On Class

ONE: The Emeritus Professor used to say you had to be from the upper classes to be an academic. I would laugh, as we are not ourselves from the upper classes, and also because whereas the Emeritus Professor worked at an institution where one could have research expenses paid, I do not; to function I need a salary, not an honorarium.  However, I have recently been listening to two people I know well and who are very successful academics talk about their internal struggles with academia, and I realized that the issue was in part class.

Even after all these time, neither feels he belongs; both are always seeking models and instructions — not just checking on examples and rules, but seeking instructions. A third person of their stature, whose family was too poor to have furniture when he was a child, does not have the same problem — but then she is white and is living in her region, and is studying a subject that has made her a heroine.

Both of these first two professors invite me places on occasion and then stare at me. How can I work at an institution like mine and respect it? How can I say we have very good people here? How can I feel I have any authority to speak when I am only me? I do not know what I could do to instill more confidence in them, or more democratic feeling, or less adoration for certain dubious authorities at their own institutions. I do not know what I could do to get them to believe anything I might say could have value, given that I have not attained their official stature. Therefore I am not in a position to impart peacefulness to them.

TWO: I had to have one of those dinners academics have to have (and I had to pay for it, which is another reason I need a salary and not an honorarium). Since it was one of those dinners, the Blackguard had to come. I invited my youngest brother, partly because one is supposed to have family members at these dinners, partly because I thought he would actually like to meet some of the assistant professors who are his age, and partly on the general principle that I should invite him to more things and this was a thing.

So he came and made an interesting friend, and I took the opportunity later to ask him what he thought of the Blackguard. He said: “Why does this Blackguard smell and talk like a truck driver?” I thought: “He doesn’t, because an actual truck driver would not smell or talk like that at a dinner such as the one I gave.” Which means our man either truly does not know how to behave, or is behaving poorly on purpose. I believe the latter theory, but can anyone make an argument for the former one?


10 thoughts on “On Class

  1. “Which means our man either truly does not know how to behave, or is behaving poorly on purpose. I believe the latter theory, but can anyone make an argument for the former one?”

    -I obviously don’t know who you are talking about but this person could have autism. Inappropriate behavior in social situations and issues with body hygiene are often symptoms of Asperger’s.

  2. Hmmm… even if he hates alone time and is very, very social (so long as he is allowed to dominate whatever social situation it is)?

    1. Yeah. And the second part of this post was a conceit on class and classiness, to cover for the first part which may be entirely false, I do not know. Is it that I have class advantages over these observers I do not realize, as I thought when I wrote the post? (That makes sense on the surface, but doesn’t account for the control group, so to speak.) Is it that I have a stronger sense of self (not ego) and that they marvel at this (that’s possible)? Is it that my odd combination of self doubt and confidence disconcerts them (very possible)? Is it all of the above?

  3. Many thoughtful people around the mental health field talk these days about possible mild Asperger’s in people we once saw as “odd and smart.” Even if the person you describe appears very social, it is not so if he wants to be in total control of all interactions.

  4. Yes, but I’ve got a friend like that. The character in question is just a clod, I wouldn’t speculate further/make other excuses; it’s just interesting to see someone behave as he does in academia; few do — it’s rude and also doesn’t correspond to the right class image.

    I’m more curious about the characters in ONE, whether class has anything to do with their deal or not.

  5. This needs to be revised, probably, to “On Class, Competitiveness, and Confidence,” and it would be more nuanced and interesting; it could become an interesting novella. I think the people in #1 are partly bemused at my own uneven confidence, as I am myself such an odd combination of elements.

  6. Let’s face it. Some people never teach their children elementary manners, and they go through life offending others.

  7. Although there’s something more. I think that I am an odd combination of factors and may actually BE hard to understand, at least for some. And I think that my uneven self esteem may be disconcerting.

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