Monday, December 15, 2014

Why I Am Not A Philosophy Professor

A long, long time ago, in a college far, far away, I majoredin philosophy. I did so for a variety of reasons; I can think deeply, I like grappling with big questions, and I like big intellectual challenges. But I also majored in philosophy partially because I didn’t think I had a lot of other options. I considered majoring in either English Literature or Sociology & Anthropology (which is one department at Swarthmore), but neither of them offered the depth of thinking that I found in philosophy. I did end up minoring in both.

While I was majoring in philosophy, I acted the part, although it wasn’t really acting. I was strongly considering becoming a philosophy professor. I even had a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches. I was somewhat absent-minded. Most of the people who knew me thot of me as a natural philosophy professor. It became self-reinforcing: people thot of me as a philosophy professor because I acted like one, and I acted like a philosophy professor because that was sort of expected of me.
But there were a few problems with this career path. I didn’t realize this until some time after I graduated, but these aspects of my personality presented some issues with becoming a philosophy professor:

  • I don’t like sitting alone in a room reading books and papers for hours on end.
  • I particularly don’t like sitting alone in a room reading philosophy books and papers for hours on end.
  • I don’t like sitting alone in a room writing papers for hours on end.
  • I particularly don’t like sitting alone in a room writing philosophy papers for hours on end.
  • I much, MUCH prefer watching movies or videos to reading books.
  • I don’t like standing in front of a group of people and talking to them. Which means I would be very uncomfortable lecturing to a class.
  • The theory that I find most interesting is complexity theory, but, as far as I can tell, there are very few humanities academics in any field who have shown any interest in it.
  • I think of the ideas and theories that philosophers think about as necessary but boring – sort of like debates over arcane issues of accounting. Someone has to think about them, but I have no interest in them.
  • I like developing my own projects, with my own teams. I like finding the financing for them, developing them, and thinking strategically about how to promote and distribute them. In other words, I would probably hate the academic processes of applying for grants, doing research, and publishing in obscure academic journals, because, to me, that’s a very narrow range of options for getting projects done. It obviously works for a lot of people, but wouldn't work for me.
  • I like creating things that are visually stimulating, exciting, funny, and that can reach a wide audience.


So I don’t like reading, writing, or thinking about philosophy, and I do like watching and making movies, working with a wide variety of people, working with the latest technologies, and creating an environment for myself where I can not just think about theories like complexity theory, but use them to actually get things done.


The upshot is that I don’t like any of the things that would be required of me if I were to become a philosophy professor, and I could not do anything of the things that I like to do if I were to become a philosophy professor. Other than that, it’s a perfect fit.

2 comments:

Ted Halbert said...

John, we know all of this; what about the mid-terms? What about the legacy of Obama? What about Ferguson, Staten Island and race relations in the 21st century? What about the legacy of Stephen Colbert and how he has finally given younger generations a counterpoint to the bullshit faux patriotism of big business conservatism? How about helping the rest of us out with the BIG THINKING???!!! That's what WE want....enough already with the ruminations on times gone by. (insert smiley face here)...

John Halbert said...

OK, Ted, tell, you what: why don't you put together a proposal, figure out a funding source, and I will take on all of those questions that you listed. Thanks in advance!