Attempted Justification, 6/20/10

Subject to deletion when I reread and gag at how arrogant this is

I always do lots of personal journal writing when traveling. It’s out of character with most of my journal entries. Most of what I jot down are notes on books or poems with occasional rants. Sometimes there are drafts of blog posts. So I guess I can label tomorrow – when I get on a plane and fly far away from Texas – “emo day.” Getting anything read in the airport – that’s a joke, even though the books will be open around me.

But I know it will do me no good to sit and write an entry or two about how I’m not where I want to be in life, especially when I have the blog. One could say the blog’s purpose is to cultivate more interest in political philosophy, but that wouldn’t strictly speaking be correct. I run the blog: the blog attempts to demonstrate a sense of responsibility to the public for being purposefully unproductive. And yes, one day, when I’m teaching and writing for scholarly publications and advising students formally, that too is unproductive, or should be unproductive, in the best sense. Open minds are utterly useless, not making money or advancing utility, only a threat to any and all political orders, and worst of all cultivating ambiguity about knowledge itself. In seeking to know, open minds do sometimes question the value of knowledge, for the sake of knowing why they want to know.

You can see why this is a waste, as obnoxious as it is, to write in the journal for myself. It would just sit there as a form of venting. But bringing it forth publicly puts a lot of people on the spot, and should put people on the spot. It’s a disgrace that nearly every academic/scholarly publication is obsessed with things like university revenues or compliance with federal law like Title IX. That stuff’s important, sure, but if your work is on Rilke, shouldn’t you be writing about Rilke at least once in a while instead of immersing oneself in the corporate culture of the university?

It gets worse when the so-called educated take to punditry full time. I love good punditry: if you can show me newer ways of thinking about issues, along with a set of arguments and cited sources to explore, that’s absolutely wonderful. But most pundits are interested in having an opinion on every single thing, whether they have a good opinion or not. I confess, I’m guilty of this. But note that in blogging, one has to opine very often just to get a little bit of an audience, and that fragmentary/incomplete opinions are acceptable. If I was writing once or twice a week only on a very narrow set of topics, and could trust my employer to bring me an audience, I’d have a responsibility for making sure I wasn’t just watching the news and spouting off.

So far, I can sit smug and justified: my targets have been of a fatted, lazy sort. But it is not so easy to dismiss the profit motive of the educated, nor their emphasis on utility. You can’t just proclaim yourself an “open mind,” you have to work at that. And that work can’t be from mooching off of others: you must produce, for your own and their benefit, and find your leisure justly. There’s no such thing as having a responsibility as a scholar when no one cares what you had to say in the first place: I never should have started blogging, since no one asked to hear me.

Ultimately, I can’t argue against the cynicism which drives so many, which makes them want chains they can decorate with flowers later. There’s something satisfying in believing there’s a way we’ve established that works if you join the order it prescribes. To a degree, I’ll defend that establishment, that order. But that it dictates for many what should be the life of the mind is the cruelest joke of all. There’s almost no acknowledgment that making money and being useful are means, not ends in themselves. To conceive of oneself as having a public responsibility is a sense of justice very different from “I provide for myself, therefore I’m just.” The latter isn’t justice, properly speaking: it’s private satisfaction. And it’s a satisfaction I look forward to having, but on my own terms, with a success that others can share in.

1 Comment

  1. Hi from Australia! Studying for a masters in philosophy here. I’m currently in the process of getting a blog up and running and would love to establish some dialogue with you and exchange ideas on political philosophy.

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