The Fallacies of Fallist Philosophy

Some, indeed most, fallists, their supporters and radical decolonists have a penchant for basing their actions on their interpretations of additional favoured continental philosophers. Perhaps the most cited one within UCT’s humanities faculty is the Frenchman Michel Foucault, described by T.B. Davie lecturer Noam Chomsky as...

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Some, indeed most, fallists, their supporters and radical decolonists have a penchant for basing their actions on their interpretations of additional favoured continental philosophers.

Perhaps the most cited one within UCT’s humanities faculty is the Frenchman Michel Foucault, described by T.B. Davie lecturer Noam Chomsky as “completely amoral” because he rejected the universal basis for a concept of justice. The underlying theme of all Foucault’s work is that “power”, rather than restricting “knowledge”, ubiquitously controls, defines and develops it relationally, past and present. Like neo-Marxist Antonio Gramsci before him, he viewed ‘power-knowledge’ as the primary means of socially controlling the masses. Foucault had a particular reverence for ‘madness’, which he regarded as the essence of individual expression, and a fascination with prisons. Where they differed in detail, Gramsci favoured the development of “public intellectuals” (whose ideas are derived from the oppressed masses) to replace “traditional” Ph.D.-educated scholars at universities.

At the 2017 dinner for the Fellows of UCT, research deputy vice chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng asked all the newly-inducted Fellows to focus their inaugural addresses on the theme of “Power”. Tellingly, in her address, new Fellow Law Prof Chuma Himonga referred to Lord Acton’s famous quote: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Close behind, if not in parallel with Foucault, is another Frenchman and Foucault-rival, Jacques Derrida, best known for developing a form of analysis known as deconstruction.   Deconstruction is the key tool CRPPists use to expose flaws and instability in normative structures or universally-accepted views in order to render them untenable. Deconstruction is ‘necessary’ because existence is inherently and irreducibly complex, unstable, and impossible to characterize with universal principles or laws.  In Derrida’s view, “there is no out-of-context”; there are no solutions; there is never a moment when meaning is complete and total, even in the short term. There is just endless deconstruction, described by some as “agnogenesis” — the intentional manufacture of ignorance.

A telling account of how “context” is being interpreted and applied at UCT is outlined in DVC Phakeng’s keynote address, titled “Without transformation, research excellence is unsustainable”, at the 2016 UCT Annual Research Function:

“[The] truth is that what made us excellent yesterday, is no guarantee that it will make us excellent tomorrow. To continue in our trajectory of excellence requires the keen ability to manage the change and master adaptability.”

“Excellence is not innocent, especially in a country such as ours, with a history of discrimination and oppression. Excellence always has a context.”

“Excellence, when it is too rigidly defined, leaves us valuing certain stories over others, leaves us assimilating instead of reaching towards newer and better ways of being.”

“The complexity of excellence means that it always has a context – it means different things to different people. This is the reason why, when I talk about excellence, some people ask, “excellence for whom?” and, when some people hear that I am committed to supporting excellence, they misguidedly think that I am only interested in supporting academic indulgence.”

“More than resources, excellence requires the right philosophy.”

Sadly, DVC Phakeng seems to favour one that is a mix of Foucault and Derrida. Let’s hear from her!

Next, there is Frantz Fanon, a Frenchman descended from colonial slaves and Caribbean indigenes. He adds the remaining essential remaining weapons to the fallists’ toolbox: violence and destruction. According to Fanon, everything colonialist must collapse, because colonization is an inherently violent process.  Living in a colonized racist space is violence in itself, even if the racism is subtle, nuanced and “invisible” (which Max Price maintains is the case at UCT). An overtly violent response to such racism isn’t violence. It is only through violence that the colonized can re-assert their own humanity. It is fighting for Dasein and trans-historical restorative (punitive retributional?) social justice. In the extreme, it is reparation at best and vengeful ‘pay-back time’ at worst.

The opening lines of Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth sum up his views unambiguously: “decolonization is always a violent event… it reeks of red-hot cannonballs and bloody knives”. “Colonialism is not a machine capable of thinking, a body endowed with reason. It is naked violence and only gives in when confronted with greater violence”, a process of exorcism endorsing the therapeutic power of violence. “The native’s work is to imagine all possible methods for destroying the settler. For the native, life can only spring up again out of the rotting corpse of the settler… for the colonized people, this violence, because it constitutes their only work, invests their character with positive and creative qualities. The practice of violence binds them together as a whole”. (Dasein?)

Fanon’s primary focal audience are those at the margins of society, i.e. disaffected lawbreakers and the institutionalized impoverished masses he called damnes or the condemned of the Earth. These are equivalent to Karl Marx’s lumpenproletariat.

After liberation, Algeria, perhaps the best example of an African country decolonized using Fanon’s ‘strategy’, soon descended into renewed violence resulting in the mass, often brutal, murder of +-100,000 harki, indigenous Muslim Algerians who had French connections. Thereafter, it became an authoritarian, one-party state in virtually perpetual conflict with Muslim fundamentalists. This had a profoundly negative effect on Fanon’s widow, leading her to commit symbolic suicide in protest. When a local UCT-based fallist heard that she was ‘white’, he immediately reversed his assessment of Fanon, calling him a “sell-out”.

All of the philosophers discussed above were male European citizens who are dead. Only one was non-white, but culturally European.

The consequences of decolonizing UCT along the lines suggested by these gentlemen are dire at best and frightening at worst.

I close with a quote from my favourite US gridiron coach, Vince Lombardi:

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

For fallists, perfection is a non-entity and excellence is determined by the powerful.

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  1. Harald Sitta Reply

    Brilliant! Obvioulsy all quoted – except Gramsci – madcaps. With deconstructionism I do not know if that was just started as an academic jokus or bluff and was then taken seriously by others like Picasso started to bluff and dazzle and the audience was impressed …….Funny world

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