FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

David F. Noble: In Memoriam

by DENIS G. RANCOURT

Arguably the greatest critical historian of science and technology died on Monday December 27, 2010, suddenly and unexpectedly of natural causes and within a few days of being admitted to hospital.

His family was by his side. David Noble is survived by his wife, three daughters, two brothers and his sister.

David’s seminal books include America by Design, Forces of Production, A World Without Women and The Religion of Technology. In Forces of Production he established that corporations are obsessed with control over the workforce, even at the expense of profit, thereby dissolving the popular economics myth of the free hand of the market.

He wrote Digital Diploma Mills and toured campuses to single-handedly stop the North American plan to web-commodify university courses via institutional course-copyright predation.

His last book Beyond the Promised Land was meant to accompany the new anti-globalization movement, much like Marcuse theorized the 1960s but Noble avoided the academic cover. He argued in plain terms that the history of resistance was not repeating itself and that the new movement was defined by anarchism, without a need for the promised destinies of religion or econo-political systems such as capitalism and socialism. The book contains the most vibrant description of the 1968 events I have ever read and an unparalleled account of the contributions of the anarchists that led to today’s First World radicalism.

David Noble has been the single most powerful force in Canada resisting the corporatization of universities, including the erosion of collegial governance and disregard for academic freedom. He was tireless in this project. In a 2008 precedent-setting labor arbitration award, David Noble was the first professor in Canada to be paid cash reparation ($2,500) for a violation to his academic freedom, when York University put out a press release critical of his “tail that wags the dog” pamphlet exposing Israel Lobby influence at the university.

David Noble was the Canadian Israel Lobby’s worst nightmare. He and others won the battle in terms of public opinion but now we must determine if public opinion will be able to constrain the workings of backroom power politics as Canada continues to distinguish itself as Israel’s strongest uncritical supporter and enthusiastically participates in Israel’s international image branding project.

David was fired from MIT because he was “too radical” for the school, according to Noam Chomsky. For a year or more he was the curator of a major collection about technology at the Smithsonian Institution but was fired before the critical collection was made public and the collection was canned. York University in Toronto (Canada’s third largest university) hired him with tenure on the basis of the stature of his work. He was planning to retire from York University this summer.

In more than thirty years of teaching university classes David Noble never graded his students. They learned because learning is natural and he did not want to interfere with that. He did not want to collaborate with the forces of production.

David and I were best buddies.

I first saw David Noble in 2004 when he participated with Ralph Nader and Leonard Minsky in the keynote event of an annual conference organized by the graduate student union at the University of Ottawa where I was a tenured physics professor. It was a major event and the university president presented Nader. After Nader explained the problem of corporatization, Minsky appealed to students to stand and fight, and then David simply shredded the president and the university executives like I had never seen before. It was powerful and inspiring. It catalyzed my anti-corruption intra-institutional activism that eventually got me fired. The university administration cut its funding to the conference for the following years.

Later, when David returned to my campus to speak in 2006 I gave him a draft copy of my 2007 critical essay about global warming. He took it home and then called me and we became instant friends. He used the essay in his classes every year and invited me to join. But more importantly, we became co-combatants against institutional corruption, education insanity, and illegitimate power.

David was very isolated by our colleagues’ refusal to take on the institution and their false rationalizations that zero-risk posturing was effective activism. He would say to me “there are only two of us but we have them surrounded.” We used our voices, the courts, access to information requests, and our academic freedoms, in an all-out attempt to out collaborators and to awaken our dead colleagues.

We shared Foucault’s view:

“One knows ? that the university and in a general way, all teaching systems, which appear simply to disseminate knowledge, are made to maintain a certain social class in power; and to exclude the instruments of power of another social class. ? It seems to me that the real political task in a society such as ours is to criticise the workings of institutions, which appear to be both neutral and independent; to criticise and attack them in such a manner that the political violence which has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them.”

— Foucault, debating Chomsky, 1971.

In the present suffocating climate of progressive “service” to the underprivileged and “ablest language” self-censorship, David felt like he lived on another planet while immersed in First World managerial madness. But he lived every moment. David lived!

From the free-style guitar that he played, to the meals he made for guests, to gardening and roughing it at the cabin, to his explanations about man’s inadequacy before woman’s capacity to make life, to his ever deepening explorations in social analysis, to his accompaniment of friends and students on picket lines and at court hearings, to his unparalleled ability to expose power, to his pleasure in disrupting protocol and convention, to his love for freedom, to his creative refusal to comply? David lived!

I never had a fight with David. But I wish he were here now so I could thoroughly bawl him out for dying! The First World has lost one of its rare beacons of truth.

DENIS G. RANCOURT is a former tenured and full professor of physics at the University of Ottawa in Canada. He practiced several areas of science which were funded by a national agency and ran an internationally recognized laboratory. He has published over 100 articles in leading scientific journals and several social commentary essays. He developed popular activism courses and was an outspoken critic of the university administration and a defender of student and Palestinian rights. He was fired for his dissidence in 2009. His dismissal case is expected to go to court in the next year or so. [See rancourt.academicfreedom.ca] He can be reached at denis.rancourt@gmail.com

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail