yet another problem of academia…27 Dec 2016
“I have been speaking so far of liberal studies; but think how much superfluous and unpractical matter the philosophers contain! Of their own accord they also have descended to establishing nice divisions of syllables, to determining the true meaning of conjunctions and prepositions; they have been envious of the scholars, envious of the mathematicians. They have taken over into their own art all the superfluities of these other arts; the result is that they know more about careful speaking than about careful living. Let me tell you what evils are due to over-nice exactness, and what an enemy it is of truth!” — seneca, letter LXXXVIII, (88)
i have a love-hate-but-mostly-hate relationship with academia. and i think the longer i’m around it, the longer most of it frustrates me. maybe i’m just young and i’ll look back at this and eat my words. but for the time being, i’m just going to continue throwing shade.
the gold for me in the above little passage from seneca is the last line and a half: “…the result is that they know more about careful speaking than about careful living. Let me tell you what evils are due to over-nice exactness, and what an enemy it is of truth!”
i often have the sense that, for want of exactness, academic research misses the forest for the trees. i can’t tell you how many people i know who are doing research that they think is pointless. on one hand, i understand that the freedom from proving the impact of one’s work is necessary to take long-shots that are risky, but could return really great insights. but i also believe that some things (like academic appointments) really shouldn’t be forever. especially if you ain’t doing shit. (>_>)
i guess my real issue is when, over time, it seems clear that a particular person or area of work of a particular person isn’t showing any promise, things are allowed to continue onward. that’s the point at which i think things become more about ‘over-nice exactness’ and an enemy of truth. it is definitely possible to waste time, energy, and financial resources on things that aren’t useful. and that, imo, is when things become the enemy of truth. not because they’re bad in and of themselves, but because they’re distracting from things that could making the world a better place.
all that said, i think individual academics can bring significant insight to situations. a late favorite professor of mine, alice amsden, has been on point in her predictions about the rise of economies in some countries way more so than any individual, including others in her field, ought to be. i can’t help but chalk that up to her decades of research and persistent study.
so maybe this is all just a wash. this whole thing from seneca was really about grammar so maybe a lesson can’t be drawn in the way i’m trying. oops?