The ‘reality’ of ideology and the struggle for the university

One of Trinity’s Provostial (presidential) candidates, Colm Kearney, hits the nail on the head in his manifesto when he says:

“Our current situation is thus:

  • We face a projected deficit of €80-100 million by 2015.
  • The government provides 90% of College’s funding, and will not change its funding model to suit Trinity College.

Once we accept this reality, we can put in place the appropriate response.”

This is the central idea that governs the present crisis of the university, the idea that reality is fixed and unchangeable and consists in one thing: the withdrawal of state funding and the consequent budget deficit. Don’t think about it, just accept. Everything else is secondary when faced with this ‘reality’. If we don’t ‘accept this reality’ we are naive dreamers. If we do, we can get to work and start coming up with all manner of ‘creative’ and ‘innovative’ solutions.

The question of the university thus becomes one about whether or not we accept this reality. In this context, several points become central.

  1. Reality is political and never ‘objective’. In the present situation, the absence of public money doesn’t reflect an objective situation but rather a specific set of readily identifiable priorities: the state has decided to prioritize the financial system, international investors and property speculators above all else. It has put our future, and the future of all our public services, down as collateral on an insane loan to do this.
  2. Money is not some kind of natural resource like water, and humans are not naturally subjected to its comings and goings, its rainy seasons and droughts. Money is made by humans, it develops value through the subjective meaning we attach to it and it reflects social relations. Money above all else expresses the domination of capital. Today the clearest example of this is the international credit ratings agencies. When a state cuts the minimum wage its credit rating is likely improve. If we increase minimum wage, hey presto, it costs more money for us to borrow, or , in other words, our money is worth less. Whenever equality and freedom are attacked the markets read this as a positive sign that government’s are taking the ‘tough decisions’. This is a power relation. What we lack, in dealing with it, is not money but politics. The problem is not the absence of money, but the absence of anything but money.

‘Accepting this reality’ (as described by Kearney) means accepting the domination of capital. It is to accept that the State is undermining every independent and egalitarian element of our society (health care, community development, citizenship, worker’s rights and a long etc.) It is ultimately to accept that the university is subordinated to the economy.

The pragmatism we are encouraged to take up, as if it were some kind of call to arms, is simply servility. The pragmatic abandoning of all principle and ideology is today’s paramount principle and ideology. No one actually believes in capitalism, no one is willing to defend it. It’s just a reality that we have to accept.

The response today has to be a ‘ya basta’ (enough!)- a pure and simple refusal to accept the ‘reality’ we are presented    with. From an aggressive negation of this ‘reality’ can begin to emerge not just a belief but a material and subjective alternative, a movement in which economics is subordinated to living knowledge and to equality.

This is the challenge that confronts the student movement and anyone concerned with education today: to negate the fatalism of the pragmatist and to create the alternative within a movement, within a living network which gives value to the generation and sharing of knowledge. This means taking over teaching and learning, reappropriating them as free and equal activities. The university is not their’s to destroy- it’s time to take it back.


Mick O’Broin

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