26 February 2007

Surviving in a mediocracy (part 2)

The full article can be read here.

Brave New Academia

I consider myself an academic who has been deprived of his livelihood. What do I mean by that? That doing research of significance is what I’m cut out for, but that the academic world over the last fifty years has metamorphosed into an institution in which people like me can no longer make careers.

The larger part of academia has become obsessed with jargon and formalism, at the expense of meaningful content. An academic’s principal options in fields such as economics, psychology or sociology are now (1) become a number-cruncher (do tedious empirical research with plenty of highly technical statistical analysis, much of which is likely to be questionable), or (2) generate pseudo-theory of a kind which reproduces the currently fashionable terminology. In either case, taking care to say nothing that conflicts with received wisdom. In fields such as literature or philosophy, there is only option (2). The high level of technicality and referencing typically masks the triviality — or absence — of genuine content.

The purpose of academia has changed from producing real insights to generating reinforcement for the preferred world view. Academics are encouraged to generate spurious legitimacy for anti-individualistic social trends such as the abolition of civil liberties, or the ‘rights’ of doctors and psychiatrists to make decisions about people’s lives. This started happening some time ago, but we have now reached the point where it is being espoused openly, by e.g. education ministers. According to the Chief Executive of HEFCE, "it was once the role of Governments to provide for the purposes of universities; it is now the role of universities to provide for the purposes of Governments."

An obsessive belief in the value of training and certification has helped to buttress a culture of technocracy, in which experts are seen as appropriate arbiters over people's lives, even though there is little evidence that the technicalities of academic training result in decision-making or other skills that improve on those of the average person. Academics have helped to shift the centre ground in the direction of more state intervention. This has been done partly by changing norms in areas such as moral philosophy. What was once extreme, e.g. killing handicapped babies, has become “moderate”. What was once moderate, e.g. reacting strongly to infringements of liberty, has become “extreme”. While one can't expect academics to have no ideological biases, the collectivised way the academy is nowadays run was bound to generate a monolithic consensus. Once established, we end up with a kind of ideological closed shop, with dissenters refused entry or hounded out.

To be continued.

Update: BBC dissident comes out

A former BBC journalist (Robin Aitken) seems to have had experiences similar to mine. Except he first managed to have a 25-year career. Greg Dyke, a typical member of the New Elite, emerges from Aitken's story as characteristically mediocratic: pseudo-egalitarian, intolerant, foul-mouthed, vicious. What a surprise. And demonstrating that exclusive cliques are not confined to the upper class or the right wing.