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NeoAcademia Episode 7: Academic Populism w/ John Gibbs
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NeoAcademia Episode 7: Academic Populism w/ John Gibbs

The hidden dangers of democratizing knowledge

NeoAcademia is a biweekly exploration of the shifting walls of the ivory tower. 


When I thought about starting this podcast, I hoped to get all kinds of perspectives, but John covered one I hadn’t thought about: the retired professor turned podcaster. We had a very playful conversation about what we both do now: have playful conversations.

I had been thinking about this idea of academic populism for a while, but I wasn’t sure if it made sense - as a term and in general. John didn’t tell me I was an idiot, so there might be potential for this idea. In my mind the concept is simple, The People want in on the decisions about knowledge. Or at least they think they do. Just like with politics, people think they want responsibility, but I suspect they mostly want power. After thinking about this more, I wonder if the word ‘academic’ is redundant because populism applies to politics, politics is about the allocation of resources, and education and knowledge are resources. Either way, I haven’t heard much said about the dangers of democratizing knowledge, but it does seem like some people are afraid of this. And a lot of people are scared of populism…so this idea is definitely gaining merit in my mind.

There’s a book somewhere in all this exploration. I feel it brewing… More on Friday in the bonus content.

Show notes:

1:59 Teaching vs Podcasting, Great Resignation, Covid and Teaching Online

7:04 The performative environment of the NeoAcademic world 

10:38 The essence of all communication is lies

13:30 Academic populism and the limits of what can be done outside of the university

16:17 The hierarchy of knowledge: philosophy vs. science

22:51 Dangers of the democratization of knowledge: evolution as an example

24:19 String theory are post-modernists

28:03 The purpose of higher education Universities sell us on “how to live”

33:01 The persuasion of democratic or authoritarian populism 

35:31 Is the education system a Leviathan or are humans their own Leviathan?

41:07  Why aren’t college kids throwing stones at policemen anymore?

44:02 The adolescent rebellion of today leaves us open to Gorgias’ persuasion 

47:24 The instrumentalism of institutionalized education and the vanity of teaching

48:38 Power is found in the expectation that something is “common sense”

YouTube video episode

Spinoza Triad

John on Teacher’s Talk Radio


For more resources from this episode, check out the collection John and I created for you. Use the password “neoacademia” for access

Readocracy is NeoAcademia’s first sponsor, and I highly encourage you to sign up for an account. I have been using it daily for years now, and I even include some of my personal metrics in my monthly Rabbithole newsletter for my paid subscribers. It’s a fun way of reflecting on what you consume, and potentially building your expertise as a NeoAcademic.


Thought experiment:

What could be an unintended consequence of democratizing knowledge? Comment or enter your answers on Big Nerve!

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Theory Gang
NeoAcademia
Exploring the shifting walls of the ivory tower...