The quietly resurrected Alan Tudge, now Shadow Education Minister in the freshly minted Opposition, probably hopes the Albanese government won’t reverse the decision to increase the cost of liberal arts degrees at our universities.
Whatever the justification for the original unfortunate decision (announced by Dan Tehan for the Morrison government), I hope the new government doesn’t listen to him.
The Albanese government has its own motivations, and these will be just as misplaced as the original decision. While the Liberals wished to punish leftist indoctrination in the universities, Labor will want to egg it on. Both miss the bigger point while trying to implement a political fix – perhaps wilfully.
I do not come to praise our bloated, corporatist, ideological, and over-subscribed universities. But nor should we want to bury them.
Unpacking the problems of the Australian academy is fantastically difficult and perhaps impossible now that the damage has been done to our higher learning over two generations.
Universities have contributed to the Australian polity’s second biggest problem. The biggest, I contend, is executive government overreach verging on soft totalitarianism. The second, which facilitates the main problem, is the closing of the Australian mind.
The closing-of-the-mind thesis was first articulated by the mercurial American scholar, Allan Bloom, back in the 1980s. Bloom was both embraced and excoriated for his views, before being immortalised in the Saul Bellow novel, Ravelstein. Bloom’s achievement was to document the emerging campus culture that we now call ‘Wokeism’.
Many on the right, and those wedded to the late Christopher Pearson’s idea of ‘club sensible’, will understand that the awful institutional and (largely Millennial) individual buy-in to Wokeism is but one leg of the 21st century’s abandonment of intellectual rigour, rational argument, evidence-based thinking, explanation over assertion, and of placing a brake on lunatic Utopianism and ideological misadventures.
It turns out that Wokeism is a manifestation, not a cause, of the closing of our collective mind.
Other current stand-out examples of this problem are Covid madness and climate lunacy. These could, respectively and permanently, crush our freedom and destroy our economy. Together, the medical industrial complex and Net Zero ideology will sink the West and its core values, without question. Many of the Marrickville class, no doubt, cheer this very outcome.
What would Bloom make of the roaring 2020s, I wonder?
The recently returned Prime Minister opined that Climate Change caused the floods. Really, Albo? The problem is that absurd claims like this are believed, repeated ad nauseam, and casually absorbed into the public mind.
Then there is the unthinking acceptance of the vaccines-as-saviour mantra. Increasingly hysterical and untrue commentary is reinforced by relentless propaganda in the media and among tame academics who are dragged out for a press conference.
Blind acceptance by the masses is of far greater concern. We seem to have collectively outsourced our critical faculties and our once innate wariness. The question is, how has this happened? That the Australian mind is closed is clear and disastrous, but what was the mechanism that enabled it?
Baby Boomers and (especially) their children have been seduced by the Sixties’ mindset of easy relativism, the feel-good reassurance of hyper-tolerance, and the comforts of the Nineties’ technological revolution and its subsequent fun-toys. It is technology such as the smartphone and endless distraction from real thought by social media that does our thinking for us and diverts us endlessly. The civilisational consequences are there to be seen at every turn.
We have abandoned our critical faculties without noticing what has happened. When it is pointed out, most don’t even care!
We are far too comfortable and entertained. We are two generations removed from the ability to use our minds to think our way out of our existential dilemma. We have given up the whole of the ancient regime – God, tradition, the wisdom of the ages, and prudence. Even science in the true sense has been lost.
How else can we explain that no one seems willing to argue persuasively that outlawing the internal combustion engine by 2030 might be a bad idea? How else to explain the mindless blue and gold flags? The clapping of the British NHS? The embrace of disaster-predicting models which have no credibility or basis in fact? The lemming-like surge over the cliff to embrace the (now recognised-to-be) farcical lockdowns and vaccine mandates? The willingness to give over our personal data to billionaires who use it to create China-style surveillance models? The acceptance of the ludicrous claim that a slight warming of global temperatures has caused the droughts, floods, and the bushfires?
It isn’t a mystery why clueless politicians absorb and propagate these fabrications. The mystery is why we allow them to continue to make such claims. It is not clear why our culture has sacrificed so much and why no one is making the case for policy sanity. Rational arguments gain little traction.
We embrace all the rubbish of this age? Are we idiots? Ideologues? No, we are intellectually lazy and sublimely contented with our techno-toys, abandonment of worries about the after-life, and our ever-expanding material comforts.
Why have we closed our minds? The late American economist Anthony Downs spoke of our ‘rational ignorance’. He argued we had decided that the examined life was, contra Socrates, for most of us, not worth leading after all. We left the running of the public square to those we thought would do right by us, not realising that they wouldn’t. Those in charge have experienced their own transformation into self-serving policy oligarchs with little use for rational actor decision-making in service of the public.
The damage done to our civil society by these forces is palpable. As the Irish poet WB Yeats saw a century ago when modernism was emerging, the centre will not hold. It has been the brutal coincidence in the late 20th century of ill-education, civilisational ennui, turbo-charged elites, fatal conceits, and the abandonment of history that have conspired to seal the deal.
We have surrendered our chief weapon – our nurtured smarts. Propaganda is universally recognised to be a powerful tool for the duping of the masses. But we only believe the tosh because we have abandoned our innate capacity to question myths. We left our intellectual curiosity at the door. We no longer know what we do not know, and we do not know how to find out what we don’t know. We are not only a low information cohort but we have no access to the tools of acquiring reliable knowledge. Given how often the phrase ‘critical thinking’ is mentioned in job specifications and university prospectuses, it is remarkable how little of it is done.
Back to the funding of the liberal arts in our universities.
No single act of education policy can correct the damage done to our teaching and learning culture over the past half century. Certainly not one executed by our present political overlords. But it is possible, just possible, that the coming generation of students might, by embracing the liberal arts, however imperfectly they are, these days, taught in our debauched universities (and schools), begin to see in the use of their critical faculties a way out of the mess. No other idea currently presents itself.
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