SHAFAQNA – A University of Toronto former professor of Religious studies have told Humanities Nights meeting in Tehran the neo-liberalism has almost claimed the most ‘sacred branches of science’ in an age when Madonna would find better places than Plato.
Dr. Francisco José Luis addressed the third night of the Humanities nights in Tehran about what he believed was ‘decay of humanities in western universities.’ He lamented the current trend promoted by the western neo-liberalism which at the same time ‘dumbed down’ the true knowledge to make it understood by the public. Dr. Luis believes the current trend had deprived the universities of their true content, replacing them with courses well suited to the needs of the neo-liberal markets. The following is a summary of his address.
Each year a list of the best universities in the world is created by various institutions in order to inform the masses of future students about the best place to get the piece of paper, known as a bachelor’s degree, which will allow them to enter the neo-liberal job market, its wage slavery and its programmed destruction of human dignity. Since its takeover by the corporate world the university has become an extension of this obscene farce and has, as a consequence, sold its very soul. Any honest academic in the West knows now fully well that those lists are but a lie and that universities in the Anglo-Saxon world are no longer the harbor of knowledge they once used to be when it comes to Humanities. New disciplines have appeared in Western academia that in the past would have been taught in the context on a vocational college or an apprenticeship. If I told you that you can nowadays get a PhD in accounting from the university of Oxford you would probably laugh at the very thought of it before being shocked at what is, unfortunately the reality of the situation. In other words the merchants of Athena’s fish market have not only taken over the school of Plato and Aristotle, they are now telling them what to teach. One cannot think of a worse state of affairs than this one. Given that a university diploma is now perceived as a necessary condition to get even the most menial of jobs these days, such as being a barista at Starbucks, and that politicians have to satisfy the desires of the market for servile wage slaves the entrance standards for universities have been lowered to such a point that it is now safe to say that the majority of the students in Western universities do not meet the standards required for a healthy functioning of a decent academic institution. If I told you that I had to deal with students who in their third year did not know the meaning of the word “negation” or if I told you that most of my students never heard the names of let alone read the works of Plato, Aquinas, Victor Hugo, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky you would probably not believe me but such is unfortunately the case. Is it possible under such conditions to really do our work as academics when our students do not even understand the words and references we use? If academics in the world of humanities are no longer able to do their job as far as teaching and supervising is concerned why are there still departments teaching Humanities? A closer look at the humanities in the Anglo-Saxon world nowadays and more and more so in other countries will demonstrate that these departments fulfil an ideological purpose not a scholarly one.
I do not dispute the fact that there are still brilliant scholars supervising talented students doing doctoral research in the fields of history, religious studies, philosophy or literature. What I am suggesting is not only that these scholars are becoming rare but also that they are being replaced by a cynical and desperate generation of young academics whose function is to satisfy the ideological demands of the neo-liberal paradigm in exchange for job security in an extremely precarious work sector. In this they do not differ much from the political officers from the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union. Fragile one to two year contracts for young academics tasked with dealing with hordes of half literate science students with no real humanistic culture, the constant worry about their future, ideological pressures and the very harsh reality of the obscenely enormous student loans that need to be paid back forces young academics to forsake their academic integrity for the sake of the demands of the market.
Anglo-Saxon universities are instruments of power through which entire generations of citizens are transformed into de facto slaves through the imposition of exorbitant tuition fees that force most students to take student loans they will have to pay back. The lowering of standards for entrance into universities means several things for both teachers and students. It means that teachers have to dumb down the content of their courses in order for it to be accessible to most students. Many professors face the situation where most of their undergraduate students are unable to understand the text books that are on the curriculum. The students themselves the victims of a cynical and obscene system that dumbed primary and secondary school education on purpose in order not to give them the tools for their own intellectual independence. This probably explains why most talented students in the Anglo-Saxon system are actually foreigners coming most of the time from the former USSR or Middle Eastern countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran or Syria where the primary and secondary school system is still rigorous and imparts a good general culture.
In specialized departments such as the departments of religions or Islamic studies it will still be possible to do an in-depth study of Molla Damavandi’sKetab-e Meftah-e Asrar-e Hosayni with a competent supervisor but your work will most likely be promoted if you work on “The Homoerotic Dimension on Ashura Rituals”, “The Rise in Non-Marital Relations in Upper Class Tehran” or “The Presence of Sikhs and Hindus in Ashura Rituals in Delhi and Lucknow.” The aim of these studies is to promote the two main ideological paradigms that now dominate the humanities namely: gender studies/feminism and multiculturalism. The open claim of these paradigms within the realm of academia is no longer to promote scholarly research but rather to question traditional ways of living that have shaped human societies for centuries and that constitute the last barrier against the totalitarian neo-liberal takeover of the human being. This is only made possible with the systematic dumbing down of the primary and secondary education systems through reforms promoting the idea of universal entrance to university as a right and replacing meritocracy. A crucial moment in this reform process was the marginalization of Latin and Greek in secondary school curricula. This deprived students from not only the necessary basis to understand the cultural framework of much of the Western cultural references but also from an exception method of training the mind in sharp analytical skills. New school methods now invite students to discover rules for themselves and the result is there for anyone to see: the majority of students in the Anglo-Saxon world not only have problems reading and writing English but lack the minimal culture that was once necessary to enter university. As I said, this was planned carefully by those wanting to shape education into an ideological tool of neo-liberalism. Now that I have explained how this all happened let me get into the very root of this decay. France is now falling victim to this Anglo-Saxon influence and its education system and its humanities are now almost a thing of the past. Germany and Poland are still resisting to some extent but for how long?
Let me take you to the great gothic cathedrals of medieval Europe. These elegant poems made of glass and stone often displayed rose windows with Christ in the middle as the Logos surrounded by smaller logoi who derived their status precisely due to their relation to Him. Likewise when displaying the organization of the sciences theology was invariably displayed at the center of the rose window surrounded by the other sciences. These sciences only made sense in relation to the study of the divine logos. Let me now take you a few centuries closer to us with Raphael’s School of Athens. The fresco represents a group of people meant to represent famous thinkers of the past who sought after the first cause. Plato and Aristotle are represented in the middle of the fresco while other famous thinkers surround them. When contrasting this fresco with the rose windows of the medieval gothic cathedrals one notices straight away who is missing: the Logos. While it is true that Raphael’s fresco is at the Vatican and hence endowed with a suggested reference to Christ the Logos it is still quite notable that He, who according to the Gospel of John is the Logos and source of all things, is absent from the fresco. Let me now take you even closer to our contemporary period. The cover of the 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s album of the Beatles represents Liverpool’s famous pop band surrounded by a range of personalities that include philosophers, Indian gurus, occultists like Crowley, scientists and artists. It is in a sense a parody of the rose window of the cathedrals where the Logos has been replaced by the idols of the neo-liberal entertainment industry, an industry whose task is to deliver the ideological messages of consented slavery of the neo-liberal world where all traditional ties of religion, family and culture have been made obsolete thanks to the promotion of the sexual revolution, the dictatorship of pleasure, the separation of the individual from all traditional bonds and finally its enslavement by neo-liberalism. This album cover is probably the best representation of the university by neo-liberalism: the post-modern end of the great narratives, Plato shares the same platform as Madonna. Neo-liberalism has replaced Christ the Logos at the center of the rose window, the corrupt politicians, fish merchants, jousters, prostitutes and charlatans have invaded Raphael’s School of Athens and are now ordering Plato to teach accounting and gender studies.
What then is the remedy to all this? In other words what lead Heidegger’s translator and of the greatest minds of the 20th century to spend 6 months each year in Iran until his death in 1978? Henry Corbin had correctly identified the problems of the modern West and its consequences on academia. He attempted to seek a cure here in Iran, a world that still knows a living sapiential tradition with the 14 faces of the divine logos at its center. However I should warn against rising trends the trend to depersonalize the logos, to bring down the Ma’sumin(as) to our level, to rid the horizon of knowledge of the light of the wajhullah. When the quest for wisdom gets replaced by ideology and the demands of the neo-liberal market, when the wajhullah is made obsolete from our worldview can we still pretend to have the remedy for the mortal disease that has consumed the West? Have we not ourselves in turn become blinded by the darkness of thegharb ul wujud?
It is a matter of great concern to me that a great number of Iranian academic still idolize the Anglo-American system and seek to imitate it. They somehow feel they are behind the so-called achievements of that system without realizing that this same idolization is the reason why they are lagging behind. If their aim is to be foot soldiers of the demonic forces of modernity they will always find themselves to be a step behind the avant garde of modernity. If they wished to care for the hidden treasures of their own civilization instead of indulging in abject submission to an inferior and poisonous system they would be able to offer the world an alternative to the idol they so cherish and accomplish their true duty as servants of true knowledge. As long as they chose to remain in such mental slavery they will not only keeping on being behind a model they cannot possibly outrun but they will also remain the contemporary equivalent of the bayt of ‘ilm of the Abbassids, an institution whose sole purpose was to oppose the true knowledge of the ahlulbait (as) with polluted knowledge.
Dr. Francisco José Luis was born and brought up in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg in a working class Portuguese immigrant family. After completing his secondary studies he moved to Paris where he completed two separate licenses (B.A.) and two separate maîtrises (M.A.) in the fields of French/Comparative Literature and South Asian studies at the Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris III). He then moved to London to do his Ph.D. at the School of Oriental and African Studies on pre-reformist Sikhism, an almost unexplored field for which he spent several years living in immersion among traditionalist Sikhs. While completing his Ph.D. Dr. Luis taught Indian religions and Panjabi at the School of Oriental Studies, taught French literature in Luxembourg, wrote articles on Shi’ah mysticism in the Iranian press as a reporter for a magazine in Iran, and taught several seminars at the French Institute of Tehran present.
This article appeared first in Mehr News