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CRISIS-FORUM  January 2011

CRISIS-FORUM January 2011

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Subject:

Re: New opinion poll on climate change

From:

Gudrun Freese <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Gudrun Freese <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 31 Jan 2011 09:52:38 +0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

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text/plain (175 lines)

You might all be interested in a webinar we hosted last week - Education for Sustainability - which discusses the role of universities in delivering a low-carbon economy and sustainability more generally - the archived version is available free at www.earthscan.co.uk/earthcasts

Gudrun

Gudrun Freese
Marketing Executive
Earthscan
Tel: +44 (0)20 7841 1930
www.earthscan.co.uk

Put the Earthscan E-Newsletter on your monthly sustainabilty reading list. Subscribers get 20% off all Earthscan books. Sign up here!


-----Original Message-----
From: Discussion list for the Crisis Forum [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Nicholas Maxwell
Sent: 31 January 2011 09:50
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: New opinion poll on climate change

Dear Steve,

                   You say "universities if properly harnessed could yield 
new knowledge to help us through the looming crisis".  But my argument is 
that the basic task of universities ought to be to put forward and 
critically assess proposals for action - possible solutions to our problems 
of living - policies, political programmes, philosophies of life. 
Restricting academic inquiry to acquiring knowledge - which is what your 
remark implicitly takes for granted - is what is wrong with the status quo. 
The revolution we need would transform universities so that their 
fundamental task would become to explore ideas as to how we might live, what 
we might do, what institutions and social arrangements we might develop, 
what political programmes we might seek to implement, what philosophies of 
life we might live by.  None of this is knowledge.  It is, if it meets with 
success, "good ideas as to what we can do to solve our problems of living, 
realize what is of value in life".  The outcome of the revolution we require 
would be a kind of academic inquiry that has, as its basic aim, to seek and 
promote wisdom - wisdom being the capacity to realize what is of value in 
life for oneself and others.  Wisdom, in this sense, includes knowledge, 
technological know-how and understanding, but much else besides.  It is 
primarily the capacity to act, to live, so as to achieve what is of value in 
life.

What matters is what a system, or institution, does, not what we think it 
does - as you say.  Nevertheless, current orthodox conceptions of science 
and academic inquiry - standard empiricism and knowledge-inquiry - exercise 
a massive influence over what goes on in academia.  Publications, careers, 
prizes, education (or perhaps one should say "training") are all massively 
influenced.  Have a look at chapter six of my "From Knowledge to Wisdom: A 
Revolution for Science and the Humanities", where this question is examined 
in some detail.  This book was first published in 1984; chapter six was 
brought up to date in the 2007 revised and extended edition.

In my view, the overwhelming need is to get across to scientists and 
academics who care about such things that science, and academic inquiry more 
generally, suffer from a gross, structural irrationality when judged from 
the standpoint of contributing to human welfare, this being at the root of 
our current global problems, it being a matter of immense importance, for 
the long-term future of humanity, to bring about a revolution in science, 
and in academia, so that universities come to put what I have called 
"wisdom-inquiry" into practice.  As you indicate, our only hope of tackling 
our immense problems successfully is to tackle them democratically.  But 
that requires electorates to be aware of what our problems are, and what we 
need to do about them.  (We can't expect democratic governments to be much 
more enlightened than electorates.)  That in turn requires that we possess 
institutions of learning actively engaged in public education about what our 
problems are, and what we need to do about them, by means of discussion and 
debate.  This is what our universities ought to be doing but, at present, 
they are not.  They devote themselves - almost restrict themselves - to the 
pursuit of knowledge.  Relevant knowledge is necessary, but not sufficient. 
It is what we do, or refrain from doing, that really matters, that 
invariably solves problems of living.  Knowledge and technological know-how, 
however relevant, will not on their own solve problems of global warming.

                     Best wishes,

                            Nick Maxwell
www.nick-maxwell.demon.co.uk


Dear Nick,

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.

Steve

________________________________________
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

Dear Steve,

                   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.

                 Best wishes,

                          Nick

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