The original Academy was a public grove in which Plato, his pupils, and invited guests would, through vigorous discussion and debate, attempt to uncover truths about society and human nature. Over time its members and the focus of their discussions evolved, but at heart it remained a forum where the logical strength of one’s argument, and the healthy process of engaging with diverse ideas—even if the ideas in question turned out, ultimately, to be faulty—were all that mattered.
In modern times there has been a shift in focus so severe that Plato and his immediate successors would be hard-pressed to recognize Academia. Scholars are forced to write particular types of articles to pursue funding and fulfill quotas. There is a distinct lack of passion and vibrancy throughout much of modern academia. In order to pass peer-review by persnickety gatekeepers, papers tend to be conservatively written.
These problems derive from the devolution of higher education into something akin to a factory production line, whereby students are seen as revenue to be captured and volume of research as a checkbox to be ticked by ‘impartial’ administrators. Sincere scholars can even run the risk of becoming targets for public exhortation. This stifling state of affairs stands at odds with the principles of academic neutrality and rational analysis. Political groups also exert pressure, with governments, international organizations and think tanks rewarding research supporting their agendas, and targeting those which do not through rewards and boycotts that causes many scholars to lose their passion.
Scholars are, in the Platonic sense, supposed to identify and propose solutions for the failings of the social order. They are at their most useful as intellectual teasers of the mainstream. With this in mind there are two broad areas within which Hestia seeks to provide insight and grounds for action. The first is the unprecedented scale of modern society, which consists of an interwoven network of complex institutional and individual ties making elements of uncertainty an intrinsic element of all human activities, and rendering future prediction in certain realms difficult, if not irresponsible. The second is the issue of freedom of expression. Hestia aspires to be a forum akin to the Platonic grove, where dissident voices can engage in energetic discourse that runs counter to mainstream views. All are welcome.
How we are different
Frequently in academia the originality of a work is determined by its generation of new data. A piece that includes copious notes on new fieldwork or detailed statistical analysis on an experiment is considered to be ‘adding to the Academy’, even if the aims and results are irrelevant to broader society. A yearlong grant might, for example, be awarded to a team of highly paid, tenured professors to carry out work comparing the differences in form between cobblestones crafted in 19th century Belgium and those crafted in 19th century Luxembourg. After which, the world’s two remaining cobblestone experts declare, “Actually, I already knew that,” and “I’m sick to death of cobblestones—what’s on TV?”
We hold no grudge against cobblestone experts, yet anyone familiar with academia will know that far more trivial studies exist and have been funded by universities and governments with little oversight on how their, and the public’s, money is squandered. Too many researchers proudly proclaim that, “No one has studied this before!” without carefully considering precisely why no one chose to do so. At Hestia we do not care about generating data per se, nor do we insist that the work we publish is ‘groundbreaking’. While we applaud original thought, we recognize that 2500 years after Socrates it is difficult to be truly original. In our opinion it may instead be more worthwhile to reintroduce the ideas of great thinkers of the past, and to apply these ideas in ways that are new to our audience. The primary focus is therefore not on originality but the application of good ideas, new and old (and perhaps even original) to the understanding of problems facing contemporary society.
The Flame of Hestia, source of light, purifying fire. Hestia is the Greek goddess responsible for the proper ordering of Home, Family and State. When new colonies were founded, a flame from Hestia’s hearth would be carried to the new settlement as a symbol of the spread of Greek civilization that we recognize (tentatively, not dogmatically) as the root of a free society.
Mendacia in Luce Moriuntur (Lies die in the light)