By Joern Fischer
In my previous post, I argued that academia had gone increasingly insane. Here, I will draw an analogy to degraded ecosystems – in fact, I’ll draw an analogy with scattered trees in agricultural landscapes. Such trees have been termed “the living dead”, in the sense that they are the remnants of forest patches but in many frontier landscapes they are not regenerating. Are pockets of sanity in the academic system the living dead?
By pockets of sanity, I mean safe spaces in which reflectivity, focus and shared commitment to a greater good is valued; essentially I mean healthy academic environments. Just like with scattered trees, such healthy academic environments persist in only a few places, while the majority of the academic landscape has been converted to intensive, intellectual mass production.
So in this sense, scattered trees are the living dead, and pockets of sanity in the academic system could similarly be thought of as the living dead – they are not able to reproduce in an evolutionary environment that selects against their traits.
But … there’s also an upside to this. Many years ago, Adrian Manning pointed out that scattered trees could also be a “lifeline to the future”. That is, in a world beyond the initial wave of ecological destruction for the sake of industrial agriculture, scattered trees hold the genetic potential to re-build some of what was destroyed.
And in just the same way, the pockets of academic sanity that still persist become disproportionately more important as the world around them gets more and more “intensified”. There’s one big difference though: trees have no agency; humans do. And thus, we have a choice to keep some pockets of sanity, to keep pushing back against insanity, and to thus maintain pockets of focused and meaningful academic work, in environments that care about the people involved.
Of course, this analogy can be extended infinitely to the world at large… especially for those of us expecting some kind of societal collapse, it’s important to maintain some kind of hope. Perhaps not the hope that everything will be alright: but instead, the hope that we can maintain pockets through the current storm of insanity that can serve as a lifeline to the future … eventually.