Slí Eile: ‘We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.’ (Einstein)
In an excellent piece in last Saturday’s Irish Times, UCD Sociologist Andreas Hess, discusses the role of intellectuals in the current economic and social crisis (Time to Consider our Position as Citizens and not Consumers).
He argues that as we face a crisis of ideas in which little has, so far, emerged to fill the vacuum.
‘While the majority of economists and the right – the current political caste hardly knows the distinction – still lecture us and are trying to squeeze the last goodwill and surplus out of us, the left is still looking for the revolutionary subject that they hope will emerge from the crisis.’
Hess cites the work of Michael Sandel the US political philosopher who has recently published (in the US) What’s the Right Thing to Do?
As Governments around the world wrestle with hard choices, uncertain outcomes and extremely fragile financial markets and ‘real’ economy there is a huge question confronting them – What is the right thing to do?
Sandel argues that society is not just a loose collection of individuals in which ‘everything is mediated through or determined by market forces’ (Hess). This takes us to the heart of ‘civic republicanism’ – the notion that we are bound together in a chain of mutual obligation and solidarity and that citizenship is much, much more than some legal status or passport entitlement. And it goes beyond our market roles as consumers or workers. It is about our belonging to a community in which we care for one other and receive obligations and norms.
The Royal Irish Academy will hold a half-day conference on 27 November (Public intellectuals in times of crisis: what do they have to offer?)
Academics, researchers, political thinkers and activists and many civil society organisations lay heavy criticism (and rightly so) on the failure of Governments, banks, big business and some of the intellectual elites that nursed the neo-liberal nightmare whose fruits are all too evident to see now.
But, what would you do tomorrow if you had the reigns of power? What advice would you give to a listening ear of someone to decide the shape of banking, budgetary policy and institutional reform? Not an easy one to deal with in the real world, here and now, tomorrow, next month with consequences now, next year, 10 years time.
The role of ‘intellectuals’ in this crisis begs a number of questions:
* Where are they to be found? – More importantly where can we access ideas of most relevance to the current state of human evolution?
* If some of the old models of thinking and believing are broken what new models are worth considering or tinkering with?
* How can public debate be fostered about where we are, where we envision the future and how we get there?
As a people we are renowned for talk, pragmatism and ‘pulling together’ when the chips are seriously down (example cited of 1987).
However, there seems to be, currently, a huge deficit of ideas, fresh thinking and imagination.
In particular, there seems to be a large disconnect between thinking and action.
‘You know what is wrong with the world – the people who act don’t think and the people who think don’t act’ (attributed to Peter Maurin of the Catholic Workers’ Movement in the film: Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story)