I recently listened to a lecturer, Daromir Rudnyckyj, give a talk on his book about “spiritual economies”.

Rudnyckyj presented yet another one of these “anthropological” critiques of neo-liberalism using descriptivist anthropology, and without actually saying there is anything wrong with neo-liberalism. I have little respect for that.

He used phrases like “neoliberal subjects.” He carefully selected interviews with spiritual cult leaders, and bizarrely quoted from capitalistic spiritual exercise workshops in Asia. His attack on spiritual economies was nuanced. All of these devices were so obviously intended to indict capitalism, and so obviously NOT descriptions, but “normative statements”. The audience laughed at his ironies, and nodded their heads in agreement with his “analysis” (oh, sorry, “description!”)

Toward the end of the lecture I asked Rudnyckyj about his personal views, and congratulated him for pointing out some fascinating ironies of his subject. Instead of answering the question, he turned the question back to me. He said I must have some “interesting” personal views because I viewed what he described as “ironic”. All the sudden he was Roland Barthes. I must be “reading into” his work because there is no irony in his work, he said.

This is a problem with scholarship. Are anthropologists writing under a Stalinist academic regime which doesn’t allow them to say what they actually feel and think? Rudnyckyj wanted to open a critical dialogue of “spiritual economies” and a critical discussion of capitalism. But he wanted to play it cool as if totally objective, as if he had the mythical “view from nowhere.” Anthropologists use the protection of “objectivity” to pass covert descriptivist critiques, instead of actually arguing anything. They are decidedly repressed university cogs. Where is the academic freedom in that?