Remodeling the Units and Flows of Intellectual Production (How Academia Got Pwned 8)

This is the eighth 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.

[This post dives deeper into some back-of-the-napkin financial projections for a different kind of intellectual production model, fit for a new kind of high-brow but radical and truly independent, internet intellectual. It speaks to the question of what I plan on doing next, but it might be applicable to others also. If you're not interested in this aspect of How Academia Got Pwned, you can feel free to skip this one, as you'll probably find it quite boring.]

Let’s say we start with the idea for one book. What is the best, most important book one could start writing today, if one knew in advance one would never need permission at any time from conception to publication? Develop the idea simply to the point where one can draft a full outline. To fix ideas and generate some forecasts later, let’s assume we’re talking about a high-brow non-fiction book with a word-count in the conventional range, but on the lower end (erring on the side of brevity for harebrained schemes is probably best). Say, 50k words total. To keep numbers tidy, say the book has 10 chapters of 5k words each, and each chapter has 5 sections of 1k words each. To say that you “have an idea for a book,” means you can sit down and simply outline the one main point of each section, in each chapter. You don’t need to know how exactly, and obviously it can change as you go, maybe drastically, but let’s say this is what it means to officially have the plan for a book. Anyone with experience writing long stuff — if they have an idea for a book — could probably do this part in a day or two.

And once you can do this, you pretty much also have a course syllabus. For each chapter, just rewrite the chapter headline into something that sounds more like a lecture title. Of course, the hard part is having and executing the content. But a book outline, like a syllabus, is just a skeleton for planned content. We’ll come back to this later.

At this point, you have to throw up a website for the project, just because you need some place for people to go if they come across your stuff and want to learn more. Don’t overpromise though, because you don’t know where it’s really going to end up. Ideally, a website would simply allow people to receive updates about the project.

On this point, here is a long aside (skip the whole paragraph if you’re not interested by the next sentence). In a world where people can get kicked off any social media platform any day, radical intellectuals should privilege email. It’s funny how one of the most direct, decentralized, and non-corporatized channels of digital communication is dominated by businesses and scams. If you work a demanding professional job, what I’m about to argue will be inapplicable to you, because your inbox is already overloaded (that’s not an argument against email, it just reflects the degree to which demanding professional jobs crowd out free communication). Email gets a bad rap because it is the medium of choice for spammers, but that’s just because smart, evil people are usually the first to exploit what works the best. I’m signed up to tons of email newsletters by weird creative people and bloggers and I love them, much better than checking websites, or my RSS reader, which is higher-volume. I never miss anything new, unless I just don’t feel like reading that day, in which case I can skip and delete in only a second. I would really like to see email newsletters become more popular among radical intellectuals. If we’re trying to create independent work, we want to make it as easy as possible for interested readers/watchers to sign up for email updates, without becoming marketers. No manipulation, no overly aggressive popups, minimization of distasteful instrumentalism without foregoing strategic (instrumental) intelligence, which would be tantamount to exiting the meme pool. If one sticks to these rules of thumb, we shouldn’t cross the line into distasteful or exploitative or corny, like marketers and self-help gurus often do. I don’t mean to be drawing hard rules here, and one of the wonders of life on the internet is you can experiment with dozens of different methods at any time, but these are the rules I’ve followed as I’ve built up my systems so far. I’ve put a lot of effort into making it easy for people to sign up for email updates, for instance, but I’ve put equal care into not doing most of the ugly stuff shameless marketers do. If I ever deviate from this I expect one of you to tell me with immediate and brutal honesty! True intellectuals cannot allow themselves to become marketers because it is directly contradictory to their mission (indeed this is a major failure mode of our project, because the temptation will always be great). On the other hand, we cannot afford less than optimal communicative efficacy, and for obvious reasons, the current tools of the marketer represent the current perfection of communicative efficacy.

Now let’s say you commit to writing 1k words per day, 5 days per week. For the average person this might be a bit of a slog, but for an academic suddenly released from all the other nonsense, it’s not hard at all. On this schedule, it will only take you 10 weeks to write a first draft of your book. In large part because you wasted no time asking anyone about anything.

Now, let’s assume you really went off the rails and this monstrosity you’ve drafted is hopelessly undesirable to any currently existing publisher. You could sell it directly to readers who are as off-the-rails as you, but you have no readers yet. No problem, just go get some. This is where the massive efficiency gains and positive externalities come in. In these 10 weeks, you’re not just writing a book, you’re also making lecture content at the same time. I’ll explain…

If you think it's impossibly difficult to gain readers, you don’t understand yet. By virtue of the very fact that you are sabotaging your own prestige by slumming it in the digital ghetto, you’re going to get at least a few eyeballs giving you a peek, if only to understand what’s wrong with you. Over time, the ones that are temperamentally/ideologically adjacent to you will stay and the others will go, and you’re disproportionately likely to win continued attention by virtue of the fact that if you’re doing this you probably have something real to say. Everything I’m laying out is for people who have real work to do; that’s why this isn’t a self-help commodity I’m writing here, because I’m not at all pretending that anyone can do this. If you’re not smart and disciplined with real intellectual work to do, nothing I’m theorizing here can make you “succeed” and I won’t take likes or dollars to feed anyone that impression.

Also, you can’t be pessimistic from looking at current academics who occasionally blog. For most academics who blog, their blog doesn’t quite develop into much (in terms of content quality or following), but that’s in large part because it’s often a safe, sterile, side-project given only the scraps of energy left-over from an already too exhausting career. So you can’t compare what I’m sketching to such examples you might have in mind.

Getting followers isn’t complicated. Having things to say is the hard part, but if you do, then all it takes is consistency and time. It basically boils down to posting original and interesting content consistently (note, it only has to be original and valuable to a tiny fraction of the internet population for you to eventually have a respectable audience of loyal and highly interested readers).

How convenient for blogging that your book outline is really just a long list of things you want to write. And how convenient it’s already broken into chunks of one thousand words, about the average length of a thoughtful blog post. So there you have it, you will blog 1k words per day, 5 days per week, for 10 weeks. Each 1k bit should be written for blog readers in mind, but all the blog-specific parts can just be cut out at the end, when you turn your collection of blog posts into the book. Make sure your blog gives people an option to sign up for updates, only if they want to, of course. You could mention the book and course project in your blog posts but in my experience, ambiguity here is your friend; it keeps the blogging fun and unencumbered when don’t feel externally committed to some long-term result (you should be long-term committed to your plan, in your own mind, but when it feels like something you owe the world, it can have negative effects I think.) Unless you are very confident it will happen, in which case it’s probably good to let people know what’s coming (like with these posts).

It would be amazing if there was some way to convert this 1k chunk each week into another piece of content, also weekly, that had all of the following properties. It can’t require too much heavy cognitive lifting, because 1k words every day will take its toll. This second derivative should mostly require simple labor. It should allow for some improvement/revision/addition on the 1k words. It should be accessible to a different type of person, on a different social network, and therefore provide new value relative to the 1k words, even if it’s admittedly somewhat derivative. Finally, and crucially, it should also represent a piece of content that could enter (either directly or indirectly, after editing) into the course corresponding to the book. It turns out that the genre known as the Youtube video has the virtue of meeting all these criteria. Every week, post one video presenting a summary of that week’s 5k words, bonus points for lecture slides or visuals edited into the video, but just do the best you can. At first you won’t receive many views, though you’ll get some, and the real value comes later. Just like the blog, make sure your videos give people an option to subscribe via email, if they want to. At the end of the 10 weeks, you’ll also have 10 lecture videos. You already have a syllabus. This means you pretty much already have a course, and you didn’t even need to put your pants on, let alone shower every day of the week.

Getting an ebook and paperback on Amazon is nearly instantaneous, once you’re happy with the final product. Price the ebook for a few bucks, and the paperback for about $15, which is pretty conventional. You will make about $4 of that $15 for each copy sold. Add some extra content or editing to the course videos, or cut off the last few minutes of each Youtube video, slap a modest little paywall on the course. Email your subscribers to let them know.

Depending on your current audience, this first production cycle might make you only peanuts. Personally, I like to concoct my own schemes always assuming the worst case scenario, but allowing oneself the motivational gains from pondering the best case scenario, as well. There is obviously a lot of uncertainty in this kind of exercise, but we can account for that uncertainty explicitly with this great new tool called Guesstimate.

Guesstimate is just a spreadsheet that lets you input distributions rather than individual values. Have you ever tried multiplying distributions? It’s prohibitively time consuming to do in Excel or by programming it yourself, so Guesstimate does it all for you in the background (Monte Carlo simulations). It’s really great for thought experiments such as this, where I have no idea how many books/courses I would sell each month, but I could much more confidently guess an interval within which the number probably lies.

For units sold, we'll set the minimum very conservatively low (0), and the maximum to the low end of what I would consider good but realistic. For books, you can get a rough estimate of base-rates by estimating sales from Amazon rankings, using tools such as this. I’ve seen pretty random non-fiction authors achieve 100 copies/month, so let’s go with that as the best-case scenario. Some notable examples by Bronze Age Pervert, Elizabeth Sandifer, or Vox Day have exceeded this significantly, and I don’t see why such results would be out of reach, but I'm trying to be harshly realistic so I'm not even going to consider these known success cases. For courses, the number of units likely to sell is harder to estimate because most successful online courses today have some direct money-making value. I have a lecturer friend who made a pretty random political science course on Udemy and he reports that it does better than you would think. Let’s say my course would sell somewhere between 0 and 20 units per month, on average. We’ll tell Guesstimate to use a log-normal distribution, which means lower values are much more likely. We’re thus being doubly conservative and biasing the estimate downward, to discount for the well-documented over-confidence of entrepreneurs.

Now we need to input expected earnings per item. Most paperbacks are priced about $15; Amazon offers a royalty rate of 60%, minus shipping. Since they do all the printing and all the shipping, this is about $4, which means there is about $4 leftover for you, per copy. Many online courses have succeeded at very high price points, but that’s usually for learning content that will make the buyer money somehow. I’m interested in the market for disinterested truth-seeking content, so presumably people are willing to pay less for such content. So let’s imagine, conservatively, that I could produce a course worth only $20 (one-time purchase).

Run some Monte Carlo simulations, and we can produce a confidence interval for our annual income derived from our one book+course combo. From left to right, the image below shows how Guesstimate converts our inputs to an estimate.

Independent intellectual production model for book and course

The featured number in the center of each box is the mean value, and the range represents the 95% confidence interval. You can see the model (and I think copy and edit it) here.

According to this, in the worst case scenario, this 2.5-month exercise makes us only $520/year but at the higher end of a not-inconceivable range of possibilities, it could be making $7400/year. I feel comfortable with the plausibility of this model because the projected results are really not great, so it feels realistic. The best guess, the mean, would be about $2300/year. If I could do this amount of work for a whole year, then I could do this four separate times. That would mean that I could reasonably expect to be making $9,200/year after the very first year, and it’s not inconceivable I could be making up to $29,000/year after the first year. As I said, I like to assume the worst, so let’s take it for granted that I will actually be making $2080/year after the first year.

There are two realizations that started to make this kind of vision irresistible to me: Even in this latter case, which seems virtually guaranteed as the worst that could possibly happen, I would consider such a year of my life subjectively worthwhile. Sure, we’d make next to nothing for a whole year, but the intrinsic value of producing totally autonomous work for a whole year is very high to me. I already have about 3 books outlined with parts drafted to varying degrees of completion, and I suffer a lot from not having the time or permission to get them out there. Aside from money, I would be tremendously satisfied to get them done and in print. Even if it financially fails, it seems worth it to me. If I have to get a real job afterward, that’s fine because I got three damn books done and I can do my future books at a slower, and more contented rate on the side of a real job. The past five years I’ve been so restless and frustrated at constantly doing career-maintenance work and waiting on others. There's no way I could write more than one book every 3-5 years doing everything the old-fashioned way as a career academic is supposed to.

The second point is simply to recall that, after the work is produced, the future income it produces is passive. So even just $2k/year starting this year will make $100k for my family over the next 50 years, even if I have to get a real job one year from now. So even if it fails to become financially sustainable this year, it’s not like this one year of writing would be one big selfish waste of time. This point also raises the possibility that, if I’m only partially successful in the first year, I could end up doing quite well by carrying on this work with some additional part-time paid work on the side. Given the cumulative and passive nature of this income, a few years of hustling on this as well as part-time paid work could get me to writing full-time, say, after 5 years of building my back catalogue, maybe.

The cumulation factor is worth pausing on. In the self-publishing world, most people report that your back catalogue of books gains in sales when future books come out. You are learning how to do things every cycle, so presumably your work increases in quality and value each cycle. And each time, your audience is somewhat larger. If there are multiplicative interactions among any of these increases, then even a very modest initial start could sooner than later produce an inflection point in your income growth rate (e.g., one of your videos takes off in the Youtube algorithm, drives many new email subs, which makes your next release more successful, which makes your back-catalogue more successful, and as a result your one random spike on the Youtube algorithm is giving you some non-linear takeoff in your bottom line.). It’s not about seeking superficial virality (a surefire way to never say or make anything that matters), but quite the opposite: it’s about having in place a sturdy machine that allows you to produce high-quality work over time while also absorbing the randomness of virality or platform-anomaly into the productive apparatus, rather dissipating in Twitter beefs that go nowhere.

In my own personal case, I wager that my financial projections are a bit rosier than this, because I have other sources of income support, such as 52 patrons and 10 participants in my private seminars. If these increase even modestly each month, then that’s another pathway to pwning academia no doubt, but I have tried to explain my thinking with reference to a more general production model that could potentially be taken up by any educated and disciplined person with knowledge to share, regardless of whether they have patrons or other income streams. I also have the advantage of already having a lot of writing and teaching materials sitting on my hard drive, which I can use out of the gate. While this makes my own experiment not totally applicable to any person interested in such a path, it does speak to my point about how academia, specifically, gets pwned. For academics are uniquely capable of defecting effectively and sustainably. Well, if my calculations are correct, that is...

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…

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