Monday, May 04, 2015

The Academe Enigma

OK, now that the pleasantries are out of the way...

What's the deal with 20th century post-secondary educational institutions?

How likely is it the masters of the universe who brought us the 2008 global financial crisis were all uneducated? Or that they were ignorant of the possible consequences of their deceitful machinations? Or that they had been required to attend and pass courses on ethics while they gathered the credits they needed to be granted a licence to lie, cheat and steal?

Even more problematically, how probable might it be that entire cohorts of science and engineering graduates were never once exposed to the science of anthropogenic climate change? It would appear that thousands upon thousands of them were not. They're plugging away for the petroleum industry. Do you think they're not aware that they're ushering in a global catastrophe? Or perhaps the engineering school they went to taught them that the results of their work should not be included in their considerations.

There certainly seems to be something amiss when the biosphere of earth is facing near term devastation, perhaps total, while the most highly educated human population the world has ever seen are in charge.

Perhaps it's specialization and compartmentalization that's the problem. Perhaps humanity is simply devolving into a species of sociopaths or perhaps advanced educational institutions are by their nature themselves sociopathic and thus their progeny are as well.

I don't know. I'm just throwing stuff at the wall.

But it does seem contradictory that we're racing toward the cliff's edge at the urging of the most highly educated people the world has ever produced. Sure there are also those who are urging us to slow down, step back, stop the self destructive cycle - and they're effectively drowned out by the others. We're actually gaining momentum in our rush to oblivion.

Does anyone know if higher academia is trying to address this conundrum. I think they ought to be. It's their graduates who are leading us to our doom.

A pleasant thought for a sunny Monday on a hot planet.


karen said...

Haven't most governments been more or less completely in the thrall of economists for some number of years?
Do schools of economics have any environmental courses?

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi, Dana. Karen raises a point touching on neoclassical economics, the Chicago School stuff. That school of economics, advocating perpetual, exponential growth while treating the consequences as irrelevant "externalities", is now being recognized as a mental illness. We've tried to pretend that our global economy can exceed the capacity of nature with the entirely predictable results - once arable farmland transformed into desert, ocean fisheries collapsed right down the food chain, aquifers on 'empty', the very stuff of civilizational collapse.

Yet, like a 3-pack a day smoker, we're addicted to growth and our economy is slavishly tied to neoclassical economics. And, yes, it's a killer.

Steve said...

You can not educate greed out of the system.

Dana said...

But can you educate ethics into it?

Yeah, I didn't mention the 'dismal science' did I? There are probably other examples I didn't mention.

The wider point is that the most highly educated population the world has ever known is on the brink of destroying the biosphere.

Aren't barbarians supposed to be the destroyers? Are we the barbarians? Highly educated barbarians?

Kim said...

Universities are supposed to provide a well rounded education with a balance of Arts, Sciences and Philosophy. Instead they seem to have morphed into Technical Institutes funded with strings by the Corporate sector. We've educated a generation of suits, technocrats who can be relied on to avoid critical thinking.

karen said...

Kim, your comment reminded me of
this article, titled "The Asshole Factory."

Scotian said...

A couple of quick thoughts. First off, I think the loss of the importance/value of the generalist thinking approach to the world is clearly a part of the problem. That hyper-specialization in so many areas of life and education clearly is a contributing factor.

Second though is the shift in how greed is approached by those with power and wealth. There used to be a form of greed practiced that I would call long term greed or self enlightened greed, which recognized the importance of spreading the wealth somewhat down-chain and making sure solid infrastructures for society existed in multiple senses because it created a stable long term wealth generator for them and to enjoy having it in. Starting with the Reagan revolution and the Thatcherites in the UK it seems to me that the only form of acceptable greed became short term only thinking greed, where only the now matters and there is no need to consider beyond that. I've watched this "economic thinking" become more and more dominant throughout my lifetime and I find myself more and more horrified and frustrated with how hard it seems for people to see this happening, let alone where human history has shown this sort of thinking to lead societies to, especially for those at the top, which is never good for them, after of course abusing the rest of us for so long.

So I well appreciate your frustration Dana on this point, and it is one I share in no small amount. I also fear for where this will lead us all, human history doe not show this sort of thing ending well when it is allowed to dominate for too long.

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