(Book Review) Don’t Panic: A User’s Guide to Kritik

Asher Haig writes an excellent introduction to the theory and predominant philosophy of the world of the kritik in his 2005 self-published work, “Don’t Panic: A User’s Guide to Kritik.” Given the relative obscurity of the text which can be ordered directly from Haig and subsequently isn’t listed at Internet booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, I felt that a brief review of the work would be of value.

“Don’t Panic” is the first of two kritik books written by Haig and provides the theoretical and philosophical foundation for critical theory. In it, he provides a paradigm for understanding kritiks that even a stock issues debater could relate to and then relates that model into policy debate. From that point forward, the book delves into the philosophical underpinnings of kritik, discussing ontological factors such as the limited capacity for man to derive truth and the reductionist, imperfect model of reality language provides us with. From this foundation, Haig relates the fundamental issues of state, sovereignty, power and man’s role within, as well as the aspect of the inclusion and exclusion of members within the state, biopower, dynamics of desire and ultimately, truth and fantasy.

Through the philosophical journey in kritikland, the reader is introduced to the thoughts of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, Freud, Agamben, Lacan, Zizek and others.

Who it’s for: “Don’t Panic” is an invaluable read for beginning varsity debaters (or graduating novices) seeking to understand the world of K, and is equally appropriate for coaches of policy and LD programs that wish to have a better grasp on critical theory. At 158 pages, it’s a straight-forward and enjoyable read that gives a modest cross-section of kritik.

Where it’s lacking: Haig’s personal politics are hard to miss, especially the errors of omission on the alleged bias of Fox News (without the context of the equivalent or greater bias of its competitors, such as MSNBC) or the one-dimensional arguments on the Terry Shiavo incident that ignore the moral complexity of the situation. It’s quite a surprise to see a transcendent author briefly regress to such limited intellectual ground. Through these interludes, however, it becomes clear that for Haig, the purpose of the book is not just to educate, but to passionately advocate and take risk in challenging frameworks. From that perspective, one can look past the party-line commentary and recognize the book for its true contribution.

Why you should read it: If you’re like me, you’ve got a pile of books waiting for their attention and the prospect of adopting another read can be daunting. Haig’s works are worth it if you’re at all interested in kritik, as some of the best written material on the topic. Haig’s own credentials are of merit as well. According to the forward by Jairus Grove, Haig was one of the first to win the TOC on a kritik and continued at Northwestern University as an exceptional college debater.

At $25 plus $5 shipping (or $20 when purchased together with the companion book, “Kritik: Becoming the Teacher One Already Is”), it can be ordered at Haig’s website (kritikbook.com) and arrives within a few days via US Mail shipping.

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