Slick salesmen of the intellectual apocalypsePosted: November 26, 2016 Embed from Getty Images
Dumb is as dumb votes.
We are in a bind, aren’t we? If educated people speak out against populism then we prove their point; that we belong to an elite that is out of touch with ordinary people. And so by speaking, we make it worse. But if we apologise and say we understand why people feel this way then that’s not right. And it doesn’t point to a way out. Good people are meant to oppose fascism.
I don’t have an answer. It’s a quandary. And I don’t know what’s coming next from north of the Tiber.
But I’m pretty sure I know how we got here.
Firstly, the academy lost its mind. In a post-truth world we need heavyweights standing-up for truth. We need passionate veridicists willing to point out facts from history and about society. We need practical philosophers who will challenge political whimsy with professorial gravitas. But the social sciences fell, to varying degrees, for relativism. There is no truth any more, only signifiers. Right and wrong is an unfashionable binary. Impenetrable jargon is such stuff that careers are made on. So the academy has both bound and washed its hands.
Then there are the systems we have in place for educating our peoples – systems created, at least in part, to strengthen our democracies by giving the populace the knowledge they need to make good decisions.
But these systems have been led into error by false prophets. These are the ones who look at the pinnacle of disciplined human endeavour – an invention, a cure, a play, a painting – and declare that these works are the product of ‘creativity’. If only, they claim, we could get students rehearsing their creativity in a trillion mediocre and worthless ways then we would prosper.
It is as if the hoard were marching on us and yet we were in thrall to oracles urging us to teach our soldiers the quality of fightiness and the need for good heart rather than teach them how to handle their swords, hold their shields and maintain a defensive line.
Slick salesmen are selling us mirages. None of these will lead to better educated peoples. Instead, we will frivolously waste the time of young people as they mess around with computer games or lego or some other engaging gimmick prior to dropping out and wondering why the world has gone to crap.
We can do better than this. Do many of our students even know enough of history to know what is at risk? As teachers, it is up to us to pass on to our students the fruits of civilisation – knowledge that is worth defending. We know how to do this, we just need to stop hating ourselves long enough to give it a go.
Our modern democratic empire is guilty of many evils, hypocrisies and contradictions. But it is better than the chaos that awaits its demise.
Rage against that chaos.