Why Nothing Gets Done
You know why I hate departmental meetings?
Because nothing ever gets done.
And you know why nothing ever gets done?
Because people – great, well-intentioned, brilliant, hard-working people – keep raising endless, nit-picking objections to every single proposal. As a result, every practical suggestion is drowned in a mass of clarifications, footnotes, parentheses that dilute the suggestion to the point where nothing of value can ever come out of it.
And this annoys me and raises my blood pressure to the point where you can boil a kettle on the nape of my neck.
I was asked to comment on a post that responds to the study of job market trends I linked earlier today. That post illustrates exactly what I find so obnoxious about so many of my colleagues. Its author berates the study’s creator for not mentioning that a global economic crisis started in 2008. Of course, people who have not suffered extensive brain damage in the past five years are not likely to remain unaware of the crisis but who cares about a minor detail like that when you have the perfect opportunity to nitpick?
The rest of the post offers a perfect example of academic self-loathing and temerity. “We need to sit very quietly,” its author seems to suggest. “Because actual human beings find us unacceptable”:
Because here’s the thing: people don’t like academics. They don’t. We can have a long conversation about the reasons why and the consequences, but that’s the fact.
I haven’t met any people who dislike academics, so I’m venturing a guess that they can be found among fans of Fox News and Duck Dynasty. In any case, they are very unlikely to frequent Rebecca Schuman’s blog where the study in question was published. So the idea that we will get “them” to like “us” by making it very clear we have noticed the recession seems a little too hopeful.
Nit-picking and self-loathing are small potatoes, however, compared to the quality that academics possess in excessive degree and that routinely drives me to distraction. I’m talking, of course, of drama-queenishness. I will always feel an alien in this culture of overwrought melodramatic self-pity:
They become, instead, merely more suckers in an economy full of suckers, losers in a society where the loser-winner split is something like 99 to 1. . . They want to represent their very real, very degrading labor market problems and poor working conditions as special, and the academy as a specially exploitative employer. But there is nothing special about us. The academy is a factory, like any other, and we’re all assembly line workers*, and until we accept that fact and work in tandem with the rest of the losers in a comprehensively broken economy, no positive progress will be made.
I read this and I imagine an aging provincial actor who has always played very minor parts and now has suddenly been given an opportunity to play Hamlet. So he wheezes, rages, and thrashes about, knowing that this is his first and last chance to shine.
This happens all the time with academics who slip into cheap melodrama without any provocation. And while we all declaim, preach and rant about the abject horror of our overfed existences, nothing ever gets done.
Of course, the author of the quoted post is still very young, so let’s hope that this is all just a pose and not his actual way of being. There is still time to ditch melodrama and self-pity. The army of academic drama queens does not need yet another recruit.
* Yes, this is from the same article that berates somebody else for antagonizing “them simple, uneducated folks.” Priceless. I’d ask my husband who has both worked as an assembly-line factory worker and done a PhD at Purdue (not at the same time, obviously) if these experiences were alike but I don’t want him to think I’m a spoiled brainless brat.