Immense resources are being invested in and used by higher educational establishments here in the UK. I have witnessed several proud boasts of elaborate and hugely extensive, very generous laboratory facilities entirely dedicated to establishing a nearer truth of historical situations. One such, is the Mary Rose Tudor ship renovation project, which is having nil expense spared for its reconstruction and salvage followed by a minute and highly painstaking analysis and examination of its remains. This project having taken over three decades to date is yet still absorbing large resource and inordinate shares of UK GDP. A generation has passed since The Mary Rose was raised and salvaged from the banks of The Thames in London. It was King Henry VIII’s flagship of his fleet; had it been otherwise, a plain galleon wreck, the attention lavished upon it would not have occurred.
A trove of treasure discovered in The Channel Islands has been ‘lifted’ from the ground ‘in situ’ as a lump and taken to research areas whereabouts for three years now and nearly ¾ of the way into it, the hoard has been cleaned up and removed piece by piece; hundreds of thousands of coins jewellery and objects.
The TV programme I wrote about in my initial essay, ‘Digging for Britain’, showcased a dig in West Wales whereabouts a storm on a coastline had revealed an ancient cemetery. For three years to date teams of diggers have been excavating this cemetery; and we are told that unless they do so now the sea will wipe all trace of it away very soon forever. This urgency is the justification offered for the great effort and cost made to conserve the cemetery.
These great endeavours are just a few of the massive projects going on now in research areas and laboratories and in other places across the UK; and I want to do what I have yet to hear be done by any person of education (I like to flatter myself) and so I hereby call into question the value of many of these lines of research and endeavour; and I question the wisdom of investing so much money and resources and training and staff in these pursuits.
I have written before of the Radio Show ‘The Infinite Monkey Cage’ and about how one of the panel members of this game show mocks himself and his academic life in the UK by titling himself as being: ‘Senior lecturer in ….’ something like milk bottle top design; my memory fails me here – but certainly it is a title to something very trivially ridiculous – it is a cosy and backhanded satirical joke. But yet this is a joke with a serious and a truthful element in it; indeed there are academic positions of lecturer in this and that in higher education which are as risible as this cosy joke lectureship title is; and would be laughable were not there so many and so much money and resources stupidly given over to them.
It is a phenomenon of the so-called free-market economy, whereby anything which succeeds in being funded by any means is able to be researched and become a subject of study. The retort of those who approve of this is always; and who is the person who should say no to anything which attracts or sequesters funding? I reply: one’s own heart says no when one’s heart is seated rightly.
This phenomenon is the learned person’s close analogue with the prissy shoppers of food we have here in the UK; who will not buy unless the product is ‘reputable’ i.e. it has a brand and a manufacturer of whom they approve; and it is wrapped and protected from the ‘normal; atmosphere in which we all live and breathe; that it is in a protective atmosphere or has been irradiated; certainly not touched by a human hand; certainly not prepared for purchase, slaughtered or concocted, in front of their eyes.
Just as so many of us here are too prissy about what we eat and about the conditions our food is sold in and so on; so too our academies of higher learning have ‘lost the plot’ also and have branched into areas where no man or woman ought boldly go.
It has been said to me several times, but I do not know whether the figure and statistic is accurate, nor how it was obtained; only that it was sourced by me from the UK Patent Office and I assumed at the time that it was a fruit of a survey done by members of that body. I have been told that over 50% of all research occurring in Europe is redundant, a reinventing of the wheel. Not yet redundant because it leads to nothing; that is forgivable; but redundant because were the researchers to have looked into previously researched work and the records of it they would have found the answers they were seeking there without them having to trouble to recreate their whole scenarios and set ups yet again.
Now even sober British Civil Servants like those at The Patent Office are prone to exaggerate the facts; those who are more sanguine even to accept on spec statistics offered to them which have absolutely no way in logic and/or in empirical situations to be able to be collected and determined. Thus we should take this 50%+ figure with the proverbial pinch of salt. I do think however there’s an element of truth here; given the nature of our economic means of production and distribution.
Competition encourages the hoarding of Trade Secrets; and the granting of Patents offers those who otherwise would hold close to their chest their Trade Secrets, a lawful protection, a trade monopoly on their relinquished to the State Trade Secrets for a period of 15 or 20 years, in which for the Patentees to make their piles via their Patent Grants. Once a Patent application is protected by law in this way its detail is published; this is thus an attempt to quash the great laissez faire competitive, beat your neighbour, waste of effort in reinventing wheels. But yet this attempt to get knowledge, new knowledge, out there into the open is not very effective; and yet still the researchers and the anticipative companies who fund them are gloriously as prone to gung ho starting of research projects before looking to see what has already been done in their fields. It is for them as if there were no publication of Patent application data once these have been protected by the State.
Once again we have the guys who run things holding onto a belief that they know what they don’t know; and that they know better than the drabs who dig into the data piles to find there already what is required by them.
There was – I tell the story again – it’s a good one – a philosophy professor at a college I attended who would insist to his undergrads that for them to make a name was in no way to be had in new research; rather it was certainly to be had in retrieving from the past what had been discovered already but by humankind’s negligent ways lost to the benefit of humanity. All the anecdotal evidence then seems to bear up a general understanding that we as a race are hopelessly conceited and enamoured of ourselves to an extent that we would rather believe we are capable of discovering new and ‘wonderful things’ than we would accept the drudgery and bear with patience the ignominious task of unearthing someone else’s great works lost to history. Yes, that’s us – to a tee.
In addition to this innate cupidity in us is another wrong turning we like to take; which is to appoint primary value or importance to our favourite pet things; but not just appointing a personal value like the way a piece of cheap jewellery is one which a person would nonetheless not part with for the world because it carries great sentiment; but instead, we falsely attempt to objectify our values as a means of puffing our own egos, and of making our name. We proclaim on a high soap box to the world – to anyone who will listen to us – that what we do is the very bees knees, the crème de la crème of subjects; of pastimes; of occupations; of human pursuits etc, etc. We are pretty silly animals.
Thus our niche, our carved out neck of the woods, is the best one of all over and above anyone else’s – would-be objective value becomes for us then wholly subjective; and so the net result transpires in the final instance to be that ‘anything goes’ everything and nothing has indeterminate equal value, and so thus collecting ice cream wrappers becomes acceptable and is condoned as being as vital and as honourable and as of benefit as is brain surgery or prayer. This place also is where we are at right now – in higher education, and in the national consciousness as a whole.
Is it not true that The Rolling Stones are as ’important’ and as ‘talented’ and as ‘successful’ etc as Beethoven or Schubert in musical terms? Ask most people and they will say ‘no, more so’ and on a basis that they like ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘Satisfaction’ and have no patience with the ‘Grosse Fugue’ or ‘ The Great 9th’. All is thus subjective. My word is as good as yours – even in brain surgery and even when you are a brain surgeon and I am a dabbler in essay writing.
It is the puerile attempt to objectify the subjective value, under a crazy justification of being ‘inclusive’ and ‘unbiased’ and ‘liberal’ etc; all of which has led us down the slippery path to the cliff’s edge where to await the storm ahead breaking. This is our higher educational position right now as well as our popular and social state of affairs.
We have sayings for these ludicrous situations, sayings which are used too frequently and too flippantly, and so in a different way are as redundant as are the marvellous symphonies of the Classical era which have also lost their value to us. We say a person or a business has ‘lost the plot’, or ‘is two bricks short of a load’ or is a ‘mentalist’ or is ‘on another planet’. Perhaps I come across to most of my readers as this kind of person? But nonetheless these sayings are for real and are catastrophically so for our way of life as it is presently.
There is a recent phrase in use and naming our era as an era of ‘post-truth’; a nice and intriguing turn of words. This ‘post-truth’ society of ours is a result of decline in understanding and culture and values. It was originally coined as a phrase to pin down how politics and politicians are no longer paying their insincere but due lip service to their pledges and to what they say and persuade us into. Politicians are now outright bare faced liars who promise one thing until in office when they immediately turn turtle, and brazen things out as they do something entirely different and usually nefarious. We their electorates have grown accustomed to this and we have accepted this state of affairs. We no longer take to the streets on issues like this. We are our own condemners. In great part this is why we have an ugly personality and quasi-thug in the Oval Office and a government in the UK of frightened flightless chickens; after the disastrous events of this year 2016.
Everyone, or enough people to make it count, has given up on truth; and follows only their noses and their animal passions and resentments and angers; and without considering a concept such as ‘the greater good’ at all. A vote is now akin to a ‘poke in the eye’ it is no longer a ‘statement of opinion’. Too many of us, like to many academics, are children and never have grown up. A child in a pushchair is not exceptional were it to have a tantrum and throw things out of its chair. We ourselves are doing no better job in governing ourselves than the child in the pushchair is able to do. I mean this statement in all its ambiguity ; that our nations cannot control their passions and desires and fierce proclivities; nor can we as individuals do so; indeed it is because we as individuals cannot that our nations are unable to.
For so many years now we have enjoyed the idea of life being a free-for-all and we have been indulged and encouraged in this mêlée by a mutual communal consent and acquiescence in it; and so we have allowed those parts of us which we are all better for handling them with due restraint to become the very criteria we claim to be vital to have for us to be enjoying ‘a good life’. Once again we are getting, are suffering, those upshots we made for ourselves.
It is as if every person had binged all night together and spewed over the pavements; and then we people with a wonderful incredulity cannot fathom why our shoes are messed and our socks are smelly; and why we slip over and soil ourselves so many times on our ways home. And to boot we growing ever more angry with the street cleaners haling from Mexico and from Eastern Europe, who as often as not are the people attempting to clean up after us.
‘Publicans and sinners are going into the Kingdom of Heaven ahead of you’
Thus we have lost at least as much as we have gained from our current prissy overhyped overinflated anaemic lifestyles; indeed my own proclivities (prejudices?) say we have lost far more of value than most of us can imagine. Here’s Dylan again – in his youth he got things so right –
‘How does it feel
To be all alone
To be a complete unknown
With NO DIRECTION HOME’
Truly more than at any other time in human history we are lost in space and sense we have no home; not physically; but psychically; not materially; but sensibly and phenomenologically – we no longer have a handle on the significance of things – all our plethora of ‘manufactured things’ has blurred into one amorphous mass of mush – so we stagger from one fad to another, from one fix, one sticking plaster, to the next; from one sip of Lethe water and then another step going nowhere.
‘What good is it for a man to gain the world but to lose his own soul?
Hence – and this is the most bitter upshot of this whole farcical outlook we have on life – our having lost touch with our own common humanities and our having lost any reasoned intent to do reasonable service to an ideal or to a faith – has calloused our hearts and covered them with a hard shell, so that any generous love for those in the world who have nothing by comparison with us is no longer sufficiently available to us. If it were sufficiently available to us then those who have so little would have more from our very hands and so enjoy better lives. Instead of this we indulge ourselves with our blind excesses; of prissy sanitary food requirements, by our Ship of Fools in Professorial Chairs and Senior Lectureships; by our misappropriations of national resources; by our stupid wanton overproduction of wasted products and provision of disservice services; by our pet projects that do not matter to anyone except to the pride, the standing, the reputation, of their espousers. W have too much – far to much – even by means of a sublunary computation which makes comparison between what many others do not have and their needs; and with what we might allow them easily from our own wastes of excess ‘stuffs’ in mindless profusion.
I said to my 14 year old son tonight; to have too much is no better than to have enough. It is worse spiritually-speaking – to be glutted and palled with too much and thus to lose one’s senses, one’s path in a way in life, and instead drift into a life of insipid superfluity, into an ensuing nauseous ennui.
Life is more than an imitation playground which attempts an emulation of the imitation playgrounds of the ugly superrich. There are far more far better things than these in life – there is the very giver of life, and his holy promise of life in abundance.
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