Rethinking intellectual production models (How Academia Got Pwned 7)

This is the seventh post in a series about the glorious completion of my academic career, the internet, and the future of intellectual life. This will probably become a book. If you'd like to hear about that when it happens, be sure to subscribe.

You’ll recall from my last post that one of my goals is to rethink the production model for what I was clunkily calling serious, high-brow, radical intellectual production. I need a better shorthand for that, but I’m just referring to the small percentage of every generation that is smart, educated, and possessed by that particular lust for knowledge beyond what is considered reasonable or appropriate by bourgeois society (and beyond what is marketable to mass audiences). I argued that nobody has quite yet nailed down a model for doing this in a way that is financially sustainable over a lifetime, in today’s digital context. Some brave souls are figuring it out quite impressively, but it’s not yet really nailed down. If someone does have it really figured out, they have not yet open-sourced the model, because as far as I know, there does not exist any known path for doing this. This is what I want to do, this is what I am trying to do. In the last post I sketched some generalities, but in this post I want to start sharing the concrete details of my logistical calculations.

What I’m going to share here is only one, pretty arbitrary, back-of-the-napkin exercise. The model I will present may turn out to have some erroneous assumptions, that will need to be corrected along the way, but the beauty of innovating a radically independent and idiosyncratic lifestyle experiment is that I can be very quick to update and iterate the model as I go. Also, in practice, my life over the next year is almost certainly not going to be as neat as this model looks. I’m sure there will be unpredictable roadblocks and snags of all kinds, so I don’t intend to project a dishonest degree of certainty, organization, or formality that never really existed until I sat down to write this. I have no idea how things will really work, this is just one quick effort to formalize the kind of thoughts I’ve had in the shower every damn day for the past three years. These are the same conjectures that Other Life has been built on, and they seem to be working according to plan, but I’ve never really sat down to sketch out the idealized model. This will take a few posts, which I’ll intersperse with the other plot.

By the way, just yesterday, I was assigned to a new investigation meeting. This is strange given that a hearing was already announced, but I suppose they want to squeeze in all the incriminating evidence they can. And boy is there a lot of it now! The new charges? Basically they’re all for writing this very string of blog posts. The evidence file is just copypasta from what you’ve been reading the past few days. That’s right, I just broke the fourth wall. You’re now a supporting character in this grand narrative. How does it feel? It will be fascinating if they go and include this post in the evidence against me. That’s like breaking the fifth wall. Also, the new charges are quite creepy to be honest. One of them is: “breached the implied duty of fidelity.” I couldn’t produce better language for this absurdist drama if I were an actual novelist.

Currently, mature academically-oriented intellectuals produce a few types of products and services, in order to shape the culture and earn an income. Scholarly research articles presenting novel theoretical or empirical findings; academic books doing the same at greater length; mass-market books doing the same but making them accessible to a popular audience; teaching lecture-based courses (transmitting their knowledge); teaching seminar-based courses (facilitating mature students’ independent development); one-on-one mentorship/support/advice for students. I and others have written extensively about how extraordinary are the costs and taxes on providing these products and services through currently existing institutions, so I’m not going to make that case at all here. I’m just going to show you what I hypothesize to be the optimal way for any academic (or any sufficiently smart, educated, and productive person) to offer this whole suite of products and services in a way that is radically liberated from nearly all political correctness and institutional constraints more generally; more productive of true knowledge; more efficient; more satisfying; more fun; more ethical; and, I believe, financially sustainable over a lifetime.

Right now, there is a big heavy anchor hiding beneath the surface of every academic intellectual’s entire life. It’s whatever they did their PhD on. This is the center of the diagram from which almost all of their later intellectual products and services must flow. In the institutional game, very little is possible that gets too far from this. Certainly most of your novel contributions to research knowledge, your courses, but also most of your public-facing work too. (There is a vanishingly small set, in the highest strata of the cognitive elite, who may, after at least a decade of paying dues, have an influential career writing and teaching on truly diverse topics; these people enjoy such rare gifts of intelligence plus conscientiousness that it’s best to ignore them as outliers irrelevant to the comparisons and choices made by the much larger set of mere mortals, like me). In so many ways I cannot begin to explain here, this whole framework for an intellectual life is just hopelessly sub-optimal.

In my model, the central unit of intellectual production will be the individual, stand-alone book. This has always been seen as the primary unit of high-brow intellectual content, so it makes sense to start here, and ask: How can we design a life for the optimal production of these objects over time — where “optimal” refers to some weighted function of truth-content, intensity, quantity, cultural impact, or whatever, conditional ultimately on the strengths, weaknesses, and preferences of each particular author. How can one write the most significant, most original, most impactful books — and as many as possible — in a way that is financially sustainable? To be honest, that’s all I ever set out to do with my life, and here I am with a “secure” academic career, no shortage of ability or discipline, but still not even one book published. This is why I’m here, screaming from the rooftops.

Culture changes so rapidly today, that we also need our model to be as nimble and agile as possible. Here serious intellectuals on a mission to shape the culture need to steal from tech startup culture: Most of what succeeds in the world today leverages rapid prototyping, minimum viable products, constant experimental (“a/b”) testing, and the capacity to update/pivot, sometimes dramatically. The underlying principles are constant flows of measurable, external feedback and everything organized to be capable of updating swiftly and responsively. This is not capitulation We want our visions to look far ahead, and we want our whole project locked unshakably on the truths we see as far ahead as possible, but the problem is we don’t really know what those are, exactly, already. The feedback we are concerned with is not “sales” or “customer satisfaction” levels, rather we need signals from the outside about what is really true and what makes truth resonate. These factors are very likely correlated with metrics such as sales and website traffic, but this does not invalidate the distinct authenticity of the intellectual warpath — it only reflects why these other criteria are such dangerous temptation-traps that have captured and neutralized so many radical intellectuals of the past.

The solution is not to mock and avoid the measurement of “key performance indicators (KPIs),” as if your lazy half-assed writing career is really destroying neoliberal governmentalities because you heroically don’t understand how to setup Google Analytics. Lazy academics and so-called critical theorists have made a whole cottage industry around how they are too good to have any idea about the effects, consequences, success, or failure of anything. This doesn’t make them good, it rather ensures they will not accomplish anything, and makes them feel noble for what is only a confused and helpless fidelity to all currently existing institutions. The solution is better KPIs, custom fit for a mature and militant intellectual enterprise. I have much more to say here (such as this, but this suffices for us to proceed with the basic logic of the new model. We each want and need an individual vision, to which we hold tight over the long-run, but while minimizing path-dependencies that lock us into incomplete models of the world. Thus, an attraction of the book as the primary unit around which we should wrap everything else, is that it’s a good compromise between patient, focused commitment to something substantial, while also permitting virtually unlimited change between books.

I should say up front that I am assuming a previous history of research experience, a personal library (in the mind but also on the computer), solid writing skills and speed, etc. What I’m going to describe is certainly doable for people who do not yet have these as much as they would like, but my time estimates will need to be increased for such cases. This is actually one of my points, insofar as my project is a call to arms for other academics and bourgeois professionals: academics have built up a lot of skills and resources that would make them very effective, very rapidly, if and when they could just free themselves from all the fetters.

That summarizes a few key points about the background logic of where I’m going with this. But it’s already too long for one post. Tomorrow we’re going to start immediately with the model itself. I’ll start to give you estimated numbers, sequences, and projections.

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.

Lecturer DESTROYS University's Reputation (How Academia Got Pwned 5)

This is the fifth 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.

If you recall from a previous post, when my Dean informed me of my suspension, she said she was being inundated with complaints.

I was curious how many complaints had really been lodged. Was she bluffing or was her bar for what counts as major outrage just really low? In the final investigation report, it was incumbent upon them to include the actual complaints. They attach as evidence a few emails and one face-to-face interview they conducted, but since the names are redacted it’s hard to know how many of these complaints are from unique individuals. Was the face-to-face interview with someone who submitted an email? The report was not clear about this. But even generously assuming every included complaint is from a unique person, I count only a grand total of 5 student complaints lodged against me over the several months of the investigation. Plus only 1 complaint from the public. Keep in mind that one of the student complaints, and the one public complaint, were both lodged after the Daily Mail articles, so they don’t reflect organic protest or discontent caused by, say, something I said or did in the classroom or online before this controversy. They partially reflect the university pwning itself by suspending me and drawing media attention. Some of the student complaints even say explicitly that they heard about me from friends posting screenshots on social media, which certainly doesn’t invalidate any objections they might have — but it does suggest we’re not talking about some popular groundswell of objections from several young minds independently traumatized by my speech history. We’re talking about a small campaign by probably one or two students, to get a few friends to submit complaints.

If two Daily Mail headlines can only get you a grand total of 6 complaints over the course of several months, you might want to shop around for something more problematic. Maybe go find a mural of white men getting diplomas! Oops, that’s a World War I memorial. That’s right folks, I’m not making this up: The same student who protested my occasional use of the word “retard” and triggered my suspension, would find herself the victim of a much larger outrage mob. She got suspended, too. Want to know what negative reputation effects really look like? Try here or here, for a few small samples. To be clear, I support her 100%. Students should certainly be free to say whatever they want, and I include in that talking smack at and about profs on the internet. I just wish she didn’t apologize. She could have turned her story into quite an internet product. She should have hired my consulting agency before deciding how to play it. We could be collaborating right now. With all this free time we both have, imagine what we could be doing together to overthrow our common enemies. I’m not even kidding. Unfortunately, it appears she has chosen the path of apologizing, but she could still change her strategy…

If you’re reading this Emily, have your people call my people. You are not my enemy. As I’ve always said, I support student radicalism. We could make a video together in Southampton. Do you realize how mega viral it would go? On its back you could launch a whole “lifestyle brand,” make yourself the face of British feminist youth culture, and (if successful) be much richer and happier than you otherwise would be after graduating and getting a statistically average job. Of course, my consulting agency would suggest you take an “anti political correctness” turn here, come out and say you’ve learned the problem with “social justice warriors,” and make yourself the heroine of free speech feminism. I kid you not, you could do this right now and it could work.

(Minor corrections 12/22/2019 at 19:36 GMT, I toned down my initially overzealous confidence in a radical counter-institutional gambit for Emily. I still absolutely think it could work, and I would still be eager to collaborate, but given that my operation has not yet concluded, it would be irresponsible of me to nudge her too strongly in this direction. Not everyone would be cut out for such a path, and it is risky, so I should not glibly encourage a young person to do it, especially if I don't know them.)

The Highest Ranking Non-Player Characters (How Academia Got Pwned 4)

This is the fourth post in a series about the glorious completion of my academic career, the internet, and the future of intellectual life. I'm curious: Would you like to read the whole story, edited, in a beautiful paperback? I may have an announcement soon, so be sure to subscribe. Custom meme by @w_guppy.

When two individuals represent radically different forms of life, a minor detail in one interaction can reveal the otherwise invisible, tectonic plates beneath the order of the world. In the meeting where my Dean handed me the suspension letter, there was a point in the conversation where she referred to me as a philosopher or something like that… She was trying to be nice and generous; she is a social scientist, and she was trying to say how she is not judging the content of my writing or speaking or ideas, as she understands what I’m doing is different… She contrasted me to herself, a social scientist. This was quite a slip, because I am a social scientist. Obviously she has tons of academics under her remit, and I would never expect her to know all of their scholarly identities. But if you’re suspending someone, I would imagine you might, I don’t know, do a quick review of their publication history? My most recent and prestigious publications are clearly empirical, quantitative, social science articles.

Academia fancies itself as a more humane alternative to the corporate machine, but when the surface cracks ever so slightly, and you catch a glimpse behind the curtain, you realize the humanistic gloss is actually a higher level of brutality. It’s not more human than the business world, it’s the business world plus an extra layer of deception, an extra layer of exploitation where the performance of friendly disinterested intellectualism is only the most effective way to use other humans as objects. Successful academic administrators know how to extract desired behavior from others with far more ruthless efficiency than any CEO, or even the algorithms of Facebook. She was being so nice, how could I possibly speak poorly of her, let alone to the public? I struggle with pangs of guilt as I write this, but that’s how they get you. That’s how an oppressive social order — always an order of lies — reproduces itself, despite everyone knowing and loathing the lies. Institutions are just dead inhuman matter, people will gladly disobey and overthrow institutions. But institutions pay some humans really well to cue the biases and heuristics of other humans, to induce desired behaviors through emotional blackmail.

An administrator is a human who rents out their body to an algorithm (the institution, essentially Capital) because only human bodies can trigger evolved social cues. An administrator rents out their eyeballs, for instance, because eye contact generates oxytocin in the target — sorry, I mean “colleague” — and such biochemicals make it really hard for that employee to do things like tell simple truths on their blog. Thus, a careful but unwavering analytical coldness is an absolute requirement for anyone interested in understanding how social institutions function; how dominant lies and brutalities are so resilient to critique and protest; and ultimately, to generate real dynamics of collective liberation. High-level functionaries of mainstream institutions are evil robots evolved precisely to exploit our emotions for the survival of their host. Any real intellectual must treat them as such, openly and publicly.

This is why any serious protest against unjust institutions, weirdly enough, requires one to embody a certain dose of — or really just the appearance of what they will call — evil. If these blog posts seem somewhat cruel or petty or unhinged, that’s because the highly evolved existence of evil institutions is such that any concretely effective act of simply describing the problem appears as deranged aggression. Not because I’m deranged or aggressive, but because evil is refinement.

This is also why, now, reality is forking. To many people, my missives simply could not read as anything other than the lashing out of a lunatic, and perhaps they are not wrong. To me, however, and many of the people actually reading these missives — we cannot see mainstream institutions as anything other than a conspiracy of liars and bores. For most of history, our viewpoint was never able to constitute itself as a social reality, because the liars and bores always had disproportionate access to broadcast media. It is only right now that we are crossing the historical threshold where the declining effectiveness of broadcast media is intersecting with sufficiently widespread communities of peer-to-peer social reality production, that now the mainstream worldview of institutional functionaries is the crackpot conspiracy theory unable to constitute itself. In reading these missives, in hearing these words as someone just telling their truths, you branch with me into a hard fork of reality itself. If you write or make something with similar assumptions, and I read or watch it, we rush even further ahead of those still operating on the deprecated codebase. This is already happening in a million different directions across the internet, of course, I am only trying to theorize how this production of social reality works, demonstrate empirically that it does indeed work, and stimulate more and more people to do it however they might please.

Though my observations occasionally zoom in on particular individuals, I should clarify that this is not a personal attack on anyone. The administrators of large bureaucratic institutions are not evil, they’re merely possessed by evil. They typically have no agency whatsoever, having sold it off so long ago. They are only the highest ranking non-player characters. People reach high administrative positions because they — more fully than any of their peers — are the most perfectly empty, passive vessels for whatever the institution needs at any moment. In the academic context, most high-level administrators did, at some point, knowingly make a Faustian bargain, where they traded the truth-seeking vocation of the true intellectual for a bigger paycheck (the terms are nearly explicit in academia). That is a true sin, for which there will be a reckoning, but that is none of my business. Don’t judge these poor souls, pray for them.

Paid Vacation Begins (How Academia Got Pwned 3)

This is the third post in a series about the glorious completion of my academic career, the internet, and the future of intellectual life. Tell me: Would you like to read the whole story, edited, in a beautiful paperback? I may have an announcement soon, so be sure to subscribe.

My first day of teaching in Fall 2018 would have been October 3rd, so of course — normally — I would have spent the day and night of October 2nd preparing.

I was scrambling to get everything done mid-day on October 2nd, when I received an email from my Dean. She called me into her office for an urgent meeting. A few hours later, I entered her office, where she was accompanied by a high-ranking person from HR (I don’t know exactly what an “HR Business Partner” is, but if you’re looking at one across a table, you know you’re in deep shit). After some niceties, my Dean proceeded to explain the purpose of the meeting. With a most kind and gentle tone — and the HR Tsarina nodding along — she told me she was being inundated with complaints, and that I was to be suspended forthwith, in order that my ongoing investigation could be extended. I think I said, “Hmm,” and looked at the wall for a moment. My initial feeling was just relief, that I would not have to stay up all night finalizing my syllabus and lecture notes for my class the next day. Now smirking slightly, my second thought was, “this is kind of exciting.” My third thought was, “this is going to make great content.”

After some back and forth clarifying the situation, my Dean asked me not to discuss the matter publicly, and I told her that I was genuinely happy to respect the protocols of the investigation, but I would have to warn her. I write and speak about how social institutions function, I told her, and this will surely be one of the most surprising and fascinating encounters I’ll ever have had with a social institution. Not talking about it whatsoever would be out of the question, therefore. Violation of the confidentiality was itself grounds for disciplinary action, she reminded me. Yes, I said, but I will have to weigh the risk of punishment, up to and including dismissal, with the benefits of maintaining my vocation as an independent thinker and writer and speaker. I promised her earnestly that I would not wantonly bring scandalous attention to the university, but I would also need to follow my conscience — and my own strategic interests — to say what I think is true and in need of saying. I told her plainly that I already have a paying audience and community around my independent intellectual work, and a suspension would only grow my audience. I even gave them an out. I said, frankly, “Are you sure you want to do this? This is going to be good for me, and bad for the university…” They were just confused.

I could tell the conversation was not proceeding as they presumed it would. When she began the meeting, she spoke as if she expected me to burst into tears any moment, stressing the plethora of mental health services available to me. By now, they were kindly giving me vaguely raised eyebrows and typical British euphemisms, “So what you’re saying is…?” No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is what I’m actually saying. You should try it.

As I write this now more than three months later, I can already say my prediction has been vindicated, even while I’ve respectfully declined to provoke any significant media attention (which I could have easily spent the past few months doing). People hear through the grapevine, I pick up a few new patrons each month, my paid monthly seminar experiment went from 4 participants to 9, my free private discussion forum has grown to be every bit as intelligent and stimulating as any scholarly community I’ve known, and I get DMs and emails from new people asking to join every day. But more valuable than anything is that, because of this absurd drama, people now know for sure that I can be counted on to say whatever I really think at all times, even when something is threatening my livelihood and status. All I’ve ever aspired to as an intellectual is to have the time and space to work on figuring out some things that are really true, and to earn just enough of an audience to give whatever I find a chance of being preserved and passed on. From the outside, it might look like I’m pissing away my career. But as far as I can tell, I’m just kicking away a ladder, and by doing so I am securing beyond question something much more precious, which is proof I can’t be bought.

Only now am I writing everything out. These posts are drawing a lot of readers (thank you by the way, for reading and for sharing, apparently). I kept my promise that I would not say or do anything that might bring attention to the matter while the investigation was ongoing. I gave the university months to save itself from the self-harm they were threatening, but it was no use. The investigation ended right before Christmas and, it turns out, they’re choosing war — but now I’m jumping ahead…

Mushrooms, Modafinil, and Mass Shooters (How Academia Got Pwned 2)

This is the second post in a series about the glorious completion of my academic career, the internet, and the future of intellectual life. Tell me: Would you like to read the whole story, edited, in a beautiful paperback? I may have an announcement soon, so be sure to subscribe.

After two wildly incorrect Daily Mail features, it’s high time I set the story straight. This will take a while, but I can start with a basic clarification of some common questions I’ve received. What did I actually get in trouble for, exactly? The abortion comments, tripping on Instagram, using the word “retard,” shoplifting from self-checkout kiosks, or what?

My disciplinary troubles first started back in May of 2018, when a public complaint was lodged about one of my personal blog posts. I was asked whether I had ethics approval for my blog post, which is strange because there has never been even an implicit expectation that personal blog posts exploring public data need ethics approval. When you consider the post that attracted the complaint, it’s no longer very puzzling. In The Alt Right is not All Right, I sought to estimate the ideological distribution of an internet subculture associated with the so-called Alt Right. This matter was placed under investigation for several months. They asked me to take the post down in the meantime, I said no, and I was waiting on a verdict for several months.

Then on September 6, 2018, I received a letter from my Dean inviting me to an investigation meeting. The letter was at such pains to stress that the investigation was not disciplinary that it was clear we were now embarking on a major disciplinary imbroglio. Academia is filled with this kind of USSR-level doublespeak. Due to some new information that was brought to her attention, the investigation would now include several new issues:

You have published your use of the drugs LSD (Class A), Adderall, MDMA (Class A), psilocybin (Class A), Modafinil and Cannabis for academic purposes, on Twitter

You posted a video to Instagram on 10 February 2017, whilst on sabbatical, “tripping on psilocybin” (“magic” mushroom)

You have stated that your chatrooms are a safe place for, amongst others, “pedophiles and mass shooters”

That last one you haven’t heard until now. But let’s go in order…

The first matter was referring to an answer I gave on the public Q&A site Curiouscat.me. I was asked by an anonymous person what drugs I’ve used for intellectual productivity purposes (not “academic purposes,” as the investigation stated, which makes it sound like I was doing drugs in my office hours). I told them the truth. As I told my investigator more than once over the next few investigation meetings: if someone asks me a question, I am duty-bound to tell the truth, as an academic and a public intellectual. Would they have me lie? They did not answer that. I don’t see what’s wrong with telling someone all the drugs I’ve done, and my judgment on their advantages and disadvantages. Academics do their students and the public much greater harm by pretending they’ve never done drugs, and withholding their valuable judgments on the matter. In the investigation, I affirmed that I was indeed the author of this post and that I did not regret it.

The second matter is pretty self-explanatory. When I was on sabbatical, I tripped on psilocybin with my wife and I posted a few videos to Instagram (1, 2). They are sweet, funny videos. Like all good memories, they feel more beautiful to me every time I revisit them. We had a wonderful, wholesome time, and I do not in the least regret sharing these videos. What kind of unthinking, unfeeling loser could have any problem with these videos? I know that sounds like I’m being cruel toward people who are just doing their jobs, except that their job description also says they’re independent thinkers (and they’d gladly make me homeless if they needed to, so let’s not kid ourselves). This is the turning point we’re at right now: They can continue to play these idiotic institutional games for paychecks if they please, but I can play the game of simply and honestly revealing them to be the pathetic, cowardly mercenaries they are, and more people will read this and believe it than will hear or care about any edict they could possibly produce (because nobody listens to institutional edicts anymore, for exactly this reason). Sure, they can “unperson” me across one whole economic sector, but they suffer more from this than I do, because I can account for myself plainly and honestly to anyone anywhere while they can only do so by hiding in a thick morass of institutional excuses.

I don’t want to rub it in, but perhaps it’s only possible for people to give their lives to enforcing senseless rules because they aren’t mocked enough. I’m sorry but only a zombie on a mighty fine salary could possibly object to a good man producing lovely, wholesome videos with his partner in holy matrimony! Slowly drink yourself to death, have affairs, abandon your kids, kick dogs — academics are allowed to do all of these things. But explore mildly different states of mind and share it with the public? Not so fast! I haven’t even mentioned the tiny detail that we were in Amsterdam, where psilocybin is effectively decriminalized. Psychedelics are an excellent tool for making the most of an academic sabbatical, and there’s simply nothing harmful or irresponsible about making or sharing these videos.

The third matter is also self-explanatory, except that “chatroom” is apparently the word that Boomer bureaucrats use to describe Youtube livestreams. My Youtube livestream is much, much more than a chatroom, thank you very much — it’s a form of life, a hard fork of reality, a new Heaven and a new Earth, the portal to an entirely new model of the vita contemplativa, but I can’t expect these people to understand any of this. It’s not the fault of these eminent social scientists that they don’t know the difference between Youtube and AOL. You must be kind to them, you see, social science is very time consuming; how can these esteemed social scientists be expected to have even passing familiarity with the basic interfaces of social life today? Who can blame them? They are far too busy enforcing Ordinance 3.5 on me. It’s a thankless task, defending this profession of brave intellectual exploration…

This is a weird one because it’s a statement of fact. My livestream is a safe space for pedophiles and mass shooters, if only because I have no way of knowing who on Youtube is a pedophile or a mass shooter. They’re safe from me knowing anything about them, and therefore safe from me doing anything about them. This was strange to find in my dossier, though, especially because this was just one jokey line deep into one random livestream. Anyway, the university always encourages us to create learning environments that are safe for every kind of person, including people from marginalized groups. Also, the university always encourages us to seek public impact. They run huge, multi-million-pound programs dedicated to producing public “impact.” Pedophiles and mass shooters are widely despised, and targets of extreme social prejudice. If my Youtube channel became a place for pedophiles and mass shooters to learn and rehabilitate, that’d be a major public impact in the name of social progress. I see nothing at all wrong with allowing — even welcoming — such people into open internet spaces, especially if they cannot be excluded anyway. I believe that what I think and what I say is good, therefore I believe pedophiles and mass shooters will benefit from exposure to me. Perhaps I can decrease the probability they will continue their evil misdeeds. I should note that pedophiles are not necessarily pederasts, so — now that I think about it — if the university censures me for welcoming pedophiles into my public livestream then they are implicitly asking me to engage in discrimination by sexual orientation. Remind me to email my lawyer about this one!

“But wait,” you’re wondering, “didn’t the Daily Mail say you got in trouble for that abortion/necrophilia tweet? Or was it calling someone a retard?” In due time, dear reader.

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