Keynote Address for the 2014 Amity International Conference on Management

I was invited to travel to Lucknow to give the keynote address at the 2014 Amity International Conference on Management. Unfortunately, I had to decline this opportunity because of having to renew my passport (which now takes a long time). However, I was asked to make some comments anyway which could be read out to the delegates in my name, so this is what I wrote:

On the occasion of the 2014 Amity International Conference on Management, I would like to express my gratitude and feeling of honour in being invited to address you here today. I would particularly like to thank the conference convener Professor Dr. Amit K. Sinha for making this possible and my old friend Professor Manoj Joshi for facilitating this. My thanks are also due to many other colleagues for their assistance, even though I am unable to pick them out by name.

It is a matter of great disappointment and frustration to me that circumstances beyond my control – bureaucracy during the crisis of austerity – have conspired to prevent me from being present in person to address you but, at least, I can provide my thoughts to you through this written contribution.

I write to you today from a country, Thailand, gripped by political and social crisis – the threat of fascism rises again as the elite interests of our capital Bangkok and their political allies refuse to accept the legitimacy of the democratically elected government and seek to use violence as a means of inspiring a military coup and, from there, the ending of democracy. As Walter Benjamin noted, every instance of fascism is the reminder of a failed revolution. That is, there was an appetite for genuine progressive change but that desire was not satisfied but instead has curdled and become something rancid and vile. Enflamed by nationalist sentiment and an extreme form of royalism, this social force now seeks only the promotion of its own interests at the expense of everyone else. Indeed, it seems that, for at least some participants, the suppression of others is part of the ultimate goals rather than just a means to an end.

As academics, we have a duty to participate in this crisis in particular ways. Depending on where we live, we may have more or less freedom and ability to participate in public discourse. However, no matter how repressive may be the situation we face, we still have the opportunity in the classroom, the office and in our personal interactions with students to foster an atmosphere of freedom of thought and of expression. It is not, of course, possible for every student to say what she or he wants for many reasons. However, students can at least be provided with the opportunity to think for themselves and to witness the cut and thrust of debate, which is one of the best ways to slay the hobgoblins of reaction and intolerance. I know from my own experience many students who have appeared to be only passive participants in discussions who have later indicated that they were able to derive a great deal of liberating value from being in a space where contending opinions were expressed.

This is not an issue that is just helpful for students; it is something which is likely to be of critical importance for the preservation of our societies as we know them. We live in an era of rapidly dwindling essential resources, particularly fresh water and cultivable land. The struggle for control of these resources has already caused many deaths. The problems are intensified by the increasingly obvious impacts of global climate change. As we speak, extraordinary weather effects are battering numerous countries. The polar vortex in North America, the violent rainstorms and winds in northwest Europe, the typhoons of the Asia-Pacific, the forest fires of Australia – the list of phenomena continues. If there were perhaps one or two of these phenomena occurring at the same time, then this could perhaps be shrugged off as an unfortunate statistical quirk. However, they are all occurring together and there are many more that could be added to the list.

It is evident from the sheer power of these phenomena that the methods of the past and, indeed, of the present are woefully insufficient to deal with them and still maintain economic and social development. We need, in other words, new solutions and these will surely be derived from new thinkers and new thinking.

When I was a child, in common with my classmates, if I had a difficult homework problem, I could hope to receive some help from my parents or grandparents. Our students today do not have this support – the reason they resort first to Google or something similar to solve their homework problems is not laziness – well, at least not entirely laziness – it is because the problems we set for them and which we need to set for them are questions their parents cannot answer. We ourselves cannot properly answer them.

There will be those among us who understand the value of the wisdom of the past and the importance of preserving it. This position is to be much respected for, as has become a truism, those who do not understand the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them.

Yet we now live in a world in which, in developed economies, a substantial proportion of children now at the primary level of education will, when they enter the labour force, take jobs which currently do not exist. Under these circumstances, how much can we really teach them what to think? We should be focused, in my opinion, on teaching them how to think. That means trusting people to think how they like – and that, in turn, means allowing people to make mistakes. We must trust the people.

I began by noting that the evil of fascism arises from the disappointment that occurs when the genuine desire for change is frustrated. We here have fought hard to achieve our positions, we have studied, postponed sleep and parties and other things that we might have enjoyed. Now, we are called upon to set these issues aside so that newer generations can discover the solutions we failed to find.

Thank you.

 

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