The Gadfly

As I drove away from Montsalvat late this afternoon ABC Radio National shared the program ‘Democracy and the Humanities’. It was primarily a discussion with Martha Nussbaum about her book ‘Not for Profit: Why Democracy needs Humanities’. When you are immersed in research it is very often the case that everything becomes connected to your subject, at worst you start to live with or even become your subject. However in this case Godfrey Miller would have been very interested in this discussion. He would also have been saddened, silent, then perhaps would repeat:

Undated letter to his brother Lewis in the mid 1950s…”what has transpired is that, many disregard, have disregarded my words and pay heed to my painting whereas my real life would have been, would have existed, if they had done the opposite – disregard the painting and pay heed to what I say. Truth and the interest for a painter.”

Miller also said in another undated letter around 1955:

“I tell my students our greatest resource is not gold but our nearness to India”

and 28/5/35 letter to Lewis:

“I think I have remarked Tagore is the greatest of the East I recollect my meetings with Indians and their reverence for him.”

Nussbaum told the anecdote that where once Indian parents aspired to send their children to Tagore’s School they now consider it old fashioned and search for schools offering strong technology and business management subjects. She further suggests that, not just in the west but in the world over, there exists a great “anxiety and frenetic competition for market share” which is driving the humanities out of the mainstream. She does note that where China and Singapore were educating for success in business there have been moves to bring in ‘active learning’ streams to try and correct the balance but their success has been marginal. For Nussbaum this specifically impacts democracy where the humanities offer so much; she lists these skills that are being lost to students: argument, think for themselves, dissect ideas, analyse, gather evidence, understand history both in local and global contexts and the importance of the Socratic method, to be a “gadfly on the big ungainly horse of democracy”.

"I am that Gadfly"

We appear to be structuring our world based on this “frenetic competition for market share” without consideration for balance or the long term development of a healthy global culture, one that shares, develops and challenges ideas. This is a great sadness for us all.

Miller though would not have been surprised.

It is  a major motivation for his biography to raise his ideas out from his faded carbon copied letters back into daylight. To give him voice in a world that surely needs to hear it.

Also in the 28/5/35 letter to Lewis:

“as Milton…. has said ‘I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. …The artist will never come out into the world as a Leader. People do not want an all embracing Policy they want something they can see, something within their region of sight strength. Plato said that we would never get good government until we cld induce a poet to cease contemplating celestial matters and come and govern us. As I grow older I begin to see not that he is right but that he is emphatically right. …The idea is yours [Lewis] also for I remember when I was at Rotorua you put it up that that those who govern should have training apart from business. And what have we! [1935]

And what have we in 2010! The Chicago University is opening a Centre of Advanced Study in India with a focus on Humanities knowing they are swimming against the tide.

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