The no-problem-society I – Beautification of teaching, administrative nonsense

The superior Man is aware of Righteousness, the inferior man is aware of advantage.

Of course, working with slides and even pleasing the eyes as part of it, has some benefit while lecturing. Not least in the context of courses and presentations in a ‘foreign language’. It may be beneficial for lectures, and it surely is beneficial in the eyes of students. And of course, this way it is possible to make use of some special ‘brain features’: some visual effects make memorizing easier.

And of course, there is nothing wrong with nicely presented slides, simply for the sake of beauty as value in itself or possibly as matter of entertainment. And as so often there is a but. Put forward as question: Even if we agree that it had been an ongoing dream of humankind to

liberate mankind from its oldest and most natural burden, the burden of laboring and the bondage to necessity’[1]

– as Hannah Arendt expressed it – the fact remains that the necessity is not defined by the unbearable lightness of being, by the beauty of the past but by the fact – taking it from Kierkegaard that

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

Doesn’t this also mean we should recover the pleasure and excitement of learning, of comprehending? I remember having observed together with my daughter for a long time, squatting on my haunches, a snail: slow movements, nothing ‘eye catching’ – to be honest, I was a bit annoyed when she first asked to stay and watch. Still, it was ‘worthwhile’, exploring the slow way. There is, of course, a special reason for mentioning it, a reflection that came up, getting manifest during the last days and weeks. I started to think of it in terms of

the no-problem-society.

It is so often that I hear this term: transporting stuff and storing it in some new place, rescheduling teaching hours, internet-blackboard services not working, transferring money and being confronted with strange fees, charged on the European single market … and then of course, a major financial crash and economic meltdown. Sure, the latter finally had been recognised as a serious problem, after ignoring early warnings with the comment

‘No problem’.

Too late, some still managed and made profit even from the problems others faced, some under all (their own) problems, committing suicide. – No problem, right? As much as all the small incidences are

‘No problem’ …

Behind all this is the increasingly virulent statement of

No problem.

Actually something else is meant: if difficulties arise we deal with them as problem, not allowing to see the problematique, the fact that many singular issues are actually part of a much wider setting with structural and processual deficits, the core issue being the loss of the ability to act socially, even: to act in terms of making any positive social contribution.[2] And it is not possible to wrap them nicely up and maintain the complex connection: in the Netherlands they spend now huge amounts of money for some minor changes in the treatment of psychiatric patients, without considering the underlying causes that brings people into the situation: that makes psychiatric treatment necessary and makes it for a while even ‘efficient’ when it is done this way (I know, we discussed this for instance in connection with the lege Basagli, see also here).

Seems to be far fetched? But is it really: Consider you are studying and there is a change of the schedule. One day before the lecture newly scheduled time, you learn that the next day you have to turn up to a lecture. Effects on motivation? Effects on success of learning? … Of course, it is difficult to follow lectures on a new topic, take up the challenges to look in a different way at reality. But to which extent does it really help to play problems down, referring first to the ‘we always did it this way’? The first impression is always a lasting one. And should the first impression then be about problem-solving by playing them down?

– But don’t blame the students! Allow them to have and talk about problems.

About their own problems, the problem they have and they have with us – different toothless problems we create for them. Of course I know and appreciate the difficulty that occurs when being confronted with writing, listing to and presenting something new, something unknown: and personally I usually do not want to start again and again with what people should and could know, trying to develop things further. And I know and appreciate that it is easy to challenge people – and seeing that some of them are indeed over-challenged. Then, however, making things clearer so that everybody understands may not be the solution – it reduces the suggested solution on what is immediately possible – here and now, not allowing to think about the there and tomorrow. Anyway, many people still do not do anything with the recipes, handy to solve a problem, but not allowing moving easily beyond. It easily ends in the attitude:

No problem

Allowing us to move on, working on some patchwork answers:

  • chasing students to the next-day seminar, where they can enjoy the latest slide beauties
  • making up some administrative rules that allow to drawer everything (well, I mean with this: put everything into its own drawer) from where we can push and pull it around according to immediate ‘needs’
  • to find interim storage space, fading out that life is as such a matter of interim being
  • learning for the next-day’s seminar instead of learning for the future
  • colleagues plagiarising, and not really heard when talking about it with other colleagues
  • seeing articles that are obviously written on the basis of the material easily available AND that is not causing difficulties in pursuing the own ‘argument’ – ‘making things fit’
  • leaving students alone, not giving the information, the review of exams with which they can see there strength and weakness, beyond the schematised SWOT-analysis

All this and much more … it is

No Problem

we hear. This no-problem-society emerges as the

Visibility of Nothingness

celebrating the form, celebrating the external beauty of smoothness instead of looking at the eternal beauty of contradictoriness and its dialectical overcoming in the Heraclitian river which is a matter of permanent  challenge and thus change …

Many are walking away, nodding about the need to radically rethink issues and … the reference to the well known ‘But we always did it this way’ and cannot change things easily. Finally we have to accept that there is

No problem

Always offering the perfect solution. We are easily trotting away like donkeys.

Over- and under-challenge is somewhat a catch 22-situation which is a serious problem. Not least as we are indeed educating people within institutions that offer mass-education, are setting up administrations that are part of a hegemonic system that controls masses of people – finally we all have to survive.

Slow reading does not fit into such educational setting (though many students love it when they are allowed as it challenges them to think and to talk about themselves); complains about administrational issues does not fit into the framework and so they are met with ‘Thanks … for your good suggestion’ and presumably a fist in the pocket and the attitude of ignoring – ‘Yes, sure, I will come back to you ..?’ The attitude of ignoring? But of course not, things that do not exist cannot be ignored (though the fish complained while suffocating, lacking water). Surely Kierkegaard may come to mind again, having stated, that

People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.

And this is reflecting the increasing amount of streamlined language, presented on beautified slides, offering food for thought that is already digested …, not ready to enter contest and contestation, not allowing to recognise that the student who does not walk half of the way by him/herself did not learn anything – Socrates said something like this, in a way similar to the words of Confucius, contending

I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand

Also Hannah Arendt comes to mind again – her reflections are as follows:

Wherever the relevance of speech is at stake, matters become political by definition, for speech is what makes man a political being. If we would follow the advice, so frequently urged upon us, to adjust our cultural attitudes to the present status of scientific achievement, we would in all earnest adopt a way of life in which speech is no longer meaningful. For the sciences today have been forced to adopt a ‘language’ of mathematical symbols which, though it was originally meant only as an abbreviation for spoken statements, now contains statements that in no way can be translated back into speech.

What once became known as Potemkin village, presents itself today as designer market for people who do not have any problems. Finally there are always computers and robots that can help – or should I say: who can help? Finally we are now discussing in law the prospects for the marriage and divorce law for cross-marriages between human and robot …

… but let’s wait and see …, and continue on this later … for time we acknowledge

Jezelf een vraag stellen, daarmee begint verzet. En dan die vraag aan een ander stellen. (Asking yourself a question, that is how resistance begins. And then ask that very same question someone else.)
[Remco Campert]


[1]            Ahrendt. The Human Condition; Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 1958: 4

[2]            “Social contributions” – we hardly understand the meaning anymore – we cannot really grasp that they are going beyond ‘doing good’ for individuals that face ‘social problems’

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