Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Academic Tempermanent

Following up on the previous post, here are some speculations about temperament in academia.

As is well documented, academics in general lean much more to the left than the average voter.  No doubt, part of the reason for this is bias against political views in hiring.  One tends to be more favorable towards those like oneself, and ideology is more important and seen as more dangerous than, for instance, skin color.  But perhaps a good of the explanation is self-selection and temperament.  And perhaps temperament to some extent is shaped in the academy.

Academics have spent most of their lives in the academy.  Coming straight out of high school, they have been cared for by their teachers for thirteen years in a more or less safe environment; they are given few choices in how they shape their curriculum and lives.  They arrive at college.  College is a good experience.  As an undergraduate they have a few more choices afforded to them; but for four more years of their life, most of their finances have been provided by others in terms of family income, university scholarships, and government grants and loans.  The biggest decision they have to face is what to do after college.  Many then opt for what they know and what is safe: more time in the academy.  Graduate school is a risk, but not the risk that of stepping off into the wild and woolly market.  In spite of all the difficulties of graduate school, it can be a bit of heaven, being around like-minded people who value learning and the sort of education to which they are accustomed.  By the time they graduate, they feel greatly indebted (and often greatly in debt).

The entire process creates a sense of dependency.  Academics are dependent on their institution for their livelihood.  And the institution is in turn largely dependent today on federal tax dollars.  It seems plausible that such experience in part shapes academics to feel vulnerable and to identify with the more vulnerable of the hoi polloi, creating an extra sense of reliance on government-supported institutions.  Equipped with specialized knowledge--often largely not understood by the hoi polloi and sometimes devalued by the less educated masses--it is natural for the academic to identify at once with the segment of the proletariat who have not been privileged to receive the education that the academic values, while at the same time to feel alienated from the segment of the proletariat which does not value the education of the academic, in particular when such people value instead self-reliance and the sort of practical knowledge foreign to the academic.  The academic who further lacks common sense and trade skills is likely to feel particularly vulnerable.  If the segment of the proletariat were to rise up and cut the tax funded life line, the academic would seemingly have nowhere to turn.   This would be a genuine existential crisis for the academic.

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