Entitled Opinions and the Private Intellectual

Estimated read time (minus contemplative pauses): 22 min.

On a recent episode—”Pandemic, Dread, and Boccaccio’s Decameron“(4/8/20)—of one of my favorite podcasts, Entitled Opinions, host Robert Harrison (the  Stanford Rosina Pierotti Professor of French and Italian Literature), contemplates the effects of COVID-19 on life at Stanford and beyond. His questions hit close to home:

Stanford has sent home all of its undergraduates, but most of its graduate students have stayed put in their graduated housing residences. For a graduate student, it’s a temporary residence, not a home. More like a halfway house on the way to some uncertain future home. The Stanford campus has been in the throes of a lot of new construction lately. Especially new graduate housing.

Corey Dansereau is a graduate student in modern thought and literature who was remarking to me the other day that everywhere you go on campus, you see all these abandoned construction machines. All projects have come to a halt. And that goes for the university as a whole despite attempts to preserve the appearance that it’s getting on with business as usual.

Well, it’s not getting on with business as usual, not really. Zoom is not a classroom nor a campus nor a community of students and teachers. In sum, Stanford these days is an abandoned machine, a machine of learning and research. At least, that’s the impression Corey gets when he wanders around the campus. And by his own admission the landscape is forcing him to ask himself what it means to be an intellectual when you no longer are a part of the university’s machinery: “How do I define my intellectual identity and vocation independently of the institution?”

Good question. But where can one go with it? The question, I mean. Is there any clarity at the end of that road? Can one be an intellectual independently of the institutional machinery of the university, of the media, or of the publishing industry? Most publishing has been brought to a screeching halt, by the way.

In short, can one be an intellectual in one’s own head only?

That remains an open, unsettling question. And it’s not the only one. A lot of graduate students, I’m sure, especially in the humanities, are wondering whether the online teaching they’ve been thrust into is the future of the profession and, if so, will there be any jobs left for them.

There are two, overlapping concepts in Dansereau’s question. One regards the career of an intellectual (“vocation”) and the other regards the more general, lifelong project of being an intellectual (“identity”).

I’m interested in both. But not as a graduate student or professor. Rather, as a fairly reclusive introvert who, despite having no university affiliation, spends every granule of time he can find skull-deep in precisely the sorts of pursuits one seeks to take on by affiliating with a university.

I don’t have answers. Just speculations, hopes, worries, and more questions. I’ll share a small sample of these, roughly outlined. If you have your own thoughts to share, I’d love to hear them.

(1) Harrison’s summary question goes too far: “In short, can one be an intellectual in one’s own head only?” A fascinating question for contemplating, say, what it’d mean to be an intellectual on a desert island, in solitary confinement, or with locked-in syndrome. But even in the grip of COVID-19, we have the Internet and cellphones and hollering at each other from two paces.

A more fitting slippery-slope future is found in E.M. Forster’s 1909 short story “The Machine Stops” (which I first encountered in the phenomenal The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction; or read it for free at Goodreads.com). Almost everyone in Forster’s dystopia lives in their own little underground cell. Travel and in-person visits are possible but discouraged. People communicate and see each other and spread lectures and such via audio-visual apparatuses connected by a large machine that also meets each individual’s needs for basic daily living.

That world has been on my mind a lot lately, and strikes a particularly felicitous resonance with Harrison’s machinery metaphor. (Read it to decide for yourself how felicitous).

(2) I refer in this post’s title to the “private intellectual,” a term that today yields 39.6k Google search results. I could, in that term, have replaced “private” with “independent” (325k), “introverted” (26.7k), “shy” (16.7k), “solitary” (15.3), or “lone” (2.71k).

Each of these terms could be the subject of its own special study.

“Private intellectual,” for example, is used in different ways. Its particular ambiguity is why I used it (rather than my favorite, “lone intellectual,” whose own ambiguity seems narrower). Some mean by “private intellectual” one who funds their work independently of an institution, in which case that person could merit yet another label: “public intellectual” (1.06 million results).

One definition of “public intellectual,” with implications for a differing “private” sort, comes from Christopher Hitchens, in his reminiscences of a friend in his memoir Hitch-22:

Susan Sontag was an admirable example of what it means, if it really means anything, to be a “public intellectual.” She most certainly wasn’t a private one. She was self-sustaining and self-supporting, and though she did like to follow fashion and keep herself updated, she was not a prisoner of trend. (p 416)

And then, in a footnote:

I am sometimes asked about the concept or definition of a “public intellectual,” and though I find the whole idea faintly silly, I believe it should ideally mean that the person so identified is self-sustaining and autonomously financed. Susan was pre-eminently one such. (p 424)

Hitchens is obviously correct that Sontag wasn’t private in the sense of where she presented her work and ideas. But she was private in the sense of knowing what it meant to “have to go off in a corner and think for three days before I could answer such a question,” as she responded when asked in a 1992 interview by Chris Lydon: “What is your hope for left-wing politics?”

I take it the likes of Sontag are too rare and too public (or “popular”) for the average intellectual to aspire, or want, to emulate.

At any rate, my point is that I don’t mean to restrict myself here to any one of the above terms.

(3) The vocational dimension of Dansereau’s question isn’t new, but has been zoomed to the fore by COVID-19.

I know of several academics who have for years been enthusiastically prophesying the obsolescence of universities. The enthusiasm springs from presuming that online course providers’ will better avoid the pitfalls of the arbitrarily departmentalized and overly politicized, grant-dependent, status-driven university system.

I apparently have more faith than they do in the human ability to mess things up. Particularly when lots of people with competing goals are involved.

On reflection, many of the folks I’m thinking of are physicists. Their envisioned future involves starting new institutional structures of which they are in charge and where their own goals are paramount. (This isn’t new, either. There are plenty of independent research institutions in the world.)

They often seek support and funding for these projects by touting their own elite educational pedigrees, and they look for similar pedigree in their most serious collaborators. Which is to say that they seem to hold the university system in high esteem, while simultaneously declaring it corrupt and ineffectual. (This may or may not be inconsistent.)

But, in general, they do express an understandable disenchantment with the institutional status quo and see online teaching as a way to get back to what really matters (however construed).

(4) As for the humanities, distrust of institutions is something I’ve seen often, including while studying philosophy at Columbia University (from 2012–2015). While I did encounter there a strong desire for good-faith discussion with like-minded (or even not-so-like-minded) fellow travelers, I also encountered distrust in being able to do such a thing productively—or with the fullness of one’s alacrity and passion in play—within an institutional structure whose goals, again, lead almost inexorably to arbitrary segmentations of disciplines as they compete in a shrinking job pool and for funding and so on, of a sort Harrison alludes to when he says in this episode’s introduction that “universities these days are ruled by accountants and technocrats.”

(5) Maybe there’s a tendency in this discussion to inaptly conflate the Academy and the University. Or maybe a real-world, gradual emergence of that distinction, followed by a now-tainted and inseparable re-blending of the two—is precisely what accounts for the worries at play.

(It’s interesting to note how politicization manifests in the domains of University [e.g., regulation of tenure and funding], Academy [e.g., regulation of what questions one is allowed to ask and what the expected answers are, increasingly across all disciplines], and their intersection.)

(6) I don’t know what it’s like at Stanford or, for that matter, anywhere else these days. And I don’t know how much we should credit the sentiments about such things by folks such as myself, who are nowhere near a university system, who never even attended grad school. Or maybe that’s precisely whom to ask: Given your obsession with subjects generally associated with academia, why aren’t you desperately seeking university affiliation?

(7) The foregoing in mind, a perhaps unsurprising idea I’ve encountered among a perhaps surprisingly wide range of intellectuals is: Ultimately, you just have to sit in a room by yourself thinking and reading and thinking some more, and then bring that on occasion for discussion to those who are doing likewise.

There are some fields where where ongoing collaboration is required, but there are also many where, at some point, you must spend great quantities of time working alone.

For what ever reason, I have usually gravitated to fields and projects where I can work alone. This includes music, which I’m surprised to find surprises some people. Why is this surprising? Sitting with pen and paper writing a string quartet, for example, is not a collaboration. I understand that some musicians enjoy, thrive on, and starve for collaborating. There are also many, many composers who have no interest in it at all. Especially, perhaps, those for whom musical works pop into their head fully formed, and “composing” is just a matter of writing it down.

I do, however, view philosophy (loosely construed) as collaborative in some important sense. I view discussion in this context as a kind of collaboration, and a crucial one for many reasons. But, for me, discussion is where you exchange and scrutinize one another’s findings—where you help one another self-interrogate, as I like to put it—and where you get further reading suggestions and so on. All of this is taken back to the drawing board, to Sontag’s “corner,” to a pacing room or hiking trail or armchair or wherever you find your solitude for the hard work of rumination and writing and reading and ruminating some more, before returning again to discussion. Repeat for as long as you are physically capable.

(8) Plenty of examples come to mind of people who do not fit into the currently fetishized idea among some folks that intellectual progress (however defined) can only be made by collaborative groups. I’ll give just one.

Eric Weinstein (rhymes with “Einstein”) often speaks of having spent years working mostly alone on a mathematical physics project. A project that he shared at Oxford in 2013, but then kept from the public eye until earlier this month, when he shared it again on his podcast The Portal: “A Portal Special Presentation- Geometric Unity: A First Look” (4/2/20).

To get a sense of why Weinstein retreated, see this condescending Scientific American article by (self-described) science writer Jennifer Ouellette (5/ 24/13): “Dear Guardian: You’ve Been Played.” “Was your bullshit detector not working that day?,” she asks of The Guardian after they’d published two positive articles about Weinstein’s work on 5/23/13 (just one day before Ouellette’s article!):

Roll Over Einstein: Meet Weinstein” by (self-described) science journalist Alok Jha;

Eric Weinstein May Have Found the Answer to Physics’ Biggest Problems” by mathematician Marcus du Sautoy, who was instrumental in Weinstein giving the Oxford presentation (which actually gave twice [or was it thrice?], for reasons I won’t get into here, but that strike me as irrelevant to the strength of Weinstein’s ideas).

Ouellette describes herself in the piece as more irritated than angry. Apparently because some of the world’s “top physicists” were “vigorously debating all kinds of wildly creative, speculative, alternative ideas” at a multi-day conference she was attending, while meanwhile Weinstein is getting the attention, “a guy who’s been out of the field for 20 years, but still doing some dabbling on the side, who has an intriguing new idea that a couple of math professors think is promising, so he got invited to give a colloquium at Oxford by his old grad school buddy,” and he has no paper, and so on.

Read her article for the rest and in case I’m misrepresenting it. What I find distasteful is that, while Ouellette’s annoyance at the way the media reported on Weinstein’s ideas is justified, I don’t think the condescension towards the man himself is. And one gets the sense, from this article and others like it, that hers is a common sort of status-quo response to Weinstein (or his theory)—a sense that is bolstered for some, probably unfairly, by the fact that Ouellette happens to be married to one of the most well-known theoretical physicists of the popular science world, Sean Carroll.

It doesn’t help that Carroll responds roughly as you’d by now expect to a question about the theory in this 6/9/13 Forbes interview by [per-byline] then-tech-contributor Michael Venables: “Back Off, Man. I’m A Scientist! Greene, Carroll And Frank Open Seattle Science Festival 2013.” Nice press for the festival mentioned in the title, whose opening event featured Carroll and was emceed by Ouelette. That event kicked off eight days after her piece’s final addendum (more about which in a moment), and is not one of the conferences she mentions. The point being that there does seem to be a community not only of physicists, but at the layer through which information from the academic physics community’s information is filtered.

By the end of her article, however, to which she soon after appended an update and two addenda, the tone softens. “Weinstein’s ideas deserve to be heard and fairly evaluated by his peers,” she writes. “By all means, let’s strive to bring the lone geniuses into the physics fold—it’s the only way they can test and refine their ideas, and contribute (even in a small way) to science.”

The hole thing, it turns out, might be worth it just for the discussion that it ignited about the role of outsider contributions to physics, of which Ouellett’s may be the central chronicler, and not only for her own reporting: she includes a lot of links; I trust there will be more to come now that Weinstein, his theory, and his anti-establishment story are becoming more widely known about.

At any rate, to say that Weinstein, who has a PhD from Harvard, is distrustful of the institutions of higher learning and research is such an understatement that it’s funny. But he is beginning to share his ideas with the public, having recently, largely it seems due to the reception of his podcast, developed enough trust that there exist plenty of thinkers who will give him a fair shake and constructive criticism (should they have the expertise to do so, whether about the math, physics, or ethical and practical concerns that surround his theory).

So much for vocation, at least university-wise. As for being a private (or whatever you’d call it) intellectual, Weinstein has this to say in the above-linked podcast (starts at about 31:40 on my player):

I want to return to the same spirit that I started this when I was 18 or 19, which is that of joyous investigation. Of brave, open-hearted undertakings.

And I also want to bring back a different style of scientific investigation. There has been far too much communalism. In fact, there is a belief that there are no lone researchers and that everything is produced by a community. And pardon my French, but this is absolute horse shit. I’ve been so long alone with these principles, equations, and ideas that I don’t even know what my adult life will look like once I disgorge them and I began to talk about them with the community at large.

I don’t know if a young Weinstein is an introvert—or, more likely, of some mysterious, which is not to say uncommon, disposition rendering him indigestible to any possible large-scale institutional system—so that he will find himself working alone wherever he happens find himself. Whatever the case, he often attributes his rejection of the dogmatic dominance of string theory—which he’s elsewhere called a “Baby Boomer conspiracy”—for his venturing alone as a college youngster into more fertile and less safe lands.

And he and I seem to agree that the notion that we must all be collaborators as part of some community into which we subsume ourselves is horse shit.

(9) When hearing the words of Harrison (whom I admire) and Dansereau, I can’t help but wonder if they are words from and for extroverts (at least within a certain milieu). Either way, they are words of people who seem to thrive and rely on social exchange of a certain, ongoing kind. What, if anything, are these words meant to imply for introverts, for the naturally private or lone intellectual?

(10) It’s an inconvenient and unfair truth that there are things undoable in practice that, were we able to do them, we’d be better off.  I don’t think this is entirely the case here. My impression is that we need both: lone obsessives and enthusiastic collaborators. Or, rather, that both come with plusses and minuses.

It’d be easy, though, to produce examples of loners who thrived, whether loners at heart or by circumstances, as well as loners who would have been better off being more willing to collaborate.

I’m reminded here of another term: “exiled intellectual” (4.97k Google results). Several years ago, after reading Edward Siad’s 1994 book Representations of the Intellectual, Chapter 3 of which is called “Intellectual Exile: Expatriates and Marginals,” it occurred to me to distinguish two sorts of exiled intellectuals: those exiled by default and those exiled by choice. A Jewish intellectual in 1940 Germany would generally be exiled by default. A Nazi-courted non-Jewish intellectual in 1940 Germany who self-exiles on moral grounds does so by choice (even though they might say their conscience gave them no choice).

I’m not making a moral point by noting the distinction, but I do find it handy when contemplating the plight of the exiled intellectual.

There’s much more to say about this, but the present point is that any involved discussion of the relationship of the exile to large institutions should engage Said’s book, which I’ve here said nothing about, and probably his 2002 volume Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, which I own but haven’t yet read.

(11) “Cancelled intellectual” yields 153 Google results. Nearly all of them are about intellectual property. Only one result, it seems, is about an intellectual who’s been “cancelled.”

(12) I especially understand the motivation to knock down the idea that all progress comes from lone iconoclasts, a stronger idea even than that of the intellectual who merely works alone. But the truth is, sometimes progress does come from lone iconoclasts. We need to make room for such folks, to whatever extent we can given what the word “iconoclast” means.

(“Iconoclastic intellectual” yields 2,730 Google search results, the first two about Noam Chomsky, who also dominates the top image results.)

An iconoclast who comes to my mind is Florence Nightingale, a statistician and innovator of data visualization/infographics who took it upon herself to revolutionize the use of data in medical practice. Nobody pops from a vacuum fully formed or works entirely alone (save for the desert-island castaway), but she did much on her own initiative, collecting evidence and earning the “Lady with the Lamp” moniker during the Crimean War, pushing for structural changes from doctors resistant to a message that amounted to, “you’re killing your patients.”

An important and inspiring story, and how Nightingale should be best remembered. Edward Kopf’s “The Lady with the Data” is a better moniker.

I could go on all day listing examples of progress made by people working mostly on their own, even when some on the list happen to be doing so in the same building. Such figures are often more pitiably petty than inspiring, despite their excellent contributions, and one does often get the sense that they’d have done even better work had they collaborated more. But one also gets the impression that, in many such folks, upping the collaborative-ness factor might lower the drive-to-discover-ness factor.

But sometimes collaboration is morally required. It would be a just source of outrage to learn of a scientist sitting on a key puzzle piece for a COVID-19 vaccine due to their desire to earn credit for the vaccine’s discovery. (A real-life example of something like this comes to mind, but I’ll save it for another day.)

So, there’s nothing in itself virtuous about being iconoclastic. Indeed, there are famous iconoclasts whose push against the grain was incredibly destructive. And I often feel that our romance with iconoclasts is not just about the tidy movie plots they provide, but something deeper. That collective romance makes it easier, for instance, for each of us to rely on that one contrarian—iconoclastic—scientist who happens to support the thesis we’d like to be true, wether for ideological or lifestyle reasons.

(13) We need both the introverted, reluctant collaborator, and the extroverted, natural-born team player. A society that favors one far over the other—that shames or stigmatizes people for being one rather than the other—will not do as well as it otherwise could. And it also probably somehow amounts to a human rights violation. (As for those who thrive explicitly on pushing against the grain as hard as possible, they can take care of themselves.)

In addition to the aforementioned worry about hoarding important discoveries, I can see other good reasons to favor team-based models in widespread institutional structures. Nearly everyone claiming to have a theory that will change everything is almost always, always wrong (or “not even wrong,” as Wolfgang Pauli once famously put it; most theories that are “right” are mostly wrong, if in useful or interesting or productive ways). No human has the time to hear out all such theories, and there’s certainly not enough funding for every one of them to get research support. So we need gatekeepers. The question is how to do that.

People may or may not think this a good idea. Here’s an analogy that might help.

Following MySpace’s launch, there was a growing excitement among people that they’d be able to hear all the great bands that record labels were too stuffy or commercial or foresighted or whatever to give contracts. But it quickly became obvious, maybe around 2006, that nobody had time to listen closely to every band that sent them a friend request.

Not to mention the stacks and stacks of boxes of demos record labels started to post pictures of during that time, far more than their staff could ever hope to listen to, and so they had to go to a “no unsolicited material” policy.

There were also websites that catered to musicians by giving them incentives to listen to and rate one another’s music, GarageBand.com being probably the most popular. It closed down in 2010.

After that era, we sort of collectively agreed that we can’t do without cultural and idea gatekeepers of some kind or another. Spotify’s model, in fact, was that they were gatekeepers who didn’t include just anybody’s music. Some independent musicians complained about being rejected, but they shouldn’t have: if Spotify weren’t selective, you wouldn’t want to be there, that was the point.

On other other hand, such selectivity is to the detriment of the least charismatic and least well connected and so on. And I take it the same goes for intellectuals. It seems quite possible, for example, that many famous intellectual are famous due to being great at coming up with memorable names for the ideas they talk about. David Chalmers shot to fame, as he himself often points out, for merely calling an already existing distinction the “hard” and “easy” problems of consciousness. Weinstein is masterful at this, which perhaps in part explains the popularity of his podcast, if not his mathematical physics idea among physicists (yet).

Anyway, I don’t know what to do about the problems with gatekeeping except that except to hope that enough good ideas will have their day, one way or another, in due time. I can’t think, though, that Ouellette’s article is the way we want to see a person’s ideas treated with the sorts of endorsements and platform Weinstein was given (whose gate-opener was du Sautoy), even were he not presenting them as humbly as he did (the media fervor, premature or outsized or not, wasn’t his fault).

Here the music analog again occurs to me. Music bloggers and reviewers have admitted to writing bad reviews in order to take an artist down (just because, for instance, their now despised ex loves the artist; I once challenged a reviewer on misusing their power in this way, who responded that this was  “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard”), or commenters imploring musicians whose music they don’t happen to enjoy to kill themselves.

I’ve noticed such things less over the last decade. Perhaps there was an increasing shift to the political after 2008. Or perhaps the nastiness of early social media has led us to us to increasingly organize our online lives, with the cooperation of those who want our business, into personalized echo-chambers. (I take our collective move from MySpace to Facebook was such a shift. There have emerged more refined and sophisticated ways to do so in the meanwhile.)

(14) It is, for good reason, a massive cliche that to be a writer means being Ok with, if not craving, lots of time alone (with some counterexamples, like Chuck Palahniuk*). Some writers swear by writing groups to varying degrees, but you still have to have writing to show the group.

[*From Palahniuk’s one-of-a-kind 2020 book on writing, Consider This: “I work best in boring places with little stimulation but with other people present. … airports. Car dealerships. Hospital emergency room waiting areas” (pp 131–132.]

(15) I don’t see how anyone dealing in ideas of great abstraction or complexity wouldn’t have to spend great amounts of time in the confines of their own headspace—staring off into space (whether or not alone) or pacing (talking to oneself). I’m prone to all of these.

(16) In Lara Alcock’s excellent pre-course introduction to real analysis, How to Think About Analysis (a topic that I’ve heard more than one person with a long-time penchant for math say helped them realize in college that math wasn’t for them after all), she emphasizes the amount of self-study required—about three to four hours well-focused hours per week—to understand what goes on in lectures (see Chapter 4).

This is for understanding, not memorization, and adds up to at least as much time as in lectures or consulting mentors, though these things too can be critical for the mathematically inclined. See, for example, Edward Frenkel’s beautiful 2013 book Love and Math, a love story about both math itself as well as a young man overcoming the antisemitism in Russia that sought to quell his love of that math—sought to exile him from the world of higher mathematics.

Frenkel especially sought mentorship for higher mathematics. For people trying to make it through their garden-variety calculus course, it’s telling how many of them end up posting in YouTube comments sections that they’ve learned there in ten minutes what they couldn’t in an entire class lecture. It will be interesting to see to what extent YouTube and the like can be used for higher mathematics. We’re seeing some signs of what’s possible, but we’re at the very earlier stages.

At any rate, Alcock’s three or four hours has in mind the student who has a full course load. Particularly ambitious (or compulsively obsessed) students/autodidacts—see again Frenkel for a taste, or plenty of other biographies on mathematicians and those of similarly abstract disciplines—will of course spend more time than this. It’s no different than, say, music of a sort that requires many hours of highly focused practice to achieve great heights. You can only be mentored so much before you have to do the hard work, alone with a piano or a stack of books or whatever it is you need.

(17) I don’t know what the future holds. But I know that today’s world is an increasingly joyful place for the autodidact. The need for certificates has kept audodicaticism from becoming entirely normalized (though I’m convinced that many who thrive in college programs do so because they take the initiative to go beyond their assigned curricula). I’ve seen this with online courses, of which I’ve taken over a dozen for college credit, and have been surprised at seeing some otherwise high-achieving students falter, even failing to pass, due to being out of their usual social element: some of us adore it, it’s not for everybody.

I no longer take courses for credit, but as a lifelong autodidact (who didn’t start college until his mid-30s), what’s available online these days is staggeringly fantastic. That I can watch course lectures from around the world is awesome. That I can’t submit papers for feedback in humanities courses seems at first glance less than fantastic. But the sad truth is that I’m not convinced that there’s much use in the feedback one gets from overwhelmed graduate student and professors who speed read papers (if they read them at all). Better to get feedback from online readers or acquaintances who respond to things you’ve written because they are actually interested.

My most rewarding discussions in school happened with random acquaintances and friends I made and, faculty-wise, during office hours when we discussed things that had little to do with whatever paper I was working on My paper-centered meetings were usually (though not always) rushed, 5- to 15-minute blurs.

On rare occasion, these would turn into an hour-long discussion that we followed wherever they led. It was in one such discussion that an English professor recommended the aforementioned Said book to me (it wasn’t for a paper, but I read the book and emailed the professor about it, who then recommended the essay collection).

But there were relatively few of those. More when I was in community college than at Columbia, perhaps unsurprisingly, as I was not a graduate student at Columbia. That might have made a difference (I’ve been told that it doesn’t much: it’s often hard in such a setting to trust that you’re not just getting perfunctory comments from a captive audience).

Discussions with fellow students, however, could run several hours.

At any rate, what I these days lack in social circle I (try to) make up for with my 1.8-Smart-Speed podcast habit, online lectures, loads of reading, talking to my selves, and blog posts (my own and those of others). As well as a few friends whom I don’t talk to enough. I could do with more of those.

Conversations and exchanges can feel like a collaboration, and sometimes it certainly is (I collaborate with my friend in the phone, but not with David Hume or any famous living philosophers merely by reading and learning from them—not in the sense in which the term is used here, or else I have some royalties coming my way).

I’m sure a talented and sympathetic but tough editor is a treasure for any writer lucky enough to collaborate one.

(18) A big part of me feels that, for me, pursuing a PhD program would amount to a sophisticated, socially acceptable form of procrastination.

But the epistemic privilege it affords would sure be nice. After leaving Columbia, I went from having access to every physical and online library and information resource in the Ivy League to “alumni access” that grants me very little that I actually need (at least I still have JSTOR).

(19) As promised, no answers. More to say about everything, including things I haven’t mentioned (e.g., the ever-increasing professionalization of philosophy). I’ll leave it here.


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