Before you get that PhD…

Max Weber, Science as a Vocation:

Hence academic life is a mad hazard. If the young scholar asks for my advice with regard to habilitation [advanced degree], the responsibility of encouraging him can hardly be borne. If he is a Jew, of course one says lasciate ogni speranza [abandon all hope, you who enter here]. But one must ask every other man: Do you in all conscience believe that you can stand seeing mediocrity after mediocrity, year after year, climb beyond you, without becoming embittered and without coming to grief? Naturally, one always receives the answer: ‘Of course, I live only for my “calling.”‘ Yet, I have found that only a few men could endure this situation without coming to grief.


  1. Stephen Zielinski April 15, 2015 at 1:50 am | #

    The right sort of person — the holder of social capital! — always has an advantage over his or her competitors all else being equal. The world is not a functioning meritocracy. Nor does it realize any other defensible standard of justice.

    It is a mistake to believe universities provide exceptions to these rules of thumb. American universities and colleges have committed themselves to enforcing a segmented labor market which, by design, super exploits contingent teachers. These individuals are effectively outsiders with respect to the institutions they staff — exploited outsiders, of course. Temp workers without much hope.

  2. Rosalind Petchesky April 15, 2015 at 10:14 am | #

    “To say nothing of women” would be a rhetorical reply, except by the time Weber was writing this women’s movements for equality and access to éducation were well underway in both Europe and the U.S.

  3. David April 15, 2015 at 11:17 am | #

    get a degree; a Ph.D, Masters, whatever…just don’t expect everyone to accept you as an expert or even influential; i.e. do it for yourself and then continue to learn from others throughout your life. An education teaches you to see, to learn and to know, other than that, its useless!

  4. Howard Swerdloff (@GerminalUSA) April 15, 2015 at 2:47 pm | #

    My working life as an adjunct (history) at CUNY is bad enough, (no respect, no security, no career path and all of that) but I must say that my good friend, a research scientist at a NY Ivy has it even worse than me in many respects. At least my employment status isn’t contingent on fundraising to literally cover every day of my salary, a mind-numbing endeavor that precludes the work (that he loves) so many hours of many, if not most days.

  5. J. Otto Pohl April 15, 2015 at 4:54 pm | #

    For some reason nobody ever gave me this advice during my post-graduate studies.

  6. Hal Ginsberg April 15, 2015 at 8:29 pm | #

    That academia is not a meritocracy was proven most clearly to my mind by Princeton president emeritus William Bowen’s recent poorly reasoned op-ed in the Washington Post against the fossil fuel divestiture movement. A former president of the most prestigious university in the United States can’t put together a cogent defense of the investment strategy he championed.

  7. Cornelius Fitzedward Pope II April 16, 2015 at 8:22 am | #

    In the two years after I abandoned my academic aspirations and left academia, my former colleagues continued to send me peremptory emails demanding that I edit their NSF grant proposals two days before the submission deadline. I refuse to participate in any more NSF grants, or any other academic research. No more inclusion as “senior personnel”, meaning relegation to low-academic-value unpublishable I.T. support work on scientific projects, while others publish. Academia is a winner-take all game. The winners should be satisfied with their winnings. It is irrational for the losers to compound their losses by supporting them.

  8. Junius April 16, 2015 at 9:18 am | #

    Controlling education is a typical elitist tool to conserve and perpetuate the class relationships.

    How is it possible? Why this counterrevolution is possible?

    Something is evident: neoliberal employment (the ortodox, neoclassic, “natural rate of employment”, that means generalized unemployment and *underemployment*) creates enough political power to the upper class (Kalecki, “Political aspects of full employment”) to force this social involution.

    But this doesn’t explain why so many educated people can’t fight for their rights. Why – in all the western countries – there aren’t (real) democratic parties?

    I argue that there’s a deep misperception of main important concepts at a language/philosophical/philological level: an example?

    Just above Stephen Zielinski and Hal Ginsberg speak about “meritocracy” but… what does meritocracy mean? Its etimology suggests “power to whom has merit”. But we (would like to) live in a democracy. Isn’t it? Not in a “meritocracy”. The premium to merit is a “business concept”: not a sociopolitical concept. Who has to judge the “merit”? “Meritocracy” is a neoliberal concept, born in the fifties with a dystopian meaning, and used now in the “orwellian newspeak” as “aristocracy”.

    In the education and research does not make sense linking “kratos” to “merit”. Those who hold “kratos” judge who has “merit”.

    In this age, lower classes cannot formulate and discuss about sociopolitical problem because it’s difficult to “find the words” to build a coherent system of thought.

    American people should ask themselves how is possibile to call “liberal” a progressive thought. And this enormity is rooted in the center of the “empire”. No wonder that there is not “internal” resistence in the globalization process. (The resistence of the BRICS Countries to the “western aristocracy” is not a “social struggle” that in a historicist view can drive to a “stable” social justice: if Myrdal had been more “hegelian”, maybe he would not have been so enthusiast due to the virtuous “circular and cumulative causation” in the (socio)political progression due to the “nuclear stall” of cold war).

  9. Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant April 16, 2015 at 12:58 pm | #

    “But this doesn’t explain why so many educated people can’t fight for their rights. Why – in all the western countries – there aren’t (real) democratic parties?”

    In the first of these two sentences, maybe the word “won’t” should replace the word “can’t”. The answer to the point raised could be found in social science research. Educated people won’t fight for their rights because too many of them don’t identify as “labor”, thus refusing the opportunity of mobilization for economic, social, and political justice. Rather, too many educated people — in and out of academia — see themselves as part of a social strata akin to management, even if actual management is not part of their actual labor yet merely serves to facilitate the interests of management and of the ownership class. This a particularly acute problem in the United States and seemingly much less so in the other western democracies. This often why public displays of progressive causes (in the form of marches, say) will often be composed of working class persons in the American context, whereas in the western democracies (and many “third world” nations with capitalist economies) such displays will tend toward a broader participation and include the professional classes, artists, students, greens, labor, feminists. The cultural cold-war rejection of the “intelligentsia” that marks post-World War II American history appears to have been less of a problem for progressive politics on the Western European land-mass than it very much was in the United States.

    The premise suggested by the second sentence in the excerpt can also be interrogated. I would suggest that real democratic parties do exist in the western countries, and that accounts for their more expansive democratic character and more expansive public social service sector in Western European land-mass than in the United States. It is also the reason that aggressively anti-democratic policies that may seek institution will often meet with stiff resistance in the other western democracies (and, again, in third-world nations that have capitalist economies). In these nations, democratic/progressive parties are a much greater force to reckon with than they are in the United States. Such parties in the U.S. will tend to be quite small, deeply underfunded, have no access to major media, will lack power, and are often easily crushed by the heavy hands of both of the two major U.S. political parties. They will be objects of surveillance and often secret and illegal action by the state (this is also true in the other western democracies, but because those parties are far more deeply embedded in the political culture in those nations they are also far more resilient in withstanding state sponsored abuse). State action against real democratic parties and their cold-war rejection by politics (and society) at large in the United States has and will continue to collude to disincline the institutionalization of real democratic parties beyond their current highly local and disempowered status.

    However, given recent events (“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”; “Fight for 15”; marriage equality) this may change. More likely is that “issues” may prevail in a progressive direction by the sheer force of public restiveness and in the absence of any real democratic party in the United States.

    • Junius April 17, 2015 at 10:54 am | #

      […]too many educated people — in and out of academia — see themselves as part of a social strata akin to management[..]

      This is also my point: please, I would be happy if you can suggest me any “papers” about these social researches.

      Infact, I talked about “parties” because there is an evident lack of working class representation – democratic representation – in the western Countries: it means that there are a lot of people that doesn’t apply a political pressure for their own interests.

      A precisation: I talked about “parties”; my fault. I wanted to mean *mass* parties. And, as a good keynesian, I suspect that there is no “supply” because there is no “demand”.

      In Europe there were a lot of cultural resources, Constitutional Democracies, the top form of social culture ever been experimented by human race (yes, only if you belive in democracy…). Untill the seventies, especially in France and in Italy, there were very powerful socialist parties… it’s true. But the western empire speaks english, and the cultural and the political “spin” is generally from the center to the periphery: American and British people have never been protected by a Constitutional democracy with Keynes, Kalecki and Beveridge “written in the Constitution”.

      If Reagan and Thatcher were able to bend anglosaxon democracies in few years, the Constitutional Democracies were designed to resist to a fascist reaction (fascism, after the WWII was seen as a political experiment to impose liberalism against socialism, as later in Chile with Pinochet): but nieztschean elitism and hayekian economy – financed by the center of the empire – have found in the pan-europeism and the denationalization of currency, the “external constraint” to bend constitutional democracies.

      The big mass parties – maybe with democratic or labour names – are supported by million of lemmings that think that Austrian political economy is “cool”…

      The tragic is that when people – *especially* educated people – understand that austrian “gold standard” austerity, caused by denationalization of currency, is devastating, and it’s out of the Law and against Constitution, they are pushed to think that this is what they deserve (merit?)… in a mass delirious moral trip.
      Now I understand what’s happened in the thirties. This is social madness.

      Jonnyb. is right, something in Europe is actually changed in the last 30 years, and, due to I think USA is the problem, I think that only USA will be the solution: if a (real) democratic and social political culture won’t not be developed in the center of the western “empire”, I can see only a prospective of a new-fudalesim.


      A struggle for “marriage equality” or feminism, are civil struggles, not social struggles: you can’t get civil rights if you before don’t get social rights. In my opinion – without economical and political revendication – all this kind of political movements, are only “gatekeeping”. This is a big problem for the modern progressivity. You will get the right to marry a person of your same gender but you will not have the money to celebrate the wedding…

  10. jonnybutter April 16, 2015 at 4:20 pm | #

    aggressively anti-democratic policies that may seek institution will often meet with stiff resistance in the other western democracies….from democratic/progressive parties [which are] are a much greater force to reckon with ..[because]… those parties are far more deeply embedded in the political culture in those nations they are also far more resilient in withstanding state sponsored abuse).

    I am not so sure this is true anymore, alas. That these parties are *called* some variant of ‘social democratic’ in W. Europe doesn’t mean they aren’t pretty coopted these days. Hence new parties like Podemos et. al. which aren’t so embedded. Pardon me though if I’m misreading you Donald.

    • Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant April 17, 2015 at 9:06 am | #

      No, jonnyb., I think you understand me correctly. Which simply means that I may a little behind the times, but I do base my view on the news reports I get when I turn to “Democracy Now” or Doug Henwood’s “Behind the News”. Those shows do report on progressive resistance around the globe, and there is often a focus on real democratic party (small “d”) presence in such resistance as I describe it.

      I should “update” my assessment by noting that if any attenuation obtains regarding the power and effectiveness (and resilience) of non-U.S. domiciled democratic party activity, it has more to do with American political and economic pressure on those nations where such activism persists (and persist, it does) than with any inhibition by the educated classes to identify with those less educated or privileged than they — a condition that plagues progressive politics in the United States. That an openly “leftist” party (mind you, however, this label does not guarantee either effective governance, or impenetrability to either neoliberal blandishments or out-and-out co-optation and subversion — or worse [see Venezuela in 2002]) can get elected ANYWHERE on Earth is cause for me to wonder why and how such a thing is possible around the world but not here in the U.S.

      My own schooling in international film studies back in the day introduced me to the political culture of places as different as France and Brazil. That is how I had been introduced to the histories of these and other nations and how my sense of their political cultures seemed to allow the growth of democratic parties, even in places where it was clearly physically dangerous for such growth. It is also where I learned how it is that the U.S., a place where such growth should be the easiest of all (at least Chomsky says so), is not.

      It makes one say, “hmm…”

      • jonnybutter April 17, 2015 at 9:57 am | #

        What made me start thinking differently about this was when Mitterand was French premiere. He was supposedly a socialist, but…gee…

        Here’s an article I like from Perry Anderson from last year, about Europe:

        • jonnybutter April 17, 2015 at 9:57 am | #
          • jonnybutter April 18, 2015 at 9:19 am | #

            “premier” Prime Minister

        • Stephen Zielinski April 19, 2015 at 7:18 pm | #

          The Velvet Revolutions of 1989 demolished Eastern Marxism and Mitterand’s PS effectively terminated a mainstream social democracy worth having. These events were as important as Reagan and Thatcher in the establishment of the neoliberal age — an age of political and economic decline, an age defined by the capitulation to capitalism in the Western countries. I find it hard to consider Mitterand as anything but a symbol of the current disorder, just as Reagan and Thatcher are symbols.

  11. Frank April 16, 2015 at 5:31 pm | #

    Problem is, everyone thinks they’re the exception, not the rule.

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