It’s Sunday and I’ve sat down to stare at the screen (I mean write). I draft things in my head on my walk with the dog in the morning. This walk has become very slow because of a combination of health issues I am currently trying to get on top of. But something that came up for me today, was why I write, study, practice anthropology and do comedy; because I am okay with not being liked.
This, somewhat ironically, came to me as I bagged Pepper’s the wonder dog’s poop. Anti-intellectualism is a thing in Australia, and I am afraid I’ve always been an intellectual by my very nature, so I’ve come to terms with being disliked.
Making friends has always been hard for me (and no! I don’t want to have an autism discussion here, but it’s a major factor, yes). As a teen I was so used to being ignored, or ghosted or people telling me they are busy, I got genuinely surprised when it didn’t happen. My approach as an adult was to just be me and if people fell away, that’s completely fine; this decision happened when I found myself thriving emotionally when I went to university at 28.
My friendships (the ones that stay and I’m pleased to say there are many) are nebulous satellite networks of interests, some alike, some varied but definitely not the cliques of in-common-hood I watched others sustain in high school. This does not sustain me and the labels I get for this are many – cold, aloof, strange, weird, etc. etc.
I find other people get disappointed that I like lots of alone time and will become completely consumed with my current passion. People new to my acquaintance often tell me I need a break, that I should relax, that I need to get out more. But following that advice only makes me unwell, so I let people know I appreciate the thoughts but that I have other plans.
I don’t do what I do to be liked. I do what I do because I am interested in what I am doing.
I’ve noticed my social world getting noticeably smaller since I started as a PhD student and have called myself an academic who sometimes does comedy. I’m okay with that.
Does that make a snob or an elitist? Nah. I’m from a working class background, was first in family to graduate and found my some of own family members were (what I call) grassroots, un-degreed intellectuals. I would never suggest that people without degrees are not smarter than me – I know plenty who are way smarter than me.
And for the record, I had to overcome disability and violence issues each time I’ve studied, I’ve gotten HECS debts and paid a big price, emotionally, socially and physically. Not as much as others have either. I’m white and I’ve not had to overcome the massive structural barriers like First Australian people do.
It took a lot of bravery to go to uni, to be who I am, not to be what others wanted me to be. I never studied for anything other than pure curiosity and a love of knowledge – and my PhD is no different. Again, I’m doing it on a shoestring budget and alongside some growing disability issues, but the project is important to me and I’ll keep on keeping on.
In 2014 I was teaching critical literacy at James Cook University to mainly adult learners as part of a bridging course to university study. There was a unit on theory.
Far from being the boring lecturer I do a lot of interactive work with students (even online this is possible) and design activities that make the students do the work of learning, rather than me drone on. But this topic was always hard to teach, because people would cross their arms, roll their eyes and expect to be bored.
There was this prevailing view that theory was lifeless, on paper only and of no practical use.
I used to do an exercise called “The fuel gauge”. It was a role play and a discussion about a car breaking down, that was presented before they even knew the topic of the workshop was theory and the exercise gradually introduced theory into the mix.
There were a few scenarios presented to small groups about a car break down. They included experiences from people outside of their own experience (I used to deliberately put people in groups with different experiences). For example, one group would get a story about a single Mum who has fled violence, whose car is unreliable, who has no support network and no money – whose car breaks down at night.
Students would grapple with this exercise as there was inevitably a range of ideas why it should be easy for this Mum to overcome this dilemma. I would facilitate this session with the view to make sure they didn’t reduce this experience down to “just have road side assistance membership”.
Students would peer teach each other. They would debate this reductionist view that it’s just an easy fix.
One woman in her late 20’s was particularly scathing of the case study as she started to realise they were testing theories in their discussion. When others in her group were having light bulb moments about theory wasn’t separate from experience, that you have a theory and you test it in real life, then you refine the theory and on you go – she become more resistant.
“This is bullshit, I’d just call Dad, I would have no theory about why the car has broken down. It’s just broken down, it doesn’t have a theory”, she loudly declared.
“So your theory is your Dad will know what’s wrong with the car?”, I replied.
The classroom erupted into laughter. I knew this student had a good sense of humour and it brought her back to the discussion.
Not all of academia does good things. Being intelligent or seeking knowledge doesn’t necessarily make you a good person.
Just like any group of people, they will have people with dubious intent or people who are there for the non-altruistic reasons. But there isn’t a homogeneous mythical group of dogmatic elitists called “The Academics”. There is definitely elitism, but not everyone wants to engage that way.
I suppose I just want to say, if you believe that academics or intellectuals aren’t practical or useful and that’s the hill you want to die on:
Please do so by removing all the technology and social instruments around you that some thinker invented or contributed to (degreed or otherwise) and see how useful that hill becomes to you first.
If you decide to try something new or study or change life direction I’ll try not to say the things I heard from the anti-intelligentsia. I won’t say…
“What will you do with that? Are there any jobs?”. Lost count of how many times I heard that about anthropology. Anthropology has taken me on an amazing journey and a very gratifying career and has ranged from the practical to the more theoretical in application (they are related). Hasn’t made me as rich as if I’d become a tradesperson, that’s for sure (yes, I AM being ironic here – I am sure tradespeople are not all rich either!).
“Well, I suppose you have to do something.” This passive-aggressive gem can go die in a hole.
And my personal favourite:
“I don’t believe in book learning. Life isn’t in books”.
Really? Then we should burn every book? The response I get to that is shock and “No! We need some books!”.
Folks, there is no such thing as some mythical *book learning* – your fuel gauge is getting low and you are just slagging off now. There is most definitely different ways to learn and books are just one part of that. But I learned a bunch of practical tasks at University too, just as much as I did at military trade school.
Unlike unicorns, the words just don’t appear on the page – they come from life; and can be good or bad.
As for me now? I’m just going to get on with it AND I will just cheer on people following their hearts work.
I will cheer you on when you try something new, I promise.
P.S. I’ve not hash-tagged this post. I’ve not shared this well. Because, again, not doing this to get a following, I write because I want to, because it’s a perspective. If three people read it, great!