Academia is a giant white mansplain, and thus, a manifesto

Recently I upset the whole world by telling somebody who mansplained all over me to knock it off. I am sure this person is wonderful in lots of ways. I’ve read some of his papers, and I think they are super.

But really, my statements are not about him. It’s about me and what I deserve.

It’s about how people get to talk to me and about me professionally.

My confronting him, and the group, has lead to a bunch of to and fro about whether I’m making something out of nothing, whether this was all just a little personal contretemps, and that’s all bull crap. Nobody else gets to have an opinion.

It’s not about “the team” or “why the team needs unity.” It’s about me and what I deserve.

Academic currency is smartness, and male academics–in particular–condescend to female academics and scholars of color and pretty much everybody else all the time, it’s bad behavior in reality, but it’s rewarded behavior in the academy. It should not be, in an environment that tells itself that it is about inquiry.

“Let me begin by assuming I know shit and you don’t…” is the way people begin communicating in the academy. Even when, in this case, I am an award-winning social science researcher in my own right with 30+ published papers to my credit.

So here’s the deal.

1. My competency will not by undermined in any conversation that anybody gets to have with me. Nobody gets to assume I am operating from a handicap known as my gender. If somebody starts there, they get corrected. Why? I deserve better than that.

2. My work and contributions will not be reframed and erased according to what suits your agenda for a conversation. I control how my work is discussed. Why? I deserve to.

3. I shall dictate the terms by which I am spoken to and treated. You can have an opinion, of course, but don’t expect me to care about it or defer to it. I don’t need to be treated according to my academic rank; you needn’t even really call me Dr. or Professor. But I shall be treated like an equal in conversation, in every conversation, or I will correct that.

Now if you haven’t, go watch Beyonce’s Lemonade, and actually pay attention because it is not about what Jay Z is doing with his penis.

Reflecting on Thucydides and Prince

I was a great fan of Prince’s, as I suppose most of us who grew up in the 1980s were. There was the delightful raunchiness of Purple Rain, magnificently enhanced by Sheila E’s ferocious drumming. His sudden loss came at the end of a week when I had begun seriously re-reading Thucydides in Greek, after hitting a solid brick of wall of “we hate him” in my justice class. Thucydides is tough, and most students never get anything from him other than the Melian Debate, and always in translation.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I think Thucydides is much diminished by translation, and diminished in ways that Plato and Aristotle are not. I think you can lead a good life just reading Plato in English. But Thucydides…no. I remember wading through him one summer in English and thinking “well, that sucked; why is he such a big deal to classical scholars?”

Much aided by Robert Connor’s excellent Thucydides, I came later to appreciate the importance of the book as a commentary on war and society. Connor helps illustrate the structure of the narrative, so that you can see, ultimately, what Thucydides is trying to get us to see:

1) Empire is profitable, so that imperialism leads inevitably to over-reach

2) People are fearful and seek advantage/domination as a result

3) and again as a result, suffering ensues

4) people naturally resist domination as much as people seek it; and

5) again, as a result, suffering ensues.

There is no just war (jus bellum); there is merely war.

This week reading through in Greek, the author’s subtle commentaries on leadership became more apparent to me: Pericles, as a leader capable of cooling passions at the same time acknowledging the necessities of aggression as a cornerstone to maintaining the profits of empire–and also a visionary of the Athens as people desire it to be (the Funeral Oration). But mostly, Pericles is capable of sacrificing for the common good. When he is gone, the story is diminished, as is Athenian capacity.

Then Cleon and Brasidas, both clever politicians and military leaders, but both duplicitous and motivated mostly by their own self-interests. Diodotus wins some clemency for the Mytilenes vis-a-vis Cleon not by appealing to Athenians’ sense of right and wrong, but by pointing out the advantage for Athens in showing clemency. Nicias appears to be good-hearted and noble–he seems a remnant of old Athens– but allows himself to get played by Cleon and Demosthenes, and is completely incapable of formulating a pragmatic argument that can really move Athenians when they are as focussed on advantage as they are. Nonetheless, he dies a noble death, proving himself capable of self-sacrifice in an attempt to stop the Syracusans’ senseless slaughter of his men as they tried to retreat. Even that noble sacrifice proved misguided, as the survivors were sent as slaves to the quarries–a long, tortuous death instead of a quick death from arrows on the battlefield. And then Alcibiades with tyrannical focus on himself and what he wants, which leads him to exile and treason.

All these are ways in which leadership can go completely, utterly wrong, even when, as with Nicias, one has good intentions and motivations.

These themes hit me very hard as I as am, as usual, reflecting on my place in the world, and realizing, not for the first time, that I really don’t belong in my department. I spent some time blaming the department for that, and then I started blaming myself, but it’s not anybody’s fault. People have their preferences and proclivities; they are as they are. And as Popeye says, I am what I am. The only transformations really possible through leadership occur, I suspect, when the right leader meets the right context at the right time. That’s a high-wire act if there ever was one.

I may simply belong nowhere, and ambitions–even those that exist as a desire to help or to envision–are best laid aside. It’s hard telling what might have happened for Athens if Cleon or Nicias had had such an insight and the humility to accept it.

Prince led simply by being who he wanted to be–fiercely original, his innate creatively wielded like sword. That strikes me as a very wise way to be in the world for those of us who never fit.

Minimum wage and trickling down: I don’t understand why those benefits don’t trickle

So I have been reading various and sundry critiques of minimum wage laws, and I have questions, and in particular, questions about the ideology driving the suppositions. Now, I am a mere, lowly planner who has only taken four classes in labor economics (including one offered at the PhD level), so I understand that I could never ever possibly understand the super-hard economics at the basis of These Things. So please, explain what you can to me, Internet, but using only small words.

The basic idea is that wage floors leave some people willing to worker lower wages out in the cold, as the wage floor forces employers to offer a minimum wage, and at that wage, the employer simply won’t hire an additional person, or they will let people go, because they do not value the additional labor at the price the wage floor sets.

This means that POOR PEOPLE SUFFER DAMN YOU because employers have absolutely positively no way of ever ever paying people slightly more except by screwing labor…even though corporate entities’ top managers and CEO are making eleventy billion dollars a year and the margin fits easily into many of the bonuses we routinely see handed out. I can credit the concern that a small business owner with a small number of employees can’t swing it, but there are plenty of corporate employers in these metro markets whose objections that they could never, ever pay their low-wage labor slightly more strike me as utterly disingenuous and self-serving. Take adjuncts: universities could pay them more; it’s just that labor oversupply means universities don’t *have* to. So they don’t, and they use their money for other stuff, like obscene salaries for administrators.

But that’s actually not my question.

Why don’t benefits from minimum wage laws trickle? We are supposed to believe that putting gigantically large sums of money in the hands of a few people (capital) trickle, trickle away down to us all…but putting marginally more dollars in the hands of a large number people has no trickle down potential at all, none whatsoever, supposedly. But don’t those minimum wage workers go out and buy things and generate more economic activity, so that employers will have more demand for labor, thereby potentially offering new, higher paid opportunities for other low-wage workers? Why isn’t that trickling?

According to this same school of economics, when wealthy people get made better off, the benefits trickle down! When a billionaire buys a private jet, it helps us all. It’s like magical rainbow snow–those benefits just trickle upon us from on high, and everybody should be ever so grateful. (Pukes, narrowly missing the keyboard). But if you make a larger group of poor people marginally better off, there’s no trickling. None! Impossible! That money just gets sucked into Democritus’ void, never to return to anybody in any form. Poor people buy things, and some save money, so it’s not like the move means absolutely positively no new capital investment is possible. Poor people can and do save. When they put money in banks, banks aggregate and use that capital, so…

So increased incomes to rich people are inherently good (because trickle, trickle, trickle), but increases in wealth to poor people is meaningless, according to the “pain and suffering school” of minimum wage writing. Somehow, the dollars know whose hands they are in, and they just won’t act the same for a large number of poor people the way they will for a small number of vastly wealthy people.

Card catalogs should still exist, damn you all, damn you all to hell

I fully recognize that computerized library browsing is a vast improvement over card catalog searches. I am old enough that I remember searching via the card catalog, and it was an unnecessarily time-consuming process, and you get many, many more literature hits with Google than you ever could any pre-computer searches. Life is better.

But.

That said, card catalogs are good at storing cards, and for those of us who still write with 3 x 5 cards, I really would like to be able to just buy a wooden card catalog unit for less than a million dollars. Unfortunately, the only ones out there new are for cds. You can find older ones on Ebay, but one is not going to be shipping them. Looooooook at this beauty. Waaaaaaaaaants it, my precious.

As it is, what IS out there for us 3 x 5 card users are flimsy plastic carriers in the bag–eyuck, but what are you going to do?–and metal filing cabinet systems full of clanging metal hate.

BTW, I still haven’t procured another satisfactory pencil sharpener. No wonder my book went phuttttt. I’M WORKING AT A DISADVANTAGE HERE.

The hard is what makes it great…

Every year, I watch A League of Their Own when baseball season begins. It’s a remarkable film, and it is exceptionally timely for me now, with my recent struggles for meaning. Usually the part that gets me going is “There’s no crying in baseball.” But this year, this scene spoke to me:

So I have to figure out how to go forward, out of my free fall. No clue how.

But as sentimental as sports movies usually are, in this case, they are right. The hard is what makes it great.

Aristotle and the Devices of Tyranny

In Book VII, we leave Aristotle on a terrible note, where he, like many a Greek, advises society to do things that sound dreadful to modern ears, such as exposing infants who have deformities. Eyugh. Mercy was not necessarily a virtue for Aristotle or others.

Students often ask me why I stay fascinated by the Greeks of 2000 years ago. There’s a lot to talk to about; for one, you understand our language much better if you know Greek and Latin.

And second…King Priam and Achilles…you got to be kidding me if you can’t read that and learn something abut the human condition.

Third, reading classical literature in its original language is now somewhat subversive, a smack in the eye towards where the university is going, which is becoming one giant business school where “The Knowledge That Matters” is the “Knowledge that Might Pay if You Please Your Corporate Masters Well Enough.” Learning a living language, which is a fine thing, for sure, and to be encouraged, can always be rationalized and instrumentalized: “Oh, you can work for This Industry if you know That Language.” Maybe I’d just like to make it easier to talk to my friends from Africa, or I’d like my brain to work better. For me.

Finally, ancient Greece and Roman are nice comparisons, and really attempting to learn those similarities and differences between the way they thought and they way we think has rewarded me again and again. You go into reading the ancients thinking that it’s all different; there’s no way that a people who, as a matter of routine, advocated for the death of deformed babies. And then you go through and read the material and find, again and again, writing which is utterly contemporary. Those moments are when I feel like I might actually catch a rare glimpse of the ideas that might actually be universal to humanity. It happens when I read a novel by an Indonesian writer, and it happens when I read those long dead.

As I finish off my special study if Aristotle, one little bit from Book V in the Politics that has to make one think about America of the past 30 years:

And it is a device of tyranny to make the subjects poor, so that a guard may not be kept, and also that the people being busy with their daily affairs may not have leisure to plot against their ruler. Instances of this are the pyramids in Egypt and the votive offerings of the Cypselids, and the building of the temple of Olympian Zeus by the Pisistratidae and of the temples at Samos, works of Polycrates (for all these undertakings produce the same effect, constant occupation and poverty among the subject people); and the levying of taxes, as at Syracuse (for in the reign of Dionysius the result of taxation used to be that in five years men had contributed the whole of their substance). Also the tyrant is a stirrer-up of war, with the deliberate purpose of keeping the people busy and also of making them constantly in need of a leader. Also whereas friends are a means of security to royalty, it is a mark of a tyrant to be extremely distrustful of his friends, on the ground that, while all have the wish, these chiefly have the power. Also the things that occur in connection with the final form of democracy are all favorable to tyranny—dominance of women in the homes, in order that they may carry abroad reports against the men, and lack of discipline among the slaves, for the same reason; for slaves and women do not plot against tyrants, and also, if they prosper under tyrannies, must feel well-disposed to them, and to democracies as well (for the common people also wishes to be sole ruler). Hence also the flatterer is in honor with both—with democracies the demagogue (for the demagogue is a flatterer of the people), and with the tyrants those who associate with them humbly, which is the task of flattery.

ZOMGosh! All that democracy, letting the wimmens control the house! Where will it end? And yet there’s a bunch of wisdom here, too, about the role of poverty in keeping people controlled, and the use of war as a means to isolate and control one’s own people.

One advantage of reading the Greek, as slow-going as it is for me, is that you get all Aristotle’s good misogyny words. Here he uses the phrase γυναικοκρατια τε περι τ`ας `οικιας for the “The rule of woman in the households”…γυναικοκρατια is even an ugly world in Greek, made even more so by that double K in the middle. Women in charge! Horrors.

Fortunately we seem highly unlikely from having to fret too much about that, 2,300 years later.