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.


Neil Welton said...

Sounds just like the teaching "profession" and all those teacher training colleges. For state school teachers all think alike and speak alike too. The "closed shop" mind set is why nearly all state school teachers are against selection on ability and, by definition, against children (especially boys) who are different or who "get above themselves" - whether academically or also creatively.

Jeremy Jacobs said...

Interesting stuff FT

D.W. said...

I bet you were sacked for criticising Tabula Rasa.

Were you sacked on the spot and immediately escorted off the premises?

Were your left over personal possessions stuck in a bin bag and left outside your front door unannounced 3 weeks later?


"(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)."

I was thinking of setting up a satirical blog called Transublimation - Pop Culture and Psycho Anal-ysis : A Lacanian interpretation, but I doubt anybody would realise, so you can just go here instead: http://k-punk.abstractdynamics.org/

How do you think this current cultural deadlock can be changed?


"A kind of ideological closed shop"

I recently bought Celia Greens 'Advice for Clever Children' from a dealer on Amazon. In the book I found a letter written by a certain 'Fabian Wadel' adressed to the Librarian of the Institute of Education at the University of London which says;

"We enclose two complimentary copies of books by Dr Celia Green, which we hope you will accept as gifts to your library"


"We hope the books may be of particular interest to young people of undergraduate age."

The is dated September 17 2004. I have it now in front of me. Is it at least plausible to surmise that the librarian took one look at this book and was so freaked out by the content that it was immediately donated to another book dealer and put up for sale?

"Christ was a teenager". Why not?

Having read the book myself I can tell you that - if what you describe is true - any academic library would rather accept 10 complimentary copies of Mein Kampf than anything by Celia Green - an ideological closed shop after all.

Mitchell said...

Just spotted: "academia is no more about making useful intellectual progress than advertising is about informing consumers".

Fabian Tassano said...

Neil: There are other parallels between schools and colleges. E.g. examinations are no longer about testing for ability or genuine achievement, but about being a good boy/girl and reproducing material in the approved manner.

DW: I left Oxford because I wasn't being allowed to make progress up the career ladder. I believe they would have been happy to go on exploiting my teaching for relatively low pay.

I had a friend in a similar position who experienced something akin to what you describe re bin bag. Having announced he was leaving and sounding a bit disgruntled, he found that the nameplate on his teaching room had been removed one term before he was due to go.

Mitch: thanks for the link.

Fabian Tassano said...

Message for DW: Celia Green has posted a response to your comment.

BB Wolfe said...

I have Enoch Powell's copy of Advice to Clever Children - I'd like to think he died before this book was handed to the dealer I got it from. An enclosed carbon copy of a letter from Powell to Celia Green reveals that he felt he could not commit himself to providing a blurb for the book - he gives no reason.

Homophobic Horse said...

Cripes, that's a little turn up. Maybe he thought it would implicate Celia Green in his controversial politics and so wisely avoided it.

Fabian Tassano said...

Enoch Powell refusing because he was concerned it would not benefit Celia Green? More likely, because he thought she was too controversial for him. Now there's a piece of irony.

Homophobic Horse said...

Is there a way of knowing for sure either way?

Is the reputation of Celia Green really that bad?

"any academic library would rather accept 10 complimentary copies of Mein Kampf than anything by Celia Green"

I read CGs post on this. She doesn't repudiate the possibility of this being the case.

Advice to Clever Children:

Royalty: "Ordinarily human psychology accepts no responsibility; makes no decisions, has no sense of importance, and believes itself justified in its attitudes by some kind of consensus of social agreement."

I underlined that passage.

BB Wolfe said...

Well, enclosed in the book is CG's letter to Powell, which points out how hard it is to get recognition for works that criticise the prevailing "effectively Marxist" ideology. She also mentions the hostility of the "largely left-wing" academic community at Oxford, and says that it is "difficult to find anyone with the courage" to give the work of the (then) IPR any effective support, due to the general hostility shown towards it. Powell thanks her for sending the book (she also previously sent him a copy of The Decline and Fall of Science), but adds: "Once again, I find I must restrict myself to thanking you for sending it to me." Hmm . . . anyway, she eventually got a positive response from Norman St John Stevas.