Scenes from another academic conference

In Binghampton, NY for ‘Making Possible Futures in Research: Working Across the Disciplines’.

I don’t seem to know how to make this rap more popular. I’ve been thinking about this for 25 years. I think it’s right, or at least wrong in a non-trivial way. But people do not want to hear it. I get a hostile response too durn often.

Here they invited me to come talk about ID. I give my rap. The reaction has had two moments: first, yesterday, they somewhat liked it, but it was clear from the rest of the day’s conversation that they had not really understood my points, or the implications of my points. Today they listened more carefully, or I was more blunt. The result was not a deeper understanding of my point than yesterday, but rather accurately discerning that I am challenging their entire way of life. Result: they get hostile.

Same thing in San Diego last week. And in Flagstaff the week before.

Turns out that ‘Across the Disciplines’ meant across the humanistic disciplines. Today a guy from Dartmouth showed up, and led the ‘pissed off’ reaction. he gave a sharp talk on american exceptionalism—-good stuff. Ah, but I asked a question: thanks for the first rate rap, but could you think with me about how you would shift your rhetoric if you wished to make these points to e.g. an engineer.

His reaction? High dudgeon. Pissed that I insulted him. No, no, I say; rather this was a great rap for this audience of humanists/social scientists; but you would need to shift your language for an engineer, or even more if you wanted to make the points to a non-academic. His reaction? “I evidently have a higher opinion of engineer’s intelligence than you do.”


In fact, it subsequently got to the point where the session chair wouldn’t call on me. Didn’t want to hear any more about it.

I have been living by Cage’s ‘the situation is hopeless, let us proceed.’ Or Stewart’s ‘All you people don’t understand about lost causes… Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.’ But I wonder whether it’s time to give up.

Postscript: in the concluding conversation I saw some progress. We returned to these questions after someone suggested that the universities are in deep trouble. I mentioned the example of UNT Phil, some of the relatively radical changes we made. It got a good response.

So perhaps I will try again… in a few days in Brazil.

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One Response to Scenes from another academic conference

  1. Adam says:

    I admire your patience with academics. I mostly avoid them. I am most happy and feel like I am doing the most good when I am out in the field talking with lawyers, city council members, nurses, activists, other citizens, etc. But folks like me need folks like you who are trying to reform the university so that it can foster engaged work systematically rather than just tolerate it on the margins when it does happen to crop up.

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