Thursday, August 13, 2020
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Weaponizing Academia

Things are getting serious, folks. The recession is ending for some on Wall Street, but people are still losing their homes. The University system in California is on the brink of collapse. There are wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and sectarian violence the world over. Here in the US, the government seems unable to either spend its way out of recession or raise taxes to pay for it all.

At this time, the only industry that doesn’t seem to be contracting is the defense industry. Out of every dollar collected in federal taxes in 2008, 29.4 cents went to military spending. Only three cents of every dollar in taxes you paid last year went to education, just a tenth of military spending.

According to the National Priorities Project, an independent budget analysis initiative, Orange County taxpayers will contribute $160.8 million for a proposed ballistic missile defense system in the upcoming fiscal year. For the same amount of money, the NPP estimates that 30,064 students could receive a Pell Grant of $5,350. Or, if the Pell Grant is just not good enough for you, the money could provide 24,172 scholarships to a state university (like, say, UC Irvine). And that is just one county’s contribution for one measly program. For the amount that the OC pays to get fuel to all our military sites around the world (the county is on the hook for $2.8 billion), we could fund 426,777 students for one year of university education, or more than 106,000 students for four full years. The Pentagon is clearly rolling in it. The University of California system? Not so much. I say we remedy this situation. Follow the money, you know.

Since the Pentagon gets about 55 percent of all discretionary spending in this country, I say we take advantage of this situation. Why sit on the sidelines while your university crumbles under the weight of fiscal collapse? Even the undead were moved to take action this last week, as anyone who passed in front of the Administration building around noon on Thursday could tell you. A ghoulish sight, zombies reduced to begging for handouts instead of feasting on brains, and a terrifying look at the potential future of the UC system. But I don’t think we should fall into a funk of pessimism and despair.

A look at the federal budget suggests a way out of our current crisis: appeal to the Pentagon. Clearly, since “defense” spending has been increasing at twice the rate of other spending by the government, it is a growth industry. Who doesn’t want to get in on a growth industry? When the sky’s the limit (and that might be too low an estimate), does it really matter? Those of you in the hard sciences already have a leg up in this race, but the rest of the campus shouldn’t keep falling behind. It’s easy, we just need to rethink “defense.”

For those of you in defense and security-challenged majors, don’t worry, a model for action exists. D. Graham Burnett and Jeff Dolven provided a model for humanists everywhere last year. The two, one a historian of science and the other an English professor at Princeton, submitted a proposal to a Lockheed Martin initiative for ideas to improve national defense. What they came up with was truly revolutionary: the militarization of irony. Their experiment would, they reported, search for ways to concentrate and mobilize irony for deployment on the battlefield of the future. The irony of the future, they hoped, “suitably tuned, refined, and charged, might be mobilized to ‘stun’ the enemy or possibly kill outright.”

Now that is the way to bring the boon of Pentagon spending to the humanities: weaponizing a literary device, a figure of speech! Granted, these two prophets were denied their request for $750,000, but their proposal was merely the opening salvo in what promises to be a drawn-out battle for tax dollars. Aligning the university with the Pentagon is not just a strategic alliance; it is also a fundamental shift in how we will get things done from now on in this country. War on drugs, war on poverty and war on Christmas: meet the war on declining funding, brought to you by the Critical Theory Institute in collaboration with the NSA. Just think of what literalizing the “Deconstructionist” movement would do for us. What could be more frightening to our enemies than a panel of laptop-wielding theorists riding a bomb of Derridian analysis into hostile territory?

This is only one of what I hope are many such initiatives to bridge the gap between the Humanities and Social Sciences and “strategic” interests of the government. Everyone’s a winner. There will be more money for schools, more faculty, more administrative staff, smaller class sizes, a better educational system all around. Sure, some skeptics out there might object to the militarization of the university, or at least to the weaponization of common phrases, historical epochs, theoretical constructs and archival research. I say those people are hopelessly clinging to a past that has clearly seen its best days. Embrace the future, people – Weaponize your mind!

Brock Cutler is graduate student in history. He can be reached at