"Fifty years ago, if you wanted to lead what was then called the life of the mind,' meaning to be an intellectual, to live by your wits, you had to work in a university. The society at large had no place for you. A few newspaper reporters, a few magazine journalists could be considered as living by their wits, but that was about it. Universities attracted those who willingly gave up worldly goods to live a cloistered intellectual life, teaching timeless values to the younger generation. Intellectual work was the exclusive province of the university.
"But today, whole sectors of society live the life of the mind. Our entire economy is based on intellectual work, now. Thirty-six percent of workers are knowledge workers. That's more than are employed in manufacturing. And when professors decided they would no longer teach young people, but leave that task to their graduate students who knew much less than they did and spoke English poorly when that happened, the universities were thrown into crisis. What good were they anymore? They had lost their exclusive hold on the life of the mind. They no longer taught the young. Only so many theoretical texts on the semiotics of Foucault could be published in any single year. What was to become of our universities? What relevance did they have in the modern era?"
He stood up, as if energized by this question. Then abruptly, he sat down again.
"What happened," he continued, "is the universities transformed themselves in the 1980s. Formerly bastions of intellectual freedom in a world of Babbittry, formerly the locus of sexual freedom and experimentation, they now became the most restrictive environments in modern society. Because they had a new role to play. They became the creators of new fears for the PLM. Universities today are factories of fear. They invent all the new terrors and all the new social anxieties. All the new restrictive codes. Words you can't say. Thoughts you can't think. They produce a steady stream of new anxieties, dangers, and social terrors to be used by politicians, lawyers, and reporters. Foods that are bad for you. Behaviors that are unacceptable. Can't smoke, can't swear, can't screw, can't think. These institutions have been stood on their heads in a generation. It is really quite extraordinary.
"The modern State of Fear could never exist without universities feeding it. There is a peculiar neo-Stalinist mode of thought that is required to support all this, and it can thrive only in a restrictive setting, behind closed doors, without due process. In our society, only universities have created that so far. The notion that these institutions are liberal is a cruel joke. They are fascist to the core, I'm telling you."
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
They became the creators of new fears
From State of Fear by Michael Crichton. Page 457.