Modern Talking

Oh, the humanities.

Photo: Francisco Osorio

I’m not agreeing with conservative shoe-bangers and cranky old idiots like George Will of the Washington Post who love to seize on problems like these as proof that we academics are all hoity-toity elitists who are conspiring together to lord our knowledge over a public full of nothing but bigots, lardos, and morons. What I’m arguing is that, far more often, we are either unconscious of, or we don’t think hard enough about, the ways we act as if this is the case. We may fundamentally reject the “pseudo-public culture” Grief describes, and the stuffy, condescending ideals of “the intellectual” and “the public” that come with it. But that doesn’t mean we don’t do our part to bolster that same culture by, say, using jargon for what are essentially self-serving ends, or not working harder to hash out forms of meaningful, critical engagement with non-academics in ways that move beyond the dumbed-down TED Talk model. Even if we are consciously not the archetypal ivory-tower elitists conservative pundits like to pretend we are, we can still essentially amount to the same thing by not making it a priority to honestly ask questions like, “When is my jargon necessary and when am I just being an asshole?”

Over at The Baffler, Maximillian Alvarez wonders if academics might need to dial it down a notch. You will be happy to know that the word “hermeneutics” does not appear once.

The Accidental Elitist