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Department of Happy Family Studies

By Michael J. Smith on Saturday January 1, 2011 02:27 PM

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
IOZ recently linked to this wonderful item:
Now that asking and telling has ceased to be problematic in military circles, ROTC has resurfaced as a national issue: Will universities such as Harvard, Yale and other Ivy League schools be opened to Reserve Officers' Training Corps since colleges can no longer can argue that the military is biased against gays and therefore not welcome?

... Only one of the eight Ivy League schools - Cornell - offers a degree in peace studies. Their pride in running programs in women's studies, black studies, and gay and lesbian studies is well-founded, but schools have small claims to greatness so long as the study of peace is not equal to the other departments when it comes to size and funding....

ROTC and its warrior ethic taint the intellectual purity of a school...

The author, Colman McCarthy, "directs the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington and teaches courses on nonviolence at four area universities and two high schools."

Whew. "Intellectual purity!" What "intellectual purity" does McCarthy think the Ivies, or the Unis in general, have, or ever had, to "taint"?

And oh gentle Jesus, he wants yet another "studies" department -- Peace Studies. A big, well-funded one, too. Right up there with the Lesbians. Understandable on his part, since "teaching peace" seems to be the guy's metier.

But.... What exactly is "peace", other than the absence of conflict? And what other absences need a "studies" department? The department of vacuum studies? The department of wheeled organism studies? The department of empty-set studies? The department of factorable prime studies? The department of non-redheadedness studies?

And why should anybody care about the Unis' "claims to greatness"? In fact, shouldn't we oppose all such claims to the utmost of our power?

There's altogether too much positive thinking in the world. And by positivity here I mean, among other things, the activity of positing stuff. We posit some entity called "peace", and then set up to teach it. But the entity is a chimaera, and it can't be taught.

We could teach something negative -- we could teach, for example, that armies and empires suck. But it's hard to imagine the provost signing off on a Department Of Military-Imperial Suckiness Studies. This would be too much like attacking somebody else's product -- like f'rinstance the Department of National Security Studies -- rather than just (peacefully) trying to sell your own.

The various departments can compete for butts in chairs, but you can't have 'em tearing each other down. Bad for business in general.

So the implicit negative critique must be repackaged as a substance, "peace", sold by the credit-hour, and found in Aisle Three. In fact you could major in National Security with a minor in Peace. It's the metaphysical apotheosis of eclecticism: I'll take a pound of X and a half-pound of Not-X and go home with a pound and a half of bullshit in my shopping bag.

And don't even get me started about the conceited Uni-centrism of thinking that teaching "peace" on campus makes "peace" any more likely to happen. It's a bit like the famous Academy of Lagado:

This Academy is not an entire single Building, but a Continuation of several Houses on both Sides of a Street; which growing waste, was purchased and applyed to that Use.

I was received very kindly by the Warden, and went for many Days to the Academy. Every Room hath in it one or more Projectors; and I believe I could not be in fewer than five Hundred Rooms.

The first Man I saw was of a meager Aspect, with sooty Hands and Face, his Hair and Beard long, ragged and singed in several Places. His Cloathes, Shirt, and Skin were all of the same Colour. He had been Eight Years upon a Project for extracting Sun-Beams out of Cucumbers, which were to be put into Vials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the Air in raw inclement Summers. He told me he did not doubt in Eight Years more he should be able to supply the Governors Gardens with Sun-shine at a reasonable Rate; but he complained that his stock was low, and intreated me to give him something as an Encouragement to Ingenuity, especially since this had been a very dear Season for Cucumbers. I made him a small Present, for my Lord had furnished me with Money on Purpose, because he knew their Practice of begging from all who go to see them.

Comments (50)


Swift's Academy of Lagado had nothing on this Peace Studies shtick.


Beautiful. Conflict AND peace! It's the Department Of X And Also Not-X. Gotta love these academic entrepreneurs. And the well-coiffed and tidily-shaven but Pushtun-hatted extras were a really nice touch.


...the well-coiffed and tidily-shaven but Pushtun-hatted extras were a really nice touch.

Don't worry, Los Barbudos—"Communists" no less!—are also doing their bit in the implementation of "capacity building", etc. (which used to go by a different vocabulary in an earlier era, viz.: "pacification", "strategic hamlets", etc.):

I met a professional man in his 50s, a generation that dominates the administration (they were in their 20s when the Russians were here). He has a long flowing beard. "That's because he's a communist," said my Afghan companion. "The people that ISAF appoint, most of them are communists. They support Lenin and Marx?" "No, not at all, but they were the ones that collaborated with the Russians. We call them the communists."

"They're still in power?" "Yes, they like working with foreigners. They're all communists. Many of them got educated in Russian too. We all despise them."

"And the beard?" "Oh they do like their beards. They're trying to cover up their past."


This is one of your weaker posts, Michael. Half of the world's (West's) great writers would fit into this department: Homer, Thucydides, Shakespeare, Tolstoi, Zola, Sholokhof, Hemingway, Jones, etc. Yes, the subject of peace is war -- causes of it, realities of it, alternatives to it. Which reminds me, Tuchman's March of Folly, and The Proud Tower, would belong in it too. For that matter, any of the realist novels of bourgeois society at its gilded peak would fit.

Just be sure to exclude any formal studies of peace or the evolution of cooperation in the human species.


to the contrary sen
i think this is mjs at his best

full of delightful vivid tinctures
and tintinnabulations

" So the implicit negative critique must be repackaged as a substance,
"peace", sold by the credit-hour,
and found in Aisle Three.
In fact
you could major in National Security
with a minor in Peace.
It's the metaphysical apotheosis
of eclecticism:
I'll take a pound of X and a half-pound of Not-X and go home with a pound and a half of bullshit in my shopping bag "

he is essentially a bold colorist
and has been for 40 years at least
as paradoxical as that may seem
given his mocking adoration
of the abstract northern line


"Every Room hath in it one or more Projectors.."

this defines the studio/ lab class
even as it emerges into secular sainthood

swift "clotheslined em " in the back field here

nailed em even b4 they got rolling


I knew someone in Peace Studies at Cornell. I asked her, "so what do you study in Peace Studies?" She said, "War." A lot of case studies of conflicts and peace negotiations. It's kind of a conduit to State or USAID or the NGO constellations.


"nailed em even b4 they got rolling"

Really? As much as I love Swift, he comes off as a bit of a fool in this passage.

It reminds me of the expert-in-everything literature student making fun of a farmer for dumping pig manure on his field.

"These farmers have some rather, um, curious ideas. In order to grow a Vegetable, they plant Manure. To grow Wine, would they sow Urine?"


Read the whole biz it is a vote for manure on many levels

Johnny loved the ways of the peasants

Note moon beam ectraction
He had the royal society types in mind
Always cadging for

Johnny saw where the invention of invention was headed

Let's not posit
Spiritual progress as the mission of tom edison


Yeah, I've read it, and I'm aware of the Royal Society.

My point is that it if Swift were writing 5000 years earlier he would be mocking a crank for fertilizing his fields. Sure, it's common sense 5,000 years later, but know-nothingism always blinds one to the process by which the tried and true method came into existence. Then, now, always.

In this case, of all the ridiculous experiments proposed by Royal Society members, Swift somehow managed to pick out the most sensible, practical and prescient ones to make fun of. That's why the joke is on him. He's scribbling some snide bullshit about Robert Boyle, while Boyle is developing thermodynamics through empirical experimentation. Yup, thermodynamics, quite the useless pile of nonsense that turned out to be.

Of course if he were writing today Swift would certainly agree that Boyle's science was quite practical and conservative. He would just move on to knowingly mocking the Hadron collider or the Hubble telescope and all those other useless experiments. 500 years later...


No doubt about it: Dean Swift was against progress. But so am I. The Dean hated the rising bourgeoisie, and I hate it in its ascendancy. Call it a Hitler-Stalin Pact.


" Dean Swift was against progress. But so am I."

So you say, but I'm not really sure about that, Mr. Computer Programmer. Every now and again I catch some murmurs from the rationalist engineer with a knack for math that you keep bound and gagged somewhere deep down in there.


i hadn't real;ized just how much
of a "late victorian postivist progressive "
you really are

the hadron collider and the hubblescope ???

talk about science roaring into
an irish elk like superfluity
of mighty rack display

as to that other irish son
is he target ... inspiration ...or both ??

i'd say both

johnny S
by twisting the projects and discoveries
his day's high sci giants into these
wicked pretzelations of themselves
mocked his era's RS flock of epigone frauds
mocked with grape shot of course
but did they deserve more care and precision from a satirist ??

the inevitable momentary street value
of any once and future great notion
is its use in lampooning human folly
big science is still 90% bogus flim flam
no ??

that of course is precisely
the beauty of it all
as subject matter
for a master

you don't see johnny wasting his time
on the early 18th century equivalent of
poly water and the cold fusion boys

the towering figures must fall
boyle and newton

to make your mark
one must
shoot for the head
a fact not lost on Swift

nor is any of this marinated in ignorance

the dean knew of what he transmogrified

and never forget the contradiction here
johnny like the immortal flaubert
was ever the choleric lover and chronicler
of the latest additions to
the culture's ever thriving
meme freaks at the 360 degree side show
that is vanity fair's higher comedy

to me
swift's part three voyage
to laputa and environs
is without peer among later such attempts
he is the Homer of this new genre of satiric endeavor
an endever one might call
science a la mode

every bit as brilliant and ageless as aristophanes or lucian
those old guys
who hooted at the father(s) of western philosophy


"the rationalist engineer with a knack for math "

plain projection on your part
my dear watson

Al Schumann:

The peace studies program reminds me of the recent push to get ethical conduct and moral reason into the MBA curriculum. The programs could have some real educational value, or not, depending on the people involved. But they're antithetical to the universities' purpose.

The reality for diligent, committed, good-hearted students is either teaching the next generation or landing in a job market where, if they manage to get a job, they'll find that their work consists of finding ways to exploit or thwart moral reason, ethical conduct and conflict resolution. Ultimately, no matter how good they are as people, as students, as teachers their livelihood will still depend on their ability to navigate the neurotic, destructive career politics of the corporate/academic workplace, not their mastery of the studies.

I can see no harm in adding the programs, in spite of that. They're not going to take resources or energy that would be better used elsewhere.


Thanks, Al. Contrarianism is so reflexive on this site, or at least giving the appearance of contarianism, that stupid things are sometimes said by intelligent people. Michael loves to bash universities -- fine! But what harm could come from a curriculum whose works included the great depictions of war in western literature, whose term projects might include compilations in poster form of all the war criminals in the current administration, or a hillside teach-in by fifty students in the nude in the form of a peace sign?

"No doubt about it: Dean Swift was against progress. But so am I."

When folks talk about progress you have to ask yourself "progress towards what?"

Progress towards destruction of the environment in service of enslaving humanity to consumerism seems to be going along just fine. That's not the sort of progress I'm for either.


Régis Debray does not take a sanguine view of the desirability of so intellectually vapid and infinitely plastic a field as Peace Studies (whose high priest, Michael Walzer is finally being outed as a "cut-and-paste intellectual" as Edward Said once described him).

In the present televisual age, in which social relations have never been more atomized—laptops, mobile phones and air travel have the paradoxical effect of enlarging the sphere of individual relations on a global scale, while reducing the scope of communal interaction—it seems that [political and social organization] can take its revenge in one of two ways: either it forms an explosive fundamentalist reaction to modernity—irredentist nationalism, millenarian religion—or a vapid simulacrum of religion, such as the West’s current dogma of human rights.

… The videosphere has found its perfect ideology: a faux religion that demands no responsibilities from its adherents, packaged with a fuzzy catch-all creed from which no one could reasonably dissent. This religion manqué works in mellifluous harmony with the reigning economic and political philosophies of the contemporary West to project the image of a serene global village, effectively camouflaging the interests of its principal players. Marx was only mistaken in describing the ‘ice-cold water of egotistical calculation’, when in fact today, ‘finance capital drips with tepid and sugary water, exudes compassion from every pore, while de-localizing the workforce between boom and slump’. The rule of law, elementum of the Religion of the Contemporary West, ‘tends to neutralize the inequalities of force, profit and influence’ secured by the present transatlantic consensus.


"Moderation" seems to be taking immoderately long (days) it appears...

Al Schumann:

Senecal, that sounds fine to me. I like young naked people. I was one, once...

I think where MJS and I agree is that the inculcation of decent values isn't going to happen in the educational system. The environment is so violently wrong for the purpose that it makes a mockery of the intent. The addition of professionalization and managerialism, as a reform, is almost too ludicrous to be ridiculed. One end result is thousands upon thousands of Tim Wise clones, feverishly trying to out-sanctimony their competitors, jockeying for lecture gigs and hectoring people about privilege and purism.


"...giving the appearance of contarianism
is so reflexive on this site..."

now is that fair brothers and sisters ??

appearences of any sort
could hardly be less
of a priority here


Senecal vividly asks:

what harm could come from a curriculum whose works included the great depictions of war in western literature, whose term projects might include compilations in poster form of all the war criminals in the current administration, or a hillside teach-in by fifty students in the nude in the form of a peace sign?
I steer clear of these what-if questions; once you're in the subjunctive, anything might happen; Democrats might become "progressive", for example. Or universities "intellectually pure," whatever that might look like.

I approve strongly of all the activities Senecal mentions, and particularly of anything involving young naked people. But a "curriculum", with requirements, grades, supervision by duly-ordained experts, a syllabus of recognized canonical texts, institutional sponsorship... that can't be good, as the naked young people say.



I'd dispute just about everything you wrote there, but I don't think it would be a particularly fruitful approach. I'll try another tack

OK: contrast our current Jonathan Swift, Irish-Catholic Sundayschool Teacher Stephen Colbert, who I regard as a master, to Jon Stewart, who is a worthless tool.

When Colbert is ribbing a "giant" interviewee, he has the good sense to only go after their weak spots, and only really challenge them on matters where he has particularly strong knowledge (scripture). That's why he never ends up looking like an idiot. Jon Stewart, on the other hand, is so in love with his own wit that he ends up saying things that really just expose his own smug ignorance.

I'd say that Swift is 99% Colbert, but in THIS PASSAGE he pulled a Stewart. Yeah, by all means fire a sling at the head of a giant (mock Newton's mannerisms), but trying to wrestle them (make judgments about the usefulness of particular scientific experiments) just exposes ones own weakness.

In this case, Swift, who claims to be a great proponent of the practical demonstrates that he actually has no practical instincts at all. Add to that his inadvertently hilarious idea that the landed gentry were a great reserve of common practical sense, and I think you can see what I'm getting at. Or maybe not. It seems as though the man could not possibly do any wrong in your eyes.

inadvertently hilarious idea that the landed gentry were a great reserve of common practical sense
True, true, and very trenchant. But compared to the Whigs...?

Gotta finish writing that anti-progress post, long promised, still undelivered. This comment thread is terrific grist for the mill.


"But compared to the Whigs...?"

I guess it depends on which Whigs and when, but generally I would say yes. There are a lot of criticisms to be made of the bourgeoisie, but impracticality just isn't one of them. If anything, he should have been mocking them for their excessive practicality.

If I'm setting out to mock LeBron James, I'm probably just going to call him a douche, not claim that he has shitty handles...


"I'd dispute just about everything you wrote there"

good !!!!


u mad?


i'm delighted
its odd
i like colbert too
and despise jon suet
but i'd never think
to compare either to swift
i'll suggest only
you may miss the fun in raillery for its own sake
and mocking the secular gods
in swift
a side that is also in colbert
and not in jon stew
if there is a difference swift attacks all
both the white and black hats
of modern enterprise
colbert only the obvious liberal soul's
conventional enemies


lulz... humourless Bostonian gives sermon on the nature of comedy. Now I know how Dennis Leary, Jay Leno and Dane Cook learned to be so funny!

Fuck, I wish I'd thought of raillery for it's own sake... how did I ever miss that



Now I'm humorless

I guess a long look in the mirror
Is over do

I always fancied myself as a boy of froth and foolery

I guess only crow can lay claim to true irreverence

Oh and of course


I was actually going to reference your mockery of Crow's ruminations on bacchanalia as an instructive example here


Guy in T'runnoo reproaches guy in Boston for humorlessness. Now THAT is funny.



humour is about the only thing that Toronto actually has going for it


Even if you're not fans of John Candy, Levy, Mike Myers, Jim Carrey, Leslie Nielsen, etc. etc etc. ad nauseum, if you watch this not-very-funny mockumentary, you might realize how much of even the old comedy that you guys reference around here all the time was written, directed or performed by Torontonians



my father used to say
If you want to celebrate how light a cake is
You don't stomp on it



Stolid mode seems to co exist quite well with mirth inside your own head
But I never see the two operating as a team


yeah, yeah... fair enough


or touche I suppose I should say


Why don't you guys with initials just pick up the phone, since you seem to know each other and we don't know who the f you are?

As for MJ's original post, I guess I've been living in my own (mental) commune too long. I still believe that education is subversive, even when managed by the professorial class.


Au contraire, sen. The initials are working with the exact same information that you have. We're just presumptuous.

I still believe that education is subversive, even when managed by the professorial class.
It can be. A person with subversive inclinations can turn his edumacation to subversive ends, in spite of everything the institutions and their functionaries do to avert this outcome. But it takes a certain amount of bloody-mindedness and determination on the part of the edumacatee.

FB -- You need to post a Vindication Of Progress for me, so I can get off the dime and reply with my Repudiation Of Progress. This comment thread almost did it, but maybe I need something at the top of the page.


No, no -- you go first. I'll respond. I promise that I won't break my McNamara tagging along at the Acid Test character


FB: I'm actually envious of people with initials -- it implies status, like BO, or H (Woody Allen parodying Kafka). But didn't someone seem to know that you are in Toronto? Of course that doesn't say a lot about which Torontoan you individually are, but still. . .



Michael: if you're going to repudiate progress, I have to say you're going to piss off about 3 billion people in the southern part of the globe, and you'll be the darling of my green friends. But of course it depends on how you define progress.


senecal, FB stands for "Fred Bethune". I write the odd and evidently forgettable post for SMBIVA, but I've never actually met anyone here offline


"Forgettable?" Au contrahhhnre, as they say in Quebec. You're a much-valued comrade here, FB.

The Progress Question needs more thought.


U are now nearly a fixture
Btw where's the next part of the Godley redaction ?


Much appreciated, but I was only referring to the fact that I wrote a long post about Toronto politics just a couple weeks ago.

op, that reminds me that I said I'd have another one ready last month. I'll get started on it.


FB: my humble and respectful apologies. I eagerly await you two amiable Don Quixotes finding your ways into the lists.

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