Current Reading

This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

I'm currently reading Edward Teller's Memoirs.

Word cloud

Word cloud

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Anti-intellectualism in professional life

In chapter 4 I came across the story of Dwight Moody, a 19th century evangelical preacher.  It is noted on page 108 that somebody asked Moody what his theology was and Moody's response was "I don't know, you should tell me."  He was not a formally educated religious scholar, but he was a man who worked in the trenches of religion, reaching out to people and preaching to them and interacting with them, and discussing the Bible with them.  I suspect that many of the academic readers of this blog are either non-religious or else religious in a more intellectual sense, but one needn't share Moody's religious views to appreciate that he was an authentic minister of his faith, lack of Latin and Greek jargon notwithstanding.  In this respect, I realized that I have some considerable sympathy for him, if I compare his disinterest in the jargon of the learned to my own disinterest in the jargon of managerial classes.

Just about every American employed in a corporate or institutional job has at some point encountered a person who demands that they explain how their work in the trenches relates to some sort of management theory framework.  They don't ask "What do you do and why do you do it?"  Rather, they ask "How does your work fit into the mission statement of the organization?"  They don't ask "What do you teach in this course?"  They ask "What are your learning objectives?"  They don't ask "What do you sell?"  They ask "What is the end-user experience that you are providing?"  They don't ask "What are your students graded on?" but rather "What is your method of assessment?" These people have been mocked in one of my favorite movies and in tales passed 'round teh intertubez.  Everyone hates these people. Everyone.  Even the boss hates them, because the boss is required to make a show of obeisance while secretly fearing that he will get in trouble because he spent too much time making things happen and not enough time fitting things into six sigma management rubrics or whatever.

The big question is whether disrespect for the jargon-slingers of the managerial class is a form of anti-intellectualism.  The jargon-slingers would certainly claim to have a considerable body of research on their side, and thus those of us who mock them are the ones saying "Look, I don't need no fancy book learnin' to know how to do my job, I just gotta use my good ol' common sense, I tell you whut!"  Certainly I get the occasional twinge of discomfort when I go against educational fads that have some claim to a research backing.  I know that I am not alone; most of the intellectual class that I belong to hates the jargon-slingers, either because we are stubbornly defending our turf from perceived threats, or because we disdain them as false intellectuals using long words to hide lack of substance, or some mixture of the two.

Is it anti-intellectual to eschew the jargon of the managerial class?  The answer is not 100% obvious to me, because as much as it all stinks to me I also get uncomfortable when I remember that some of them do conduct research on this.  Not all research is good research, and I have what I fancy to be a well-reasoned hunch about this, but reliance on hunches over lit searches is still anti-intellectualism...

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