Foucault and the Debate Team
A few weeks ago, Wiz jokingly blamed “all of the Left’s problems” on Michel Foucault, but he wasn’t sure that he could articulate why. I thought this piece in the New York Times about a New School University debate team using Foucault’s ideas to justify denying prisoners access to higher education (in a debate against actual prisoners) might help provide some reasons behind his hypothesis.
In a very amusing passage, the article explains:
“The New Schoolers could not quite bring themselves, as one of them, Santiago Posas, put it, to make some ‘Republican we-can’t-coddle-criminals argument.’ Instead, they went nuclear, debate-style, rejecting the education system altogether: Even if higher education in prisons is ethical, Mr. Posas argued, that premise ‘does not address the basis for true equality within our society that is structured by complex and hierarchal racist, classist and gendered norms that produce the prison-industrial complex.’
Why import into prisons the same flawed educational system that landed inmates there in the first place? The undergraduates spoke of ‘the dominant discourse’ and ‘hegemony’; there was talk of ‘the revolutionary praxis’ and, of course, Foucault.
There were also more than a few awkward pauses. ‘I was reading my speech about how to deal with the fact that education comes from the oppressors to the oppressed, using big words sometimes I myself don’t understand,’ Mr. Posas said later. ‘And I’m thinking: I’m the oppressor! I’m the oppressor here!'”
To be fair, Foucault himself actually did advocate for prison reform, and one of the inmates in the debate observed (probably accurately) that the students seemed to be misquoting him. Maybe Foucault isn’t responsible for the decline of the Left after all. Instead, blame the debate club (and the rise of neo-liberalism since the 1970s).