The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

‘A Poor Impression Of The Insular, Cliquish Culture Of Their Discipline’

Posted on | February 17, 2012 | 4 Comments

by Smitty

An interesting article at Slate reprints an article from a decade ago about a non-professional philosopher who wrote a serious philosophical tract and then, retaining anonymity, paid philosophers to engage on it in scholarly journals. James Ryerson then goes on a hunt to unmask this anonymous thinker, with anti-climactic results, emphasis mine:

After all, the philosophers I had spoken with had assumed from the very beginning that “Coming to Understanding” was the work of an amateur. Not only did the draft itself suggest an amateur’s hand, but the whole elaborate production of the institute was a bright, shining neon advertisement for the fact that this was not a professional philosopher working through professional channels.
No, quite obviously it was the money that had convinced the reviewers to write their reviews. If anything, the institute’s anonymity had only made reviewers reluctant to participate. So I wrote Sanders back, suggesting that if his primary goal was, as he stated, to attract reviewers, then he should rest assured that my article would only broaden the range of philosophers who might be interested in contributing to his project.
His reply was revealing, for his message had changed. He explained that he no longer expected that he could genuinely interest the sort of professional academics who read Lingua Franca. Despite his deep admiration for the work of trained philosophers, he had come to form a poor impression of the insular, cliquish culture of their discipline. “I have found professional philosophers to be a proud, demanding bunch who protect their terrain with great contempt for outsiders,” he wrote. “My past attempts to publish my work did not get beyond the first contact stage because I had ‘no standing in the academy.'”

The whole article is interesting, if you’re keen on metaphysical topics. The bolded organizational behavior point is one that crops up every time you have a non-trivial number of people involved in an effort. Two of my favorite sayings in life:

  • People don’t scale.
  • Everything is easy when you know how to do it.

When you have more than, say, a half dozen people working together on a non-trivial effort, a standard normal distribution pops up, as leaders drift toward the management tail on the right, and the bums drift toward the left tail and check in with the #Occupy movement.

Staffing comes and goes in the left and middle, but the more people hang around, learn, and become skilled, the more to the right they drift, and the same sort of bitchy philosophers club alluded to in the article will form. Inevitably.

Will the conservative blogosphere suffer from this ‘malady’? It already does, or never will, depending upon your perspective. The barriers to entry are exceedingly low, the turnover is quite high, and technology tends to lob bolders at the keep of your coveted readership.

Aside: I absolutely meant no reference whatsoever to Mrs. Burri in this post. I was trying to crack a contextual joke, which was probably better left alone. I don’t really think he took it personally, but in such matters, I will always flog the horse well past dead.

via Stephen R. C. Hicks


4 Responses to “‘A Poor Impression Of The Insular, Cliquish Culture Of Their Discipline’”

  1. richard mcenroe
    February 17th, 2012 @ 11:03 am

    The generation that spent the 60’s turfing out the sclerotic, corrupt unresponsive old fogeys of academia and government are now the NEW sclerotic, corrupt, unresponsive old fogeys. In every field.

  2. Steve Burri
    February 17th, 2012 @ 11:04 am

    Are you now calling the Trog Mrs. Burri? Now you’ve really insulted Mrs. Burri!

  3. smitty
    February 17th, 2012 @ 11:14 am

    No, these problems predate the ’60s.

  4. smitty
    February 17th, 2012 @ 11:15 am

    No, I’m alluding to Trog’s comment on the post. 🙂