Unruly Voices: Six Questions for Mark Kingwell
As a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine and professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, Mark Kingwell often writes about salient cultural and political issues with an eye toward theory. In his newly published book, Unruly Voices: Essays On Democracy, Civility and the Human Imagination (Biblioasis), he addresses topics from architecture and society to fiction and citizenship, inviting his readers to reconsider the social and political landscape. I put six questions to Mark about politics, culture, and philosophy.
1. Why do most citizens value thinking as a means rather than an end?
Most citizens value everything as means rather than an end. This is partly baseline human behavior and partly a hyped-up version of instrumentality, which currently functions as the operating system of everything from technology itself through to creativity, education, and public discourse, and even to friendship and family life. The triumph of economic thinking is that it has become the invisible presumption of everything; there is nothing, or almost nothing, that cannot be reduced to a transaction. So it can hardly be a surprise that thinking itself, which ideally ought to resist and oppose instrumentality, or at least put it in its proper place, has fallen prey to the same reduction.
The most obvious place to push back on this, I think, is in the university, which still has a grasp, albeit a feeble one, on the value of liberal education. I say it’s feeble because the bulk of recent evidence shows that even elite universities have become little more than brand factories and legacy schemes, like frequent-flyer rewards plans for the wealthy. Because I’m a university professor by day, I like to believe that we can work against that trend by being better teachers, communicators, and thinkers.