Freedom and academia

Even where life changes violently, as in ages of revolution, far more of the old is preserved in the supposed transformation of everything than anyone knows, and it combines with the new to create a new value. (Gadamer Truth and Method 1989: 281)

Two threads on FB today caught my attention. I quote from a young musical colleague of mine:

“The academic class has no allegiance to the people; its only allegiance is to the capitalist class that pays it.”

My response: “Truly? Categorically? Every last one of us? Or is this just the SA version of Mao’s thousand flowers?”

“Hey Marc, yes this of course can’t be interpreted as a blanket statement. Besides, I see you more in the artistic class really…”

Apart from the sheer self-righteous fatuity of the quotation, this statement commits the logical fault of essentialising the opponent. This is significant because it overlooks the contribution made in darker times by academics such as Rick Turner, assassinated by the apartheid police for speaking out against the regime. Further it denigrates the efforts of many of my colleagues in music education who strive to provide quality teaching and help the victims of an education system hobbled by years of colonialist exploitation. It ignores the intellectual damage done by bureaucratic misapplication of a neo-Darwinian business model in higher education world-wide where learners are ‘clients’ and disciplines are made to justify their existence on financial grounds alone.

I suppose I also take this somewhat personally. I am not reducible to a member of a class. I make no claim to uniqueness or insider knowledge of anything in particular, but I resist being subsumed into some monolithic imaginary academia. There is no cliched ivory tower where the class of academics frolics free, marching joyously in allegiance to some theory or other. The groves of academe are permeated with all the emotions that normal human beings face: jealousy, territorial battles, status issues, the beat goes on. These emotions cause this so-called class to behave sometimes very badly indeed, with the rankest disregard for ethics or basic human courtesies. Reputations are threatened, bullying takes place, and authority is invoked to silence those who criticise. This brings me to the second thread around the Contesting Freedoms colloquium.

My concern is that we commit the same fault of essentialising and totalising ‘the opposition,’ whoever they may be, in the name of progress. The object surely is to have both conference proceedings and a plan to emerge from the debates; we need to harness energies and not further divide the field on baldly ideological grounds. This commits the logical fault from earlier as well as potentially introducing more negative energy and ad hominem argument. In all humility, perhaps it’s up to us to try to forgive and behave better ourselves and come up with a way forward to contribute to the future of music education in SA? This does not mean shying away from issues but rather examining anew the power relations underlying them to create as Gadamer says ‘new value.’

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