Saturday, August 7, 2010

Crude, the Post-Academic.

I'm not sure when my respect for academics took a nosedive. My respect specifically for scientists and science... that loss I can recall with greater clarity, and I'll write about it someday. But for academics? That's a question lost to me. It could be I never had much respect for them - I don't remember being beholden to the teachers at my (Catholic) high school. I certainly didn't have much reverence for them when I attended a (Public, state) university, where the manipulation and politicization was more striking.

Whatever the case, the short story is I'm an academic skeptic. When I read a newspaper article and I see words like "(PersonName), a professor of sociology at (University), had this to say:", my gut reaction is "Well, here comes some weak bullshit." For "sociology", you can swap in just about any soft science or liberal arts degree you wish. Or, if the question is one set in the sphere of the soft sciences or liberal arts, a professor in any field whatsoever.

That's not to say there aren't certain academics I hold in esteem, or that I dismiss what they say simply because they're academics. It's just that I rate their view on the same level as "Some random guy on the street who has probably read a few books on the subject in question", rather than "An authoritative voice". I'm not that impressed by consensus on these subjects either - if the majority of philosophers of ethics were to decide tomorrow that it's ethical to steal from people with six figure or higher incomes, my response wouldn't be to argue with them, or to seek out some philosophers in the minority who agree with me. I'm quite capable of saying "Those guys are a bunch of fuckwits" all by my lonesome.

Let me put it this way. You've heard of post-modernism? Well, I'm a post-academic. Where the Enlightenment sought to remove power (secular and intellectual) from certain traditional sources (The Church, the nobility, etc), I'm all in favor of removing power and authority from professors and members of academia in general. In fact, I'd like to see quite a lot of them fired and replaced by a combination of certifications and autodidactic habit.

I'm not mounting any arguments against academic authority or credentials or what have you here. I'm just saying where I'm coming from, in part because I now and then get the feeling that most people feel they need to fight fire with fire - or in this case, academics with academics. "Did sociologist or economist or psychologist or philosopher X say Y about subject Z? Well, now *I* need to go find a sociologist or economist or psychologist or philosopher who will say A about Z!" As far as I'm concerned, that simply feeds the problem. Instead of fighting over who controls these individuals and these institutions, they should be made as irrelevant as possible.

That's not to say there aren't numerous philosophers or academics I hold in esteem, even if I disagree with them on this or that subject. But that esteem for those individuals in no way trumps my dislike for the system, culture, and structures in question.

2 comments:

IlĂ­on said...

"Let me put it this way. You've heard of post-modernism? Well, I'm a post-academic. Where the Enlightenment sought to remove power (secular and intellectual) from certain traditional sources (The Church, the nobility, etc), I'm all in favor of removing power and authority from professors and members of academia in general."

That is, you wisely reject the "Cult Of The Expert."

Crude said...

I suppose I go a step further, since I actively want the formal education systems and culture overhauled in far-reaching ways. But yes - "cult of the expert" is a good way to put it.