Enlightenment when?

By Michael Corballis 22/03/2020 2


I recently encountered the following prescription from a Faculty of Education at a leading New Zealand University. At first I wondered if it was another product of the postmodern generator (http://www.elsewhere.org/journal/pomo/), designed to create gibberish in the postmodern form, but I’m told it is real:

The “schooled” society: Towards the close of the 1980s, both anti-racist and anti-sexist initiatives in education had come under scrutiny from critical educators on the grounds of their ‘essentialism’. This push back in education is particularly pertinent for Māori and Pacific peoples within Aotearoa as part of a decolonising effort to reimagine education embedded upon indigenous knowledge paradigms which confront humanist philosophies that privilege ‘human’ over other-than-human. Against this, researchers posited that identity is fluid, malleable, and open to change. Categories such as ‘race’, ‘gender’, sexuality and ability were to be understood as ‘social constructions’. This insight opened the door to studies of the varieties of ways of being that exist, and to how these identities are constructed, often in ways that serve the most powerful groups in society. A particular concern of this group is how formal education serves to marginalize some groups and how this process of marginalisation is negotiated, experienced, and, in some cases, resisted. At the same time, the group considers transnational debates about the nature of knowledge formation and its circulation, and specifically the politics and consequences of official and unofficial knowledge formation and how they are mediated through education.

So let me try to understand. Does it mean that for the past 30 years or so it’s been okay to be racist and sexist? Who or what is “other-than-human”? Dogs? Computers? Who still believes in race? How can something be embedded upon something? Are fluids malleable? What is it about transnational debates?

Sorry. My problem, I think, is that I’ve been reading Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now:

The humanities have yet to recover from the disaster of postmodernism, with its defiant obscurantism, self-refuting relativism, and suffocating political correctness. Many of its luminaries—Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, Lacan, Derrida, and the Critical Theorists—are morose cultural pessimists who declare that modernity is odious, all statements are paradoxical, works of art are tools of oppression, liberal democracy is the same as fascism, and Western civilization is circling the drain.

If only Pinker had been properly educated. My fault, I suppose; I once taught him.


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