Friday, July 18, 2008

academia is full of academics

I teach philosophy for a living, but it's more serious than that. I have a Ph.D. in philosophy. I read philosophical books. Philosophy is entangled in my life in all kinds of ways.

I'm also involved in this thing called academia, which is best described as an institution. In this institution are a whole bunch of academics. What are academics? For purposes of this entry, they are people who spend oodles of time interpreting the world as if it belonged to their own academic discipline, or to some academic discipline. They also spend oodles of time talking and writing about academia, and for some reason I read some of this stuff, for instance, the Chronicle of Higher Education's multi-authored blog called "Brainstorm." For the most part, I'm not sure why I read this. If you take a look at it, you'll ask the same question, I bet.

In addition to academics, academia is populated by other people whom academics think of as being "students," or "staff," or "librarians," or "adjuncts" (that is, other faculty who have no job security, few or no benefits, little or no autonomy over their labor, etc.). Academics develop presumptive characterizations of the lives, attitudes, behaviors, and motivations of these people on the basis of their being identified as one of these types. Students, for instance, are or should be people whose primary interest and central life pursuit is study.

I know, I know, it's hilarious. It gets funnier, though, because as a result of these presumptions, academics are continually stunned to find, for instance, that college students don't read much for pleasure. What next? Will surveys reveal that students aren't actually riveted to their seats by faculty lectures? Or that students don't regard faculty as brilliant sages? Maybe students even drink to excess from time to time!

Is there an explanation for this?

Obviously, I don't buy the neo-con bullshit that labels academics as "elites." Academics have no real power, and no real wealth. They couldn't drive a political agenda if all the reins of power were handed to them. They don't even have the ability to generate acolytes. The germ of truth in this otherwise slanderous stereotype is that academics behave with fairly astounding, and blinding, self-importance. Sometimes it's truly obnoxious, but for the most part it's expressed in mundane ways the Brainstorm column makes painfully evident: constant amazement that the world doesn't correspond to the well-reasoned conceptualization developed by highly trained minds.


Bobo the Wandering Pallbearer said...

And, to put a fine point on it, the academic you're describing would respond to this diatribe by giving you Dumb Look #3 and saying "I don't understand your question?"

(Not the absence of any actual question. Get it? It a generic ad hominem attack!!! Pretty cool, huh!?!)

Doc Nagel said...

"Given what you've said, so what?"