Are You Secretly APP? –Here’s What You Can Do About It.
1. So you’re a professional academic philosopher.
In all likelihood, this implies that you are someone who, at some time, loved real philosophy and wanted to make it your life’s work.
2. But then it also means:
(i) that in all likelihood either you are currently are going through, or you actually went through, a long (usually, 4 to 8 year) process of graduate training in philosophy, which always includes a heavy ideological indoctrination component, imposed from above, as to how you ought to be thinking and acting in your life’s work, whether you like(d) it or not, i.e.,
by requiring you to study formal logic and pass at least one course in it, whether you like(d) it or not,
by restricting your reading in the history of philosophy to a very limited number of texts, probably most of them articles or short books written within the last thirty years, whether you like(d) it or not,
by aligning yourself with the “analytic” or “continental” or “feminist,” etc., brand names or labels, as these are or were specifically defined in the context of your graduate program and the larger profession, whether you want(ed) to or not,
and above all by becoming a hyper-specialist, well before you leave or left graduate school, in some narrow area or set of areas deemed legitimate by your professional academic supervisors, whether you want(ed) to or not;
(ii) that in all likelihood you must pass, or you have passed, a set of special qualifying examinations,
(iii) that in all likelihood you must write, or you have written, a Ph.D. or D Phil dissertation supervised and examined by more senior professional academic philosophers;
(iv) that in all likelihood you must write, or you have written, a number of papers or books published in professional journals or at academic presses according to the high, narrowly-prescribed expectations and standards, and the profession-wide ideology of such publications or presses;
(v) that in all likelihood you must apply, or you have applied, for jobs for which you might be hired, or you were hired, only after a highly competitive and personally demanding search-process rigidly conforming to the hiring department’s and hiring institutions practices, over which you have or had no say whatsoever;
(vi) that in all likelihood you will be paid, or you are being paid, for teaching philosophy and doing philosophical research, and perhaps also for doing departmental, institutional, or profession-wide “service,” at some institution of higher education; and finally
(vii) that in all likelihood you will be, or you already are, either a teaching assistant, contingent faculty, tenure track, tenured associate professor, or tenured full professor,
with a large, and indeed increasingly large, set of explicit and implicit, closely-monitored “professional expectations” and “professional obligations” to satisfy,
for the rest of your working life.
3. Suppose, now, (i) that you are totally comfortable with all this, and are in some sense flourishing and “happy,”
(ii) that you are (relatively) well paid,
(iii) that you are working at a (relatively) highly-ranked college or university,
(iv) in a (relatively) highly ranked philosophy department, and
(v) that as a consequence you will almost certainly achieve, or you have already achieved, a (relatively) high social status, both inside the profession and outside it.
Indeed, you might well be a member of The Fortune 500 Philosophy Club, i.e., the 500 or so tenure-track faculty members at the top-ranked 30 or so philosophy departments.
And further suppose, above all, that the following counterfactual is either true of you, or at least that you believe it to be true of yourself if you ever do seriously consider it:
If I weren’t being paid to do philosophy professionally and if I didn’t achieve any significant social status by doing philosophy, then I wouldn’t pursue philosophy—I’d quit, take my considerable talents somewhere else, and do something else that paid me well and gave me high social status.
4. Then you are what I call an intrinsically professional academic philosopher, because for your philosophy is just a means to a successful professional academic career, and chances are, you didn’t even take a look at APP, or if you did, you’ve already stopped reading it, because you think that
[APP is] presumptuous, condescending, sophomoric twaddle about a field a great majority of whose members display to a significant degree the virtues required to make serious contributions to any field of intellectual endeavour [and that] [y]our abysmal ignorance of that profoundly important fact is appalling – even more appalling than your spouting off on the subject.
That is, like Fanny Squeers, you “despise us and pity our ignorance.”
But in any case, if you still somehow managed to get this far, then you might as well stop reading right now.
5. But suppose, by contrast, that you aren’t totally comfortable with all of this, and you sometimes or often wonder what-the-fuck ever happened to the idealistic young person who loved real philosophy, that you once were?
Suppose further that you still love teaching philosophy and love working with your (best) students, but also find that many or even most of your professional colleagues, in your own department and across the profession, are arrogant, careerist, conformist, sanctimonious assholes, and that you learn basically nothing from them intellectually or otherwise?
Suppose even further that you find it increasingly difficult to give a shit, or anyhow a serious shit, about the research and publishing you are expected to do, and that you find it increasingly difficult to stomach the professional academic philosophy publishing racket?
And suppose, above all, that one of the two following counterfactuals is true of you, or at least you believe that one of them is true of you if you do ever seriously consider them:
(i) If I weren’t being paid to do philosophy professionally and if I didn’t achieve any social status by doing philosophy, then I would still seriously pursue philosophy—I’d do it for nothing and for zero or less-than-zero social status, because I still love real philosophy.
(ii) If I could quit professional philosophy and do something other than philosophy, that I actually want to do, then I would quit philosophy altogether and do that other thing, because I don’t actually love, or even particularly like, philosophy any more, except for the teaching, but sadly I can’t quit because I simply can’t financially afford to, or at least my partner and/or family can’t financially afford to have me do so, or it would just be too socially embarrassing for me to do so, and now it is too late for me to start another career.
6. Now suppose that you fall under (ii).
Your working life is essentially hopeless, and all you’ve got to look forward to is retirement and, if you are tenure-track, then “emeritus” status, and finally death.
So you’re professionally academically fucked. Good luck to you.
(But wait! There could still be hope for you. See 7. below.)
7. Suppose, however, that you fall under (i).
Then there’s still hope for you, you’re only an extrinsically professional academic philosopher, and more specifically, you’re what I call secretly APP.
And you need to change your life for the better.
(And for those of you who are currently professionally academically fucked: it’s not too late! You can become secretly APP too, and start to love real philosophy again.)
8. So, as secretly APP, what can you do to change your life for the better?
As I see it, there are only three ways:
(i) you can exit or semi-exit professional philosophy but still remain inside academia, say, by working in a literature department or at a law school, like Richard Rorty or Susan Haack,
(ii) you can exit professional academic philosophy altogether, and pursue real philosophy as an independent philosopher from outside, or else
(iii) you can stay inside professional academic philosophy and live what is in effect a “double life,” by outwardly conforming to professionalism, while also actively, although covertly, subverting professional academic philosophy as it is currently constituted, and changing it incrementally for the better.
9. Now (i) is practically possible only if you are already famous and/or really successful as a professional academic philosopher, but if not, then practically impossible.
For mere mortals, or people early in their careers, then, only (ii) or (iii) are real options.
But either way, you shouldn’t try to do this all on your own.
It’s just too risky, unless you’ve got intellectual and moral skin as thick as a rhinoceros’s hide, and are exceptionally self-directed and psychologically robust.
A few individualist anarcho-philosophers, like Crispin Sartwell, have very courageously tried to to do this solo, and, well, look at what happened to him.
10. Instead, here are four things you can do.
First, read, critically think about, and then self-apply two relatively short but really important fairly recent books for your purposes: James C. Scott’s Two Cheers for Anarchism, and Jeff Schmidt’s Disciplined Minds.
And having a look at Paulo Freire’s classic Pedagogy of the Oppressed could be really helpful too.
In other words: critically extrapolate Scott’s, Schmidt’s, and Freire’s arguments to professional academic philosophy and to your own situation.
Second, you can create an alternative philosophical community for yourself, composed of like-minded people from inside or outside professional philosophy—whether undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty people, independent philosophers or other non-academics—or anyhow join such a community.
Indeed, it’s a very good idea to make sure that at least some of the members of this group are in fact outside professional philosophy, whether because they’re in different disciplines, or because they are outside the Professional Academic State altogether.
Then be in regular communication with them, engage philosophically with them as often as is humanly possible, and above all, engage regularly in a collective activity that quietly, or not so quietly, subverts professional academic philosophy.
In other words: together with the other members of your alternative philosophical community, explicitly or implicitly tell professional academic philosophy to fuck off, and then actually enjoy your philosophical life, for a change.
Third, you can formulate and pursue some long-term philosophical project (or a sequenced set of shorter-term projects) that expresses only your own love of real philosophy and only your own deep-rooted needs for intellectual, moral, political, and/or religious enlightenment.
Then, in accordance with that project or set of projects, create some works of philosophy. In view of the thesis of presentational polymorphism, these philosophical works could take any presentational form whatsoever, provided that this form is essentially connected with the work’s philosophical content.
So just haul off and create some works of philosophy, then disseminate them and share them with interested others. Use the internet or other electronic media. Or live performance. Or hard copy self-publishing. Or whatever!
In other words: together with the other members of your alternative philosophical community, explicitly or implicitly tell the professional academic philosophy publishing racket to fuck off, and then actually enjoy your philosophical life, for a change.
Fourth, and finally, you can use what Scott so aptly calls “the weapons of the weak.”
Classic weapons-of-the-weak strategies include foot-dragging, rule-breaking whenever you can get away with it, ideological sabotage/vandalism ditto, non-compliance ditto, or minimal fingers-crossed-behind-your-back compliance, and so-on.
And that’s just what oppressed ordinary peasants and exploited proletarian workers have always done and still do, at least when the control-&-surveillance system isn’t too efficient.
OK, it’s true that the control-&-surveillance system of the Professional Academic State is really good.
And the coercive moralists, aka “Social Justice Warriors,” aka SJWs, in professional academic philosophy, have no compunction whatsoever about being Maoist collaborators and informers
–indeed, they even think they’re being really, really “liberal” and “progressive,” not to mention being the best of all possible good little do-bees, by snitching on, outing, shaming, and punishing their big bad don’t-bee colleagues.
But secretly APP people and overtly APP people are the truly creative, critical, autonomously thinking people, the real philosophers.
And they’ve got the will to resist and subvert, because they love real philosophy wholeheartedly, and because they hate what professionalization and neo-liberalization are doing to real philosophy and to themselves.
So in other words: as secretly APP, or overtly APP, we haven’t yet even BEGUN to be sufficiently creative about forging our weapons of the weak.
–To take just three small, entry-level examples of anarcho-professional callisthenics, to get you warmed up:
(i) Forward links to APP posts you especially like to trusted philosophy friends. And ask them to do the same.
(ii) For the same APP posts, copy and print them out, highlight your favourite passages, and then put them up on the bulletin board(s) in your departmental office, graduate student lounge, or whatever, when no one else is watching.
And if the SJWs or other good little professional academic philosophy do-bees take them down, as they almost surely will, and demand to know who is responsible, then you simply keep your mouth shut tight as a drum and covertly put them up again.
Then repeat as needed.
(iii) Write an APP post, or posts, yourself, then create your own pseudonym! or use your own real-life name, or whatever, and send your post or posts along to us.
Then we’ll publish it/them for you.
–We’re always hyper-happy to feature the work of new contributors to the APP project.