after tenure

“I’m one of those who believes there is life in the universe.” I met Hector (the Guero who tells his kids “You’re half Mexican, half Russian, and 100% American), (who might enter politics – “after tenure”), celebrating Jose’s prospectus defense last night. Jose cites Noam Chomsky (The Responsibility of Intellectuals) as a possible template for his own academic career, “After tenure, no one knew him!” This translates as pragmatism now, radical structuralism later.
Conversation ranged from education, neurolinguistic programming, and Rod Stewart (The Killing of Georgie) to the cosmos. “Our moon is leaving us. That’s very bad news!” At “an inch-and-a-half a year”, my own sense is this is not exactly the scale on which to make decisions in my own lifetime, but I understand the disappointment. Instead of going out with a supernova, Patrick Stewart tells us life on earth will wobble and totter out via untempered precession.
I argued that the fact that “nature is going to take care of extinction sooner or later” does not justify waiting until after tenure to start changing the maps. Who needs to wait while humanity flirts with ending it sooner?
“Let me bring it down to your level” (!), Hector said to me. From entropy (countered with James Blish’ The Triumph of Time), we moved to neurolinguistic programming. “We have to be creative,” says Hector, “in building a reality that doesn’t exist” – yet, I add. 🙂 All three of us are educators (or wannabes, grin): no surprise, then, that teaching and training is our preferred tool. If making connections on the basis of perceived similarities is hard-wired into our genes, then the trick is to teach to find “the likes [adjective] that matter.”
“Like (adj):
1. Possessing the same or almost the same characteristics; similar: on this and like occasions.
2. Alike: They are as like as two siblings.
3. Having equivalent value or quality. Usually used in negative sentences: There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep.”
Rather than “likes” of appearance (e.g., ethnicity, gender) or homophonic “likes” (such as speaking the same language, having no accent), we could be attracted to similarities of intelligence or passion. This doesn’t mean, we clarified, that everyone has to be “the same.” Variation, even versions of hierarchy, is desirable. The point is, everyone has “a right to the earth.” (Don’t you agree that Hector has great soundbytes?!) Just because some have more and others have less does not mean those with less must suffer sucky lives.
We agreed that most of our students have about zero agency: “the state of being in action or exerting power; ‘the agency of providence’; ‘she has free agency.'” How, I ask, are they going to learn this map if we are not acting as models? Here’s the bind: students are being trained “to be employees, not entrepreneurs” (Hector, again, referencing Rich Dad, Poor Dad), they – and we? – are being taught “how to be good slaves.” Well (I’m still asking), what about us? Is that the only map we have? Shy of financial independence and multiple streams of income, no agency? Can we live within our means and act on new maps?

“The map is not the territory.”

I am tired. My tone fails to capture the laughter with which we engaged each other. 🙂 There were a couple of fallacies of understanding mentioned in reference to the problem of knowing. If everything we say is, at best, a map of a certain territory of sensory experience, then none of us can actually KNOW what another person means – “the best we can get is, ‘I think I know'” (you guessed it, that Guero again). (I like him! You can’t tell, can you?)
Type 1 fallacy: Fooling ourselves into thinking our map is reality.
Type 2 fallacy: Just because a map is not reality does not mean the map is crap.
There was this whole metaphor about therapy and jukeboxes which I’m not even gonna get into, except to say I’ve got some pretty damn good tunes going on mine these days. 🙂
“No one owns knowledge.”
“There isn’t anything that a human can do that you cannot try to learn.”
“Our future is now.”

Thanks for a great evening. I’m ready for my all-expenses paid trip to Macau, just tell me when!

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