Asides from other frustrations (“250, 150, 100, 65 and oblivious” is all I will say right now) there are a couple of deeper ones. Or rather, one beast, two heads: what is the actual point of academics and think-tankers? Seriously? What is the point of them, for progressive social movements?
Yesterday I asked a simple question to a group of academics who’d participated in what sounds like a very worthy project. The question was “how can academics be good allies to activists, and how would they know if they were succeeding?” From the blank and confused looks I got from the panel, I could see that this was a question that literally none of them had EVER asked themselves. WTAF.
So back came “well, I come from an activist background, so….” and “oh, through my teaching.”
Tonight I asked “what do ‘we’ need to do diff.er.ent.ly?” to a waffle merchant who had treated us all as ego-fodder for 25 minutes (he’d been asked to speak for 15, but did rather like the sound of his own voice.
Again, no serious answer beyond the standard platitudes of ‘intergenerational learning, and ‘build movements’. For this I came out on a rainy night? Srsly?
Again, WTAF. Why do we pay these people? Why do we pay them any attention? If they’re not able or willing to reflect on history, to be brave and say what they think needs to be DONE DIFFERENTLY, then why do we let them steal time and space at our meetings? Are we so cravenly in need of the affirmation of someone working for some dreary parasitic outfit that we suspend our critical faculties? Yes. Yes we are.
Here endeth today’s blog post rant….
Wait, what’s that you say?
“What are MY answers, Mr pseudo-intellectual less interesting than a goldfish?” you say?
Well, I’m glad you asked (though I still think you need serious help, but Dunning-Kruger will prevent you).
So, here’s a bunch of things academics could do.
- Study the rich and what they are doing (while refusing to study the poor)
- Communicate your findings to relevant groups in relevant ways (youtubes, Conversation articles/blogs, workshops)
- Never ever speak for longer than you were supposed to at an event
- Never ever hid behind your “Doctor”/Professor status, if you have it.
- Ask social movement organisations what research they need doing. and then do it. With them. That is teach them the skills so you become less important as time goes on (it’s also more sustainable that way)
- Loot the Ivory Tower – there are good ideas, stuck behind jargon walls and paywalls. Translate these and help other people learn to translate, while never needing translating yourself.
- Tell the truth and expose lies (I nicked that one from Uncle Noam)
- Provide historical and cultural CONTEXT.
- Explain useful ideas, academic concepts that can help activists situate themselves and their struggles (Spatial Fix, Sustainability Fix, Movement Cycles, Repertoires, Biographical Availability etc etc etc)
- Obvs be reflexive about your position in the academy/society, but don’t rend your clothes and beat your breast about it looking for affirmation or forgiveness. It’s tedious and embarrassing.
How will you know if you’re doing a good job?
- You’ll get attacked by the rich people who are threatened by your work. They’ll call you a “so-called academic” for example.
As for what we need to do differently. Well, this
- Let’s hold better meetings where people in love with the sound of their own fucking voices don’t talk for 66 per cent longer than they were supposed to. Let’s laugh/clap those empty vessels off the stage when their time is up
- Let’s have organisations where people can be involved in meaningful, rewarding and recognised ways WITHOUT HAVING TO COME TO MEETINGS. Most people hate meetings, won’t come to them
- Let’s make sure that the urgently needed skills are not only possessed by a small group of people who can, in effect, whether accidentally or on purpose, hold a group hostage because only they can… (run website, facilitate, negotiate with the police, do media interviews etc)
- Let’s understand that we are looking at a ten year sprint, and that will inevitably be a relay race (the subject of another blog post).
- Let’s actively seek out people who were involved in previous struggles on the same subject and find out what advice they have to offer. That does NOT mean take the advice- the person might be wrong, the circumstances may have changed etc, but the act of LISTENING will help, no?
Ah, fu k it, none of this will happen, and we’re all(1) going to die pitiful unnecessary but richly deserved deaths. Rather soon.
- By “all” I mean the privileged people who did sweet fuck all about the problems. Obviously the young, the dirt poor, the oppressed and all the other species do not deserve the pitiful and painful deaths they are already beginning to experience, thanks to the failures of social movement organisations these last (checks notes) fifty years.
PS To the woman who told me to get over myself. Thanks (sincerely). You were absolutely right!!!!
Just a P.S.for–it turns out–my B.S. I’m not trolling you; I’m back to tell you I was wrong about art and its interpretations. My GF set me straight by pointing out art is a collaboration between the artist and her audience. Check. The fact Taupin and Clapton/ Harrison didn’t have any interpretations for “Grey Seal” and “Badge” means nothing. The fact their audiences do means everything! The more room art has for interpretations within it, the more excellent is its artistry. Also check. So, not only must I apologize for being an asshole,I also apologize as a dumb ass. BTW, she thought your take on “Grey Seal” was spot-on.
I was afraid to disagree with her. (no offense) She makes me look like a Stoic, she gets so emotional! LOL. TY. Best. D
Hi again D,
thanks for your comment, and your GF has put into words something I didn’t manage too! The best art is stuff that keeps shifting its meanings, that has new resonances and valid interpretations each time you encounter it.
I remember when I was about 18 I was in the queue at the library and chatting to the guy in front of me who was borrowing a bunch of Maigret books by Georges Simenon. I’d read a couple (they’re psychologically rich police procedurals). I said “Oh, yeah, I read a couple of those but there was a certain sameness in them.” He gently said “Perhaps the sameness is in you?” Not to put me down, but to point out that, well, yeah, if you’re reading for plot instead of for seeing what the characters do and why, then you’ll miss a heap of what’s going on.
Reflecting on our interaction and the man-baby you went off to troll – it’s this capacity – which both of us are clearly able to do on our good days- of taking a deep breath and seeing where we’ve gotten it wrong, that separates us from the Trumps of this world, makes us fully human, and certainly keep us open to richer experiences.
All the best!!
I think we’ve got to design formats that supports movements that academics can plug their thoughts into. I think you expect too much of them.
support. damn. support! no s
I certainly agree with you. But while the academics are waiting for those movements to grow, they could at least have the courtesy to keep to time and have something to say!