During the Great Depression 85 years ago, when masses of American voters had 'lost all confidence that politics can accomplish anything significant', American philosopher John Dewey wrote of the urgent need to move beyond the business-dominated two-party system. The Democratic and Republican national committees were at the time colluding to restrict both extra-party competition and intra-party dissent in ways that strikingly resemble today's two-party cartel. Dewey's argument is both as obvious today as it was then, and as woefully unfulfilled.
Few vices of contemporary life have been more publicly derided yet institutionally persistent than short-term thinking. "That social and economic planning with intergenerational foresight is a rarity in most parts of the world today," Ryan Rafaty writes, "at the very moment when there is a ubiquitous surge in criticism of short-termism, should be puzzling. It should prompt some rather difficult questions about what kind of ‘long-termism’ we are after."
"When Du Bois wrote about the recently emancipated slaves, he said they certainly need food, clothing and shelter, but at the same time, to learn to communicate with the stars. Now that fourth item is not something about which you can just say, “oh well, that will be easily taught, because after all, they’ve suffered, and so they’re pure of soul”. All these mantras of “feminism is the secret”, or “the indigenous know the answer”, that one can just do anything with any group and they will just retain their purity. That is a very idealistic denial of history."
The past few weeks I’ve been following the many journalists and bloggers who’ve had a sudden affinity for debating the scarcity and shortcomings of academics in the public sphere. From the spark of a single tweet or article, ideas often spread like wildfire in digital media.
University divestment from fossil fuel companies will not solve the climate crisis. But the fact remains that universities, especially those with the largest endowments, are implicated in the climate crisis in a particularly self-contradictory way.