Jargonauts

The Accidental Elitist By Maximillian Alvarez

“What came first,” in the immortal words of Nick Hornby, “the music or the misery?” During one of the most highly anticipated panels at the biggest academic conference of the year in my field, I’m sitting on the floor with a bunch of other eager dopes who didn’t show up in time to snag a seat. Everyone’s still in high spirits, though. One of the hottest names in “theory” today is running the panel and all the papers sound fascinating, in an obsessive hobbyist sort of way—it all promises to be a thunderous nerdgasm.

Then, halfway through the panel, it hits me: this is awful. The redeeming insights are just so few and far between, stranded between deserts of lame, forced conference humor and straightforward, even banal points dressed up in comically unnecessary jargon. And everyone in the audience keeps nodding. I’m annoyed first, then just overwhelmingly sad. Being overwhelmingly sad is, to be fair, a regular part of being an academic, and oftentimes it can feel like there’s just something about the profession that attracts overwhelmingly sad people. But, for the first time, I start to wonder if it’s not just me. In my head, all I can hear is Hornby by way of John Cusack . . . Did I join academia because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I joined academia?

There’s something serious going on here, and we need to talk about it. No, this will not be another rambling naval-gazing excursis on what “the role of the academic” should be. Instead, I hope to isolate the sick blisters on the academic body politic that are rotting away our ability to even talk about such things in mildly interesting, let alone useful, ways.

To be an academic in today’s America is to be plunged into a perennial identity crisis. And like most academic things, it’s a maddeningly elliptical, recursive, and small-bore sort of crisis. Fueling all our self-indulgent angst is a never-fully-acknowledged social contract, the one that, via countless professional canons and conventions, confirms your choice to be a so-called academic, to assume it not only as a profession, but an identity, and to wear on yourself the trappings that come with that identity without stopping to wonder how necessary they really are and whether they are actually killing your ability to be and do something better. Most of the time this doesn’t even feel like a choice at all, but it is. At other times, how to deal with this choice may seem more or less like a personal matter. But, in the age of Trump, the public implications of this choice, the civic implications, have been exposed more than ever before, and the stakes are as high as they’re going to get.

 

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Despre Claudiu Degeratu
Expert in securitate nationala, internationala, NATO, UE, aparare si studii strategice

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