iDC post #2: DIY: nightmare for humanities, social sciences, media

As previously mentioned, I post regularly to the terrific Institute for Distributed Creativity listserv, and have started cross-posting my contributions there to this blog. Here is yesterday’s post, in response to George Siemen’s post titled: DIY: nightmare for humanities, social sciences, media. The entire thread can be found here:

Hi George,
well, first of all I think you are almost entirely correct in saying that no situation could be more damaging to the humanities as we know them than the ‘implosion’ of the traditional university as a result of new networked distributed learning tools. The only caveat I have is that I believe that the only thing worse than universities imploding because of those tools would be universities not imploding because of them.

Because I think that by and large we are blind to the ecocidal character of the epistemology that universities support, and if we continue blindly building it up, soon enough it will bring us down. So I support proactively changing the game before that happens, which includes the implosion – or perhaps we might say the radical transformation of – the university, as soon as possible.

But as you very correctly point out this cannot occur without a potentially mortal cost to some of our most cherished institutions, legacies, values and dreams. For even if superficially it is the ‘practical sciences’ that are most responsible for the environmental catastrophe we are experiencing, the humanities are far from innocent bystanders in this civilization’s march of progress. On the contrary, literate philosophy and art share the same core values as literate math and science. So they will all suffer.

So we are faced with a choice of two catastrophes: one environmental and potentially fatal to our entire species (and other species, if this matters to us) and the other cultural, and potentially fatal to todays’ artists, thinkers and philosophers. And of course professors.

And while it is entirely reasonable to wonder where your paycheque will come from if the university implodes, I think more of us should be more concerned with where our water or air or food will come from if the earth implodes. And I think that looking ahead – as you are certainly doing in your own work – and building bridges today that will last beyond tomorrow, is the way to go, even if it means a rough ride, as it surely will, for the literate canon. But artists will not disappear even if art history faculties do, and neither will thinking and philosophizing if philosophers and faculties of philosophy do. Indeed I would say that – at least in recent decades – it has been an unwarranted and arrogant conceit on the part of academia to believe that it would.

So I say welcome change. Embrace change. While we still can. Now is not the time to cling to a glorious past but to try to build a sustainable future. Photographers may lament the vanishing of the dark room, but they are learning Photoshop and looking ahead. The humanities must evolve and be as willing to sacrifice the past as photographers have been. Either way I believe the humanities will implode, in the long run or short run, either because we remake them to support a sustainable future, or we don’t, in which case we won’t have one.

John Sobol

On 2011-09-20, at 10:05 AM, George Siemens wrote:
I’ve been reflecting on this DIY discussion and questions about how it relates to formal learning and such. At this point, I cannot imagine a scenario or situation that will be more damaging to humanities, social sciences, and, to a lessor degree, media scholars, than the large scale breakdown of traditional universities. What system (certainly not patronage) has given philosophers and scholars better support? Sure, artists will produce art even if they are not eating. And have throughout history. However, artists, thinkers, philosophers – people who shape our view of ourselves and enable us to shape our future – are pushed to the margins of influence if they are not connected to a system that amplifies their influence and preserves their freedom to work.

Question: How do those of you who are calling for large scale educational reform (I’m one, btw), but don’t earn your living in the “practical sciences” like engineering, math, etc., envision the future of your discipline if the traditional system implodes? Who will pay the people whose research and ideas influence decades in the future, rather than in the next quarterly corporate report?

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