Thoughts on the ‘era of cheap scholarship’ and the problem of the ‘institutionalized knowledge system’

Recently, in a conversation, I said some interesting things:

I pointed out that, for some time, I have noticed that the scholarship in the last 15-20 years (since about 2000) seemed ‘cheap’, as I described it.  There seemed something ‘amiss’ with it and it seemed lacking in some way.  I was often stunned at the simple-minded thinking that was coming from places like the University and other ‘intellectual institutions’.  It just doesn’t seem to be the same as it used to be.  I felt that we are in a new era.  I said that we are in the ‘era of cheap scholarship’.  I said that it seems that this is becoming a defining trait of 21st century thinking

As I reflected on this some things came up:


Over the years something has been developed which can be described as an ‘institutionalized knowledge system’.  In other words, there has developed an ultra-organized system, surrounding knowledge, that now does things like:

  • It organizes knowledge into a specific format.
  • It determines “acceptable knowledge”.
  • It places knowledge into a social structure making it a social issue.  Things like degree’s, work, the gain of money, etc., make knowledge part of the social system.  This degrades knowledge making it nothing but a handmaiden of society.
  • It controls the use of knowledge, how it is taught, what is to be learned, what is to be considered important to know, etc.

In effect, knowledge has become integrated into a system whose only intent is to make it a part of a socially-based system.  In this way, it has actually become distorted and warped, to some extent.  To put it simple, knowledge now serves the social system . . . knowledge no longer serves knowledge (that is, its no longer “knowledge for knowledge sake”).  Because of this, knowledge is becoming more a reflection of the social system than anything else.  In this way, a person is only “right” if they have a degree, anything coming from the University is viewed as “correct”, and something that does not follow the social accepted “norms” of knowledge is ignored.  The era where “knowledge is right by itself” is over.  I can see this even in talking to people where what is considered “true” must have some stance in the social system.  This is a reflection of the ‘institutionalized knowledge system’.

The ‘institutionalized knowledge system’ has great impact on scholarship.  In fact, one could say that scholarship has practically been turned into an assembly line as a result.  Because of this systemization, scholarship has developed traits such as:

The fact is that scholarship and systemizing don’t go hand-in-hand.  It tends to undermine and degrade scholarship overall.

There is a point, though, where systemizing can be extremely beneficial (such as in determining standards, for example) and in some fields this can be very advantageous (such as, say, in chemistry).  But very easily systemizing tends to undermine scholarship even in those fields, at least in my opinion.  Its because of this that the systemizing of knowledge must be handled very carefully and cautiously.  Nowadays, its being done too easily, extensively, and haphazardly, it seems to me.


Nowadays, there are too many people studying the same thing with the same point of view.  One could very well say that everything is done in ‘droves’ nowadays.  In this way, scholarship has become an act of the ‘masses’ and, accordingly, has developed an attitude of ‘mass mentality’ in it.  Maybe we could speak of this new scholarship style as a ‘mass scholarship’?  This creates an almost robot-like blind-following sheep mentality in people.  This has help to create what I often call the ‘cheap scholar’.  This is a person who “plays at being a scholar but really isn’t”.  It doesn’t take a genius to see that they are not there because they are scholars or have an ability at scholarship . . . they are there for other reasons.  The problem is that this is practically everyone who goes to College or the University or any other place of learning that I’ve seen recently.

There are a number of reasons that create the ‘cheap scholar’, such as:

  • Living in a society that worships learning.  This causes a tendency for people to just follow along with the idea of following the social ideal.
  • The fact that there are too many people.  Education is now inundated with people (see my article “Thoughts on the problem of the inundation of people into college or the University“).
  • The assembly line nature of education.  To be frank, education is nothing but a big assembly line.  The education system is now geared to “do the minimal amount of effort to give the pre-determined results with the most number of people as possible”.  People, who go through this system, I often call the ‘assembly line scholar’.
  • The influence of money.  Nowadays, scholarship has become too closely associated with making money.  This makes it so that people are motivated by the pursuit of money more than anything else.  In other words, scholarship has become a money-making venture.  Because of this, only scholarship that ends up making money is pursued.  This creates what can be described as a ‘money-biased scholarship’.
  • The influence of social status.  For some people, scholarship is associated with social status.  This has a similar effect as the problem of money and is associated with it.  We could call this the ‘social-biased scholarship’.
  • The fact that people go to the University because they’re told to go there.  It seems that most people go to learn because mom and dad or society expects them to go (also see my article “Thoughts on modern education – decreasing the value of ability“).
  • The lack of belief.  The modern and scientific thinking has no real belief system that it rests upon.  This makes thinking rather ‘weak’, in actuality, and lacking in substance.  In this way, everything becomes “just info” and nothing more.
  • The lack of genuine interest.   Many people, nowadays, really have no “genuine” interest in what they do.  That is to say, they are not there because they want to be.  I see this in most so-called scholars today.  In the past, it was primarily the people who had genuine interest who would learn things.  Its these people, and their attitude, that created a lot of things.  I consider genuine interest a defining trait of a scholar.  It is they that do the “real scholarship”.
  • The lack of ability.  To put it another way, a scholar is a specific character of person (see my article “Thoughts on what a Scholar is to me“).  The problems is that most people do not display this character.

So, we see that scholarship is now influenced by ulterior motives.  That is to say, other motives than scholarship.  In effect, what is happening is that people are really only riding along on a system that has proven success and doing what is required to stay on and live off of it.  Many times I have said, when someone gets a degree, thinking that they are scholars, that “. . . no, what you did is what the system requires so now the system gives you some formally acknowledged symbol (a degree, for example) that you think makes you a scholar.  In reality, all you’ve done is followed what the system wants you to do . . . that’s not a scholar.”  In some respects, the ‘cheap scholar’ has a quality of someone who is “living off the inheritance of ones parents”.  That is to say, they are living off the success the scholars before them created and which they do not emulate.  As usually happens in this situation, the inheritance is squandered.  In many ways, this is what is happening with scholarship . . . it is being squandered by people whose intent is only to live off of its success.  The people before us created scholarship but the heirs are squandering it.  This attitude degrades it all making it “cheap”.  As the system grows and develops, and people tag along, the cheaper it becomes.


I seem to feel that the modern scientific and intellectual viewpoint, created in the last several centuries and which created the ‘modern world’, are basically being exhausted.  Many of these points of views have been wore out and have been looked at from so many angles that there isn’t anything more to add.  Or, to put it another way, “they’ve beat that dead horse enough”.  Its taken the same themes, orientations, perspectives, purpose, and way for a long time.  The fact is that any thinking can only go so far.  In my opinion, a lot of fields reached that point decades ago.

But, yet, in schooling and in the work field, they are “required” to create new things from a “dead horse”.  In school, you have to beat this “dead horse” to get a grade or a degree.  In the work field, you have to beat this “dead horse” to do their job.  This has created a condition where “new things must be created without being created”.  This is something I’m seeing a lot of nowadays.  I often call this ‘fabricated elaboration’.  This is a tendency when viewpoints and perspective have been established and defined to the point that there is not much more one can create from it.  But, because of the demands of the system, people have no choice but to elaborate on various details creating nothing more than an elaboration of what has already been established and defined.  I’ve also spoken of this as ‘fluff theory’ (see my article “Thoughts on the question of study and its relation to the person“). I’ve often joked that some of the new research, nowadays, often sound like this:

“A new discovery has been made at researchers at so-and-so University!  It has always been assumed that the sky is blue.  New ground breaking research has shown that the sky actually ranges from a light blue to a dark blue, almost purple, which gets darker as the sun sets.”

It sounds like a genuine discovery but is it?  More and more I’m seeing things such as this.  I recall one research where they gave birds beer to drink and found that when they pegged for seeds, they had a hard time picking them.  What, are you kidding???  Another research said that they have found that when people get tense their muscles tend to tighten up.  What???  You know, I’ve done my own ground breaking research and have found that when I push one of the keys on the keyboard a letter comes up on the screen!  Maybe I’ll do a doctoral dissertation on that.  And speaking of doctoral dissertations I have been stunned at some of them.  I can recall hearing of one that basically said that the clothing of Madonna (the singer) reflected the liberal attitudes of society.  This is a doctoral dissertation!???  Its because of stuff like this that I have often stated that just my work on this blog alone is as good as several doctoral dissertations in things like psychology, history, and philosophy.  I’ve probably done as much work as a person who did a doctoral dissertation has, and come up with original ideas, which many of them haven’t.  As a result, I jokingly say that I have awarded myself several doctorate degree’s . . .

One of the effects of ‘fabricated elaboration’ is that it creates artificial findings.  That is to say, it basically “says things without saying anything”.  I’ve looked at many books, even, and am finding a pattern.  Why some are published I don’t know.  Its like all it consists of is a bunch of words, statements, and facts that, in actuality, doesn’t say anything.  I first realized this when I considered buying a book which was actually a doctoral dissertation.  I skimmed through it and it seemed to mostly be case histories.  I looked at the conclusion and it basically said something like “yeah, when people are traumatized we find they become dissociated from reality”.  What???  After noting this I began to find this problem in many things:  a lot of words and facts but nothing is being said.  Oddly, this sort of stuff is being treated as a “discovery” or some great revelation.  I’m not the only one who has observed this.  After watching this for years I am under the impression that this is a result of over-education.  People spend too much time in school hearing this or that, day after day, year after year.  Remember that, in schooling, people are just told things, facts and figures.  Nothing is really being said.  The main purpose of schooling is to state and the students to absorb what is stated.  As a result, the ‘hearing of this and that’ is sort of glorified as an “end”.  This creates an attitude that ‘stating this and that’ is a great thing as well as the “end” of it all.   I sometimes joke of this as the ‘this and that scholarship’.  Its like saying, “I said this, I said that, and its all great”.  Maybe we could add “. . . and I’m a great scholar now”.  The system will give them a good grade, a pat on the back, and maybe even a degree for it.  How ridiculous . . .


Since knowledge is institutionized everything must follow the course and path set by the system.  Over the years the system has created a specific form of this.  People, now, have spent hours learning to ‘conform’ to this pattern of thinking.  In many ways, education is nothing but learning to conform to the pattern set by institutionalized knowledge.  In other words, education is not about learning knowledge but the systems version of knowledge, which one must conform to.  It does this by things like:

  • Having to think a certain way.
  • Having to look at things from a certain perspective.
  • Having to use their material and what it says is acceptable.
  • Having to follow their pattern or process of thinking.
  • Rewarding for doing what the system says.  In many ways, this is one of the most powerful elements.  It rewards by social status, money, degree’s, and such.  I’ve often felt that if this were taken away you’d see institutionalized knowledge die.

These all create a tendency to think “inside the box”.  In other words, it hinders the ability to “think outside the box”.  Because of this we could describe institutionalized knowledge as “box thinking”.   In this way, institutionalizing of knowledge, in a way, creates a bottle neck that slowly strangles things.  The more powerful the system grows, the more smaller the bottle neck.  This tendency is one thing that is causing ‘cheap scholarship’ today.

“Box thinking”, and the bottle neck it creates, also tends to hamper creativity.  Since the established knowledge is what it preaches everything must rest on that.  In this way, practically the only creativity it allows is what I call ‘taking the next step’.  What this means is that you see what’s there and take the next logical step.  For example, I am a draftsman. I draw layouts for bag packing assembly lines.  When I started the draftsmen before me had the technical specifications, bag information, and pallet information as part of the general notes.  I ‘took the next step’ and put the technical specifications, bag information, and pallet information in separate blocks that could be located anywhere on the sheet.  People seemed to like it better.  Did I do anything great?  No.  I just ‘took the next step’, improving on something that was already there, making it more acceptable.  Perhaps the draftsman after me will make another improvement on what I have been doing?  To me, it seems that a lot of ‘new discoveries’ and research consists of things just like that, improving on things already existing.  Creativity – that is, creativity of mind – seems to be going down in scholarship, as it appears to me.  Because of this, it seems that ‘taking the next step’ is becoming the “new creativity”, its now how to be creative, perhaps the only way.  With knowedge systemized, and the inabiity to think outside the box, how can any creativity develop?  I speak of this as the ‘taking the next step scholarship’.

We must remember that the people who made most of the discoveries thought outside the box.  In addition, they did NOT ‘take the next step’ as part of their thinking.  They were new and innovative, truly creative.


During the medieval times scholarship was dominated by Christianity and its belief.  After the Protestant Reformation, and the subsequent doubting of religion, there became a great void caused by the absence of religion.  This void seemed to create a condition of great inspiration and discovery.  In many ways, this void caused a scholarship that became very productive and helped create many new things.  Because of this, many things appeared that had no precedent.  In so doing, scholarship went into whole other areas (in fact, it created the modern world).  Eventually, this caused a ‘glory time’ for this ‘post-Christian scholarship’.  Unfortunately, this ‘glory time’ appears to be over.

It appears that post-Christian scholarship had a rise, a ‘glory time’, and a fall, much like:

  1. 1500-1600’s – The failing of Christianity and religion . . . the void is created.
  2. 1600-1700’s – Post-Christian scholarship appears and struggles to get established.
  3. 1700-1800’s – Post-Christian scholarship becomes established.
  4. 1800-early 1900’s – Gaining legitimacy.
  5. 1900’s – Systemizing and organizing, the ‘glory time’.
  6. Late 1900’s-2000’s – Strangulation, exhaustion of ideas, etc. (cheap scholarship).

We must remember that post-Christian scholarship filled a void.  The void is now filled!  What inspired this era of scholarship is now exhausted.  One of the mistakes, nowadays, is that people think that the success of post-Christian scholarship will continue indefinitely, as if it will last forever.  My opinion is that it is in a great decline.


‘Institutionalized knowledge’ is knowledge that is done for the system and according to its dictates and demands.  Its good for things like chemistry, geology, physics, and such.  These tend to be abstract fields which have a system nature.  But its not good for more human things.  This is because ‘institutionalized knowledge’ is not for the human being.  It does not cater to the human needs, it does not create human answers, and such.  In other words, there is now a great difference between ‘institutionalized knowledge’ (or system knowledge) and “human knowledge”.  Its becoming more marked and different so that we have to make a definite distinction nowadays.   There is a tendency, though, to equate the two.  But, in doing this, it has degraded “human knowledge” into just another form of system knowledge.  This is one of the effects, and causes, of ‘cheap scholarship’, turning “human knowledge” into a dead abstract field.  What this means is that a person does not turn to ‘institutionalized knowledge’ for “human knowledge”.  In this way, a person must determine what it is that they are after.


‘Human knowledge’ tends to entail a belief.  In this way, it hits deep within a person.  In my personal opinion, ‘human knowledge’ requires belief.  In fact, its the belief that makes it “human”.  ‘Cheap scholarship’, on the other hand, generally does not entail any real depth of belief.  In some ways, the lack of belief defines ‘cheap scholarship’ The scholarship is done for expediency and as necessary for practical purposes.  I call this ‘expedient scholarship’.  This makes scholarship no different than the knowledge of how to change the tire on a car.  In fact, from where I stand, modern scholarship is becoming nothing but a more elaborate form of the same sort of knowledge that is required to change the tire on a car.  This attitude may be good in some areas (like accounting) but, to be frank, any real scholarship requires more than that.  This is why I have always said that a “real scholar” is someone who loves the field and doesn’t care about ulterior motives like money, status, and such . . . they have a belief in it.  It is my opinion that it is people, who have belief like this, that do “real scholarship”.  Everything else is “expedient scholarship”, scholarship that is done because it has to be done, or something else.  That becomes nothing but ‘cheap scholarship’.


Copyright by Mike Michelsen

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