Notes Toward “the Empty Castle” Theory

kafka kastle


As part of Migrant Intellectual: Drawing First Blood with the New Liberal Elite, I began a series of meditations on the Kafka-like nature my experience across fifteen years in higher education (roughly 1996-2011). Identifying the problems of worker equity, downsizing, and so forth as “Kafkaesque” didn’t register as a literary or artistic exercise in absurdity or satire. I was terrified to realize that no one (absolutely no one) is occupying th castle. Worse than a world where bureaucratic automatons pursue the labor of bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy, I view “the Empty Castle” of higher education as a place that runs itself. In an almost exact parallel to Franz Fanon’s work where it seems in his vision that the most oppressed people are willing to suppress one another without any additional asisstance from the powerful.

Sure. People with power are still making bad decisions. Administrators and Executive Teams and their self-appointed Chairs and Program Directors — wait, you still think the hiring process is fair? Transparent? A process with real oversight and regulation?–protect themselves first and think of the students second, if at all.
You see, the fascists [1] from the right hire fascists from the left to run their systems. The SEA/SEIU represents the fascists on the left during negotiations with the right fascists. They fight for years as the fascists on the right and left negotiate behind closed doors for policies in higher education, for example, that matter least to the students and faculty and most to the portfolio managers and budget offices that assign the 5% annual raises and other benefits/perks to the higher-ups in the very bureaucracies most conservatives and definitely any number of libertarians think can be taken down if you just work harder, try harder. 

So, just leave, I hear you saying.

Well, I did.

So I could take a more independent, rogue position in the whole higher education quagmire. but, that doesn’t change the nature of the crime: people seek out industry who in turn seek out colleges, especially community colleges, to partner up and create programs that can improve the lives of people who have less than nothing. (I cannot even count any more the number of students of mine living in cars or their kids buying time with grandparents in libraries or cafeterias just so mom or dad could complete a required elective for an over-enrolled professional program that promised to graduate them in three years but takes about five on average — five years these families don’t have living on the edge.)

If “the people” own public colleges then “the people” need to know what’s really going on. It goes far beyond liberal bias or conservative and libertarian suppression at the curricular level. The problem stems from the nature of a fascist system that cares about one thing and one thing only, as Max Weber pointed out over a hundred and fifty years ago — the bureaucrat only cares about maintaining the power of the bureaucracy which in turn would be happiest running itself into the ground. By nature this process is sociopathic and deeply schizoid. The people who support it exhibit those characteristics as well.

While I agree the desire for power remains the best answer to the question of how fascism works in higher education, the real problem remains, however, how to take it back or create something new in the absence of any rational, sustainable solutions. For me, it’s tear it down. And that process will start on the first of the year as I get ready for some more visible media pieces and direct action on campuses around New England with colleagues, students, activists, and others. “Affinity” is how I work; I don’t ask for party loyalties or ideological solidarity. I care about one thing and one thing only: are you interested in building something new? If so, what do you plan on doing about it?

build a new model_Bunkminster Fuller

[1] For me, fascist here should probably be described as “protofascism” of Kafka’ Prague, an insight he offered more than a decade before the rise of the Third Reich. In New Hampshire, a fascist supports the top-down take over and destruction of local industry-academic partnerships. S/he offers blind allegiance to power as expressed through bureaucracy coupled with a deep religious sense of righteousness and allegiance to “the System.” Data-driven evidence does not phase the fascist; s/he believes what s/he wants to believe about the effectiveness of his or her programming. Outcomes pointing to alternative strategies in curriculum or assessment are dismissed as “costly” or “unreasonable” because laughably the fascist believes s/he owns with the conditions under which right and wrong are determined. In this way, the fascist is utterly evil — a person knowingly acting in a way that all but guarantees the perpetuation of misery and in so doing will erode at the good will of others. The endgame is power and control; and power and control does not register its politics for any one national party.