Learning determines our future

October 10, 2016
By Heikki Patomaki

The following article is part of the SFG publication “Big Questions of Our time: The World Speaks”. To access the full publication please click here.


“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe”, wrote H.G.Wells in the Outline of History a century ago. By education Wells meant progressive learning not only by the intellectuals but among the common people, based on the most plausible truth claims available. 

The problem is that there are many types of learning. Through a series of responses and pathological learning processes – reducing resources for future learning – we have seen first a succession of neo-liberal and neo-imperial turns and then, especially during the past decade, various geo-political responses to the alleged imperialism of the others, such as those that co-generated the conflict in Ukraine. 

Pathological learning processes are associated with a mixture of illusions, understood as local and particular knowledge, in contrast to understanding the totality of social relations and processes. 

The characteristic illusions include The fallacy of composition (what may be possible for one actor in a given moment is not possible for all or many simultaneously); The narcissism of collective memory (actors only see themselves and their own unique suffering and/or success in the mirror of history); and The Manichean dualism of good and evil (actors are incapable of seeing how their conception of the other mirror images the other’s conception of them). 

Assaults against free universities and especially social sciences and humanities across the world are exacerbating the problem. The big question of our time is thus: how can we reverse these developments and learn again to learn in the progressive sense? – before it is too late.

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