Intellectual Aeronauts

We intellectual aeronauts!  —  All these hardy birds that fly the farthest —  surely when they can no longer go on, they perch somewhere or other on a mast or on the narrow ledge of a cliff— and are even grateful for this wretched accommodation! But who would conclude from this that a vast open space no longer lay before them, that they had flown as far as possible? In the end, all our great teachers and predecessors have come to rest, and it is not always with the noblest and most graceful gestures that exhaustion sets in: and so shall it be with us! But what difference does that make? Other birds will fly farther! This faith and insight of ours races upwards past them, rising above our own intellectual shortcomings, and from this height catches sight of flocks of far stronger birds in the distance flying on ahead of us, striving to reach what we too have striven to reach, where everything is still sea and nothing but sea!  —  And where do we want to go? Do we want to cross the sea? To where is this powerful longing drawing us, which we deem more worthy than any pleasure? Why are we drawn in just this direction, to where all of humanity’s suns have so far set? Will the tale someday be told of how once we too steered westward in hopes of reaching some India  —  but that it was our lot to founder on infinity? Or, my brothers? Or?  —

Nietzsche, Dawn §575 (trans. The Poseidonian)

 

Sexual Harassment in Academia

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Yes, we are still talking about this, largely thanks to Colin McGinn. What I would like to do here is merely propose a hypothesis, born of reflection on all the incidents of harassment that have ever come to my attention within departments I’ve studied or served in. In every instance I can think of, if I try to recall as many details as I can about the object of the complaint, that person seemed to fit the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The gender ratio of NPD is apparently 75% male, and the incidence in the population about 1%. The percentage of heterosexuals is a contested issue, with some estimates as low as 90% and some as high as 98%: let’s call it 95%. If you are male in an academic environment with a narcissist colleague, you will soon enough conclude that the person is annoying and insufferable, but not much beyond that. If you are female, your experience is likely to be dramatically but often invisibly different. That suggests that there are two root causes of the persistence of sexual harassment in academia, and it may be that neither can be ameliorated to any significant degree. The first is the sheer ratio of men to women (duh): if a large majority respond to the problem person with “well, he’s annoying and insufferable, but so what?” instead of merely half of the group responding that way, action will obviously be lackadaisical. Second, if the person is already tenured, what can one do ultimately? Nothing will be effective short of firing the person, since the behavior pattern is likely to be incorrigible. Consider this one more argument for the abolition of tenure.