Academic or Wage Slave

The top kill may be happening right now, and there will be or is a live video feed of it. I was so concerned the night Hurricane Gustav came in a couple of years ago, and that so pales in comparison to this. I have a photograph in my dining room of Katrina refugees waiting under a freeway overpass on September 1, 2005, but I want photographs having to do with this rig.

This post and this one came after two rough days that had followed on three or four unusually good ones and they got me thinking: why does one not always do the things that make the days good? Because after all, saying good morning makes the morning good, and so does seeing the dew and noticing how this day is yet another unique and complete meteorological performance. And even if that performance includes oil seeping through the seabed floor, fish choking in protest, and dolphins dying in disgust, it is still magnificent.

So why is one not always following the advice of Clarissa and ProfHacker, asks Undine? TenthMedieval reminds himself each morning that he is an academic, not a wage slave, so that he will act accordingly. I, however, have been told I am and should be a wage slave, not an academic, so often that it is hard to remember the opposite. So I do not follow the advice of Clarissa and ProfHacker reliably because I have been told to give up so many times and yet also derided for wanting to do something positive in that direction. So I try to temper myself, moderate myself, be less of an academic and more of a wage slave, so as to satisfy certain detractors.

Let us see who these people were: a dissertation director who kept saying I could not be serious because I was blond and went swimming at noon; a family with serious doubts; a first job that said one should be a “college teacher” not a research oriented academic; Reeducation which said the same; some nice visiting jobs where one knew, nevertheless, that one could not stay; this job where, once again, the exhortation is to be a “college teacher” and also a wage slave, and where I have lately heard we must, in the context of budget cuts, compete more aggressively for the market share of the University of Phoenix and not other universities in our tier.

These are the reasons I keep trying to change myself so as to fit in. I think it is perfectly clear, in this panorama, why I try to cut research productivity and physical health. It has been made manifestly clear to me again and again how dangerous it is to possess these two things. That is why I keep trying to unload them, even though we know that in the real world they are the two things one most needs. Yet the physical worlds I inhabit are not part of the reality based community, they are part of the Fox Realism and faith based communites. On this side of the looking glass pleasure, desire, incisiveness, ambition, interest, and love are all liabilities.

That is why I have the quandaries I do, and why I do not reliably follow the advice of ProfHacker and Clarissa. I know it is good advice in many universes, and at a theoretical level it is also good advice here. At a practical level following it has given me enough negative consequences that I have learned to be afraid. Even thinking of this advice on many days, thinking of the worlds to which it would actually correspond, fills me with such longing and nostalgia and pain that it is more practical, for purposes of getting through the day, not to try to follow it. Another important point is that in the universe I inhabit it helps to be in some form of altered state. I recently discovered I was not the only one who runs a sleep deficit on purpose: it keeps one  from noticing as much, and it allows one to fantasize that everything will be all right once one rests.

So these are some reasons why. I am not saying my, or our way of dealing with matters is good as a long term strategy, but for long time I had to deal in the short and medium term, and the strategies have had to be different or have been. I realize that the standard advice is to follow the long term strategy anyway. But everyone I have observed to actually do that has in fact not had the obstacles we have had in my unit, and the other members of my unit also suffer my same quandaries. And I got tenure, and many before and after me did not, and I am not saying that means my strategy was good, I am only pointing out how downtrodden we have been.

I may never be as practical as ProfHacker or as impermeable as Clarissa, but can ask myself TenthMedieval’s question every day and learn to choose ACADEMIC over WAGE SLAVE. And I am in Houston today, on the way to my stela where I intend to meditate upon these matters. I have never read Mornings in Mexico, but I would like to.


2 thoughts on “Academic or Wage Slave

  1. Note: some of the problems I have with one post and the poster’s comments, about which I have gone on enough already over there, are:

    1. A lot of tenure track academic jobs DO resemble slaving in a cubicle much more than one would think, and DO in a practical sense require one be in the office and not at home on the couch; a lot of research isn’t just reading detective novels and watching movies.

    2. It is not true that most tenure track and tenured jobs pay moving expenses, have good benefits, pay for conferences, and so on. I should know. I’ve had various jobs in the past 25 years and negotiated with more; I’ve also hired a lot and negotiated on behalf of candidates who had other offers; in addition I have a lot of friends with a lot of different situations; these friends include several current and former department chairs, so I have better sources of information than many new assistant professors and graduate students. Things vary a *very* great deal, they really do.

    3. The idea that if you didn’t get a good salary and benefits it was because you didn’t know how to negotiate or you signed a contract you had not read is ridiculous. And it often comes from the same people who would look down on you if you quit academia because of not getting the kind of deal they say you should hold out for.

    4. I’ve got two new tenure track colleagues in rough spots because their extra cash is tied up paying for their visa processes, and because in the meantime they cannot get very much credit here. That has them living in *very* Spartan ways and makes it difficult to go on the job market, since that’s expensive too and our university doesn’t reimburse us for conference expenses. And no, they’re not from rich countries. And this state, like some other of the poorer U.S. states, is more like a “developing” country than it is like a state in the northern US or a country in Western Europe.

    5. If you are a newish assistant professor and you are making $50K then you are well paid. Here and in the place I worked before this, which was a public R1 and flagship in a nice state, starting salaries are hardly that high. I have noticed a lot of people in the Midwest and Northeast like to make fun of those of us who don’t make as much money as they do. I find them uncouth and unkind, especially when they assume that it is just because of our poorer negotiating skills in points West and South.


    So why am I this perturbed about the harsh comments of an apparently mega-sheltered assistant professor, without a lot of experience? 1. Because I have been lectured at so much in this vein and specifically, had it alleged to me that I had conditions I did not; 2. Because I think she’s onto something, insofar as the culture of FAUX complaint that exists PARTICULARLY I think among some assistant professors and graduate students IS COMPLICIT WITH OPPRESSIVE STRUCTURES. This is something I’d like to come to understand later on; I do not understand it yet.

  2. This is a quotation from a post by Hattie:

    “This is not a school for upward striving success oriented people but rather for people who are doing their best to survive in a system that is set up to keep them down. And that applies both to teachers and to students.”

    It occurs to me that that is a lot of the problem I have: one is expected to believe one is in an upward striving success oriented environment and think that way, while also submitting to the reality to which Hattie refers. This is food for thought indeed.

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