Nor am I being facetious when I say that it may be time to start thinking about alternative institution-building. If universities don’t want to teach and to preserve real humanities, then those of us who do may have to go and do so elsewhere under a different arrangement, one that permits us to pay attention to the things we study in the way that they merit.
This would not be the first time. From roughly 1610 until about 1780, universities were not the centre of the action — newly founded scientific academies and informal salons were. The broad historical shift underway right now echoes the one that was happening then: both periods are characterised by tremendous instability resulting from a revolution in information technologies. The early modern period endured what Ann Blair calls a crisis of “information overload” at least as significant as our own.
Smith is an academic philosopher by trade, but one who has managed to avoid having all the intellectual passion (and writing ability) squeezed out of him. He’s also one of the latest to abandon the neglected inner city of WordPress blogging for the temptations of a slightly-more lucrative existence in the Substackurbs. Personally, I find the newsletter-blog model to be comparable to dining out during the year of the batplague — rather than sit down in a public place and partake, if only indirectly, of the presence and sound of other people, we have our intellectual meals delivered contact-free, straight to our inboxes, where we consume them silently and alone. I’m not a fan of this trend, in other words. But I do enjoy Smith’s thought-provocations, so perhaps you might like to read them too.