An apocryphal quote attributed to Einstein: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
I am reminded of this quote by a couple of articles I read this morning while adding material to my newsletter.
All of this comes on the heels of a departmental faculty meeting where my tenured colleagues finally got the existential threat to their careers that the institutional hierarchy has brought them. Since I have lived under the cloud of precarity for years as an adjunct teacher, this is nothing new to me. I live in a cloud of fear. And I wonder. Now they are wondering, too.
What I wonder about is intertwined with both the short and the long term. I wonder how we can function as teachers in the toxic cloud that is higher education today. I already lived through the toxification of K-12 for about ten years, too, so I think I can safely say I am an expert on this. Sadly, I know more than I want. Now I wonder about the survival of the 1000-year old institution of the university. Our faculty meeting made me want to retire.
Dahr Jamail’s article outlines the long-term threat to us all (and what seems a terrifically short term threat the younger you are). None of us wants to review the dark narratives Jamail relates–heat waves in the ocean scare me the most. I ask myself, “What am I doing that helps my students come to terms with that?” As a card carrying member of the hierarchy of higher education (aka the University), I am forced to restate the Einstein dictum (even if it is apocryphal), “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” I am part of the generation that created it. Am I doing anything to help my students deal with what Jamail is reporting on? It is a question that should reveal blind spots a-plenty, but all it does is make me want to turn my head away in denial.
Harold Jarche’s article suggests where we might go in very general terms. It is up to me to see if I can turn “toward a network society [of] citizen sensemaking.” I won’t at this point try to summarize the article, but I will note that Jarche is arguing for what he calls cooperative leadership and platform cooperativism.
He quotes David Ronfeldt’s blog
“Aging contentions that ‘government’ (+I) or ‘the market’ (+M) is the solution to particular public-policy issues will eventually give way to new ideas that ‘the network’ (+N) is the solution. For now, I think that ‘social sector’ and ‘commons sector’ are the most promising of the foregoing ideas.” —David RonfeldtRonfeldt, David. “Materials for Two Theories: TIMN and STA:C: Notes for a Quadriformist Manifesto — #7: Early Concepts about Adding a New Sector to Our Society.” Materials for Two Theories, 8 Mar. 2019, https://twotheories.blogspot.com/2019/03/notes-for-quadriformist-manifesto-7.html.
Of course, what our university is doing is doubling down on the status quo and like any good technocrats they are also relying on the promise of technology and hard skills. In other words, they are hastening the demise of the liberal arts at every turn and, thus, the end of the university as we know it and, worse, as it could be.
As Ronfeld suggests above and Jarche suggests above that and Jamail suggests above: the solutions are outside the established center. They thrive in the affinity spaces of the margins just like they do in the diverse hedgerows of a field. I live there. I have to figure out how to survive the toxic monoculture of the corn and soybean fields. Just switching over to growing hemp or some other crop won’t solve the central problem. We have to avoid what James Scott noted was a very predictable and recurring failure pattern whose central concept is an idea called “legibility.” Spend a few minutes with that link and you will be transfixed, maybe even transformed.
We must rewild the world into the complexity of the illegible. If that means a new institutional frame (citizen sensemaking, cooperative leadership, commons sector, illegible margins), then I am prepared to go there. In fact, I have been easing my way there for a long time only to be self censored by rendering unto Rome what is Rome’s and trying to lead my learners on a feldgang in and around and through the hedgerows. Mostly failing. Always trying.