Institutional Decay

What are institutions for? What grants their authority? Why should we listen to them? These and many other questions can be asked by someone similar to me, someone with a mindset of continual questioning. Or maybe someone who trends against authority.

I have a skeptical mindset, often wanting to question the reasons why things are the way they are. It’s the right mindset to have when being a scientist, never taking the first answer as gospel, always testing and retesting to get at the truth. Science, after all, is a process. Science isn’t a thing. The fact that things in the natural world function in particular ways isn’t science; science was the process that was used to discover the ways that things work.

Anyway, after that brief digression, let’s get back to the meat of this topic.

Institutions take many forms in this society. They can be a collection of expertise, a gatekeeper, a forbearer of knowledge, a governing body, and many more things. It can also stand as a loose collection of ideas that form around a premise. Their purpose might vary wildly, but often, institutions are an authority regarding the way things work in said given area. Using schools in this case, public and private grade schools and then colleges and universities function as institutions of education and learning. They fill a number of the definitions above, such as a collection of expertise and particularly the forbearer of knowledge, among others.
Society looks towards institutions for guidance. But do we need them? (See, there’s this questioning thing I spoke of.)

There are a few sides to this story here. There are some who shun the idea of institutions, who believe that they need to be torn down. A good example here is the idea of indie writers vs the institution that is traditional publishing. Traditional publishing more falls in line of the “loose collection of ideas that form around a premise”. These ideas follow from the time where printing and mass distribution was a high cost endeavor. This topic itself can be expounded, just not here. Anyway, many indie writers see the institution of traditional publishing as a relic from a foregone era, hence being in need of tearing down.

Continuing with the indie writers vs traditional publishing theme, there are those who believe that the institution, while it remains important, needs reformed. In the case here, it would be those who want the institution to stand, but believe that it needs to be gutted and renovated. These are the people that see value in having the institution continue as an authority in the industry, although they admit that the way they operate has been corrupted or has gone stale. These people would see traditional publishing stand and regain some of its prior stature while leaving some room for us interlopers to be indies and for indies to remain as alternatives rather than the norm.

There’s also a subset of the above who see it much the same way, but rather than the institution remaining as the authority, it gets the aforementioned reforms but also is regulated to a lesser stature in the industry. In other words, it gets fixed, and it is still there, but it no longer holds the position it once held. These people would like to see traditional publishing remain, but for them to become the alternative to indie rather than the other way around.

Then there’s finally those who seek there to be no change and that everything needs to continue as it was before. These people see indies as upstarts that are only disrupting something that they see as working perfectly fine. They want no change. None.

Gradients of the above 4 examples exist and they spread depending on what institution one speaks. I fall somewhere in the middle. And while I see many of what we call institutions come under question in this post-COVID (although it’s still very much a during-COVID) world, I believe that in many ways they still do serve purposes. I see this more as things got too comfortable for too long and now that the system is coming under strain, these institutions have become too rigid and cracks are forming due to said strain.

Institutions, such as police, education, healthcare, etc, have been permitted to continue to operate in particular ways with little intervention because things were going too well. We obliged their shortcomings or mistakes or faults because everything was going swimmingly and we didn’t want to risk rocking the boat. But maybe we should have been questioning these things the whole time as many were (but whom were seen more as those pesky interlopers only trying to ruin a good time).

I hope to look deeper into this topic over the coming months, looking at the way various institutions have been faring and maybe what we do with them. For now, maybe just think in your own way what institutions in your own life still serve the purpose they always have and then maybe those you wish were gone. I am sure there are many conflicts there too.

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