What Should Humanists Do?

The way in which we come to know, understand and view the world — what academics term ‘epistemology’ — is learned throughout our lifetimes from many influences, known as formal and informal agents of social control. These include the state, the law, religion, our families, our neighbourhoods and public opinion. This process is known as socialisation, and it is ideologically reinforced through our education.

Within education there exists a complex web of coded and overt systems through which some forms of knowledge are ‘legitimised’ — those which fit a narrow, conservative view of ‘British values’ and the government of the day’s agenda. This is no accident. Education in Britain has and continues to be greatly intertwined with the state. Throughout centuries of British imperialism, universities [were] not benevolent institutions that abstained from the violent massacring, plunder and invasion of 90% of the world’s countries. In fact, some of the subjects we hold in high esteem were founded to support Britain’s pursuit for global control.

Pedagogically, cinema and university perform complementary roles in the production of the symbolic order. Cinema is a key industry in the production of “commonsense knowledge,” as compared to the university’s production of legitimated knowledge.

“A society […] depends on certain things which everyone within that society takes for granted. Now the crucial paradox which confronts us here is that the whole process of education occurs within a social framework and is designed to perpetuate the aims of society. Thus, for example, the boys and girls who were born during the era of the Third Reich, when educated to the purposes of the Third Reich, became barbarians. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it — at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.”

At least ideologically, the second world university is committed to the transformation of society through critique, through a deconstruction of systems of power.

the importance of “the stories and beliefs that guide us, the cultures and values that we build and share, and the visionary aspirations of thinkers past and present.” As Readings shows us, this sort of language is the residue of an older guiding ethos of the university, oriented around the concept of “culture” and tied to the modern nation state. The function of the humanities, in that dispensation, was to preserve and transmit a coherent sense of shared national culture to the ruling elite. Academic radicals have attacked this function and continue to do so. (Source)

At least ideologically, the second world university is committed to the transformation of society through critique, through a deconstruction of systems of power […]. Yet its hidden curriculum reflects the material conditions of higher education — fees, degrees, expertise, and the presumed emancipatory possibilities of the mind — and reinscribes academic accumulation.

“College and university teachers can (legitimately) do two things: (1) introduce students to bodies of knowledge and traditions of inquiry that had not previously been part of their experience; and (2) equip those same students with the analytical skills — of argument, statistical modeling, laboratory procedure — that will enable them to move confidently within those traditions and to engage in independent research after a course is over.”

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