It is hard to disagree with what you say as an ideal type...but I remember Prof Stafford Beer talking about systems as a system is what a system does, not necessarily what we think it is or does. He analysed the NHS which most of us would assume has been designed to produce health but he found that in systemic terms it was more focused to service the career aspirations of senior staff. I suspect universities are no so much different in that regard.
It is true, universities if properly harnessed could yield new knowledge to help us through the looming crisis. But at a time when we are facing 85% funding cuts across the humanities in the UK, I will not hold my breath. But we should hold your vision of an applied global ethics as a lodestone goal for our future orientation.
My point about Egypt was not a call to revolution and the siren song of taking to the streets. Just a perception of that reality being a potential model of many of our futures where increasingly authoritarian states hand their most intractable social, political and environmental problems over to the state security forces for resolution. In that scenario, white collar mercenaries in the military, police security, university, media, entertainment complex will find welcome research grant opportunities to create new tool boxes to help these authoritarian regimes....It is an issue that Scientists for Global Responsibility have been grappling with since many of our scientific colleagues have no grounding in ethics and social responsibility. Yet they will continue to acquire a sizeable proportion of new research budgets whereas many of the scholars who share the clarity of your vision will be forced to self fund their research....The Crisis Forum is probably a good case in point, so perhaps a key task in realizing any such vision is to find wise funders who can fertilize our dreaming before the season of nightmares begins.
From: Nicholas Maxwell [[log in to unmask]]
Sent: 30 January 2011 20:37
To: Wright, Steve; [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: New opinion poll on climate change
Your remark about all swans are white being refuted by
one black swan is not really to the point. In my writings I repeatedly
emphasize that good work goes on done by individuals and individual
departments at odds with orthodoxy. My point is that we have inherited from
the past the view - still dominant in academia today - that, in order to
help promote human welfare, academic inquiry must devote itself, in the
first instance, to the acquisition of knowledge. First, knowledge is to be
acquired; then it can be applied to help solve social problems. This is
still massively influential on what goes on in universities - although some
of what goes on is at odds with it. This orthodox view is, however, grossly
and very damagingly irrational. It violates three of the four rules of
rational problem solving conceivable. Granted that the basic aim of
academia is to help promote human welfare, then the basic problems academia
needs to try to help solve are problems of living, not problems of
knowledge. The proper fundamental intellectual tasks of academic inquiry
are to (1) articulate, and try to improve the articulation of, our problems
of living, and (2) propose and critically assess possible solutions -
possible actions, policies, political programmes, philosophies of life.
Academia would need also to (3) tackle specialized problems of knowledge and
technological know-how, but would need (4) to let fundamental and
specialized problem solving interact, so that each influences the other.
Academia today, giving priority to the pursuit of
knowledge, puts (3) into practice to splendid effect, but violates (1), (2)
and (4). Some thinking about policy problems and options does go on, but
very much at the periphery, not as the central, fundamental intellectual
activity - not even in the social sciences and humanities. Academia as at
present constituted, giving priority to the pursuit of knowledge, violates
three of the four most fundamental, elementary rules of reason conceivable,
in a wholesale, structural way, and it is this utterly disastrous
long-standing structural irrationality in our best institutions of learning
which is responsible for our lamentable failure to learn how to tackle our
problems of living a bit more intelligently, humanely and effectively - a
bit more wisely - than we have managed up to now.
Before we rush out onto the streets and attempt to provoke,
here in the UK, an Egypt-style revolution, I suggest it would be better to
go the root of the problem: the very damaging, long-standing, structural
irrationality in our best institutions of learning - our universities - and
get off the ground a vocal, high profile movement to change the status quo:
a campaign to make those changes needed to bring into existence universities
rationally organized and devoted to helping humanity realize what is of
value, and make progress to towards as good a world as possible. This is
something that we can do. Few concerned with the grave problems facing
humanity are even aware of the urgent need to do it. Egypt-style rebellions
will not help.
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