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Month: June 2018

A New Academy

These are propitious times.  We are all students and we are all teachers, with common purpose: the love of wisdom, the creation of a better world.  We wake, asking: ‘what good shall I do this day?’.  Before sleep, the mirror: ‘what good have I done today?’1  

We meet and rest together most days, amongst the olive and apple trees.  Is this an atrium?  An agora, a forum?  It matters not.  The space has no walls, no dividing lines.  All encounter all, on one level, and debate begins from a position of humility, and openness.  One can bask alone in the silence of the sun for days, contemplating.  But should one rise and walk, there is always a chance encounter, an unexpected question, an enlightenment.  There is dullness, of course, the need to enact all bureaucracy in triplicate even with the technological wonders we now harness, and there is intellectual stasis, the interstitial feeling of being lost, weakening by the day.  But these are overshadowed by the excitement of thought, and the application of knowledge to improve conditions for all.

We argue, we fuss about nothings, some believe their school of thought to be somehow the only possible reality.  But when arrogance towers, it quickly crumbles, dissolved by reason.  From many, one.  There are no forced divisions, no départements, artificial separations made only for the sanity of the administrator.  Our study is fluid, moving across disciplines; sometimes immediately repelled, sometimes attracting colour, flavour, novelty.

When we commit ideas to the written form, we do so with the utmost respect for the time of the reader.  ‘I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time2; when text is written once, read by many, this is anathema, an ignorance of the costs incurred by others through sloppiness and impatience.  When we meet, we know why.  If we do not know why, we do not meet, for a gathering is such a costly event.3  ‘We are what we frequently do’, says my fellow Aristotle.

And of course, there is seniority; there need be a decision maker to tackle the challenges which burden our idyll.  They are appointed with our trust and respect, and we give them our authority to act, to take risks, to make mistakes, to make change, progress.  To move forward not through brutish mimicry of power, but through elegance and innovation.4

Nevertheless, the beautiful chaos of creativity and critical thinking is bolstered by some form of structure, some form of process and efficient operation.  Sadly we must devote at least some of our scarce time to eating, drinking, and other mundanities of survival such as the financial outlook.  So we bring into our employ the expert, the specialist at performing certain skills so effectively and with such high regard that their work is almost transparent, seamless.  Their best work may not be the creation of abject joy, at least formally, but in facilitating a lightness of step, the smooth road, providing the perfected process, the considerate warning signs and the safety nets.  The humane administrator; invisible yet essential.

Remember though that the administrator can also think, can contribute new ideas, may even provide the counterpoint to spawn a new branch of enquiry.  They too should have access to the olive grove, and at least a little spare time, a little mental capacity, to be freed from the deluge of second-class tasks.  A tenth of their time set aside for creativity, collaboration, space to properly address fundamental concerns rather than apply perpetual bandages to the wound.  Rather than chopping away at every dying branch, we collectively create the conditions that allow health to bloom from within.

Together, we are one body; unity, universus.  Look closely, and there are fissures, ruptures, coalescence and gravitational effects which create philosophical and scientific revolutions.  New land is formed, bristling with energy, then settles, ready for another lightning bolt of genius to awaken us, another vivid glimpse of the world outside the cave.  These are propitious times.  The sun always shines for those nimble enough to stay away from the rotating night.  We do not know precisely where we are going, but we know who we are, and why we are together.  Through discourse, wisdom.  Through observation, beauty.  Through challenge, progress.  Through curiosity, truth.  

Athens, Greece
380 BC

  1. From Benjamin Franklin’s daily schedule:
  2. Blaise Pascal, Provincial Letters Letter XVI, 1656
  3.  ‘Meetings: the practical alternative to work’.
  4. A distinction embodied in Nansen and Archer’s design for the Fram;