I have had a lot of sympathy for Fred Inglis’ sharp criticisms of the grim reality of current academic life and practices; however, I found his piece “The lost honour of the life of the mind” deeply flawed on several accounts (Opinion, 19 May).
First of all, the point about propaganda being an “affair of huge posters” now replaced by “calm and confident iteration in the media” is not entirely correct – propaganda has always adopted more subtle strategies than boots and tanks alone; one only needs to remember the attention paid by dictators of the past to the education system, to the arts and to the most innovative media of their time. “Media” is not a contemporary invention, hence it might change, but the processes by which social instructions are internalised are hardly new.
What I found most disconcerting was the acknowledgement on one hand that “university teachers have never been any good at coordinated action” and the singling out of particular topics – sport, sex (which branch of sex-related knowledge has Inglis in mind?), business, media (an old favourite for mockery), social policy, remedial psychology and the theory of risk – as accomplices of “bloody old power”.
The collective action required to resist the most unpalatable aspects of the new order is not made any easier by attaching the label of collaborators to those who work conscientiously in the academic fields mentioned above. Inglis can rest assured that for many of them the honour of the life of the mind is not a thing of the past, yet.