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.