The University and the Myth of Decline
By Ross Laird
Myths are the most truthful stories we tell. They reach beyond fact and argument to the essence and authentic nature of who we are. Myths are the collected repositories of human wisdom. And every world mythology includes a myth of decline. This myth and its corollary — the myth of redemptive and recaptured glory — are twin narratives in every culture. They match and mirror the trajectories of hope and loss, of empowerment and erasure. They are object lessons in hubris and folly: Atlantis, The Galactic Republic, The Roman Empire, Gilead, The British Empire, Rivendale. The myth of decline describes how these places, how the moods and spirits of a given age, fall away and are lost.
Within the cultures of the University we are now living through the myth of decline. Its signs and stages could not be more clear: old ways abandoned, ancient traditions spurned, shrines of the ancestors neglected and forgotten. Now much scrambling ensues, and debates about the future, and a vigorous campaign to stem the tide. But that tide rises inexorably, and we stand upon a crumbling shore, and we feel the creeping demise of a vast and once-great enterprise. The centre cannot hold.