on the life of the mind

This is a repost from The Chronicle of Higher Education. It’s quite heartbreaking. The themes call to mind Louis Menand’s latest book, The Marketplace of Ideas.

For those of us clawing our way through doctoral programs, it certainly gives pause. His comments about how we are socialized to accept menial wages, insane hours, and untold amounts of stress and anxiety point to the tremendous paradox that lies at the heart of much (most?) upper-level education in this country.

If you’re well off– enough that you can live off a trust fund or stock margins while you pursue a doctorate, or marry someone who can support you during that decade-long process, you’re better off. If your folks will buy you a house, condo, apartment, and subsidize your cost of living, you’re good. If you don’t have to sling coffee or get a part-time job swiping meal cards at the dining hall, so much the better. And if you can eat out all the time or order in, with no fears of overdrawing your checking account for some mediocre Thai food, then you’ve saved a ton of time.*

So, in a frightening and deeply ironic way, the “life of the mind” is really only open to those who have the mental energy and economic resources to pursue it, without the impediments of physical life slowing down their time to degree.

I would definitely pass this article along to any students who were contemplating pursuing higher-higher education.

Thomas H. Benton

The Big Lie about the Life of the Mind

*Yes, I know that this is how life, in general, works. People with capital and resources always have an easier go of it than the proles and bourgeois classes. I’ve read enough Marx and Engels to know that’s pretty much an incontrovertible fact.But that doesn’t make it any less sad.

**Bourdieu said something similar, I think, about the dominant and dominated classes. Pretty sure that was Bourdieu.


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