of academic merit

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By FLÁVIO R. KOTHE*

The Brazilian university is recent, it has not yet been able to internalize academic values

When there were chairs in Brazil, it was only possible for a young person to become a professor at the university if he was invited by a professor. As professors were generally not well-prepared as researchers, they preferred to have file handlers as assistants. Thus, more talented and productive young people tended to be left out of teaching. Later, when the chair was extinguished, control over the admission of new professors passed to the group that dominated the department. As these groups were often associations of interests of weaker teachers, the old tyranny persisted, regional oligarchies occupied posts in public education. We didn't want a teacher who, even unintentionally, ended up showing students alternatives.

Added to this during the Military Dictatorship was the perversion of institutional acts and other forms of persecution of teachers. There was logic in the dismissals and dismissals: the criterion was not simply whether or not the professor had taught something like Marxism or existentialism. Persecuted were the most brilliant thinkers, capable of opening paths in their area of ​​knowledge, deconstructing the dominant ideology, leading research groups. A perverse logic was reinforced: it was the one who should be sought out that most should be sought out; despised who most deserved consideration; vetoed who should be voted. The reverse side of this was promoting those who were “trusted” by the dominant group.

The dictatorship persecuted the best because they were better, but that was terrible for the country and for the university. Many paths were destroyed. Producing became a way of resisting, but much was left unproduced. UFRGS, for example, was very hard hit by institutional acts, having suffered in 1969 the loss of dozens of its most brilliant professors: it precisely decided, without needing to, to confer later on the dictators Costa e Silva and Médici the title of honorary doctor. None was distinguished by intellectual gifts.

It was only with the Constitution of 1988 that exempt benches were required to fill positions in the public service. The Brazilian university is recent, it has not yet been able to internalize academic values. It does not concentrate geniuses, does not have Nobel Prize holders, does not have a systematic policy of attracting talent, creating centers of excellence. Levels by the lowest common denominator. It still has a long way to go in terms of academic ethics. When a teacher produces something better, there is a strong tendency to be despised rather than respected. Therefore, when the opportunity arises to recognize academic values, it is necessary to support and applaud.

Monitoring synapses does not mean knowing what is being thought. A child having parts of the brain activated outside of the teacher's proposed task may mean that he has already solved that task or is thinking about the issue from a different perspective than the expected one. Genius finds a simple solution to a difficult task in a way that others cannot foresee. Our education system is more brainwashing than a stimulus to thinking, but it was already like that when dominated by religious orders, which wanted to manufacture faithful followers of the doctrine instead of autonomous and thinking citizens. Without these, however, there will be no democracy.

In the 1960s, the military dictatorship destroyed schools that had innovative projects capable of developing creativity and rational autonomy. The current educational system does not seek to give access to great artistic works or to reflect on great thinkers. Instead of reading good manuscripts, manuals and labels are memorized. We're just not worse because we were never good. At the university, in recent years, there were students who had taken philosophy classes in high school, but in general they only repeated clichés, without having read and debated the works of great thinkers.

Religious tradition taught to repeat dogmas, no matter how absurd they were. He preached obedience, submission. Christian belief sees in its God the Lord and, therefore, in man the servant, the slave submissive to arrogance. With Augustine, she sublimated the social structure of slavery and its mentality to the religious level. It doesn't teach you to reflect critically, you're allergic to thinking ahead. In this respect, Lutheranism was better than Catholicism, as its dissent stems from the debate of theses proposed more than 500 years ago. Denialism is, however, inherent in the believer's posture. Denying does not solve what is denied: it just closes your eyes. Even the ostrich prefers to look away from danger.

Brazil did not have Enlightenment, it does not have schools that, from an early age, prepare young people to be a thinking elite. The country does not prepare well-qualified future leaders. During the dictatorship, the military and its allies chased away the teachers who could represent a better parameter of quality: ignorance is not solved that way. Wearing a uniform or cassock does not guarantee knowledge or competence, especially not to solve new problems. The ignorant emphatically displays his limitation, as if he were the one. It is, however, a symptom of a larger problem.

There are castes who believe that truth is proportional to the epaulettes on the uniform or the colors of the cassock. What you have there are hierarchies of command. What comes from above can be wrong, as what is decided by majority can be false. A lonely and marginal person can be closer to the truth than the empowered. How to secure your space?

At university, it is customary for students to interrupt what the professor is saying and ask a question or suggest another version. This does not occur in the pulpits, in the orders of the day, in the voices of command. Brazilian students tend not to argue, not to question. They were trained to memorize and repeat. There is a mutual support game of averages and mediocres, who seek to appear better than they actually are. Strategic is to eliminate those who are different. Thinking isn't easy, it doesn't seem to be for everyone.

Truth is not what is believed. Nor what is said of what is believed. In fact, it is not believed. One only believes when one does not have access to the true. Belief is a wager, a projection of desire that loses its sense of self. The believer thinks that what he believes is true, but the only truth there is that he believes. The less consistent the desire, the more radical it becomes.

The Cartesian notion of truth as clear and distinct notions follows the model of the catechism, which reduces complex questions – such as the origin of the universe, the structure of the divine, the nature of man – to simplistic answers that cannot be sustained. What seems clear to some is not so to others. The most transparent is usually not seen. The denialist denies the obvious and wants to impose his lack of vision as truth. The believer has simplistic explanations, clarity that hide obscurities, distinctions that are often false or do not perceive others that should be made.

It is also not what scholasticism said, that is, eternal truths in the divine mind, something immutable, absolute. No one ever got there, nor would they if there were; if it did, he would be dead. Sacred books are not access to this mind, but products of writing: human creation, literature. They should be studied in Letters, but they are not.

It bears repeating: the conceptualization of truth as “the adequacy of reality and understanding”, by Aquinas, is false, because what the thing is and what is in the mind are not the same, ad-aequum, are not the same nor are they a coincidence. What is in the mind is never the same as things are. The X = Y model permeates Western thought, but equalizes the unequal and seeks to reduce the real to the quantitative. There, what is merely similar is equalized, difference is set aside. Knowing if ideas are copied in things or if things are represented in ideas, that is, the option between idealism and materialism, is all under the same scheme. There is a deep structure that needs to be uncovered and unraveled.

Writers know that there are no synonyms, that the same word in different positions in the text is not identical. In irony, the verbal meaning is not identical with the meaning of what is said. Therefore, not only does one not have X =Y, but also X is not = X.

Nor is truth just an internal formal adequacy of the mind, detached from things. In this process, only what is contained in the premises is found as a result. One pretends to think, in order not to really think.

The truth is also not simply what is said. It is not reduced to speech. Authoritarians want the truth to be what they claim and impose, but their vision is limited, there is a fallacy in the synecdoche, when they take their partiality as a whole.

Hegel proposed that the truth would be the capture of the object in its multiple determinations. It would therefore be changeable, as both the captured vectors and their interpretation change. Sometimes new data completely changes the evaluation framework. It is never possible to capture, however, the totality of determinations. Truth becomes a utopian quest, accessible only to an omniscient god. It changes both Christmas and the subject. You don't step into the same river twice, but there are many people who, year after year, enter the same way in a river that changes all the time, said Nietzsche.

At the University, the formation of “little groups” has been frequent. Its members look like friends, but they are allies: they associate themselves in a process of reciprocal praise and support, in which they try to strengthen each other, in order to guarantee grants, jobs, publications, approvals. They join a master because they cannot think ahead, go further than he has gone. They think he's great, because they don't realize and don't want to let him know how limited he was and how wrong he was many times.

The group can even become strong, trying to eliminate more capable thinkers or ignore possible competitors, but this strength is ignorance, since it is based on the weakness of each one. Sometimes there is even blatant theft of other people's ideas or suggestions, without citing the source. The mutual praise of researchers without real theoretical consistency or the proposition of interdisciplinary notions without having real knowledge of each of the areas involved can deceive the less informed, but do not sustain well over time. There is, however, a strong tendency for the same retrograde structures to recur. The fear of thinking and diverging is called courtesy, good manners.

The more the country matures as a producer of knowledge, the more difficult it will be to maintain opportunism. If the country does not, however, prevail seriousness in intellectual production, in a horizon beyond opportunism and the average, it will not be able to produce something relevant. What he doesn't do, others will. Growing globalization is inserted within the academic world. There is no point in tracing local, regional or national borders, the internet and the digital version will make it possible to discover what deserves to last, because it contains a finding that imitators and opportunists will not know how to reach, no matter how hard they try to destroy.

* Flavio R. Kothe is a retired full professor of aesthetics at the University of Brasília (UnB). Author, among other books, of Benjamin and Adorno: clashes (Attica).

 

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