Academic Politics vs Corporate Politics

From /r/askacadmia:

“Compared to the corporate world, there are three unpleasant things about academic politics. One is that there is no clear common goal. In the corporate world at any moment of time usually there’s a well defined goal (profit, saving, market expansion, sales, loss reduction etc.), and if something doesn’t work, it least in theory, you can always stand up and ask the team to relate back to the goal. Look, we are not doing ourselves any good by getting involved in THIS, because it does not move us towards our main goal for this year. And then supposedly everybody readjust.

“In academia, large-scale goals are almost never articulated, so every person comes up with goals of their own, and there is no clear way to figure out what do we want as a team. Basically, except in situations of emergency, we never want anything collectively, as a team. Sometimes the majority of people happen to have their goals aligned, but it always happens spontaneously, not because we are explicitly required, or want to work together. I guess the whole mythology about tenure and academic freedom does not help here as well. People are so proud of the concept of academic freedom that they basically flip out every time somebody tells them what to do. It’s very much a “don’t tread on me” mentality. How dare you tell me how to teach! What speakers to invite! How to do research! People are very protective of their freedom, which is great, but it makes things harder in so many cases, as they may become protective of their freedom “just in case”, preemptively, before any actual conflict arises.

“Another, related complication, is that there is no culture of escalation and arbitrage. In the corporate world if you say “do it”, and another person or function says “don’t do it”, you can always escalate to the management, have a meeting, and agree on the priorities. There is typically a procedure for resolving conflicts, and there is a clear power, so when sales and IT have a conflict, they just calculate the costs, have a meeting, put these costs together, and delegate the decision up. In academia the structure is much flatter, the responsibilities are less clear, and there is no culture of escalation. If you would write to the dean about a conflict with another faculty, it would be perceived as an insult and open war, not as a working moment that happens literally every other week. Which means that pretty much conflicts of interest can sit there for years without ever being resolved.

“Finally, the last issue is that academics really like to think, analyze, and look into details, and really don’t like making decisions. Which is the exact opposite of the corporate world: there people usually work against a pressure of time, so they know (or are taught the hard way) that in many cases it’s more important to make a decision, any decision, than over-analyze and procrastinate. So, at least in my experience, in the corporate world when you call a meeting, present your analysis, and no obvious red flags are identified, typically people vote for a “go” decision, and immediately send a proposal to the management. In academia typically nobody would believe your analysis, because they will feel that they need to do it themselves (not that they have the time of course), and then several hypothetical reservations will be voiced, and “what if” scenarios will be described, and a few people in the room will have some strong reservations they’ll never voice (because, again, there is no culture of conflict resolution), and then everybody would agree to give it another thought, and maybe reconvene in half a year, or maybe form a committee, and give it another look, so forth and so on. There is no decision culture, and things can drag forever, even when people are generally sympathetic to the cause, just because they don’t have a habit of working small things out in order to push something big forward.”

Full discussion.

Suggested Messaging for Democrats

One more political bit for the day:

“They want to believe that they’ll be super awesome once the bad people stop fucking them over, we can offer the actual bad people (CEO’s, banksters, Wall Street scumbags, etc) as scapegoats.

“Democrats: You’re a hero and a winner and a potential millionaire if only those fuckers in management and up on Wall Street would stop keeping you down, we’ll kick their asses for you and you can become awesome all by yourself. oh and also there’s some social programs we totally know you don’t need you bold bootstrapper you, but if you should happen to know someone who needs help they can get it here

Discussion in context.

Archive photos of FDR campaign.

Adam Curtis on the 2016 US Election

Documentarian Adam Curtis on the 2016 election:

“America is not sliding into fascism. That’s just hysteria by the liberals who can’t face up to the fact that they lost the election, so they either have to blame the Russians or giant historical forces. Basically, a right-wing president has been elected, and he’s created a brilliant machine that captures liberals and keeps them completely preoccupied. What he does is he wakes up in the morning, tweets something that he knows isn’t true, they get very upset and spend the whole day writing in big capital letters on social media, “This is outrageous. This is bad. This is fascism.” What they’re not facing up to is the real question, which is why did Donald Trump win the election? What other forces in the country had they, the liberals, not seen?

“They weren’t defeated by something as grand as fascism. They were defeated by a man who’s connected with a disaffected group in America, like the people who voted for Brexit in my country. I think there’s a great deal of narcissism which Mr. Trump has worked at how to play on beautifully.

“What I was trying to argue, or imply in this film gently, was that we may be in a very similar situation where we know that the system has become somewhat corrupted. But more than that, we know that those in charge don’t really believe in the system any longer, have no vision of the future. And what’s more, they know that we know that.

“What Trump is doing is playing with the fakery. It may be instinctive. He’s saying things that he knows that we know aren’t true, at which point everyone gets locked into a game of what’s true and what’s not true. This misses the real point of politics, which is to tell a powerful story that offers a vision of the future. I don’t think Trump has a vision of the future. I think he’s the last of the old politicians.

“I think you should pay more attention to the traditional, hard-right-wing people who have risen to power with Trump. Donald comes from the world of finance and he is doing what finance wants to do. I would argue that actually it shows that really nothing has changed, which is a very hypernormal situation.”

Full interview on Alternet, quoted in a Metafilter discussion.

The Trump segment from Curtis’s documentary, Hypernormalisation:

The Fantasy That Makes Them Feel Better

Discussion on Metafilter:

“You say ‘Hi working class and/or poor white person, I’m here to offer you a higher minimum wage, better healthcare, and free/cheap education so you and your children can have more life opportunities!’ And they say ‘Fuck off and die Commie scum!’

“The Republicans say ‘Hi working class and/or poor white person, I’m here to slash minimum wage, steal your healthcare, and gut your educational opportunities, so the job creators will shower you with super awesome high paying jobs! Also I’ll really stick it to those illegal immigrants, LGBT people, black people and women!‘ And they say ‘Thank you oh great savior, let us shower you with votes and power!’

“The problem is that the Democrats literally can’t offer what the average working class white Republican voter wants, because what they want isn’t a real program that helps them, but a fantasy that makes them feel better (and a chance to put the boot in on groups they hate). The average white Republican voter has been so conditioned to believe that any sort of effective social program is ‘Communism’ that they oppose anything that works.”

Full discussion in context. 

Trump Voters and “Why Should I?”-ism

On the rural/urban divide from the 2016 election:

“The Trump voters that I know run a gamut of educational and financial backgrounds but they all have one thing in common: Talk with them long enough and they will say ‘why should I…’. Everyone of them. Guaranteed. My work and my volunteer work puts me into contact with with lots of people, and if you listen to the conversations at the store or a restaurant; it’s a common refrain. I call it Whyshouldism.

“‘Sure, we should be be feeding hungry kids, but why should I be paying for it’ ‘yes, brush burning is bad for the air quality, but why should I pay to haul these leaves to the compost instead’. It goes on.

“This is magnified by the deeply held knowledge by pretty much everyone here that they are very smart and everyone else is not. And since they are smart and cannot figure out a good reason ‘why they should’ no reason must therefore exist. There’s no explaining, because, remember, you’re dumb and they aren’t, and it is very arrogant of you to try explaining things to people smarter than you.

“It is these two things that form the bitter heart of the modern conservative sense of entitlement. And it plays out in such stupid ways here. The state recently changed some regulations on meat handling and storage for restaurants – it wasn’t a huge change, basically temps in coolers and fridges had to be a few degrees lower. But the local pols were ‘there is no reason Capitol City needs to be telling us what standards we should accept, we make our own standards’. No complaint about the actual regulation itself, just that the people here are smarter and wiser than those idiots in Big City and therefore anything they want to do is stupid.

“I think this why the Urban/Rural thing seems prevalent, but you don’t have to take many swings with a dead cat to hit someone like this in say, New Jersey. To me, thinking about is rural/urban is missing the larger picture.

“You watch this and think what the hell has happened ? You can’t even find dems talking like that anymore. What I think has happened is that the generation that overcame the Depression and World Wars by coming together gave rise to the generation that wonders why I have to do anything for those morons. I sort of wonder if it’s a boomer thing – you can kind of draw a line from the 80s ‘Me Generation’ to the current ‘Stupid Entitled Movement’ we have going on, but that does seem a little pat.

“There is, of course, a bit more to it, but this is a comment and not a blog post, so I tried to be brief. But from here, in the middle of nowhere, it seems that whyshouldism has taken firm hold and I just don’t see how a ‘One Nation, Indivisible’ manages to survive that.”

Full comment in discussion.

Why They Turned to a Demagogue

Commentary on why some Trump followers won’t listen to reality:

These are the same people that have been voting to gut the social safety net for a solid three decades. When they had great-paying jobs in manufacturing and what-not, then social programs were just the government taking their money to give to lazy (brown) people in these Dickensian inner cities. So they kept electing politicians whose campaigns were designed to one-up the austerity of the one before. But since they were hardworking people, they would never be looking for some kind of government welfare or handout. I mean, they might collect unemployment from time to time, but that’s different, since their taxes paid for that.

“Now that the rich “job creators” have won their propaganda victories and completely upended the economy, suddenly those same folks don’t have jobs like they used to. And now all those social programs and “welfare” and all that aren’t there. But rather than recognize their own short-sightedness, they did what most of us do rather than admit mistake and heard what they wanted to hear. So after getting hosed by the economic elite and corporations while simultaneously voting in droves to undermine the only possible checks on the Greed Class, they’ve now turned to a demagogue from that same Class who suddenly tells them that the government is going to help them. Sure, it’ll “help” them by poisoning the environment, giving even more of their tax dollars to wealthy businesses, and raising taxes on consumer goods (through tariffs).

But he does one thing that’s even more important: he makes it not their fault. It’s not their fault they (and their parents and grandparents) torpedoed their own school systems, so there was no way for them to adapt to changes in the economy. It’s not their fault they voted time and again to reduce or outright kill social programs, so that when they fell on hard times there’d be nothing there to help. It’s not their fault that they put all their eggs in one economic basket. It’s not their fault that they turned to politicians who, rather than spend taxpayer dollars on re-training them once it became clear that manufacturing was on its way out, decided to give themselves and their fellow rich more tax cuts (and blow a few more hundred billion on military spending). Don’t forget too that the government that’s going to save them also licenses drug dealers, while the corporation that sells narcan has been free to jack the price up through the roof. Instead, our demagogue made it someone else’s fault, namely immigrants. Never mind that this isn’t remotely true, but it fits in with long-established narratives and, again, makes it someone else’s fault. Better to be victims than responsible.

“This mentality, in addition to being poisonous for the communities where it prevails, also makes it hard for other narratives to take hold. The left has done an abysmal job of framing the debate, and explaining why e.g. environmental regulations are not only good for public health, but actually save money. For some reason, though, Democrats are unwilling to talk in these terms, and so it’s easy to paint them as effete and out of touch. When they do address economic issues, it tends to be in ways that don’t really address what folks in the middle part of the country actually see on a day-to-day basis. During the last presidential campaign, Clinton wasn’t able to do much more than give vague platitudes that boiled down to “trust your coastal masters, we know what’s best for you.” Our demagogue, meanwhile, gave these people something they could chew. Never mind that it had little connection to reality, but it made sense in the gut. (The “why”s of Trump’s victory have been done to death, so I won’t belabor that point.)

“At the end of the day, virtue is a hard sell. I’m reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, and a line from one of Hamilton’s letters has stuck with me. John Laurens, a close friend of Hamilton, had proposed that black regiments be raised to fight in the Continental Army in exchange for their freedom. The plan met stiff resistance in Congress, however. Hamilton shared his pessimism with his friend in a letter, saying:
Prejudice and private interest will be antagonists too powerful for public spirit and public good.

“So with all that schadenfreude (and catharsis) out of the way, the more important question is what to do now. I’ve seen plenty of comments from the left that amount to letting these folks reap what they’ve sowed. I get the instinct, but I think that’s both morally wrong in itself and frightfully hypocritical.

“But this is as far as I’ve gotten. I recognize that just sitting here from my educated, East-Coast perch and yelling at people isn’t really productive, however satisfying it may be in the short term. On the one hand I do think we have to try to understand what motivates Trump supporters, but at the same time we shouldn’t make excuses for them either. Maybe all we can do is try to insulate ourselves, but I’m not sure how possible that is. More significantly, I’m not sure it’s possible to do that without torpedoing the country (and I’ll admit to sometimes wondering if this is what the beginning of the decline looks like).

“The usual tools simply don’t work here. I don’t know how you talk someone around when their entire approach to the world is to ignore facts that they dislike. I’m more and more convinced that all we can do is wait for the Fall and hope people will be willing to admit their mistake. I don’t know how the rest of us make that possible in the future while at the same time resisting and fighting against Trump’s harmful policies. Perhaps there is no right answer, and we’re back to trying to insulate ourselves as much as we can from the inevitable collapse. If that’s really the only option, I’m glad I’m a gun owner.”

Full discussion in context.

Photo from The Economist.

5 Reasons Why Your Grandma Is A Perfect Wingman

Discussion of a photo of a elderly woman doing shots with some beach babes:

“1) First off, she doesn’t give a fuck. She probably saw a war or two in her time and to her life is as precious as it is short. She will walk up to the crowd of the hottest girls by the pool, I am talking the girls you wouldn’t dream of having the balls to talk to, and she will make sure they know who you are.

“2) Now the hottest girls know who you are. She is pointing you out and you are a tad embarrassed. Well don’t be. Fucking grandma will talk you up in a way women not only understand but highly appreciate. She isn’t your best bud who is far too drunk and just tells them how nice and honest you are and how they should give you a chance, she is speaking in fucking women-tongue and they will be interested to talk to you regardless of what you look like or how shy you are.

“3) She WANTS you to get laid. She wants you to find the hottest fucking most gorgeous girl around the pool/pub/bar/whatever because she wants her genes to be not only passed on, but passed UP the genetic lottery chain. She will do everything in her power to make sure her perfect little grandson is seeing a girl she is incredibly proud to say is now her granddaughter in law. She WANTS YOU TO GET LAID.

Read reasons #4 and #5 and full discussion.