A and B

K and K (see previous entry) offer brief comments on the two interviews.  They write that for respondent A:

            …the problem itself is not a perplexing one; it is one for which a correct answer exists or will exist.  Finding the right facts will lead to certain knowledge.  Interpreting the facts is not mentioned as part of the process of arriving at a decision. (3)

 Of the second respondent (B), they write:

People who use this reasoning style acknowledge the uncertainty of knowing, but even though they accept the uncertainty they also argue that a judgment that is “reasonably certain” can be constructed on the basis of available data and existing methodologies

Tarrowsignhese seem remarks seem adequate summaries of the epistemologies implied in A and B.  But what, if anything, can the remarks of A and B tell us about their psychological development. 

Looked at in this way, I think it worth noting that A is involved in a contradiction.  First A says she cannot know because she did not make it (chemical additive) and later says that a final absolute answer is possible and will come forward.  This though may not be so much a logical contradiction as it is an expression of the individual’s embeddedness in time.  I, at present, do not know, but, in my opinion, in the future an answer will be forth coming.  Additionally, A’s attitude towards knowledge appears relatively passive.  Some one with the guts to examine all the data will produce the answer; but A will not be that person. Further, A appears to equate the knowing of a thing with the making of it.  I don’t know, she says, because I did not make it.  And, finally, A seems to feel that knowledge is the product of the efforts of individuals.

B is not however involved in even the appearance of a contradiction and shows no sense at all of being embedded in time or of knowledge being generated in time.  This may be the case because her response, as K and K suggests, rests on an acceptance of “uncertainty” which as part of the attitude of skepticism is perpetual.  Uncertainty has not and will not be resolved at any particular moment.  While, in other words, A approaches the question with the attitude that an absolute answer is possible, B approaches the problem with the attitude that no absolute answer is possible.

Further B does not believe that the person who knows a thing is the person who makes a thing.  Or, more precisely, B does not believe that the person(s) who make a thing necessarily know the effects of a thing (whether it is safe or useful or lives up to its claims).  And B knows that one cannot necessarily trust the claims (tobacco) of those that make the thing.  B’s attitude towards “knowledge” or “expert opinion” is much more active.  Indeed, one might say that for B “knowledge” is “expert opinion” as generated by certain assumptions and methodologies.

How does one get from A to B.?  Well, one might logically answer, by going to college and onto graduate school.  To which, I might answer quite logically, why yes of course, but that makes education simply a social or socializing process and doesn’t tell us anything about what an individual might have to go through emotionally to move from position A to position B.  Additionally, if one takes a social approach, as do K and K, one is unable to tell if B is able to apply the uncertainty principle to areas of life other than the epistemic (are chemical additives safe), or if, indeed, she should (do you drink beverages with NutraSweet).

Opinionated Opinion

More on the issue of opinion and individualism.  In their Developing Reflective Judgment, Patricia King and Karen Kitchener offer a number of interviews with students to clarify the idea of reflective judgment.  In the following two interviews, students are asked to express their opinions (italics are aspartamemine).

“The following comments were made by a high school student.

I: Can you ever know for sure that your position that Nutra­sweet is safe is correct?
R: No. I don’t know for sure because I don’t manufacture it.
I: OK. Do you think we’ll ever know for sure?
R: If somebody more or less had the guts to stand up and go and do all the research on it and find out.
I: So you think someday we’ll know?
R: Yes.
I: When people disagree about the safety of chemical addi­tives [in foods], is it the case that one opinion is right and the other is wrong?
R: Some people’s opinion is right, and they can more or less prove that they are right, and the other people that are wrong.

The following excerpt from an interview with a graduate student illustrates this reasoning style.
I: Can you ever say you know for sure that your point of view on chemical additives is correct?
R: No, I don’t think so. I think given that any theorem has to start with assumptions that are not necessarily true, then even if the internal argument in your system is completely consis­tent, it might be that the assumptions are wrong. So, just from this standpoint, we can’t always be sure. I think we can usually be reasonably certain, given the information we have now and considering our methodologies.
I: Is there anything else that contributes to not being able to be sure?
R: Yes. Aside from assumptions, it might be that the research wasn’t conducted rigorously enough. In other words, we might have flaws in our data or sample, things like that.
I: How then would you identify the "better" opinion?

R: One that takes as many factors as possible into considera­tion. I mean one that uses the higher percentage of the data that we have and perhaps that uses the methodology that has been most reliable.

I.And how do you come to a conclusion about what the evidence suggests?

R: I think you have to take a look at the different opinions and studies that are offered by different groups. Maybe some studies offered by the chemical industry, some studies by the government, some private studies, a variety of studies from a variety of different areas. You wouldn’t trust, for instance, a study funded by the tobacco industry that proved that cigarette smoking is not harmful. You wouldn’t base your point of view entirely upon that study. Things like that have to be taken into account also . . . you have to try to interpret people’s motives and that makes it a more complex soup to try to strain out.”

End of quotation.  That’s a bit of a read, but I think that two distinct attitudes towards opinion are illustrated here.  They are worth looking at in some detail.  But for the moment, I ask: “How does a student get from position A to position B?”  My answer is that the student must develop intellectually and emotionally.

The Right to Opinion

Well…to continue…a while along the path of “individualism.”

Individualism, as ideology, as symbolic of  standing on one’s own two legs, separates person from person just as the mobility of the child, when he or she begins to walk, makes possible the separation of child from mother.  Individualism separates by voiding one’s relationship to groups, dummyto the group of one’s ethnic heritage, to the group of one’s religion, to the group of one’s class, or to the group of one’s gender.  The individual is no one of these things, and before the law at least, the group memberships of the individual should make no difference to one’s judgment of the individual.

Most teachers of writing, I expect, have talked with a student who complains, because of something the teacher has said or written on a paper, “But I have a right to my own opinion, don’t I?”  Well, of course, one tries to say, but while one has a right to one’s opinion, there are different kinds of opinions.  One is looking, one says, for reasoned opinion, opinion backed up by some evidence and argument.  Of course, it’s hard to say this without implying that the opinion of the student is somehow inferior to one’s own.  This, of course, is what the student hears.  That his or her opinion is inferior, and that you the teacher are saying, in effect, I am the teacher and you are not.

I don’t think it would be better to say this—not if one wishes to educate—but I have wanted to say, “Look, you call this your own opinion, and you have a right to it because it is your own. But I don’t think your “own” opinion is your “own” opinion at all.  No, it is but the feeble echo of the opinion of several million other people who have the same opinion that you have.  In what sense is it your own if millions of others have it?  Did you buy it?  As one might a pair of jeans. 

No, an opinion is something a person has to earn.  And if I had any sense at all that you had earned it, I might not have spoken as I did. In fact, had I felt that you had earned your opinion, I might have responded to it conversationally, engaged you in dialogue about it, but when I feel the opinion has not been earned, I don’t think I am talking to an individual at all but a mob, with a single idea in its head.  And really one cannot engage a mob in meaningful dialogue.”

My reasons for not saying this to the student are multiple.  I guess I would rather imply that students’ reasoning is not so hot, than say outright they are not individuals, but sociologically speaking apes of others, strange somnambulists wondering around mumbling things that they have heard their minister or their father say.  Many of my students have been told that they are “special” from day one, and being told that they are by no means special, at least in the realm of opinion, could hurt their feelings.

Also I have found that students who baldly state their right to their opinion, with no caveats, qualifications, or other people might see something different since everything is relative, can be gutsy.  Perhaps, and who knows, they feel very strongly about this cliché that they consider their own opinion..  If so rather than insult such students, I think it better to try to check it out, and see what possibly, even if unexpressed, might give it force.  Of course, one could be dealing with a bonehead.

The “ism” of Individualism

Education today, I claim, fails to cultivate the personality or develop the individual.  Understanding this requires a look at the vexing notion of individuality.  One is not likely to understand education’s failure to develop it if one does not know what it is.  In Generation Me (2006), Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., writes of people now in their twenties and thirties:

            Two of Generation Me’s most prominent characteristics are our individualism and our lack of political engagement. We firmly believe no one is going to help, so we have to stand on our own. (229)

survivalfittestTo be clear, “individualism” is faith, a belief, or ideology like, as the “ism” implies, socialism, communism, or capitalism.  Acting in accord with this “ism” does not mean a person is, psychologically speaking, an individual at all.

            Many of the students, with whom I work, believe in this particular “ism.”  I am not saying, of course, that they know they believe in this “ism,” but they certainly act as if they do. They seem, as Twenge says, to feel the personal sphere and the political sphere are distinct.  This explains, why, according to Twenge, many young people don’t vote.  But, as I am suggesting, the “individualism” of today’s young people is itself an ideology or a politics.  Not voting does not mean one does not have a “politics.”

            That the young people of today might believe in such an “ism” of course makes sense.  During the period of their growing up, more and more individual Americans, some few of them at least, have become richer and richer.  Such people might appear to be able to stand on their own.  And as some few individuals have acquired greater and greater wealth, less and less money has been put into the public sphere, into repairing the roads, or building up parks, or into education.

            Standing on one’s own two legs is a wonderfully significant stage in the development of the child.  But it is by no means the final stage in the development of the individual.  The bottom line ethic however of bullying capitalism makes the ideology of individualism appear somehow heroic.  Being able to stand on one’s own in a world of dog eat dog indifference appears the stuff of struggle towards liberation.  Twenge writes, “Many young women said their mothers explicitly told them to act as individuals. ‘My mother has always encouraged me to be independent and never depend on anyone but myself, wrote Melinda, 22.’” (192)

            The young women whom I teach appear much like Melinda.  When I ask I find that most intend first to acquire a career.  Marriage will come later, if at all.  And whether or not one will have children appears a very open question.  These young women, whether they know it or not, have benefited from the feminism of the 60’s that aimed at the liberation of all women.  But these young women do not regard themselves as the heirs of that feminism.  They do not see themselves as feminists and do not like being identified as such because they see feminists as “women who hate men.”

            If I felt being a feminist meant “a woman who hates men,” I wouldn’t want to be one either because being one might make one appear to be a not very friendly person doomed to a life of consumed by hatred.  Feminism as the liberation of a group has been changed by well meaning mothers and fathers into the “ism” of individualism.  This supplies the young women with the meaningful goal of standing on her own two legs and becoming independent and, at the same time, obscures the profoundly deep and ongoing conflict between men and women.  Individualism liberates at the cost of deep repression.

Life Beyond Vocation

Somewhere—maybe in Man’s Search for Himself—Rollo May says the modern age is particularly the age of anxiety.  I don’t remember his reasoning, but I expect it went something like: never have earthmilkywayindividual human beings been so exposed, so vulnerable.  Physical ailments, aging, disease, the loss of a loved one, the loss of love itself are the common stuff of life, but now the individual increasingly lacks the means by which to sustain his or her self when struck by this common stuff.

Before individuals had, for example, marriage till death did you part, for good or ill, or sickness and in health.  Or one had family, for better or worse, located around and about, but relatively nearby that could be called, or just showed up at your door whether  one wanted it or not, in moments of crisis.  One might have hated as much as loved their faces; but all were familiar and there was comfort in that.  Just as comfort was to be found in the relatively unchanging aspect of the old neighborhood.  And of course, in a pinch, one had religion and the comfort of a shared faith.

But marriage is in trouble.  The family is breaking up and taking new shapes.  One has had, to make ends meet, left the area completely.  Family is not around and about or nearly.  And having left, when one returns, the old neighborhood is hardly recognizable.  And religion now offers the threadbare shared faith of a fast food franchise. Never, ever has it been easier to buy your way into heaven.

This is the life now, beyond vocation, to which Sanford refers.  A life, lacking the supports that were once there, the familiar comforts and the comforts of familiarity that blanketed the individual and kept him protected against disaster in the prospect and disaster already afflicted.  The individual is left exposed, then, to an indifferent universe.  At an extreme, or for the more imaginative, one now knows the universe is very huge, unimaginably huge.  The earth that holds us down is less than a speck, less than a microbe in that great space.  And if the earth is not struck and destroyed by a meteor that’s only a matter of timing, only a consequence of the duration of human consciousness being—from its beginning to its end—less that a tick in the expanse of geological time.  There’s a lot of time for us to be gone and for the meteor not to appear.

This is indifference—and not merely a metaphor for it—at its most abstract.  Like the music of the spheres, one can just barely imagine it.  But more up close and personal, one can perhaps imagine pulling out from the intersection to be struck by thousands of pounds of metal hurtling at 60 miles an hour, and you live and wake to find yourself paralyzed from the waist down and your wife carried off to whatever kingdom is to come. 

 But even that is too abstract really; for the indifference of which May speaks is woven into the fabric and texture of our daily lives.  We try to give it a face by calling it such things as “terror.”  This is the world beyond vocation, and education as it is currently practice does nothing to help individuals hold together in the face of it.

Freshman Disorientation

I found, with mixed feelings, while reading around the writing of Nevitt Sanford on education.  He writes about some of the things I tried to write about in my Self-Development and College Writing.  For example:

            Today’s college student needs preparation for a world in which he must play a variety of roles and even adopt new roles perhaps several times during his life; an impersonal world in which nonetheless he must manage to remain an individual and accept his individuality; a world with awesome potential for either utopia or disaster.

That’s from Sanford’s Where Colleges Fail page 8.  My feelings are mixed not only because he beerbongmanages here a sentence with greater clarity than any single sentence I was able to write but also because this sentence was written or at least published in 1967.

            For Sanford education is not about getting a job; it’s about preparing the student as a person and an individual for life beyond, as he puts it, vocation.  And for this life beyond vocation, education must seek to develop the personality of the student, to impart to it, and bring forth from it the qualities of flexibility, openness to experience, and responsibility. He says clearly that education, as he means it, imparts values.  Today of course in the modern megamultiversity the idea of “education” for job or career has seemingly obliterated Sanford’s and my conception of what education should be.

            A number of years back I sat on a committee given the charge of reporting on, at the institution where I work, the Freshman Year Experience.  I took the whole thing pretty seriously, though looking back I see now the report, written as part of an accreditation review, was pretty much a formality.  The accrediting body was not going to deny accreditation, no matter what the quality of its Freshman Year Experience, to an instruction with a couple of Nobel Prize winners in its faculty. In fact, the chair told us  pretty much up front that the committee was not to produce a document that might upset our Chancellor or make him think he ought to do something about the Freshman Year Experience.

            The report had a number of parts or sections to it on, for example, the Freshman Year Experience and the social life of the student, as well as health of the student, and at one point, a section was to deal with the student and his or her ethical development.  I was particularly interested in this last section, and sat there somewhat stunned to see that my colleagues, faculty and staff from student affairs and counseling across campus, begin to compile a list of the various religious institutions located near campus as resources for the ethical development of the student in his or her Freshman Year Experience.

            Even understanding as I did by then that the report was not to be taken seriously, I was troubled to realize that for my colleagues that idea that the course work itself, the curriculum and the knowledge imparted, might be part of or in some way related to students’ ethical development simply did not occur.  I waited for somebody to bring up that idea or make that connection, but nobody did.  And, understanding that the report was not to be taken seriously, I pretty much just gave up at that point and psychologically, so to speak, threw in the towel.  I wasn’t about, as a lowly lecturer and writing instructor, to lecture my learned colleagues on the true nature of education and their blindness to it.


I am not sure what this has to do with anything, but yesterday Roland Barthe’s Pleasures of the Text, I think it was called, came to mind.  I bought it in paperback up in Berkeley some time in the 70’s.  unknownA friend was with me, and we sat down on the spot and read through it, laughing all the way.  He was telling the truth we thought.  That people read those dull old books to be bored and to find odd things as they read along maybe just an word, turn of phrase, or unfamiliar convention.  Those were the real pleasures of the text.

For example, I remember chewing over this oddity—or at least it was an oddity when I first read it—that appeared in Dostoevsky.  He would introduce a character first by name—say Svidregailov– and follow that with “from the city of XXXX in the Province of XXXX.”  It seemed as if that he was seeking to imply with those XXXX’s that he was writing about a real person, somebody somebody might know, and so as not to give the person’s identity away he was covering up possible clues to the person’s identity with those XXXX’s.

I found this strange since the book I was reading, in this case Crime and Punishment, was clearly a work of fiction.  So why would he bother to cover up the origins of a fictional chacarater.  Then I thought that perhaps Dostoevsky put in those XXXX’s to encourage the reader to think that he was writing about REAL people and that he, Dostoevsky, the author, was trying with those XXXX’s to treat those real people with some politeness or to perhaps protect himself from charges of slander.

That made some sense because, while I am not sure if people would call Doesteovsky an author in the tradition of naturalism, that’s the sort of convention naturalists use to imply they are not making up what they are writing about.  But then I wondered if Doestoevsky really had known or at least read about in some provincial newspaper of a person who had performed actions not unlike those performed by Svidregailov.  In other words, Dostoevsky, was not using those XXXX’s to make the reader think the character was real, but to encourage the reader, as an astute reader, to see the XXXX’s as a fictional convention and thus to imply that the character had no relation to anyone living or dead, fictional or non-fictional, as they like to write at the end of movies.

I don’t know if this is what Barthes meant exactly or if anybody other than a few oddball literary types, otherwise known as English majors, would find any pleasure in thinking about such a thing.  But if one does think about such a thing the only reason for doing it, I think, would be the pleasure of doing so.  For as far as I can tell I can find no way whatsoever to resolve the questions I have raised about Dostoevsky’s use of those XXXX’s.  Somebody might say, of course, oh you are just lazy; you could do some research and find some answer to your questions.  But really I don’t think so, though thinking about such an issue might be something a lazy person would do or perhaps a somewhat less than serious person might do.

I would rather resolve the question by saying simply that the oddity of the XXXX’s is an unfathomable “ambiguity.”  But if one declares a thing ambiguous, what happens to the idea of objectivity.  What’s the point or why would it be worth the effort to be objective about an unanswerable question.  To this a person devoted to the idea of objectivity might reply, why the hell would one expend any energy, mental or otherwise, on a question so transparently trivial and of no real interest to anyone living or dead.  One has much bigger fish to fry than this sort of silliness.

Well, yes, of course, but is there not some pleasure in being silly?



A Slight Case of Total Bias

So what’s objectivity?  I guess I don’t know anymore.  But that’s sort of what I tried to be way back in college or, let’s say, I saw that as a task intimately allied with the pursuit of Truth.  I think Freud redmenaceequated objectivity with the attitude of the surgeon relative to the person being cut open.  Given my limited experience with surgeons, I think that a bad analogy.  Or perhaps he equated objectivity with the determination to look at the truth however gross, ugly, and morally repellant it might be.

I think I once thought of it that way—objectivity as the means to pursue the ends of truth, requiring a kind of emotional willingness to look at ugliness and moral decay however repellant and with the determination too to try as hard as possible to make myself aware of the beliefs and assumptions and perspectives that might shape my perception of the truth however ugly it might be.  Or perhaps it was only some unseen or unquestioned believe or attitude that made it seem repellent.

Who knew.

I felt in any case that I had a duty to look at myself as I looked at the object to see, if I could, how my self shaped what I saw.  But I guess I had a pretty high faulting notion of the truth or something like it.  I sat through lectures by professors that were very biased and apparently the professor felt no need to point to the bias or identify it as such.  And I am not speaking of something here as super-subtle as that business of constructing disciplinary distinctions.

I sat through a political science class that was devoted to international relations and the study of revolutions. This was a GE course and intended I guess as a survey of a couple of big topics.  The international relations part was informed entirely by the realist perspective I have previously mentioned (though not announced as such).  

The revolution part was quite amazing because the professor, no matter what the revolution—Russian, Chinese or Vietnamese—made it out, one way or another, that Communism had not won.  No, the pre-existing order or the mélange of parties that arouse during the revolutionary turmoil and opposed to the communists had failed to rise to the occasion.  If Communism won that as not because they had a positive agenda or appealed to the hearts and minds of the masses but because the opposition had proven inept and admittedly at times quite corrupt.

Over and over the pattern repeated itself in the analysis of this particular Professor who was Chinese and born in Taiwan.  Perhaps this Professor lacked any introspective powers or actually believed what he said.  I don’t know.  But the context of this theory—that is, himself—in his origins and attitudes was never addressed as a possible contributing factor to the Professor’s particular take on Communism and on theories of revolution more generally.

 I was appalled but didn’t mention the Professor’s possible bias to my students because I was busy trying to keep them for ridiculing and complaining about the Professor because his spoken English was, how to say, rather foggy.  The students just didn’t like the Professor it seemed, and I remember one student perturbed because the Professor had given her an A- on her first paper because he said it was “over-organized.”  What the heck, the student wondered, did that mean; and frankly I had to say that I had never heard that particular criticism of a student’s paper before.

I suggested that she visit the Professor in his office hours and ask him what it meant.  She did and her grade was changed to a straight A.

Over organized?

Ethics and the Burning Bush

Again with the objectivity thing.  I don’t want to kick a dead horse, but too often I am suggesting students are taught things on the basis of a theory or perspective that they are unaware of and burningbushcan’t get their heads around.  Take that ethic’s course.  Ethics was presented entirely thought the lens of analytic philosophy, but students didn’t know that because they didn’t know there was any other way to think about ethics. 

Or let’s say some students did have a different way of thinking about ethics but that way was based in religion and was the expression of morality and not really ethics at all.  In short, the ethics course defined itself, dialectically speaking, against a) matters of fact and b) religion.

For example, whoever taught the course, somewhere in the first couple of lectures Socrates’ “Euthyphro” would pop up. In this dialogue, Socrates establishes the possibility of the rational discussion of values as something distinct from morality or what the gods might have to say.  He asks, is something good because the Gods feel it is good and only because of that or do the Gods assert something is good because it is good (independent of the God’s judgment).  If the former, something is good because the God’s say it is, then what a God says is good is potentially arbitrary.  I say it’s good so it’s good, period.  But if it is good independent of the God’s judgment, then it is possible to discuss why it might be good using reason and without committing an act of impiety.

Students of rhetoric might call this a disciplinary  move by which the discipline establishes the boundaries of the discipline itself.  If one follows Socrates, one can in this ethics class discuss values rationally and without recourse to what Gods might or might not think (as handed down by tradition or religious texts, such as the Bible).  And that’s what we are going to do in this class.  So out with Morality and Religion.

Similarly but along the lines of matters of fact, a clear distinction was drawn between ethics and manners.  For surely, whether or not an innocent person should be killed for the greater good was not simply a matter of manners.  Ethics as manners was ruled out because then the study of ethics would become a study of the socialization of the individual into certain ethical views.  Also, with this distinction made, one did not have to confront Schopenhauer’s claim that morality is just advanced animal training.  So much then for good old Nihilism. Or the Irrational.

I came to read the ethics course as being less about something called ethics and more as asserting the defining disciplinary boundaries of the study of ethics as if there were something to be studied other than the disciplinary boundaries of this particular way of defining ethics.

I think most of the students did not think about the ethic’s course in this way.  Instead they brought with them feelings about ethics and morality that did not necessarily fit the study of ethics as defined by the class.  And since these other ways of thinking about ethics were not directly addressed, but pushed as it were simply to the side, the result for students was confusion, a sense of futility, and boredom.  And since these things were not directly addressed either by the students themselves or the instructor students set themselves to do what they could do: memorize and regurgitate.


I attended the lectures for that class on US-Soviet relations for four years perhaps and then the Berlin wall came down.  I doubt they have a class now on US-Soviet relations in political science; perhaps it’s covered in history. The collapse of the wall produced one of the more authentic teaching moments I have seen.  The professor who taught the course came in, sat on the table in front, and said that the collapse of the wall had really screwed up his course.  He was clearly nonplussed.

As I have indicated, objectivity seemed in those general education classes pretty hard to come by.  Such was the case with US-Soviet Relations.  The professor had been schooled by Henry Kissinger and his whole analysis of the situation was based in the realpolitic of, as we fondly called it, BOP or Balance of Power.  When the wall came down, the BOP between the US and the Soviet Union dissolved, and so did the Professor’s course.

Boy, did those realists gloat.  They wrote that the fall of the Soviet Union proved the realist philosophy since, in balancing against the USSR, we had forced them to collapse.  Professors, I mean guys with Ph.D’s, actually wrote, “The USA won the Cold War.”  To which I can only say, BS.  I mean who wins Armageddon. 

The Cold War was an incalculable waste of human energy, talent, lives, and money on both sides of the BOP equation.  The USSR, scared to death of being invaded given its history, spent 20% of its GNP on war and preparation for it.  They didn’t have money for other things—like consumer products—except maybe to send some poor lonely guy into outer space. I mean is the guy who comes out standing after a total debacle the “winner” and of what exactly, the debacle sweepstakes?

Mostly though I kept my opinions to myself.  So the students came out hearing nothing but the “realist” perspective.  True, the Professor did assign a book on something called the “reformist” position; but he did not lecture on that position and the book was a terribly written mishmash of this and that. 

What I gradually came to see was that, at least in the world of academia, the realist position was a way of establishing the disciplinary boundaries of political science at least in the realm of international relations.  The real enemy of the realpolitic in that realm was not something called “reformism,” but “liberal economics” (or more exactly, the Economics Department).

At the heart of the realm politics was and is the “nation-state.”  That’s what is balanced in the BOP; nation states in various entangling alliances against other nation states.  But liberal economics, following good old Adam Smith, opposes limitations on the free flow of goods from any one place to another.  And one of the limitations to that free flow has been and continues to be people who believe in the nation state and who might erect therefore economic policies designed to protect and favor the members of its particular nation state.

So the realpolitic wasn’t about nations fighting nations, but about political science asserting its right to study the nation state when liberal economics says most of that is just stuff that gets in way.  What this has to do with objectivity, I don’t know.