The University & The Captive Mind
THE UNIVERSITY AND THE CAPTIVE MIND
Wan Ahmad Fayhsal bin Wan Ahmad Kamal
The role of the university in this modern age has become central to new discourse that goes by the name of ‘globalization’ and 'development'. This discourse seeks to dominate our daily life, particularly in the so-called developing countries. Most intelligent people will agree that the challenge of globalization and development must be considered seriously in order to preempt any pitfalls to the country and its citizens. The university as one of the major stakeholder in the process and outcome of this globalization project is being redefined according to the governing agenda of the globalization phenomena, resulting in dramatic changes to its structure, substance and, most importantly, its purpose. The fruit of these changes is what the late Professor Dr. Syed Hussein Alatas has observed a few decades before, namely, in the rise of the ‘captive mind’. The impact of the ‘captive mind’ is analyzed with a view to circumvent and curtail ts spread as much as we would do likewise in the case of a devouring wildfire.
Keywords: university, globalization, development, captive mind, captor mind
As we progress into the new millennia, the various fields of knowledge generated by the university have expanded in terms of quantity (facts, data and the like) and quality (perhaps not in the sense of ‘wisdom’ but rather in terms of its ‘presentation’). This knowledge expansion is a good thing if we look upon it superficially but perhaps not necessarily so if we were to consider it from all angles, tangible and intangible. The main reason for this (hopefully healthy dose of) skepticism is the growing empirical evidence that the governing ideas of the university such as ‘progress’, ‘development’ and ‘globalization’ promising an earthly utopia of plenty without want have rather delivered existential nightmares for most people in the so-called Third World.
Today, the corruption and the mismanagement prevalent in these “poor” countries are not being caused by the colonial masters of the past rather being perpetrated by their own “educated” indigenous leaders, most of whom found education either abroad in Western universities or in their own countries’ universities modeled on those of the West and hence condemned to bear the ‘White Man’s Burden’ on their fragile brown shoulders. The historical baggage of colonial educational policies has been carried over to “post-colonial” times by indigenous political and cultural leaders who blissfully ignore the potential clashes of worldviews through the dissemination of a predominantly Euroamerico-centric educational structure.
According to the late Syed Hussein Alatas, a respected Malaysian sociologist, the human products of these universities can be defined collectively as the captive mind. This problem must be viewed closely, because the further the country progresses in the post-colonial era, the more prevalent the captive mind syndrome becomes. As explicated by Alatas, the captive mind is the product of higher institutions of learning either at home or abroad, whose way of thinking is dominated by Western thought patterns in an imitative and uncritical manner. Some of the basic characteristics of a captive-mind person are as follows:
1. A captive mind is uncreative, and hence incapable of raising original problems.
2. It is incapable of devising an analytical method independent of current stereotypes.
3. It is incapable of separating the particular from the universal in science and thereby properly adapting the universally valid corpus of scientific knowledge to the particular situation.
4. It is fragmented in outlook.
5. It is alienated from the major issues of the community.
6. It is alienated from its own national and religious traditions in the field of its intellectual pursuit.
7. It is unconscious of its own captivity and the conditioning factors making it what it is.
8. It is not amenable to an adequate quantitative analysis but it can be studied through empirical observations.
9. It is the result of the Western intellecto-cultural dominance on the rest of the world.
According to Alatas also reiterated that the uncritical and imitative mind is one that is dominated by an external source, and whose thinking is deflected from an independent perspective. At the undergraduate, and even at more advanced levels, the phenomenon of the captive mind is real and pervasive. The great problem for developing societies is that graduates do not function properly in their own communities.
The captor mind is the Western scholar or his Asian disciple who imparts knowledge through books or lectures of scientific thinking and reasoning. The main characteristics of the captor mind are that its presentation of the sciences is not contextual, philosophical, relational and inter-cultural. The captor mind does not necessarily seek captivity consciously, but rather, it is a somewhat unconscious instrument of a gigantic and imposing intellectual superstructure.
When a captor mind teaches engineering and natural science, he does not use any materials from non-Western cultures. He will think that the knowledge from the Western civilization is universal knowledge whereas in fact it is not, as any good comparative history of science will show. This is due to the influence of Western worldview in shaping out the values of knowledge that were derived from its own cultural experience throughout the history of that civilization. Even mathematics, as shown by Adi Setia, like all other sciences, “exact or inexact, pure or impure, is value-laden. Values were there first before the axioms.” The axioms embody and objectivise the values. The sources of these values are diverse: religion, rational thought, philosophy, intuition, experience, social norms, and including various combinations of these sources.
The notion of ‘value-ladenness’ does not necessarily imply a Kuhnian or Rortian kind of epistemological relativism anathema to traditional Islamic epistemology. It simply means that “if something is value-laden, then it is laden either with partial (juz’i) or universal (kulli) values, and therefore one needs to subject it to examination before granting its claim of universality or, conversely, dismissing it as partial.” This kind of deep-conceptual examination is made more urgent due to the general tendency (pointed out by Osman Bakar recently ) to conflate what is ‘global’ with what is ‘universal’. What is global may be wrong and false (khata’ and batil), but what is universal is always right and true (sahih and haqq).
The captive-mind university
It is not only the human subject that is colonized by alien concepts, the university too is part and parcel of this giant web of captive-minded thought systems going under the name of education. This phenomenon has been studied by Ward Churchill and he has proclaimed that the connection of inculcated thought patterns and Western-centric knowledge discipline can be observed under the rubric of ‘White Studies’. One of the significant attributes of White Studies educational system is the extreme compartmentalization of knowledge. Such compartmentalization of knowledge is replicated in the departmentalization of the Eurocentric education system itself.
The cast proliferation of Western “ologies”, “onomies,” and “ographies” such as sociology, theology, psychology, physiology, kinesiology, biology, cartography, anthropology, archaeology, geology, pharmacology, astronomy, agronomy, historiography, geography, demography, etc., are necessarily viewed as separate or at least separable areas of inquiry within the university system. By having this kind of separation, the students are being kept as captives to certain narrow fields of knowledge, or rather, “tunnel-vision” disciplines, without ever realizing the possibility of alternatives modes of ‘visioning’ a particular field, and seeing the relations between each of these fields within the context of the whole, overall educational rubric. The result is a system, or rather, a set-up, in which things are jumbled together in a way that gives a semblance of coherence while in reality lacking an overarching integrative principle in terms of a common ground and a common purpose. Thus it is not uncommon to see one discipline as the nemesis of another within the university, and even within the same faculty or department, and in the case of the disciplines of economics and ecology (as separate departments) or the disciplines of econometrics and ecological economics within the same department or faculty of economics.
The compartmentalization of knowledge system under the rubric of ‘White Studies’ was introduced after the rise of Western Civilization in the post-Dark Age epoch that borrowed from the classical knowledge classification system of the ‘Seven Greek Sciences’ as well as the ‘Roman Quadrivium’. White Studies as presently configured in most modern universities are designed to control thought by making sure no one ever sees the big picture through which the compartmentalized disciplines are mutually. Anyhow, there is no big picture apart from what is purely pragmatic in the short-term financial, economic sense: what pays goes, and hence the slogan of the “knowledege economy” reverbrating throughout the globe.
The relevancy of this system has been proven in the famous Manhattan Project under the most able directorship of General Leslie R. Groves. He admitted that his main achievement was to compartmentalize and thus control the scientific research for the atomic bomb. In the words of Progler:
During the Cold War, universities adopted his tactic. This corresponded with the ‘independence’ of most modern nation states, many leaders of which adopted the compartmentalized discourse of White Studies as their normative mode of thought and action.
The net result of this pigeon-holing attitude is the marginalization of non-Western knowledge in systematic manner, for in the ‘White Studies’ system, all non-Western knowledge systems, such as Islamic Studies and Malay Studies, have also to undergo a rigid compartmentalization process. Once compartmentalized, those kinds of studies can be sidelined systematically from the mainstream discourse. In the end, like what we are seeing today, the body of knowledge of our heritage, especially that which has connection with our roots such as race, culture, history and religion, will be neglected and regarded as unimportant knowledge as it is envisaged as impeding the ‘development’ of the country. Hence we hear the ceaseless call for change, change, change and more change, meaning forgo your traditional wisdom and embrace the efficiency of modernity.
This signals the hegemonic influence of captive mind ideas exerted upon our higher education system through the philosophy of neoliberal economic system that champions the cause of corporatization of all higher learning institutions. The goal of this corporatizaion agenda is to produce human capital for the job market. This phenomenon can easily be detected by observing the university’s benchmark for success which is largely based on the numbers of graduates successfully securing jobs after leaving the university. The labeling of graduates as ‘human capital’ to indicates the end product of a university does shows how a university student, as a knowledge-seeking individual, has been dehumanized subconsciously by the captive mind ideas of neoliberal economic education. By pursuing this manner of rationalizing its benchmarking and labeling, the corporatized university has rendered its student into a ‘one dimensional man’.
In 1997, an international level conference on the government’s role in the so-called knowledge-based economy was organized by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The participants were mostly leaders of developing countries. The findings from this conference, as stated in its report, serve only to stress ‘the importance of higher education as a major factor in paving the route for all nations to be part of a global economic network by developing human capital and also improving the research in science and technology’. From this report, it can be seen clearly that education can be manipulated as a tool for promoting the capitalist economic system by means of producing economic input in the form of human capital, without ever considering the higher purpose of education as outlined in most religious traditions, namely, to produce a good human being. There are stark differences between the goals of producing an engineer for the job market, and producing a good human being. Most higher learning institutions aim to produce competent professionals for industries and businesses without ever considering the greater non-material goals of education. Thus, the end product of our universities is the good worker, as in a good robot, for the narrow-confines of the factory in which he works, but not be a good human being in the wider, more complex context of society and the community in which he or she lives. Unsurprisingly, notions that once constituted the central core of the educational endeavor, such as the inculcation of good ethics and morality, including a transcendent vision of life, are no longer stressed explicitly as the goal of education in modern day universities.
The financial meltdown of Wall Street, environmental disasters and all sorts of humankind problems are directly or indirectly brought about through the hands of the ‘educated’ experts nurtured in those captive-minded universities. The narrow mentality in the understanding the purpose of education as merely filling the various vacancies of the capitalist economic system produces the homo economicus par excellence who is devoid of any deep-conceptual understanding of moral questions and other essential qualities constituting a good human being.
With their limited sense of intellectual empowerment as a result of the rigid compartmentalization, graduates with a degree in a White Studies discipline often reproduce Western modernity in their own backyard. This syndrome fits the connotation of the captive mind intellectuals finding solace in the pious pretence that Western knowledge is the sum total of all human knowledge. Being “educated” in the eye of a captive-minded intellectual is to take Western science as the ultimate arbiter of truth even in matters of religion.
Generally, all higher education institutions in the Third World countries have the same educational structure. Almost the entire academic arena in the respective universities is framed by Western knowledge structures. In sociology, the likes of Dukheim and Weber are more renowned than Ibn Khaldun and Malik ben Nabi. In the economic subjects, the fiscal theories of Keynes, Marx and Adam Smith dominate the discourse to the near exclusion of other theorists from different schools of thought residing outside the Western intellectual paradigm. No one would have thought that studying the monetary and fiscal theory of al-Maqrizi could give insights into understanding the ongoing financial meltdown. In short, from political science to medical studies, the only kind of knowledge recognized as such by captive minds is the one generated from Western sources. All other kinds are deemed unfit to be considered for inclusion in the standard syllabus.
Remedy for the captive mind syndrome
In order to curb the captive mind syndrome in the university, we must revert to the original model that has produced dynamic, self-confident intellectuals in the past. One of the foremost civilizations that have proven to be successful in this area of intellectual self-determination is the Islamic civilization.
The role of knowledge can never be underestimated in the religion of Islam as it is clearly stated in The Holy Qur’ān and prophetic traditions (hādith). Western orientalists also tend to admit the rise of Islamic civilization as largely owing to its cultivation of knowledge. The success of this civilization essentially consists of the integration of knowledge (reason) into spirituality (revelation) resulting in the unfoldment of a great creative force in the annals of human history. In Islamic intellectual history, one finds that before a foreign science being accepted into the corpus of authentic Islamic knowledge, that science must undergone a process, brief or protracted, of ‘filtration’ or ‘naturalization’ or ‘islamization’.
By using this intellectual historical model, I believe that the captive mind syndrome can be overcome a process of ‘Islamization of contemporary knowledge’ as articulated by Profesor Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas. The very foundation of this process is the worldview of Islam, ru’yat al Islām li al wujūd.
Generally, Islamization of contemporary knowledge can be understood as a process that emphasizes the correct definition about the meaning of important key terms such as education, happiness, development and others that have significant impact in developing coherent Islamic weltanschauung. As being elaborated further by Wan Mohd Nor Wan Daud:
He applies his conception of Islamization of the mind through linguistic means, either by reintroducing certain Arabic-Islamic terms and concepts in Malay or in English in order to reflect the Islamic vision of reality and truth, or in some instances, by applying both. Islamization of existing key terms and concepts in Malay, Arabic or in other families of Islamic languages that have been restricted or misinterpreted in the first few centuries after Hijrah, as al-Attas understands and practices it, is not only an attempt at dewesternization, or more specifically desecularization of their meanings and implications, but also a process of re-Islamization or a return or devolution to their original Islamic meanings. That is why al-Attas takes great care to carefully define and explain the key terms and concepts that he is using, whether in English, Malay or Arabic. His insistence on correct definition of key terms and concepts is proverbial and has become on of his salient characteristics.
The concept of Islamization of contemporary knowledge emphasizes the right usage of language. Due to the nature of linguistic expression as an integral part of cognitive activity, it is of utmost important for the individual to be precise in using the correct and best possible key terms, while at the same time elucidating the right meaning for that particular key terms. In regard to foundational aspects of religion, wrong usage of language will create confusion in the understanding of worldview of Islam. Wrong usage of terms will definitely cause semantic change in theological and epistemological concepts as well as the way a person interprets reality and truth (al-haqq) and hence the way he or she organizes experience of that reality. Therefore extra precaution must be taken in the public use of key-terms and terminologies, particularly in regard to the subject of knowledge and religion.
There is a significant relation between the meaning of important Islamic key terms and the fard ‘ayn (obligation towards the Self) knowledge. This is because the meanings of important concepts are explained through the knowledge framework derived from the Holy Qu’rān and prophetic traditions (hādith). This is where we can see the importance of fard ‘ayn knowledge (or knowledge that is foundational to the individual) in the educational process of the university. The fard ‘ayn knowledge that needs to be taught is not the same as the one already taught at the primary level of education, simply because fard ‘ayn knowledge is not static in nature but dynamic. It increases in conceptual depth, complexity and sophistication in tandem with the increasing requirements of the scope of responsibility of an individual in the various domains of his or her involvement in private and public life as well as in the various strata of social organization. With this kind of knowledge, we can prepare a strong foundation for students in constructing their understanding of important Islamic concepts in order to undertake the process of Islamization of contemporary knowledge by which they are able to filter out wheat from chaff whenever they encounter the various Westernized knowledge disciplines through the course of their learning and educational process. If we envision the role of university as a place to educate people to be good, wholesome human beings, the fard ‘ayn knowledge about religion and the higher intangible aspects of life must be set as the basis for the learning process at the tertiary level itself, and not merely at the primary or secondary level of education.
As prescribed by al-Attas, the fard ‘ayn knowledge that needs to be offered at the tertiary level of higher education must be based on:
1) The Holy Qur’ān: its recitation, and interpretation (tafsīr and ta’wīl).
2) The Sunnah, the life of the Holy Prophet; the history and message of the
Prophets before him; the hadīth and its authoritative transmission.
3) The Sharī’ah: jurisprudence and law.
5) Islamic metaphysics; psychology, cosmology and ontology.
6) Linguistic sciences: Arabic, its grammar, lexicography and literature.
The relationship between illuminative spiritual knowledge (fard ‘ayn) and pragmatic scientific knowledge (fard kifayah) is like this: the first kind of knowledge will explain the mystery of creation and its existence as well as explaining about the relationship between creation and its Creator. It can also help to explain the real purpose and meaning of education. The foundational and hence obligatory illuminative knowledge should form the transcendent guidance to the scientific knowledge which falls under the category of fard kifayah. Without this illuminative knowledge as the principle of integration, confusion and doubt will arise in searching for the meaning and the true purpose of education in the diverse disciplines on offer at the university, resulting in cognitive fragmentation and inversion of the order of priority of the individually and the socially obligatory, that is, the conflation of the fardu ‘ayn with the fard kifayah to the extent of the complete eclipse of the former.
The current state of our higher learning institution
According to Professor al-Attas:
There have not been in the history of the cultural, religious and intellectual tradition of Islam, distinct ages characterized by a preponderance of a system of thought based upon materialism or idealism, supported by attendant methodological approaches and positions like empiricism, rationalism, realism, nominalism, pragmatism, positivism, logical positivism, criticism, oscillating between centuries and emerging one after another right down to our time.
This kind of phenomena has destabilized the hierarchical order of knowledge system in modern day Islamic civilization due to our ignorance about the original framework of the Islamic knowledge system that has been prescribed and constructed superbly by our great scholars and thinkers of the august past.
However, today’s reality shows that generally the institutes of higher learning like the university, be it is overemphasizing the requirement of the job market. The shortage of human capital in fulfilling the desire of the ever-growing, neoliberal capitalist economic system has altered the dimension of education in universities, which now embrace the educational philosophy of pragmatism without ever considering the imperative of conceptual and contextual filtering of the knowledge corpus in line with the Islamic worldview.
Due to our ignorance, and hence unconsciously, we have opened the Pandora’s Box of Western secular worldview infusing the West-centric knowledge system governing the learning process in most of the Third World countries’ institutions of higher learning, resulting in what the Iranian thinker has called the disease of occidentosis. This is unsurprising, as knowledge has never been free of values, and will always be shaped by the worldview and cultural milieu of its proponents, by the particular national or civilizational entity generating that knowledge.
Besides engaging the questions of structure and substance of the knowledge system that are outlined in Westernized higher education system, the fundamental question of the meaning and purpose of education has also to be clarified properly. We need to realize that education in Islam is to produce the good man, the whole (kulli) man, the total man, the man of adab, and not merely to produce the good secular citizen, or statesman, like the ideal propagated by the West which is blind to the higher, transcendent meaning of man.
Currently, due to captive mind mentality, the definition of education in most Third World countries has been influenced widely by the educational philosophy of pragmatism and utilitarianism rooted in the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, John Dewey and other thinkers of the Western tradition who shared the same basic paradigm of thinking. That this should happen is due to the fact that we have been trapped into a dichotomous status quo of developed versus developing countries resulting the “global faith” of ‘development’ projected by the post-World War II hegemonic West, without ever considering the need to be critical about it. Thus, the problems of Third World countries can never be solved as long as they allow themselves to come under the sway of their former colonial masters’ mindset.
Even a glance at the current malaise of our world today, ranging from environmental degradation, despiritualized life to moral decadence, the like of which has no precedence in terms of the systematic and institutional nature of the problem, and in terms of its prevalence in every important field of humankind activities, such as in politics, economics, ethics and education. One must be able to find its root cause in order to solve the problem, simply because the problem is radical in nature and demands radical remedy. In this matter, al-Attas has rightly concluded that the root cause of our problem is the loss of adab, which is refers to:
The loss of discipline—the discipline of body, mind and soul; the discipline that assure the recognition and acknowledgement of one’s proper place in relation to one’s self, society and Community; the recognition and acknowledgement of one’s proper place in relation to one’s physical, intellectual, and spiritual capacitites and potential; the recognition and acknowledgement of the fact that knowledge and being are ordered hierarchically.
This state of perpetual confusion at all levels of personal and societal leadership are due to the loss of justice, to oneself and to others, which in turn betrays a very personal confusion in knowledge. The confusion and error in knowledge in turns create a condition which enables false leaders to emerge and to thrive, causing the condition of injustice to perpetuate. The rise of leaders who are not qualified for valid leadership of the Muslim Community, who do not possess the high moral, intellectual and spiritual standards required for Islamic leadership, who perpetuate the condition of confusion and error in knowledge and ensure the continued control of the affairs of the Community by leaders like them who dominate in all fields, from the very private to the very public.
From what has been elaborated thus far, we can see clearly that institutions of higher learning like universities and the colleges can also be part of an overall systemic subversion of true knowledge, thus perpetrating confusion and error in matters of pedagogy and knowledge. Thus, the captive mind syndrome is one of the many forms of the disease of confusion infusing the mindsets of intellectuals and students, either in a conscious or unconscious manner.
The condition of confusion and error in knowledge is ripe enough for alien concepts like secularism, and liberalism that has become the sine qua non of the Western worldview to penetrate into the consciousness of innocent and vulnerable intellectuals and students in the university. Western worldview is diametrically opposed to Islamic and other sacral worldviews, therefore it is not possible for the former and the latter to be reconciled, especially in terms of the educational process without first filtering its body of knowledge framed by that Western, modern, secular outlook to life and existence.
The solution outlined by al-Attas in the name of Islamization of contemporary knowledge is a very significant and a relevant vaccine to cure the corrupted and confused mind of our scholars as well the students who have been trapped in this kind of framework. If we fail to understand this problem, and does not feel any remorse towards our inability to correct the intellectual wrongs, then we suffer the consequences, as had happened in the past, especially in the time of the great scholar of Islam, Abū Hāmid al-Ghazālī (1058-1111 A.D), who saw the corrupted scholars as the root cause of the malaise of the Islamic community throughout the Muslim world, which in turn paved the path for the great destruction in the hands of the Mongols and Crusaders.
Al-Ghazālī had contemplated and saw the root cause of the problems of his time, which was almost similar to the problems of our era in terms of the loss of adab. The revival of adab a 100 years later, with the rise of Salahuddin al-Ayyubi and his generation, was the real catalyst in the Muslims, liberation of Jerusalem from the Crusaders. The studies made by Dr. Majid Irsan al-Kilani has uncovered the subtle connection between the role al-Ghazālī played through his magnum opus, Ihya al-Ulum al-Din (The Revival of Religious Sciences) and the paving of the way for the rise of a great generation of scholars like the renowned Sufi, Shaykh Abd al-Qadir al-Jīlānī, whose students later become the teachers and mentors to the generation of Salahuddin al-Ayyubi who put back the Islamic civilization to its proper place in the world.
What al-Ghazālī had done is now being done afresh in the works of al-Attas, namely to accomplish the restortion adab back into the education of humankind. Islamization of contemporary knowledge is the way forward to replace the captive mindset with a creative mindset, to rid the Ummah of a malignant tumor hindering their true role in the world.
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