“Pirate philosophers” and the Universities that Will Not Love Them

by zunguzungu

At the risk of taking an un-serious farce of a column too seriously[1], this sort of thing could only be written by someone trying to rationalize why the club wouldn’t have him, right? Why the Chronicle of Higher Education would decide to run it is beyond me, but the point seems worth making: a man who begins his essay on why he chose not to be an academic — “Academic English Is Not a Club I Want to Join” — by flagging the basic difference between himself and women not only has no business in a classroom, but they will have no chance of being hired if they insist on this claim’s validity:

“When considering an occupation, most people look for a role model…I can’t use women as role models because they are not like me. We think differently.”

As a teacher, part of your job is to model scholarly practice for your students. And if a woman is unthinkable as a model for you as an academic, how will you relate to your female students in the classroom without being — not to put too fine a point on this — the kind of blithely sexist asshole he presents himself here as being? The evidence that our actions produce gendered results as a function of our beliefs about gender is actually a lot stronger than the evidence that there is some basic underlying difference. Which is really the other thing: that men and women are fundamentally different is not a fact but a theory, and while it is possible to offer evidence in support of it, most people who take its truth for granted are, like this fellow, not thinking or arguing but simply asserting. They are confident enough of their correctness to act on it without needing (or admitting the need) of rational proof. And the fact that they do not require evidence of its truth to do so is why they should not be put in a position to able to do so.

But the one interesting thing about this article is the way he re-narrates his alienation from the academy as his rejection of it. Certainly the person who wrote this article should never be a professor; it makes me feel better about academia that this repugnant fellow was alienated from it. But note how comprehensively he leaves un-thought the reasons why the academy is the way it is. While the fact that English departments aren’t right for a person like him is a failing on their part — and can have no rationale; why would anyone read “Marcuse, Adorno, Foucault, and other theorists”? — he puts a lot of thought into why he is and must be the person he is, autobiographing the uninteresting reasons why he has become such a delicate lost soul, doomed to be a “a postmodern baby with high modernist values” in an academic culture that just won’t understand him. In other words, while their lack of desire to have him must be unthinkable — and is therefore carefully unthought — his reasons for being the person he is (who they have doubtless shown themselves not to want) has become a virtual statement in support of his own withdrawn candidacy. Having been rejected, he makes a list of his virtues, and decides he’s better off on his own. I reject you!

It’s hard to believe this guy is even real; these other two articles he’s written for the Chronicle — here and here — are at least as aggressively stupid, and equally sexist. Taken as a whole, they make you fear for his mental balance a little, and the Chronicle‘s editorial judgment a lot. But if he’s a real person, then he feels alienated because he wants to rep for an ethos that academia has struggled to rid itself of, and has only very imperfectly managed to do so. And this fact has no doubt made many people in his department glad to see him choose a different way, and contributed to his finding academia unsuited for him. There was a time not so long ago when academia was a complete and total WASP club, when a young academic would get a job because his advisor would call up his fraternity buddy and tell him that he had a really first rate student that he should hire, and then he would. It will therefore not startle you to learn that women didn’t exactly flourish in this system. That time was only a few generations ago. Women weren’t welcomed into the ranks of the professoriate until very recently, and not because they were self-absorbed and un-selfconscious douche bags like this bright young boy: they were not welcomed into the academy because they were viewed as “not like me…They think differently” by every man on every hiring committee. And while the expectation that the ideal professor will have a wife to relieve him of his familial duties may not be as common as it once was, a great many professors are still among the ranks of professional women whose workplace thinks of their choice to have children as a selfish decision not to have a career, or of their status as female as the most important thing about them.

[1] I risk I run for you, dear reader, gladly.