Having posted some thoughts on the different voices coming out of universities yesterday and subsequently finally caught up with my newspaper reading, I now see a headline in The Guardian Financial section that reads: “Economics lecturers accused of clinging to pre-crash fallacies”. Of course to those of us who know how the academy works, this kind of comment will come as no surprise. My wife Natalie Boulton, a film-maker and patient advocate, is constantly having to point up the fact that supposedly up-to-date dictionaries and medical textbooks continue to perpetuate damaging nonsense that has been disproved years ago but which continues to serve certain powerful vested interest groups whose status and ability to win lucrative research grants depends on that act of perpetuation. It now appears that this situation is equally common in economics. All of which needs to be considered in a broader context. My friend Cathy Fitzgerald has just drawn my attention to an interesting and powerfully argued piece at: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/learning-how-to-die-in-the-anthropocene/?_r=2& which includes the observation:
“The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront this problem, and the sooner we realize there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality”.
If by a civilisation we mean a certain dominant mentality and way of acting, which here I would see as the exclusive, narrow, disciplinary basis of our hyper-professionalised world predicated on possessive individualism, then this sounds to me about right. Professionals, whether they are economists, psychiatrists, senior university administrators, or whatever, will it seems always prefer to perpetuate the theories and explanations that maintain their own authority, no matter how powerfully the reality of events has demonstrated them to be entirely wrong. No wonder, as Michael Gibbons, Camille Limoges, Helga Nowotney, Simon Schwartzman, Peter Scott, and Martin Trow point out in their The New Production of Knowledge: The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies (1994), that it frequently require a whole generation of professionals in a discipline area to die before anything genuinely new can appear jun that discipline’s thinking!