CONCEPT: An Academic Uprising

A Mission Statement for New Theory

This is the beginning of a new forum for ideas. The goal is to create new theory in the social sciences. The method is creative destruction and withering critique. Everyone is welcome, and everyone is fair game.

Who Bends Not His Ear?

Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?
- John Donne, Meditation XVII

All theory is a history of failing upward. Newton was wrong, but he got us headed in the right direction. Einstein was better, but he’ll be wrong some day as well. (And with new investigations into Quantum Entanglement, that day may be soon.) Nevertheless, most academics in the social sciences are pathologically defensive, trying hard to defend their work, and desperately, anxiously, soul-crackingly afraid of being proven wrong. I’m not. I don’t want history and knowledge to stop with me. My goal is to be the mistake that moves us forward, enabling others to think beyond the world as I know it, and inevitably, refute me.

The state of social theory is sad when the fear of critique is what keeps social theorists up at night, not the burning curiosity to answer unanswered questions. In fact, for many, it is difficult to think of any questions that haven’t been answered yet. Rather than looking up to the stars, we stare at our feet. Being emotionally invested in our own perfection kills us intellectually, making us deaf to critique and blind to any possibility to expand or improve. This needs to change, but how?

Five to One

The old get older,
And the young get stronger.
May take a week, and it may take longer.
They've got the guns, but we've got the numbers.
Gonna win, yeah, we’re taking over.
-Jim Morrison, Five to One

We need a space where existing theories can be destroyed. A place of fear and wonder where old ideas are broken apart and new ones are forged, because time flows in only one direction: forward. There is nowhere to be left behind: the only thing we can do is explode the problems in our existing knowledge and think up new solutions.

In order to push forward the generation of serious new thought, I am writing and collecting four types of articles: Concepts, Questions, Responses, and Critiques.

  1. A Concept is an article proposing a totally new idea.
  2. A Question is an article raising a totally new question.
  3. A Response is an article answering questions raised by existing theory.
  4. A Critique is an article raising questions by attacking existing theory.

Anyone can submit one of these types of articles, putting it’s designation at the beginning of the title. (See the title of this piece for an example.)

There is a tension inherent in the purpose of this forum. If the goal is to create new theory, it is important to be open to any ideas, but it is also important to not become a mouthpiece for the status quo. Both these interests can be advanced without censorship by adopting simple principles.

1. Every unique question deserves a unique answer.
Rather than citing existing theory, Concepts and Responses should be based on your own logic, and own original thought specific to this question. Repeating something someone else has already said is not just dull, but a waste of our time. In publish or die academia, there is a lot of talking in circles just for the sake of having something to say. But this isn’t a peer reviewed journal or edited volume. It’s just a conversation on social media. There’s no glory to be had here. There’s no need to talk if you don’t have a new idea.

2. If you already have the answer, the question isn’t worth asking.
Don’t be coy with me! Rhetorical questions are popular. They are also bad. Questions can’t be refuted like statements, so cowardly scholars phrase their statements as questions so that if challenged they can say “but still, it is a good question.” This is a logical fallacy called Begging the Question, and it doesn't do us any good. If you think you have an answer to a question spit it out and write a Concept.

3. No question is worth asking twice.
In the game of Go, there is the Rule of Ko: that the board can never look the same in two different turns. This prevents players from endlessly repeating the same moves, rather than moving on with the game. Academia needs the same rule. Asking the same question twice is often a way of refusing to acknowledge an answer that might be problematic. This is an evasion of dialog, and a circular tactic. It wastes our time. If someone does this, shout “Asked and Answered!” If you don’t think an answer adequately resolved a question, ask a new question about the shortcomings of the answer.

This is not a forum for personal glory, or shame: everybody has good ideas, and all those ideas deserve to be questioned. Don’t bother using your real name. It doesn’t matter. Pick a pseudonymn and write with it, or change it, or use your real name. We’ll never know and we don’t care. You will own the copyright of everything you write here, and you can do with it as you please, but there is a code of honor to what we’re doing here: enter the battle for new ideas with endless creativity, and discard everything you write into the battlefield, hone your ideas, and write something new if you want to publish it. Practically speaking, publication in this forum will probably make journals averse to publishing it anyway. Give us the unwanted children, the pieces that are too creative or critical to get published.

August Remarque
In Chicago
April, 2015

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