November 05, 2004

The Usual Suspects

I was going to do a humor post mocking the "ohmygodtheskyisfallingrunhideavoidthejackboots!" post-election squealing, but I find my heart isn't in it. Why? Because when I read these actual listserve postings from our "Academic Bettahs" (read with Bette Davis accent), I'm not so much with finding the funny.

And here's a thought for your Friday, vaunted members of academe: You each have a PhD in a particular subject. Within that subject, you have necessarily specialized in order to find your "niche." Please, PLEASE keep in mind that knowing everything about .001 percent of your chosen discipline does not translate into knowing everything about everything. You are the master of a tiny domain, not the God of All Understanding, and making ignorant snarky comments about the intellect and intent of The Other doesn't really bolster your reputation as being smarter or better-informed. In fact, it kinda makes you look like small-minded morons. Might want to keep that in mind, folks.

Big Arm Woman

Posted by Big Arm Woman at November 5, 2004 09:27 AM

Occasionally an academic visits a barber shop in town and explains how the world works; the natives listen respectfully in a ritual known as ``funnin'.''

Posted by: Ron Hardin at November 5, 2004 09:50 AM

My dad, a middle school teacher and principal for over 30 years, used to bristle a bit at the degree flaunters who wouldn't recognize the inside of a grade school classroom. Three incidents I always remember.

1) When introduced to a guy, my dad said, "Nice to meet you, [firstname I can't remember]." "That's Doctor [lastname]." My dad said, "Oh," then got down on one knee and kissed the man's ring.

2) Another time introduced to another guy who overstressed his "Dr." status said, "So what one little thing do you know a whole lot about?"

3) And finally he explained the degree progression to me. BS = Bull Shit, MS = More of the Same, and PhD = Piled Higher and Deeper.

Posted by: fad at November 5, 2004 09:51 AM

As someone who toiled in the midst of the wilds of academia for many years and, yea verily, whose wife possesses one of those lofty doctoral degrees, I've found academics can usually be stuffed into two classifications (kicking and screaming all the way of course): A) Those who see their educational accomplishment as a license to claim authority over all lesser beings and to expound on any subject that strikes their fancy in the most condecending way possible; and B) those who retain their grip on reality.

These two groups are not limited to people with terminal degrees however. The same groups can be found in any working class bar when the afternoon shift gets off work. The langauge may be a bit coarser, but the attitudes are identical. It's just that, without "Doctor" and some initials added to their name their windbag opinions don't get printed in newspapers.

Posted by: dhanson at November 5, 2004 10:53 AM

How dare you insult people like me, after I spent so long acquiring a first-rate education? This is exactly why we need to license blogs. As the wise French deconstructionist, Marcel Poopaullion once observed, "The strained dichotomy of self-evident autonomy renders integrated commentary moot."

I think that pretty well sums up my point.


Posted by: Dr. I.M. Agenius at November 5, 2004 01:48 PM


Posted by: BAW at November 5, 2004 02:26 PM

Thanks for the link, BAW!

Posted by: Julia Smith at November 5, 2004 03:22 PM

Just wish to add on my two cents to what fad said...

When I was pursuing the doctorate, we had a poster in our office that was about the relationship between your achieved degree and the amount of info you had stuffed in your head. Of course, with the high school diploma, you knew everything you needed to know. By the time you hit the PhD level, you realize just how little you do know.

I thought the poster was quite accurate.

Unfortunately, too many PhDs think the degree makes them super smart. And of course their intelligence increases with each peer reviewed a**-kissing that comes from publishing a truly "revolutionary" article.

Oh, pah-leeese. All the PhD really means is that you were able to stand the political bullshit in academia long enough to turn from a student into a prof.

They never quite got my point that they were being intolerant and practicing censorship when they engaged in ad homonim (sp?) attacks to shut down the opposing opinion.

Posted by: di at November 5, 2004 04:24 PM

Oh, my. I have to remember that "So what one little thing do you know a whole lot about?" line - and I'm in the business. Perhpas I could revise it to "What *I* know a whole lot about is 9th century architecture. And you?"

Posted by: Michael Tinkler at November 5, 2004 04:57 PM


Your example A is the best definition of Chomskey I have ever seen. Thanks.

Posted by: dick at November 5, 2004 08:21 PM


"All the PhD really means is that you were able to stand the political bullshit in academia long enough to turn from a student into a prof."

Damn straight. That's why I tell my students that they shouldn't necessarily stand in awe of someone with a PhD. In his Ethics, Aristotle stresses that there are two kinds of wisdom--theoretical and practical--and many of us with postgraduate degrees can be sorely lacking in the latter.

Posted by: Julia Smith at November 5, 2004 08:32 PM

"A proposed amendment that would remove long-unenforced segregationist provisions from the Alabama Constitution trailed by a razor-thin margin Thursday and faces a recount."

Nope. No snarky comments here. Far be it from me to question the wisdom of those fine, upstanding people of Alabama. Why, they've got "moral values."

Posted by: PhD at November 5, 2004 09:34 PM

Amen, BAW.
When I was in grad school, one of my classmates was, well...not the sharpest knives in the drawer. She'd wander around the library, mouth flopped open, forehead wrinkled in confusion, asking, "what's a footnote again?" But she was great at jumping through hoops, and she got her M.A. degree (just barely). That was when I first realized that one doesn't have to be brilliant to get an advanced degree...just tenacious.

Posted by: terminaldegree at November 5, 2004 09:35 PM

I'll second dhansons's post. I'm also in "the
guild". Luckily, I'm in a data-driven field (financial economics). So, we avoid a lot of the BS in some of the other disciplines. Not that we don't have our own brand, but at least there's something objective to spread it on...

In my corner of the tribe, I try to hang with the people who are aware of how little they know. They also seem to be the ones who are interested in actually figuring out how the world works (or, at least the part they study) rather than proving to everybody else how "special" they are. They also are usuallyt more fun to have a few beers with.

In my group, we just looked at the PhD as our Plumber's Licence. It wasn't special, just the price of admission to do what we wanted to do.

Posted by: Pete at November 5, 2004 10:19 PM

Phd -

No, why have a snarky comment when you can just make a snarky threadjack instead?

Thanks for proving my point.

Posted by: BAW at November 6, 2004 09:51 AM

"Thanks for proving my point."

I thought "proof" was something only snooty, educated people believed in.

Posted by: PhD at November 6, 2004 10:58 AM

Apologies for feeding the troll, folks.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled comment thread, barring the ubiquitous "troll must have the last word" post here.

Posted by: BAW at November 6, 2004 11:20 PM

Oh, Big Arm Woman. You may manage to get my through grad school. I'm a novice academic, trying to do a dissertation. Irritable and grouchy at the insufferable faculty and students. But I'm so close, so close....

I'm in education so I keep thinking that if I can pull the work of teaching out of the dark ages--even just an inch or two--I won't be as worthless as my colleagues. But I guarantee, I will never take myself too seriously. I came to grad school later in life, and can see it's a ridiculous racket, and an awesome gravy train if you can ride it properly.

I'll be back. I'll link to you....

Posted by: Dr. Cookie at November 8, 2004 08:15 PM

First, I don't see any evidence that the academics cited evince any feeling of superiority because of their degree. Second, a large subset of Bush support did come from the . Third I really do think that most Bush supporters are very uninformed or incapable of critical thought. Certainly a large segment of the electorate is uninformed in general, but the degree to which Bush supporters lived in a fictitious world was unprecedented. The PIPA studies showed this pretty clearly:

Posted by: Chris Martin at November 9, 2004 11:22 AM