Quick Reading: Organizing Intelligence

Author Information: Thomas Basbøll, University of St Andrews, tb.lpf@cbs.dk

Basbøll, Thomas. 2012. “Quick Reading: Organizing Intelligence” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective.

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-7D

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This will be the first of what I hope to be a regular feature (from me or other members of the collective). These will be short posts that draw attention to a single piece of writing that one of us has recently read. The idea is just to note why we think it’s interesting: perhaps because we disagree, perhaps because we agree, perhaps simply because it gets us thinking.

There’s a great scene in Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost that I often think about when I think about social epistemology. Talking to his protégé, Hugh Montague (who was modeled on James Jesus Angleton, the spiritual father of the CIA) suddenly declares that “Our real duty [i.e., the duty of the CIA] is to become the mind of America”:

Already, we tap into everything. If good crops are an instrument of foreign policy, then we are obliged to know next year’s weather. That same demand comes at us everywhere we look; finance, media, labour relations, economic production, the thematic consequences of TV. Where is the end of all that we can be legitimately interested in?… Nobody knows how many pipelines we have in good places – how many Pentagon pooh-bahs, commodores, congressmen, professors and assorted think tanks, soil erosions specialists, student leaders, diplomats, corporate lawyers, name it! They all give us input…I tell you, we have liaison into every game that’s going on in this country. Potentially, we could direct the nation.

William Bottom’s paper is not nearly as exciting as this little speech suggests. But it makes up for this by being more informative and less paranoid than Mailer’s novel. And it does, in fact, note the CIA’s connections to what he calls the “Ford Foundation network”, which is largely responsible for what business education—and, by extension, administrative science—looks like today. (I don’t think I need to stress why social epistemologists should be interested in the state of business education and research today.) The argument is largely empirical, based in part on correspondence between key members of the network. We get an insight into the process by which anthropology “came home” and, what I find especially interesting, a clear statement of the social and economic causes of shoddy scholarship:

Because so many of the contributing actors … were not academics,they had very little reason to seek to maintain or advance any scholarly claims. Academics pursuing advancement had little to gain by scrupulously referencing the original contribution. Nor were they likely to be hurt by failing to do so.

Bottom convincingly shows that a concerted effort was made after the first world war re-organize something like “the mind of America”, indeed, to dominate the global social imaginary with social science. Everything is traced back to Walter Lippmann’s ideas about public opinion (and beyond), and there’s the obligatory reference to Hitler’s admiration for the Committee for Public Information. Great rousing stuff!

Contact details: tb.lpf@cbs.dk

Categories: Books and Book Reviews

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