The Uses of Gibberish
A characteristic of many priestly castes is the use of esoteric language as a device both to befuddle their audience and to secure their own superior status as interpreters and custodians of the holy writ. For some reason, I started thinking about this after reading a story
in Saturday’s New York Times
about a debate between New School undergraduates and some prisoners at a Staten Island correctional facility.
The students (who, it should be stressed, appear to have been thoroughly well-intentioned and deserve praise for taking part in an exercise that must have brought some welcome variety into the inmates’ lives) were, the Times reported, nervous “because they had to argue that the government should not finance higher education in prisons, right there at the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility, against a team of incarcerated men who could be seen as Exhibit A for the opposing view.”
The Times reporter went on to note how one prisoner, Andrew Cooper, and his teammates “displayed a consistently confident, Obama-inspired style: some measured, almost soothing oratory; some strategic finger-pointing; some appeals to reason. Statistics poured out at a steady rate, about the country’s high recidivism problem and the links between higher education in prisons and lower recidivism rates. Higher education, Mr. Cooper argued, represents “the last bastion of civility and the last hope for inmates to slip the bonds of incarceration and become tax-paying, productive, caring members of society.”
That’s a fair point, but how did the students from the New School react?
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.
Of course there was.
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