Saturday, May 2, 2015

Quotation of the Day

There was a time when academia was society’s refuge for the eccentric, brilliant, and impractical. No longer. It is now the domain of professional self-marketers. As a result, in one of the most bizarre fits of social self-destructiveness in history, we seem to have decided we have no place for our eccentric, brilliant, and impractical citizens. Most languish in their mothers’ basements, at best making the occasional, acute intervention on the Internet. - David Graeber

Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit

Graeber, an increasingly visible anthropologist and public intellectual (he might not like that phrase), re-visited this theme in a recent interview with The Guardian:

Academia was, he muses, once a haven for oddballs – it was one of the reasons he went into it. “It was a place of refuge. Not any more. Now, if you can’t act a little like a professional executive, you can kiss goodbye to the idea of an academic career.” 

Why is that so terrible? “It means we’re taking a very large percentage of the greatest creative talent in our society and telling them to go to hell … The eccentrics have been drummed out of all institutions.”

David Graeber Interview

I have spent enough time working in universities (not just in the United States) to endorse this analysis 100%. The academic eccentric is a figure of the past, and we are all the worse off for that. Much has been made lately of the difficulties that John Forbes Nash, Jr. and Alan Turing ran into because they were schizophrenic and homosexual, respectively. Today, all it would take for them to have their careers stall entirely would be to be as brilliant as they were, and just a little bit offbeat. They would be toast. We would never hear of them.

The Utopia of Rules (David Graeber)

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