Sunday, August 4, 2013

How do you swagger?, or....being a jerk in academe

It is my firm belief that all of us are jerks at least some of the time but that we are jerks in our own specific ways, determined by such factors as the manner of our upbringing, inherited traits, avocation, and choice of occupation.  Academics, or those with training in academe, are no exception, and depending on the discipline in which we train, we can be jerks in largely discipline-specific ways.  I write this post as an introduction to a series of posts about how people in certain disciplines can be jerks to those they argue or enter conversations with.

So far, I plan to write three posts.  The first two will be about disciplines to which I am an outsider:  economics and philosophy.  The third will be about one to which I am an insider:  history.  By writing these posts, I'm not suggesting that any of those three disciplines is "wrong" or "bad" or better or worse than others.  I'm also not too keen on making the argument that these jerky foibles are so peculiar to any discipline that there is absolutely no overlap with practitioners of other disciplines or even practitioners of non-disciplines.  (The thing I shall criticize philosophers for in my next post, for example, is something I'm often guilty of even though I'm no philosopher.)  In fact, I'm not basing these posts as critiques of those disciplines at all.

What I mean to do, rather, is to gently point out the pitfalls to which their practitioners seem disposed and to gently remind them that if thew want to be listened to and not to be, well, jerks, then they might want to take different approaches to talking with others who do not share their disciplinary assumptions.  I also meant these posts as a guide for how to read others' arguments more charitably than is often the case.

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