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What’s the Fear?

May 8, 2008

I said in my last post that I had high hopes and great fears of what offering free high-caliber humanities scholarship to the public might do at large.

I think the hopes are obvious. I believe that humanities work is important in our development as a species. Maybe that’s a bit too grandiose but there’s nothing at all natural or necessary about democracy, for example. Its development and implementation took a lot of smart people thinking about the nature of governance and fighting to find that line between stable, functioning societies and individual liberty. We still haven’t gotten it totally right yet, and we probably never will–but that’s just one of the 100% priceless contributions the humanities have made toward making us freer, happier, better people.

Also, the humanities gave us Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, who, like Dr, Strangelove all those so many years later, reminds us to always look twice at what those scientists and mathematicians are doing when they get that gleam in their eyes.

Well, one fear is that when knowledge becomes free it stops being a tradeable commodity. And when that happens a lot of CPAs and MBAs running high on the inherent goodness they perceive in the economic marketplace will start to make cuts they deem as necessary and inadvertently hack off their nose to despite their face–CMU saves nine grand and we lose the minnesota review.

Perhaps more tragically in this tale is that if the “final issue” idea mentioned in the post comes to fruition, is there anyone at CMU that will care? Part of the problem is the people that bottom line reductionists think are important and the people that the culturati thinks are important are distinct, mostly exclusive sets. So when a parade of novelists, poets, or culture theorists talk about what a cynical act destroying the journal was and how it fits within the larger deterioration of culture studies, those responsible might just shrug and say “Who were they?”

I’m not advocating a ramping up of the monastic code of academics, nor am I advocating the imprisoning of knowledge up behind walls constructed of unaffordable online subscription fees. In the long run, free is going be better, no doubt. I fear the knee-jerk reactionism that creates suit-and-tie Queens of Hearts whose only solution to every internet-threat is “off with their heads!” That kind of “problem solving” merely creates a worst-of-both-worlds-scenario.

This entry was posted by: Jim
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