Restless academics

Gil Hardwick (
Wed, 07 Dec 1994 00:44:19 GMT

Cameron Laird writes to me:

> .
>In fact, the claim is that this *promotes* "the integrity of
>established knowledge". I understand how alien the idea sounds
>in some settings, but it's another application of the "invisi-
>ble hand" insights (or ideology) that we typically trace through
>Smith: the restlessness and whimsy of individual academics
>deciding for themselves where to decamp serve to test, and there-
>fore strengthen, "established knowledge."

I reply:

This is an interesting interpretation, and I can certainly accept the
idea as it is well established in Australia, with traditions dating
back many thousands of years long before the emergence of Europe. I
should make it clear that by "established knowledge" I did not mean,
say, the corpus of the Roman or Anglican Establishments; rather the
legitimate local knowledge people need in order to prosper, their
"gathered wisdom" if you will.

I can certainly appreciate how the foil provided by the wandering
scholar, the trader as we have discussed here in this group before,
would serve to re-affirm in people the substance and integrity of
what they know.

But in the end, that can have a negative impact. As is the case in
Australia, rather than their knowledge being the subject of their own
intellectual life and the foundation of their empowerment to health,
prosperity and well-being, encouraged and enhanced by their own
wandering scholars (their own "doctors", as they say) wandering from
ceremony to ceremony, and dealers and traders wandering in their wake
from ground to ground, it becomes an object alienated from them in the
contrived and mangled discourse of An Other liminal academe here at
the margins of different systems (much like Ancient Greece and to a
lesser extent Rome) as they themselves pine away in abject poverty.

Now that becomes insidious when the alien "wandering scholar" is no
longer restless and whimsical, but has a union card and lawyers at
his beck and call willing to fight in court to have established in the
law of the land that what he has to say is correct, because he is a
famous internationally renowned academic having established a wholly
new "intellectual trajectory", and is being persecuted into the
bargain because he is homosexual.

And he is not the only one. This is happening far too frequently
for comfort. Seems there is a stink wafting up from the cellar.

I don't mind a cross-cultural exchange at all; in fact most of my
life is spent toward promoting those ends. But there must be due
respect and recognition, protocols and rites of transition from one
system to the next, some sort of acknowledgement of special standing
as Visiting Professors or Research Fellows, and most certainly time
made available to digest and incorporate that of value which has
arisen during the program of visits.

Whether it be conducted between Australia and the US, South Africa and
Aboriginal Australia, Zimbabwe and New Zealand, England and Tierra del
Fuego, wherever.

None of this forced flooding of intellectual systems with any new
thing anyone wants to dream up, no matter how elaborately contrived.