments – those with free media, checks and balances, etc. – we hear (and have a sublimated desire to hear) the message that our governments “do what [they] like.” 

This was seen in the armed police at the (ostensibly democratic) hearings of the Department of Interior on Oʻahu this week. It is seen in the passive acceptance of the governments violations of its own law at the Federal (some say we are in a post-constitutional era) and State levels. Dismissals of the legal arguments of sovereignty activists and scholars are tantamount to saying that our society is not run by the rule of law.

Using the psychoanalytic theories of Jacques Lacan, Zizek shows that we all have “fascist dreams.” It is as if we have a public and a private life in our own minds – a sublimated consciousness that we hide even from ourselves. For Hawaiians, our tradition is not one of democracy, so it takes conscious effort to become process-oriented. This is a worthy effort, otherwise we unconsciously  take on the attitude of Lorrin Thurston, who said in the formation of the Republic of Hawaiʻi, “we will shut out from participation all those who are not with us.” By bringing these subconscious tendencies to our own awareness, we can consciously decide which path to take for ourselves and the nation: one of law or of pure power.

* Films Zizek analyses include The Sound of Music and Titanic.

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