Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Idle Hands = Anger at Talking Heads

Due to a deal we got with the cable guy, we have cable despite my unemployment. I've taken to watching MSNBC over breakfast in the morning. As a result, I'm far more aware of politics than I have been in years. All these hours of watching talking heads has led me to the conclusion that we need more commonsense and less crazy on both sides. And that the Ivory Tower needs to pay more attention to the larger world, as evidenced by the war on education.

The really dumb and obvious stuff aside, people actually voted against the Ledbetter Act. For those who don't want to google that one, it's the Fair Pay act that says women should get paid as much as men. Women still on average make only 77 cents to a man's dollar. So if a man makes $50k a year for a job, a women on average would make $38,500 doing the same job. Let's say they both do this job for 20 more years with a 3% raise every year. That comes out to $87,675 for the last year for the man and $67,509 for the woman with earnings over that time totaling $1,343,518 for the man and 1,034,509 for the woman - a total difference of $309,009. I don't know about you, but I'm sure I could use that $300k just as much as a man could. Yet another reason why women should definitely be negotiating job offers! Congresspeople voted against this act (yes, most if not all were Republicans). Seriously?!

To be frank, the Republican party scares me. Heading full tilt into a totalitarian dystopia scary. I'm not against traditional Republican values. I don't want big government. I think there should be fiscal responsibility in government. But these are not what Republicans are running on today. They are running on extremism and insanity. Why are Republicans more interested in regulating my body than fixing the economy? Why do they think defunding education is going to improve anything? That a trickle-down economy will work when it never has in history? Saving Medicare for one generation while bankrupting it for the next will somehow work? No one can be so dense as to think these things will help down the road. So what game are they playing? Or are they really that thick? And no, I don't think the Democrats have all the right answers but theirs don't scare me nearly as much as the Republicans' answers do.

But where are the intellectuals here? Where are the academics, public or otherwise, to explain the facts? To reveal the truth? There are ads on TV (again Republican but Democrats have done this too) that are clearly false and the candidates have said so. Where is the intelligentsia to declare these falsehoods and lead the charge for more integrity and accountability in politics? Oh yeah, they've lost of both of those in the Ivory Tower too. Guess it's time to find the brilliant, creative people outside the Ivory Tower and try to stop this madness.


anotheracademicbitesthedust said...

To be honest, this seems really unfair to me. There are so many academics doing important political work, even if it's not incredibly visible to everyone at the moment. I firmly believe that this work impacts political discourse through teaching, and reading. I don't expect everyone to read Judith Butler, for example, but I know that the fact that I've read Butler impacts my teaching and the ways that I try to get students to think about gender and sexuality even when I'm not teaching her work. Even if that connection is not readily visible to them, it's there. And there are lots of academics doing direct political work. The UCs, for example, have been a hotbed of direct action in the face of cuts to education. The UC Davis English Department has been particularly visible after the pepper spray attack, but lots of programs there have been doing difficult and important work for years. I also know several academics who do prison abolition activism while researching and teaching about that issue (Ruth Wilson Gilmore is a shining example of academic rigor and political fire). There are so many academics involved heavily in queer and trans activism that I can't even begin to list them. And there are more visible examples as well. Rachel Maddow was a Rhodes Scholar and has a Ph.D. from Oxford. She might be kind of mainstream but she's basically doing exactly what you're asking for here.

I'm riled up about this but I'm not trying to be an asshole. I just feel like blanket statements like this about "the academy" are dangerous and unproductive. Yes, academics in general can definitely be more involved. Everyone should be more involved in this sort of work. But I think that glossing over the way that these sorts of scholarly pursuits may circulate beyond just who is reading what book or article risks playing into the hands of those who think that education should follow a business model with measurable outcomes, not to mention that it doesn't acknowledge those academics who actually do work incredibly hard to be a part of the political conversation. Our inability to see that may have more to do with the fact that mainstream news outlets are uninterested in covering those efforts than with the rate at which the work is being done.

Pi said...

I didn't mean that no one is doing anything and I'm sorry you thought I sounded like an asshole. Most of the academics I know, whether they are still in academia or not, do a great deal of political work. They actually are involved in an impressive amount of activisim.

The problem is that they are not getting the air time. Word of this work isn't getting out. And yes, I think that's mostly the part of the mainstream news media. I haven't seen anyone admitting to an advanced degree on MSNBC for example. But it is also partly the fault of academia to not embrace the new ways, social media, etc. to get word of their work out to larger parties. Granted, this depends on what field you're looking at and some do respond to tweets and in comment sections, though they're not always able to use their names.

But I think another problem is that many academics cannot be as active and public as they would like due to how the academy works. The politics, in some fields more than others, can be downright brutal. If your politics differ noticeably from the majority at your institution, you risk some very serious consequences for speaking out.

I think it's the combination of the mainstream news media's bias and the vicious politics of academia that has resulted in fewer public intellectuals being visible. I do remember seeing more professorial types when I was younger trying to explain issues on TV. I was lamenting the loss of these teachers' ability to explain things in as unbiased and understandably as possible in mainstream media. I was also lamenting the crazy in the campaigns but that has nothing to do with academia or higher ed.

I also want to point out the less obvious impact that higher ed has had on politics. The outcry against some of the crazier statements being made in the campaigns is a sign that large numbers of professors, adjuncts, etc. have been able to teach some critical thinking skills to "the masses" and people are not just following like sheep.