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I Have a Dream (How Academia Got Pwned 6)

This is the sixth post in a series about the glorious completion of my academic career, the internet, and the future of intellectual life. At some point, I will very likely edit and compose this story into a nice little book. To hear about that, make sure you've subscribed.


My hearing for “gross misconduct” was supposed to take place today. Unfortunately, it had to be postponed because my union rep couldn’t make it for some undisclosed reason! Now that I have some breathing room, and because frankly I’d like a break from writing about the details of the case, this post will start to explain what exactly I plan on doing next.

First, though, just a few extra details for those who enjoy academic intrigue. Skip this paragraph if you can’t be bothered. For those who can, welcome to Wolf Hall. So now they need to reschedule the hearing. Unless they’re able to organize it sooner than seven days from now, this would mean I’m guaranteed at least one more paycheck! If I were to resign, I have to give three months notice, which means three more months of pay (they could reject my resignation and dismiss me, theoretically, although this would be unheard of). If I go down for a normal dismissal, I’d also get three more months of pay, because they’d have to give notice, too. But if I go down for summary dismissal, my pay would cease immediately, my visa expiration clock would start ticking then, and we’d have to flee ASAP. With even a chance of that, I’m sure as hell not waiting around to be left with my dick in my hands! Which is why our move is already underway and I can say it all on the internet. If somehow I’m not dismissed, I would admittedly have to give the university tremendous credit for their free speech bona fides; I’d be so surprised that I might have to seriously consider staying in academia! In which case we could just rent a new place. Either way I have received one or two kind offers for a place to stay in London if necessary. Quite romantic really, I feel like Emma Goldman or Lenin on the run, getting kicked out of countries and shuffling between hiding places. This university really knows how to flatter my ego. My wife and I have already discussed with our landlord that we’ll be moving out on February 12 regardless, we’re selling all our large belongings, and giving away our books to internet friends (that includes you, by the way).

All right, so at this point in the story, some readers might reasonably be wondering why I seem so happy and triumphant, given that I appear to be losing my career in a high-visibility fall from grace. Isn’t this one of the worst things that can happen today? Well, I’ve been watching very closely all the high-profile “falls from grace” we’ve seen in the past few years, and I’m not at all convinced it’s such a bad thing. Or rather, it is such a severe and obvious threat that you’d be crazy not to prepare for it. But you can’t just be resilient to your enemies, as Papa Taleb teaches, you must be antifragile. Don’t just survive attacks, game them so the attacks make you better off. And if you’re someone like me on a genuine warpath, you have no choice: the threat alone renders the institutional game virtually unlivable, which means it forces us to divert effort toward theorizing exit strategies. (In the Murphyverse, warpath is shorthand for the overthrowing of institutions via truth-seeking. Nobody believes this but I am still genuinely working in the mold of the left-wing revolutionary intellectual, and I have never not been, but that’s another post for another day.)

I realized this at least three years ago. Without really trying, I started then spending a lot of time strategizing, though not about how I would survive financially (most academics don’t really have to worry about ever being super poor, they’re mostly afraid of losing luxuries and status). All I would think about is: How can I keep doing serious, focused, high-level, high-impact intellectual work for the rest of my life, if not in academia? There are teenagers on Youtube who make more money than I do; some people earn a living off their podcast; many random people make serious money self-publishing novels on Amazon. Surely if I can get a PhD and hold down a full-time professional gig, I can figure out some way to think, say, research, write, and produce what I believe in, on the internet — and make it pay rent, somehow.

The problem is, nobody has quite nailed how to do this, for the case of independent, high-brow, and radical intellectual work. Plenty of “non-fiction authors” do the multi-level-marketing self-help guru model (some variation on “I will teach you how to make money on the internet by teaching other people how to make money on the internet”), but needless to say I refuse to do that (if I ever even approach it, please pillory me). There are arguably a few people trying, and impressively, but struggling (and they often don’t have families). I don’t want to struggle, and I want to have kids. I want to innovate a new game-changing model of the intellectual life. Something that’s superior to academia in every way, something that could succeed so smashingly it would lower the perceived risk to other genuine intellectuals suffering in academia, enabling a cascade of defections. This was what I started dreaming about. The more I thought about it, the more ideas I came up with, until I had so many — and was sufficiently convinced of their plausibility — that I eventually found myself eager for my downfall. As my exit schemes piled up and refined themselves, I was honestly having a hard time getting out of bed to do all the academic busywork. Sometimes your body really can make decisions for you (I give thanks to the neurobiologist Antonio Damasio, whose Looking for Spinoza really confirmed my intuitions at this time).

This is basically why I’m happy, and I already consider myself triumphant — although I’ve hardly just begun. The beauty of my plan is not only that it doesn’t need academia, and it’s not only that academia can’t take it from me, it’s that the more they try, the more likely it is to succeed. Having said that, it would also be a mistake if my plan required academia to attack me. Then I would be equally dependent, and even more sadly, because I would have to run around like a victim to succeed. Before now, in fact, this was quickly becoming the default mold, “indignant professor protesting censorship,” etc. But c’mon, pull yourself together. My plan benefits from silly normies freaking out, but should succeed even if all the silly normies have no idea what’s going on. That is the problem with silly normies, after all: you never know when they’re going to find you a grave threat that must be stopped immediately, and when they’re going to find you an incomprehensible and insignificant, loser “blogger.” So our plan has to work on all of these days. 1275 words in, now it’s 12:30am and after all this background, I need some sleep. I’ll briefly sketch the dream in generalities, and in a later post will I back it up and “flesh it out” as they say (I've always found that phrase disgusting).

I’m going to omit a lot for now, just to focus on what I think should be the centerpiece for most serious long-term intellectual lives: the book. I want to write many, big, badass books. I want them to be read in a hundred years, even a thousand if the species is still around. I don’t believe the idea that Youtube or blogs or whatever will replace or remove the book from its privileged position as the primary medium for mature intellectual production and transmission. For my goals, to become a full-time Youtuber, or only a blogger, or only a podcaster, would probably be a mistake. Rather, the key insight behind my model — which I’m already running on, really, though it’s not fully conscious yet — is that these newer media are game-changing multipliers for idea generation/drafting as well as transmission/distribution, but they are unlikely to be the primary goal or focus for the autonomous intellectual of the twenty-first century.

I will explain this more exactly in an upcoming post, but, in short, I believe there exists an optimal way to plug these machines into each other, such that efficiency gains and a few positive externalities, may be enough to make a previously unprofitable endeavor (writing high-brow intellectual books without institutional endorsements) financially sustainable, the catch is that it will have to be one moving part in a whole new kind of intellectual enterprise. The ultimate social contribution or value of that enterprise is to create and sustain what, in the Murphyverse, we call a reality fork. If social reality is splitting, you’re either going to create and lead a fork or join a fork. Currently one can lead a fork, and be rank-and-file in another fork, though competition may increasingly make this an unaffordable luxury. But this will take much more space to explain. I’ve said enough for now.

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