[lbo-talk] posh as fuck

Wojtek S wsoko52 at gmail.com
Fri Dec 9 06:07:05 PST 2011

I have a tendency, a character flaw if you will, to feel a strong urge to desecrate pieties and holy grails when I encounter them in my life. It is a method of empirical testing of their sacredness of a sort, putting them to a trial to see if their purported holiness can save them from profanity. I had this since I was a child. I started from looking for most obvious and conventional pieties and then desecrate in the most obvious and conventional way - such as uncontrollably giggling during Momentous and Ponderous Occasions, stomping on crucifixes, or urinating into "holy" water vessels located at Catholic churches. As I grew older, however, I become more sophisticated in both identifying pieties and devising methods of desecrating them. When I was in the 7th grade, I picked up a Polish national flag left from a celebration of some pompous occasion at my school, crossed it out and wrote "Long live Mussolini" across it. It was an intuitive act, to be sure, but the choice of Mussolini over Hitler signified an advanced method of desecration. Hitler is an obvious evil, a negative piety if you will. Therefore, desecrating a Polish national flag with Hitler would be tantamount to replacing one piety with another, just of a different flavor. Mussolini, on the hand, was petty and much less known evil in comparison to Hitler but also less vulgar than a simple act of urination. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I was caught doing this and punished accordingly, which demonstrated the need for an even greater sophistication in finding and desecrating pieties.

In high school, I was in the so-called science track (most of Europe has an early tracking system) on my way to college to become an Engineer. Becoming and Engineer was the holy grail of a professional career in the Communist Poland, a piety combining the ideal of Higher Productivity extolled by the Communist ideology, and a Higher Social Status extolled by the petite bourgeois mores. To desecrate that, for example, I would proclaim in my calculus class that I really do not need this BS in my career, and when the teacher objected by pointing out the multiple uses of calculus in Engineering, I would reply that I intend to become a garbage collector or a gangster instead. I would even briefly enroll in vocational training or bring knives to school to prove the point. Later on, in my 12th grade I became even more sophisticated in my methods of desecration. For example, in my biology class, I would challenge the holy grail of the evolution theory with the ideas of Pierre Teilhard de Charidn, and obscure French paleontologist cum philosopher who married the theory of evolution with St. Thomas Aquinas theology (the Argument from Degree, to be more precise) and smirk when the poor teacher could refute deChardin's ideas.

My final desecration of the holy grail of Life as an Engineer came at my HS graduation when, instead of applying to the engineering school, I sent my paper to a philosophy department at a small liberal arts college. My poor father, an Engineer himself, was in despair. "It is a hobby, not a profession" he maintained, not realizing that this was precisely the point behind my decision. I did not want to celebrate the conventional piety of the Productive and Socially Respectable Way of Life and I thought that Contemplating Obscure and Irrelevant Bullshit as a Way of Life was a perfect way of desecrating the conventional piety.

To be sure, philosophy is full of pieties but also full of counter-pieties. Consequently, acts like proclaiming the superiority of Roland Barthes' semiotics over Descarets' rationality in my epistemology seminar was hardly an act of sacrilege at all, just a minor heresy that reaffirmed the framework. Upon my graduation from the philosophy department I put a few more minor stunts, such as going to the Unemployment Office and asking them to find me a job of a philosopher, or eventually taking the floor at a philosophical conference pulled together by my Alma Mater and proclaiming that all that philosophical quibbling amounts to nothing, and the Way to Go is to join the independent labor movement (it was met with ominous silence.)

I went on finding and desecrating pieties throughout the entire poor excuse for my academic career, but I realized that academia is pretty immune to challenges. It assimilates them and turns them into minor controversies that merely affirm the framework of conventional wisdom.

But those who play the role of the devils' advocate in this process also pay the price - they seldom get admitted to the spoils of academic life - be it tenured positions, posh research projects, or Status and Reverence Brought You by Peer Recognition. You can spend your entire academic career by word processing reiterations of some conventional wisdom,which will bring you not only a tenure but also a multitude of distinguished scholarship awards, but if you are identified as a challenger to that wisdom, you spend your entire "career" toiling on the academic margins where you occupy a position only a notch above research assistants or adjuncts, and cranking out your arguments that occasionally get published but to which few pay any attention.

Indeed, academia is not only the bastion of conventional wisdom, but also the graveyard of critical thinking and challenges to that wisdom.

But then, academia is not an exception in this respect. The so counter-culture is another realm where counter-pieties become pieties of a different flavor and defended from sacrilege by All Means Necessary.


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