Rafael Arrivabene’s book called “DesIgn: Mutant Project ” tells us design is an arrow aimed at an arrow. He seems to forget that metaphors are meant to clarify. Anyway i want to tell you about a certain attitude against academia, not Arrivabene’s exclusivity by any means, but an attitude that is clearly exemplified in this book.
Some people seem to think academia is enemies with intellectual freedom. I am guessing that means academia is against non-academic thought. This in turn leads them to assert that academia will censor any kind of expression that goes against the ways of academia, something they relate to academic rules of behaviour and thought.
This last part, it must be said, seems to be something that Arrivabene and others have lived through themselves. They have had some of their own ideas censored by teachers. And thus they have their theory of the evil of academia justified. Their idea of academy must be true because they have lived it themselves.
It seems to me that it’s too much interpretation. But let me give an example. While i was having Kung-Fu classes i would go about practicing Kung-Fu stances in the most public places, which got me nicknames as “ninja” and the like (something that no matter that i know is derisive i just can’t come to take in a bad light). The teacher had those exercises where he would make us stay in that position for hours (minutes, but it felt like). And this included criticising when we left our legs in the normal position. But i would never say that the Kung-Fu teacher is against the occidental way of walking. That just does not make sense. He was just trying to teach Kung-Fu, something that requires you to be capable of keeping your legs in a somewhat difficult position for a long time.
In the same way, you can’t say that academia is against free thought just because it enforces some ways of expressing thought, like a standard for how you should quote other people. That, my dears, just does not make any sense.
Academia is, on a less biased view, just a bunch of people involved with teaching and learning. There are some habits of thought that make teaching and learning easier. They are like brain muscules you didn’t know you had. Habits that your head acquires after some time, like checking “where the hell does that come from?” when you get to know a new idea. That does not mean you will disregard a good new idea if it comes from a disreputable source. But after reading enough books you realize everyone has got a personal (and thus necessarily biased) reason to say what they say, and that it is fairly common both for people to be unaware of their own biases and for their ulterior motives to not be that good. Like the rich industrialist arguing for less taxes, or the landless claiming big rural properties are inneficient. So you always ask what is the source, even if the info seems good and reasonable. That is just like brain discipline. Like a leg that couldn’t hold your weight before you were ninja and now doesn’t even tremble.
An Arrivabenism is a rebellion against academia caused by lack of brain stamina. It is when you complain about the unreasonable rules of academia before you are good enough to comply. And, accordingly, before you are ready to understand the usefulness of said rule.
That is what is going on when for exemple Arrivabene tries to vindicate the fake-physics of Fritjop Capra, ignoring a huge corpus of academic criticism, but at the same time trying to sound academic . Anti-academia is deep down an attempt at getting academic respect, and it is for that reason that it is completely boring. I can’t even get me myself angry at it, i am just bored — and pissed at people that just refuse to see the obvious.
I come to academia from a very different perspective. Academia to me was just simply something that my grandpa used to do. And my grandpa was fucking genious. He could quote poetry, but he loved straight poetry just as much as fart-joke poetry. He could keep this serious intellectual posture if he wanted, without a flinch, but he wasn’t concerned with it. He was concerned with the quality of ideas. And it also comes to pass that the academic discipline made him extremely good at detecting bullshit.
The impression that academic discipline is stiffling of new ideas might make sense at a distance, when people are having their first contact with academia. But on closer inspection it just does not make sense. Academic minds are usually more full of ideas, and being full of ideas makes them more accepting of awkward ideas, because there are some ideas that are just awkward no matter what, and enough reading will force you to accept this weird fact of life. Thus for example serious physicists are much more aware that the interpretation of physics is a very complicated issue, while the Capras want to force you into accepting it for proof of their own religion.
On the other hand, having lots of ideas enhances the chances this person will not only already know this bright idea you thought was an incredible novelty, there is also a big chance he knows why it is just bullshit. And there is also a chance he knows it is bullshit but it would take him a long long time to explain why, and further he might also know that the idea is both bullshit and self-reinforcing, in the sense that the fact you believe in it makes it less likely that you will understand why it is false.
Sometimes, the falseness is painfully obvious but too much belief makes a person very, very blind.
Arrivabene’s arrow allegory is a good example of an attempt to sound academic, be defiant of academia, and understand something — all at the same time. Unhappily, this is too much and he is bound to fail at some point.
Further, you must notice that keeping the anti-academia-ism makes you unable to overcome the problems of academia — both the ones you complain about and the ones you don’t even understand.
To understand academia we must think of it as just some people involved with learning and teaching. All the other prejudices that anti-academia throws at it make matters less clear.
Thinking like that, we can see that understanding is more important than everything else, that a fat part of understanding is not strictly teachable, that when people lack understanding most of the time the only thing you can do is force them to practice the kind of intellectual discipline that looks like soulless rules from the other side, that free thought does not happen when you suspend rules, that it is extremely difficult to penalize true mediocrity, and finally that there is an enormous difference between rules and certainties, that giving way to doubt requires a lot of discipline, and that giving up your certainties is the only path to freedom of thought.
The rules of academia are an attempt at creating a shortcut to this impossible task. Obviously those rules will fail. They were meant to. It’s only you won’t see it before you stop being that dumb rebel. You must be a smart rebel.