of intellectual serfdom

To my mind, one of the most stunning achievements of the 20th century has to be poor obese people. Never before in the history of the world has such a thing been imaginable. How did we do it? Need and excess, fused into one body – a living contradiction. Without seeing it, who could have imagined it?

I feel a certain kinship with that demographic, for reasons I can’t fully explain. I am, it should be said, technically poor. But my poverty is of an opulent kind – for lack of a better word, rich in spirit. I am not obese (at least by modern standards) but I do manage to maintain a wildly consumptive lifestyle. I gorge daily on media – music, stories, video. My particular palate inclines me towards tiny facts – intellectual bon-bons. Did you know that there is a formula that, when properly plotted on a graph, draws itself? Mmm..a tasty little fact.

Currently, I maintain this comfortable 1st world, roughly middle class lifestyle by the good graces of my benefactor, the Institute. It is a neat arrangement, whereby they provide me with a living salary, and I provide them with the illusory image of having produced someone with a contributing role in society. To be clear, I’m eager to do my part, and am surely capable enough to handle some task or other. The question is whether there will be any place for me to ply my trade when I’m eventually turned loose upon the world. A spate of articles  and blog posts have recently tried to cast doubt on that. Academia is clearly overproducing PhD’s – and everyone knows it. Their funding is being slashed, while their ranks are becoming bloated. The academy, too, has some similarity to the poor obese person.

So perhaps my engagement with the academy will be a limited-time affair. We shall see. If I may be so bold, I would say that my talent is for synthesis – for seeing “how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term”, to borrow a line from Wilfrid Sellars. It’s my hope that, in this time when knowledge is growing exponentially, but wisdom only linearly (if at all) there will be some use for characters like me.


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