Friday, 23 January 2009

Griffithgate: the West in a nutshell

As the saga with Griffith University drags on and on I am reminded how much it reflects the wider tenor that has spread through the West over the last few decades.
Aha! I hear some say - another rant against the changing times, must be in that age group, etc etc. Well, no and yes.
A quick glance at my CV and sure enough, I am whatever one's sense of political correctness permits to call me. But no, I am not railing against another hair style, a new fashion, how women walk the streets.
Throughout the last couple of generations certain changes have occurred, changes which influence our thinking, our attitudes, and how we address issues. Rather than being a contemporary whim replacing the one before, they reach more deeply into our collective psyche.
Young people used to regard childhood as a hindrance to be overcome, pushing for the time when the opportunities waiting for an adult can be savoured. For some their youth had indeed been a problem, but now those have become the standard by which to judge that initial period and not the exception that it actually had been. Youth was seen as a preparation for the future and books, that medium used to fill the gaps in your own life, reflected the achievements and therefore the possibilities the world had in store for you. Not any more.
Dysfunction, whether in the mental, social or any other sense, is discussed, exemplified and emphasised ad nauseam as if it constituted a natural part of one's life. Yet in the same breath society has adopted the notion of childhood as a state of romantic innocence, in fact ignorance, to be savoured and preserved at all costs.
Information - not knowledge, not wisdom - has been turned into such a flood that the random collection of its multitudinous parts now stands for understanding per se. Replacing the formal and sequential acquisition of knowledge that hotchpotch of ideas, half-baked conclusions and straight-out phantasies fills the minds of most; hardly anyone dares to challenge because to do so is automatically seen as being in the service of some evil authority. The effects of the influence of reason, in the end the most powerful of them all, is equated with power and no more and therefore must be bad. To be opposed, the heroic role of the challenger and the iconoclast, has been reduced to the egocentric protester who thinks smashing a car somehow symbolises the gravitas of his complaint. "Look what I have done! Can't you see my pain?!"
The social elite, those pillars of society whose duty it should be to attain and disseminate their understanding, merely wring their hands and, depending on the degree of activism in their blood, frantically search for a palliative draught or just don't want to get involved.
Even universities have not remained immune. Actual experience, the interaction with reality, is dismissed in favour of mutual referencing of theoretical musings that keeps going around in circles. A situation in a marketplace somewhere or the dynamics in a tribe for example are dismissed and have to give way to the elaborate hypothesis or the skewed perception entertained by some bureaucrats.
Excuses are valued for the exit they offer from a difficult situation, and they are applied in abundance. And what better excuse in an age of overwhelming detail than that of religion, that age-old over-spanning protection against logic and reason. Chances are a university faculty does not analyse a faith for its psychotic content but gets established to offer a pseudo-intellectual space for clerics enjoying their time under the political sun.
The biblical proverb of seeing the splinter in someone else's eye but not the beam in one's own has been turned upside down: get obsessed with the splinter in your own but disregard the beam somewhere else. Can you see the irony?
The benefits accrued from the Age of Enlightenment have given science its resources of today, and they are considerable. While most scientists make good use of them, they also can apply a distance between their world and the rest. Experience and the insights gained from them are just another facet of information competing with navel-gazing effluvium and hardly given any priority. Hypotheses and theories, especially those dealing with the human condition, are valued for their obtuse abstraction and not for their groundedness.
The results have come in. In an age of more psychologists than ever, how come depression has been identified as the most prevalent mental condition in the West? In an age of ever greater obsession with the welfare of children, how come violence drives teachers out of the classroom and basic academic skills are found wanting in young adults? In spite of tertiary institutions needing ever larger budgets lecturers often baulk when faced with material that takes them out of their personal comfort zones.
We have more knowledge at our fingertips then ever, yet our minds have grown tired and stressed from such abundance.
What happened at Griffith University is a reflection of that wider malaise; the details can be found in many of the other posts. As usual, it may require a dramatic interruption to make people realise where they have ended up.

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