As most of you know, all work abruptly stopped during the faculty meeting last week, when our newest junior colleague interjected to ask: “Who is this ‘we’ we keep referring to?” This drew all of the tenured old dogs up short as they immediately realized this was an exceptionally diverting question – indeed, it was the bomb and far more interesting than the budget (which, as always, aspires to someday achieve shoestring status). All department effort was redirected to puzzling this out and the following tentative conclusions were drawn:
a) “We” make ourselves plural partly because we revel most in deviance carried out in company and think Confucius was on to something in noting the joy derived from practicing the things you learn among friends.
b) “We” aspires to be a linguistic refuge for deviants, those poor huddled masses turned away at the Ellis Island of Normal. We also hope our “we” could be a nice place to visit for those who live most of the year in Normal. They could even live here year-round if the spirit moved. Basically, human solidarity is one of our favorite things. We like it so much, we think we love it.
c) “We” is also a perilous word easily abused and we resolved to try never to use it in situations of disagreement between individuals – e.g., quarrels over the proper scope of deviance are best handled when people speak for themselves rather than trying to marshal magnifying force for their own views by framing them in the collective “we.” We should thus be worried about ourselves when we say things like “What you fail to understand is that in deviance, we do ____.” Say too much stuff like that and we may have to bring out the shame ray.
d) However much we might want our “we” to be total, it surely won’t be and thinking it is would carry us several long strides down the road to perdition. We admire Shakespeare and think Hamlet was astute in saying, “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” Thinking you’re all-the-we has never worked out well in human history and in our endless quest to know more things we think listening to non-we interlocutors is the finest of bad dreams. They’re what’s saving us from living in a walnut pretending to be king. We like the ridiculous but are trying real hard not to be it.
e) Talking about “we” while simultaneously using it to refer to oneself is hard.
As with all topics deviant, our metaconclusion was to hold all of our conclusions lightly and resolve to revisit them often. In lieu of the budget we were meant to plan, we will send the conclusions above to administration and hope they don’t notice the difference.