Friday, January 23, 2015

The Chalice from the Palace has the Pellet with the Poison

A bad book is the worse that it cannot repent. It has not been the devil's policy to keep the masses of mankind in ignorance; but finding that they will read, he is doing all in his power to poison their books.

Much literary criticism comes from people for whom extreme specialization is a cover for either grave cerebral inadequacy or terminal laziness, the latter being a much cherished aspect of academic freedom.

I have been reading up on the late economist John K Galbraith, after reading a quote posted by a friend on the Facebooks.  He died in 2006 and was known as modern liberal.  I majored in economics in college, and I'm still not sure I know exactly what "modern liberal" means.  Economics and politics aside, my research on Galbraith took on a much broader scope, as I read many quotes he for which he was famous.  I have chosen these two above, because they are seemingly connected in my mind.  

I believe over the past couple of decades, that a modern view of higher education involves a large degree of sardonic sentiment.  Scientists and experts are utilized in many ways in our society, and the American public has come to realize the tools of politics and influence generally involve getting an expert who is "on your side".  Perhaps, there are some who do not hold the view of scientific reporting, or expert analysis as becoming a commodity in the political and judicial arenas, but with the media and entertainment industries of today, I would think there would be few left that don't realize that trend.  

This represents, of course, a type of rape of science and knowledge.  The separation of knowledge and research, from its original purpose and environment, to become a simple tool of influence in an argument or discussion overly simplified as being about power.  However, I would add that members of the school of higher education are not quite innocent bystanders in this process, as they promulgate the use of expert testimony within their chosen fields (as a source of income, for which they should not be completely culpable, we all have to make a living).  I have personally known more than a few (that number being around 6) people that, in my opinoin,  stayed in college to attain PhD's as a form of escape from the real and working world.  Rather than maintain a pure motive for advancing the study of science, philosophy, or field of study, they gave the appearance of a non-passionate pursuit of continuing the college lifestyle as long as they could.  Lack of internships, lack of leisure focus on their field, and lack of a practical job, all point as indicators that a degree in higher education does not provide fuel and accreditation for attaining one's goal or mission in life. 

The combination of the commoditization of  science and knowledge alongside a dispassionate, and un-purposeful pursuit of higher education represent what I call an ugly two-headed coin. Far from the days of the silver dollar, which have become rare and a nostalgic reflection of what many will call "better times".  The ugly two-headed coin appears more like the Susan B Anthony dollar (absolutely no offense to Susan B Anthony or the coin itself).  A coin which never achieved success in circulation due to its close size and likeness of a quarter.  It's usefulness waned quickly as people found the risk of a coin being spent for a quarter of its worth too much, and occurrence too frequent (I found this out the hard way personally).  Hence, it became an ugly coin, having intrinsic value, but not finding a home in the real world due to lack of practicality.  I believe we risk the same loss of value through the devaluation of higher education from misuse in application and attainment.  

Rotating the subject material, to a 90 degree angle, to view from a different perspective, we can begin to see that Galbraith's quote on a bad book, poorly researched, or written with a pointed end as a goal, can pervert the science, and/or field from which it is derived.  This has always been a risk within the scholarly community, but I believe the processes described above proliferate possibilities for poor science and pre-drawn conclusions in academia.  I won't pretend to have any evidence pointing to this fact, other than the anecdotal matter presented in this opinion based blog.  The point being that a bad book, with bad information, or poor writing, remains in the world, there's simply not a process for expunging bad or incorrect literature...and therefore it cannot repent of itself, but remain as a either a learning tool for the wise, or pellet of poison awaiting ingestion.

If we continue the rotation of the subject to a full 180 degrees, we can seemingly get off track, and yet I would maintain we are simply viewing yet another perspective of the same root causes manifesting themselves in another facet of life...follow me for a few moments, if you would.

The explosion of technology and entertainment over the past 3-4 decades has been incredible.   From before the 1960's and 70's the concept of the double feature, was an aberration of normal entertainment.  An exercise in entertainment excess, and a marketing tool for lower performing movies to be paired with more desired ones.  The double feature presented a rare excess in going to the movies, or in seeking entertainment.  To shorten my argument, as I don't think it necessary to belabor the, we can not only watch as many movies in a day as we can fit, but we can adjust that from cinematic features to Broadway shows (not live of course).  We can, from our living rooms, watch a concert from Wembley Stadium, and then catch the Riverdance from the comfort of our couches.  

I'd go into the "all you can eat buffet", and the excesses of sports events, but if you've read this far and been able to follow, then there's really no need to expound on the decadence that's pervaded our society.  Drawing to a point with a bit of brevity, entertainment has become an end in itself, rather than a part of a well balanced life.  A distortion of the purposeful break in our normal driving lives, which seek a satisfying existence and balanced life.   

Perfect timing for a question of substance..."So, how can you tie these two quotes, devalued science, and the prevalence of entertainment into something useful?  Please tell me you haven't simply driveled on about these things giving me no value for my time."

Here in the Oklahoma City area, our NBA team, The Thunder, use "Hard Work" as a tagline.  Kevin Durant's quote demonstrating the grit and grind that we'd like to embody our community and state, "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard".  

That quote, in itself, from a one and done collegiate player, packs as much true wisdom and academia as Galbraith does in both the quotes shown above.  

We are at risk, and I believe I see this happening, or to say better, has happened...of having constructed facades of true work, in order to satisfy our intentions of "living a balanced life".  We've taken to shortened efforts in research and "hands on the wheel" type effort, in order to circumvent the lengthy time a proper effort for a job would require.  We've built paper thin shells around ourselves, and our jobs, in order to produce a lesser value product, for production's sake.  Leaving us with more, and more time to devote to the excesses of our personal lives.  

Broad statements, yes.  I'm not even sure I can argue this point effectively for any length of time, which points to the precise reason I'm writing about it.  I can tell you, though, that I've lived it.  A well constructed system of doing work, which needs to be done, in the manner in which it is required...rather than sitting back and pointing out the truth that this task or problem truly requires a lenghty, prolonged effort to re-evaluate the purpose and function for which it is produced.  Slower, harder, more focused work would produce better, increasingly hardened results.  We rely too much on assumptions of previous efforts or productions, rather than starting from scratch again, to construct thick, strong, outputs.  Corporate management, in seeking cost reductions, increased output, and growth in the ever important profit margin, tend to feed into this cheaper quality of work, particularly as long as it provides enough value to keep their customers engaged and purchasing.

I didn't start out with the point of shirking my responsibilities, or to take shortcuts to the finish.  I simply utilized the speed of technology, previous work on certain subjects and processes (why re-invent the wheel?), in order to advance and make my own efforts more efficient.  Yet, in the end, the plastic product produced, does not uphold the quality and craftsmanship reflected in the old, iron, time consuming, and costly product.  Nor does it provide the satisfaction of a job well done.

Dedication to doing a job correctly, with the right amount of time, and attacking the task with passion derived from accomplishing something can restore the confidence needed to build into a stronger sense of self confidence and increased self esteem. [One could shoot off on something about depression or the like at this point, I believe] 

I suppose to conclude, which I need to stop at some point...  We have engaged in a cycle of cerebral inadequacy and laziness, which produces bad books and pointed argumentation based upon poisoned viewpoints, for the sake of getting away from prolonged hard work, and off to our decadent lives of entertainment.  To combat this, discussions around our dinner table are being held subject to different rules these days.  Internet searches can provide a single quote, brought to the table...then you are on your own to discuss, present and share your thoughts alongside others.  I have a backyard filled with dead trees, and I'm cutting them up one at a time, because there's no need for me purchase the firewood I could easily afford.  I'm sitting down and writing a very lengthy blog entry, because it takes time to make a point, or two, or five, and then tie them together into a block of writing that attempts cohesion and logical argumentation.

I'll end with adjusting Durant's quote a bit:

Hard work becomes necessary, for talent without hard work, destroys both the worker and the product, slowly from the inside out.

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