The Great Graduate Diaspora

by rsbakker

Aphorism of the Day: The inside, at its most devious, will swear up and down that it’s been locked out.

First, I would like to apologize for falling behind on replying to comments: I hope to have an opportunity to catch up soon.

Also, I’ve been refraining on commenting on the FAN FIC submissions simply because I was afraid that it would stifle discussion. But I’m starting to worry I was mistaken. I’m thinking it might be cool to set up a FAN ART page as well, to keep adding to the amount of available content.

Larry at the OF Blog has actually reviewed both of the Atrocity Tales – welcome to the Information Age! Not only are authors effortlessly publishing drafts for universal consumption, reviewers are effortlessly publishing reviews of them. Larry is one of a growing number of ‘independent scholars’ who are helping tear down the boundaries between popular and academic culture. Over the past few decades the ratio between graduate students in the humanities and tenure-track positions has become more than dismal. I have friends with encyclopedic CVs who simply cannot find work anywhere within the Anglosphere–short of dead-end, poverty-level-paying sessional positions.

On an individual level, this is nothing short of disastrous. On a policy level this raises troubling questions about funding, since most graduate programs draw on the public purse. On a cultural level–at least I think, anyway–this ‘excess interpretative capacity’ has revolutionary potential.

Academic culture breeds ingroup specialization, which in turn breeds identification against non-specialists. The apparently endless rightward creep in voter attitudes over the past few decades, even in the face of middle-class stagnation and the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, is a supercomplicated social phenomena with supercomplicated contributing factors. One of them, I have been arguing, is the thematization and popularization of anti-intellectualism.

For years now I have been voting for the socialist New Democrats here in Canada, not for any ideological reasons (I actually have many problems with their platform), but because all the economic promises made by the right in the 80’s simply never materialized–unless you happened to be rich in the first place, that is. The primary problem with anti-intellectualism, as I see it, is not so much the way it makes a virtue out of ignorance as the way it tribalizes claims. The brain is a reluctant problem-solver: it’s far more interested in sorting claims according to social criteria rather than evaluating them on their independent merits. So when a relatively uncontroversial claim such as ‘Money is Power’ is painted with the colours of the enemy, it literally becomes impossible to debate the kinds of problems that inevitably fall out of the concentration of wealth. Thus the genuinely crazy irony of working-class voters consistently voting against their economic self-interests at the ballot box. Trickle-down economics simply does not work. If three decades of middle-class stagnation aren’t proof enough, then what is? Meanwhile more and more capital/power falls into the hands of the wealthy, who happen to be hardwired to confuse their narrow self-interest with divine law.

Even right-wing moderates (such as the estimable David Brooks, or even the editorial board of The Economist) are alarmed at the trends.

The ingroup excesses of liberal academia, I think, and the mass reaction against them, have rendered a whole demographic swathe of the North American population impervious to any kind of traditional appeal. As soon as you identify yourself against, conceding claims becomes a form of ingroup defection–‘treachery.’ In other words, what was difficult to begin with becomes all but impossible.

What might be called the Great Graduate Diaspora could very well be the remedy to this vast and potentially catastrophic social short circuit. Barred from the very ingroup they have toiled to join, humanities graduates are forced to join the rest of us, to communicate to people not like themselves. And they’re also forced to critically reevaluate what they were thinking in the first place, which is to say, the nature of the institution they thought they were buying into. There’s nothing quite like being locked out to make you critical of what’s within.