thumping the tub
Tub-Thumper - 1. A speaker or preacher who for emphasis thumps the pulpit; a violent or declamatory preacher or orator; a ranter. (from oed.com). This blog will be a combination of reasoned posting somedays and an occasional rant.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
ACADEMIA NUTS

That's true, I agree with him. The intellectual tradition is one of servility to power, and if I didn't betray it, I'd be ashamed of myself.[i] (Noam Chomsky)


One would think that in universities some of the finest minds of their time come together to work out new ideas and solutions. Sadly, this is not the case. The most closed minds I come across tend to be in the academic world. As an undergrad I spent years being dismissed as a fringe conspiracy nut because I kept bringing up the Project for the New American Century. I was saying that this very sinister group of people were planning some extremely serious and nasty business. Given that they now hold the positions of US Vice-President, head of the World Bank, US ambassador to the UN, US Secretary of State and many more and have begun a series of illegal wars I feel I have been somewhat vindicated.

I am still in the academic world. I tutor in a university and wanted to do a PhD but the more I look at it the less I want to do it.

The way the academic world works is that you have to specialise to become an expert in your own field and therefore gain repute by virtue of knowing so much about one or other matter. This narrows the focus of enquiry and sometimes seems to lead to a situation whereby academics can only see the world through the single lens of whichever specific area they study. Thinking 'outside the box' (sorry, that is an ugly phrase) or using unconventional sources (particularly from the web) is not always encouraged and is often frowned upon. I don't want this to happen to me.

Part of it is a generational thing. A majority of the employed Doctors and Professors studied from books and journals - not the web. This can lead to a sort of snobbery regarding web sources. You often hear that "there is a lot of rubbish on the web." Well, of course there is but there is a lot of rubbish written in textbooks as well. Academics happen to be very quick to point this out if someone they don't like has written a book.

Post-modern conceptions about the nature of truth may be another barrier between the public and the academic world. It is a form of arrogance to claim that one knows 'the truth' definitively about any one thing and in response to this much academic literature is worded in less forthright language. As Orwell pointed out in 'Politics and the English Language'

"It is easier -- even quicker, once you have the habit -- to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think."

This style of language is also part of the reason that most of the work done in social science departments simply passes the public by.

So is keeping people away from alternative sources of information a deliberate attempt muzzle debate? A term often used in the American labour press was "the bought priesthood". This referred to "the media and the universities and the intellectual class, that is, the apologists who sought to justify the absolute despotism that was the new spirit of the age and to instil its sordid and demeaning values".[1] Not sure if this is true for the US, I think its only partially true here.

I think that many social scientists are far more concerned with the reactions of their peers in the academic world to their work than (i) the Aristotelian, Socratic and Platonic ideas of the 'Intellectual Tradition' (that is, in short, the duty to reflect on the truth then report it back to as many people as possible), (ii) the reaction of the public at large, or (iii) any impact the work may have on societal structures.

[1] From 'Democracy and Education' Noam Chomsky, Mellon Lecture, Loyola University, Chicago 19/10/1994. Available at http://www.zmag.org/chomsky/talks/9410-education.html

[i] On being accused of betraying the intellectual tradition.
posted by michael the tubthumper @ 7:46 pm  
7 Comments:
  • At 8:10 pm, Blogger Chip Nelson said…

    Let's imagine that you are correct and that we are now in the "American Century". Would it not be wise then, if correct, to move to where the century is being conducted from rahter than an island of the coast of Scottland? I live in one and have been to the other and you may very well be correct in your conclusion but wouldn't it be more logical to be where the action is?

    In the "Roman Century", Scottland would have been about as appropriate, no?

    Finally: Those of us who are by birth and are indeed Americans appreciate the Scotch (the beverage) regardless. And your castles are better than the one's I saw in Whales, but then the bitters was better there and they sung a lot more and seemed perfectly happy.

    You have a talent, keep up your good work.

     
  • At 8:13 pm, Blogger Chip Nelson said…

    sorry about the typo by the way, but then non-academia types such as yourself can over look such human frailities or so one would think.

    Cheers!

     
  • At 8:28 pm, Blogger michael the tubthumper said…

    i don't if i am really a non-academia type - i tutor in a university and spend a lot of time on campus but i find the closed mindedness of some of the professors extremely frustrating.

    also, funding bodies are often loaded in such a way as to make sure funding for phds and masters courses most often go to people who are doing topics that are 'safe'

     
  • At 8:29 pm, Blogger michael the tubthumper said…

    missed a word out... that should read i don't know if....

     
  • At 9:16 pm, Blogger JOS said…

    Michael, I think (or should I say "in my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that") you are accomplishing with your blog in its first week, what I have been yearning to accomplish in mine for the past year...writing excellent work that is all your own (not so many damn quotes with "witty" one sentence commentary). There I go using those damn quotation marks again...anyway, nice piece.

     
  • At 9:38 pm, Blogger michael the tubthumper said…

    thanks JOS. nice thing to say.

    p.s. don't put yourself down. i like your blog

     
  • At 10:12 am, Blogger ~River~ said…

    I agree with so much of what you say.

    Some days back, I gave one of my students a paper to write. After she'd read it in front of other senior teachers, she was asked about her sources. When she referred to web sources, she was grilled on her methods. Words that came up frequently for the internet were: haphazard, cluttered, non-academic! I had to jump in to defend the web (and the poor student), but the prejudices are incredible.

    Because the university where I had studied allows a more interdisciplinary approach to literature, my Ph.D. proposal was to do more with 'history' (no, not English History) than with 'literature'. However, the university where I work almost did not grant me study leave for this very reason!

     
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Name: michael the tubthumper
Home: Glasgow, Scotland
About Me: Tub-Thumper - 1. A speaker or preacher who for emphasis thumps the pulpit; a violent or declamatory preacher or orator; a ranter. This blog will be a combination of reasoned posting somedays and an occasional rant. 28 years old, I write and research for a couple of websites and also do my own stuff.
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I have made a few short movies. Here are links to free downloads for them all in the order that I made them (as far as I can remember). Please feel free to use, distribute, disagree with, shout at etc etc

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    some of the blogs I look at
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    A list of some other Scottish sites and blogs most of which, if not all, are pro-independence. I don't agree with content on all of them obviously. Some are Scots at home, others abroad.

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