Here was the last question in the series:
We all know that I hate collective identities and refuse to join any of them. Except one. Which is this single collective identity that I not only acknowledge but am proud of possessing? (For one point).
And a supplementary question: Why? What makes this identity so much more attractive than others? (For 2,5 points.)
The answer is that the single collective identity I acknowledge is that of an immigrant. This is an identity of a person who actively shapes her life and refuses to accept “what the accident of your birth has given you”, to use the words of my favorite writer Juan Goytisolo. This is not a collective identity that just happens to you (like gender, race, ethnicity, linguistic group, etc.). This is something you control.
Now I would like to explain why I don’t feel part of the collective identity of academics. As we all know, I love academia and would not leave it even had I won those $600,000,000 in a lottery. I like my fellow academics for their dedication to their (often arcane and weird) fields of study, their passion for learning, their erudition, their refined sensibilities, their unusual hobbies, their rich vocabulary. Still, more often than not, I feel completely alienated from other academics. This happens for two reasons:
1. Academics love scheming and intrigue. It is highly possible that all human collectives are this way. I haven’t really worked in any other environment but I hear from people that sales companies, law firms, hospitals, etc. have the same kind of petty war-mongering.
If there is one thing I hate about human beings in general and my fellow academics in particular is the incomprehensible joy they derive from creating and dragging out ridiculous, petty squabbles. Instead of approaching a colleague who has offended them and saying openly, “Look, you offended me. I’m upset”, they engage in delivering a series of oblique hits to the offender meant to damage him or her without ever letting the poor sucker know for sure what actually caused the aggravation. As a result, the offender can never really make amends for the damage and is dragged into delivering a series of similarly oblique blows. This sort of idiocy then continues for years or decades, involving everybody around in the meaningless warfare.
How is this not completely insane?
2. Another quality I hate in academics – and one that other professions definitely do not share* – is whining. I am convinced that it is not fashionable among bus drivers, waiters, dentists, business people, lawyers, astronauts, etc. to complain publicly, obnoxiously, and endlessly about the horrible hardship of having to find a dry cleaner’s and attend a meeting. In my profession, on the other hand, it is not fashionable to avoid complaining. Of course, not everybody is that way, but too many people are.
Spending any amount of time with a group of academics invariably leads to me hearing that what we do is useless, nobody appreciates us, our social status is lower than anybody else’s, students are stupid, life is intolerable, and the world is about to end in some particularly horrible fashion.
Have you spent any time with people who work in sales? I have. Their profession is not at all easy. But at no point have I heard them spout as many doom-and-gloom scenarios as academics do at any given time.
Of course, academics don’t really believe all of these apocalyptic ideas they deliver with scary regularity. Just like the academic scheming and war-mongering, it’s a sort of a game. An identity-creating game that exists for its own sake and is highly enjoyable to the players.
It is not a game I am equipped to play, however. Which is why I can’t identify with my fellow academics and feel too different from them.
* I haven’t seen equivalents to the insanely popular College Misery website of the Hospital Misery or Restaurant Misery variety. And it isn’t like waiters, paramedics, nurses, and chefs don’t often work in extremely harsh conditions that no professor ever experiences. And frequently for a lot less money.