Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Department of Lost Things: Herd Sense

Out at the DoD satellite ag campus, we recently found ourselves idly studying cattle and courting dangerous ideas.  The cows were napping en masse in the shade of some trees.  Then, as one, they all headed into the sun to graze awhile.  Presumably having eaten their fill, they then meandered to the muddy pond for some spa bathing.  Finally, all together, they headed back for the shade and another round of napping. 

We here at the DoD are well familiar with the ways bovine and herd are deployed pejoratively to describe people. And of course, deviant itself is a term that might well invoke the opposite of just these pejoratives, the deviant being that which strays from the herd.  But given that we inhabit an age in which purported independence and non-conformity are all the rage, perhaps the more deviant gesture is to cast a more charitable eye on cattle?  At any rate, what we’re really ruing around here is that too few thinker types ever engaged in farming or indeed any manner of manual labor.  The lack of hard physical work among the intellectual class of course leaves all sorts lacunae in human inquiry, but we’ll stick for now to cattle or, more particularly, exposure to actual cows, as opposed to the fictive cows of thinker-imaginings from the armchair.

 Professional Bovine Types Doing Herd Stuff
In watching the DoD satellite ag campus cattle, we could not help noticing how much plain good sense their behavior makes.  We can’t go so far as to say we want to be like cows, but neither can we find being bovine or part of the herd the insult it is meant to be.  For we were struck by how admirably untroubled those cattle were by anxiety about their group and how none brought any pressure to bear on their peers to come along and follow.  It was more as if when one cow acted as a pilot cow, going off in some new way, the others thought, huh, that looks interesting, let’s try that. 

It’s surely fanciful to suppose that cattle know a good idea when they see it, but there are some more commendable things going on here.  Where human “herds” are depicted as coercive, cattle herds seem significantly more friendly.  Cattle are vulnerable creatures and so their tendency to stick together is sensible.  When a calf gets separated from the herd – say, by straying through a fence – the others tend to wait around rather than leaving it behind to fend for itself.  Likewise, cows appear to babysit each other’s calves, such that an unrelated heifer may take charge of another’s offspring for a bit.  Where calves are concerned, they seem to get that it takes a village.  Or a herd.  Best of all, cattle generally accept newcomers to their herds.  They’re not prima facie suspicious of additions and incomers, but instead tend generally to greet new cows with an unexceptional, “Oh, hey, let’s eat.”  So while they together constitute a bovine herd, it’s not the bovine herd your sneering non-conformist thinker types warn you about.  In fact, it looks a lot like a rather generous solidarity.   

Because of all of this, we can’t help wondering how thinker-types with actual farming experience might have swerved human sociality and solidarity differently.  Or how much more interesting discussion of the individual might get if we could drop the dripping disdain in announcing the “bovine” in others.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Another Quarter Heard From

We here in the DoD, ever catholic in our source material, recently stumbled upon a bit of despair delivered from that redoubtable correspondent, A Philosopher Elsewhere.  Alas, he did not write to us, but we were nonetheless struck by his gift for pithy agony.  To wit:

This shit makes me want to retire. I already don't "go out" in the philosophy blog-o-sewer, and maybe I'll stop going to conferences too.  Many of these people are not able enough to both do good philosophy and engage constantly in sanctimonious, and often quite nasty, moral police work.  Many of them seem to be getting paid a lot to do mediocre scholarly work and spend 80% of their working hours on Facebook.

Aware that he did not solicit our opinion, we lack restraint and nonetheless offer it anyway. 

While we are ignorant of just what “shit” provokes dreams of retirement in A Philosopher Elsewhere, we are awash in empathy, for we too regularly dream of retirement.  Most often, our own dreams issue from a superabundance of desires to do more things than a typical mortal life can include – e.g., our current efforts to (finally!) read War and Peace are complicated by our having jobs that distract us.  Alas, on especially bad days the campaign against Napolean has to go on entirely without us.

But sometimes, we too find ourselves seeking flight from our well-paid, generally rather cushy, and unusually stimulating employment because we too have encountered those enemies of all that is holy, These People.  Like A Philosopher Elsewhere, we can even find These People making us reluctant to undertake paid travel to exciting locations to meet with peers and find out more things.  These People are sometimes just that bad.  However, we’re less confident that our These People is the same as the These People bedeviling A Philosopher Elsewhere.  Indeed, we find ourselves mildly envious of his These People, as their lack of a puritan work ethic sounds rather appealing.  And perhaps their extended time on Facebook has yielded more than usual quotient of adorable pet and baby pictures?  At any rate, what we take from all of this is that maybe all people have their These People.  And the real risk here is getting preoccupied by them. 

The provocations to misanthropy are many and perhaps misanthropy can be its own form of sanctimony?  Even mediocrity?  Maybe we do have a bit of the puritan in us because we find misanthropy the too-easy option where other people are concerned.  It’s just not hard enough to achieve to make us proud for feeling it.  From what we can tell, the supply closet of human disagreements and follies is never empty, and if we’re so inclined, we can always pull out more reasons for alienation and dismay, dislike and disapprobation.  But what’s the point, after all?  This, at least, is what we try to ask ourselves when we find our own These People getting us down. 

Faculty on the Move and an Update on Rankings

Zhuxi has retired, leaving the specialty ranking Philosophers Whose Work is Perversely Abused by Institutions wide open. 

Nagarjuna has declined an offer from the Daoists and decided to remain in the Madhyamika department, solidifying their top five status in the specialty category, Philosophers who Beat Hume to the Punch.

After years of peripatetic wandering, Confucius has returned to the state of Lu.  And, as we all know, wherever Confucius goes, that place is going to be top of the tops in the specialty category Philosophers Who, To Their Credit, Hegel Didn’t Much Like.

A Note about this Year’s Rankings

While we’re updating as we can about faculty moves, as many already know, our full list of program rankings has not been updated in some time.  Alas, the weather round here has been too warm for us to conduct the requisite snowball fight in the parking lot, the procedure through which we decisively determine which programs of deviance are the best. 

Aware that the absence of an updated ranking would be just too sad, we entered into protracted deliberations about what other projectiles we might employ.  What, we pondered, could we throw?  After entertaining multiple candidates, we became painfully aware that this is a question that tends not toward edification.  There are too many things one might throw and too many of them should never be thrown.  Consequently, the best advice we can offer prospective deviants is that one can never go wrong applying to the highly esteemed and indeed peerless Top Department Elsewhere.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Job Market Mentoring: Interviewing Strategies

The DoD is delighted to announce its second installment in this year’s job market mentoring workshops.  As ever, our sessions focus on how to secure employment as a Deviant in a world gone Normal.  Our second session will feature mock interviews and we are delighted to announce that Professor Pierre Menard has agreed to reprise his now legendary performance as That Guy.  For those who missed last year’s rendition, just a few teasers:

That Guy will ask whether, despite your deviance, you can talk to Normal people, in their language and non-disruptively. 

That Guy will want to be reassured that while you will eagerly teach every single last thing not addressed in the Normal curriculum (preferably in a single course), you have no designs on the curriculum itself and are happy to have nothing you teach be required. 

That Guy will want to know whether anything you study is actually intelligible, because he read something once and didn’t think it was. 

That Guy will have some pet theory he’ll want to pursue with you, whether it be benign explanations of an exceedingly narrow canon or stories about how non-white and/or non-male people have lots of better things to do than study Normality. 

That Guy will want to make sure that if you are non-white and/or non-male, you’re not, like, an angry revolutionary about it.

That Guy will unironically free associate about your subject matter while also opining on the critical importance of high standards of rigor.

That Guy will somehow slip into conversation the fact that “not everyone” in the department is convinced they need a Deviant.

When he’s not actually talking, That Guy will doodle on his notepad while occasionally sighing theatrically. 

We can never be sure just what That Guy will do and this uncertainty is only half the adventure!  The rest of it is figuring out how to respond while neither laughing nor crying.  So, come to this session and marvel at That Guy while also learning valuable techniques of self-control and tactical conversational evasion.