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E-M:/ Why the Professors are, generally, Not Involved with us folks
- Subject: E-M:/ Why the Professors are, generally, Not Involved with us folks
- From: joonmck <email@example.com>
- Date: Thu, 01 Mar 2001 21:58:35 -0500
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- List-Name: Enviro-Mich
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Enviro-Mich message from joonmck <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Note to Alex: The following six paragraphs are "on topic" for this
environmental listserv. I offer a partial explanation as to why the
local academics remain wedded to the classroom (and specialized
journals) rather than the newspaper and neighborhood. I am aware that
many enviro-graduate students at MSU, UM & WMU read the postings on this
terrific listserv. So, count this as a form of persuasion. Remember
students, while your discipline is molding you into specialization, your
country is at risk of losing you. Lend your talents to the social
movements in your backyard...and try to unlearn academic-speak (I'm
In his brilliant offering, "The Last Intellectuals, American Culture in
the Age of Academe, (1987) Russell Jacoby tells us about how C. Wright
Mills, the famous sociologist felt about academic life. "Until his last
years, he retained doubts about academic life, distrusting professional
conventions, which he frequently flouted. While he obviously prized his
Columbia University position. . .he did not settle happily into it; his
colleagues found him abrasive and strident."
Jacoby tells us the story of how U.S. intellectuals once aimed to write
for a huge lay public of educated audience. People like Lewis Mumford,
Dwight Macdonald and Edmund Wilson. But, with the restructuring of
cities, loss of behemias and the growth of the expansion of the
university, many of our brightest intellectuals have been whistling in
the dark, absorbed into the beast of academe.
"To put it sharply," says Jacoby, "the habitat, manners, and idiom of
intellectuals have been transformed in the past fifty years. Younger
intellectuals no longer need or want a larger public; they are almost
exclusively professors. Campuses are their homes; colleagues their
audience; monographs and specialized journals their media [today Jacoby
might add the academic listserv]. Unlike past intellectuals they situate
themselves within fields and disciplines-for good reason. Their jobs,
advancement, and salaries depend on the evaluation of specialists, and
this dependence affects the issues broached and the language
employed…..As intellectuals became academics, they had no need to write
in a public prose; they did not, and finally they could not."
If academe stops some of us. Plain old self-censorship stops many other.
No one better captures this dilemma than the great Frankfurt school
theorist, Theodore Adorno. Here's what he said. . .followed by some
"...the dialectic advances by way of extremes, driving thoughts with the
utmost consequentiality to the point where they turn back on themselves,
instead of qualifying them. The prudence that restrains us from
venturing too far ahead in a sentence, is usually only an agent of
social control, and so of stupefaction." (Adorno, Minima Moralia, p. 86)
In the United States of America, year 2001, a measure of material
freedom is accorded the monied classes; for the rest it's wage slavery.
In politics, it's one dollar one vote; in economics, it's one dollar,
one sliver of leisure. For the desparate, freedom's just another word,
for "nothing left to lose" as Kris Kristopherson put it. Maybe we all
need to feel the pain of a cancer diagnosis, the heel of a sadistic
boss, the loss of a loved one or the clammer of a jailhouse cell before
we are able to summon the courage to speak freely about things. Maybe.
But hopefully not! If we can spend time with real working people, away
from the bazaar rituals of academe, we might be better able to
understand Lao Tzu's epigram, "those who speak do not know; those who
know do not speak." We need to critically dissect the speech of the
un-knowers, and pay witness to the knowers. Just remember my
translations of the voices of those two lads at the Motor Wheel site
(their playground), if you don't quite get what I'm saying.....
"If there are connections everywhere, why do we persist in turning
dynamic, interconnected phenomena into static, disconnected things?"
-- Eric R. Wolf, Anthropologist (1923-1999)
"Insanity in individuals is rare, in nations, epochs
and eras it is the rule."
-- Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Philosopher (1844 - 1900)
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