A Quick Word on Passion, Post-Academics, and Rage

Happy New Year!

1. I heard on NPR this morning a story about a gay dude dishonorably discharged from the Marines in 1956. He’s dying of cancer. And his dying wish was to get his status changed to “honorable.” Because Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed hallelujah.

This process usually takes up to 6 months. Hal didn’t have 6 months. So the marines gave him his new papers in 2 weeks.

Sometimes there is good news.

2. More selfishly. About me, and my essay in the new e-book Moving On: Essays on the Aftermath of Leaving Academia.

The book is a best-seller in three Kindle categories: #1 in “College,” #3 in “College & University,” and, delightfully, #12 in “Self-Esteem.”

My essay is about a hodgepodge of things. How I was unemployed for 14 months. How I got a job eventually (almost a year ago, in fact). And, most importantly, how “passion” is a poor frame for a post-academic job search. You should just shell out the bitcoins (priced to sell, friends, at $2.99!) to read it yourself. For I’m not re-writing it all here.

It turns out, however, that “passion” is a fantastic frame for understanding the rage of famous platformed post-academics (Rebecca Schuman, Tenured Radical, anyone with a post-ac blog and won’t someone ever link to me maybe sometime??).

To wit:

Lots of people, many self-ID’d as “post-academic,” are mad that they didn’t/can’t get academic jobs. Lots of other people, people whom “Wernherzbear” termed “lifeboaters,” think that the post-ac rage-oholics are shut-up-able because they shoulda known better when they started, or chosen a “more marketable” field, or been ineffably better.

Which is silly. For reasons that those on the front lines of this particular blogular e-war make quite clear.

But I haven’t yet read this, the TfH insight into the whole post-ac/TT/youshouldaknownbetter/noYOUshouldabeenanallyratherthanadupeofacorruptsystem rage-ohol that may be baffling to those who haven’t tried and failed for years to get an academic job.

Part of it is sour grapes/naivete/human fallibility. We knew it was bad. We didn’t know how much worse it would get by the time we finished. Sure!

But sour grapes do not mash and ferment into fragrant rage-ohol.

Do you want to know what makes rage-ohol?

Take a person so passionate for higher learning that she sacrifices a decade of her brightest years to it. Help her brain get so burly that she understands, now, all the ways that societal structures, Foucauldian power, class and race and gender, and everything else (capitalism) all work to enfranchise some and disenfranchise others.

Put her to work in a university to pay for her degree, so she experiences first-hand the complex layers of exploitation that make the whole higher ed system buzz.

Then flush her away after ten or so years. And what do you get?

  • An expendable worker with a giant, pulsing brain.
  • A decade-plus of experience in a particularly exploitative industry.
  • A decade-plus of sacrificing her time and earning potential, giving up the opportunity to build the economic and personal stability that her non-academic peers have built.

What else does she have?

PASSION.

The big-ass brain to understand what’s happened to her, and why. Direct experience of the broader system’s actions upon li’l individual TAs and adjuncts. And the passion that pushed her into the whole retrospectively-unwise-but-at-the-time-good idea in the first place.

Seems like a recipe for a rage-oholic, right?

Why are we so mad? Because everything that put us in the system to begin with, that the system depends on to survive, that the system produced in us, will make us mad. With nearly robotic inevitability. Like some kind of bloody Escher dominoes if the dominoes were also snakes eating their own tails, somehow, awesomely. And robotically. Like inputs that thinking, feeling humans program into a robot.

Because the system depends on everything that makes us rage, after, when we’re out of the system.

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