The Academic’s Dilemma

As a member of an elite class of highly educated young people, I am often confronted with the condemning reality that I simply do not live in a reality with consequence and dignity. I discuss metaphysics and theories analyzing this world “out there,” but I never venture into that world. Even as I interact with the outside world, I make sure that there is a distinction within my head. I am a student. I am a philosopher. I understand things that others do not. But if my world lacks consequence and dignity, why do I continue? Is it worth anything?

Every human being I have encountered possesses an uncanny understanding of justice. What is justice? That has yet to be determined. Through the millenia, countless attempts have been made to determine that intrinsic quality of what justice is made of. Despite all these efforts, there exists no definition which sits comfortably with all individuals. Yet, even those with no experience analyzing and deconstructing these notions know, within themselves, when an act is just or not. The particulars, we may argue. But the essence, it exists.

If going to college fails to provide me with a definition but only reinforces that justice is a feeling, why go to college at all? What have I learned? How do I ground all this lofty knowledge in the world, when I already knew it due to my inherent essence as a human? And this is the academic’s dilemma. As post-modernity pushes us forward into the abyss, are we forced to conclude that academia is simply not worth it? Is it time to admit that academia has gone so far as to contradict itself? All knowledge is equal knowledge, so no knowledge is necessary. Is our logic self-defeating? And if not, do the various realities in this world fall into a hierarchy? Is one superior to the other?

I do not want to accept that this is the way we are going. I do not want to know that it was all for nothing. However, more than that, I am forced to believe that I cannot universalize the belief that academia holds the answers. It turns out, we always had the answers anyway.

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I Feel Safe

Every morning, I wake up snuggled underneath my blankets. I make coffee, brush my teeth, eat my cheerios. My cat crawls all over my lap, and I push her off. I can’t eat when she is crawling like that. I pack my bag, put on my shoes, and meander, slowly, to the bus stop. There is no rush. I am always early. I ride for fifteen minutes, and hop off at 3rd and Seneca. The 11 bus turns into the 125, and this is the last stop on 3rd avenue. I glance at my watch: 20 minutes to eight. Once more, I debate whether I wish I was asleep or whether I am more grateful to be awake. Regardless, I am happy. I feel fulfilled. I am scratching the desire embedded within me to do good. Helping others is not about them, but about me being happy on my way to work every morning.

I walk into the office, and copy the day’s court schedule. I check to see who has lawyers. Part of me is glad when someone does not, because it will give me a chance to work with them. Again, this day is about me, not them. Everyone in the office is cheery. They know some of the petitioners. They are hoping all works out well. We grab pens and walk down the hall.

The first victim I interact with sticks with me. I am brutally reminded that I woke up safe that morning. That I meandered to the bus stop. This woman woke up frightened. Is this the day he snaps? If I get this order, will it be the tipping point for killing me? Am I going to live? What about my children? They have seen him grab my hair and throw me against the wall. What must they think of their mother? You see, I get to help this woman. I get to file papers for her, and I advise her on what to say to the commissioner. I have power. And she doesn’t. She has never had power, and he has made sure of that. Today, she takes a little power back. But I help her, so I keep a little power for myself as well. Will she ever feel power-full? By that I mean, will she ever feel as though her body, her mind, her soul are within her own power and overflowing with her power? Will she wake up, make coffee, and walk to work with a smile on her face? Will she ever love again?

Can we hate these abusers? We loved them at one time. We were partners, and we made children together. Suddenly, I am one with her. Her problem is mine. We are fighting together. We are working toward her safety. We will file this order with the clerk. But don’t get too attached. She might die tomorrow, and I won’t. My partner will not beat me to a pulp. In fact, how dare I even attempt to merge myself with her? I have never tried to explain to the doctor bruises without blaming my partner. I have never been told to be ashamed of myself for being essentially me. I cannot merge with her. I cannot say we.

I cannot say we, because I am safe.

How to be a Good American

No one seems to be able to agree on what exactly is a good American. Most days, Americans complain: Congress does too little or Congress interferes too much. No government agency gets it right, and they are wrong from both sides of  the liberal/conservative spectrum. The constant disagreement makes it clear that a political, national identity is nondescript. One quality runs strong throughout most Americans: discontent.

Recently, I began reading the Federalist papers written by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay in defense of our Constitution and the creation of a strong federal government. As political theory, these men were brilliant. Studying the past through a critical lens and analyzing the present through a capitalistic understanding, Hamilton et al defend the necessity for a Union, rather than a loose affiliation of several states.

Yet, I can’t help but believe that the Americans they are writing to were inherently different than the Americans of today. These people were invigorated with the notion of universal human rights. Morality was hardly relative in the sense it is today. The ideal of Justice rang true. Americas were comrades, not enemies. What has happened?

How can I be a good citizen, a good American, and a good human in light of the world in which I inhabit? And as I wonder these questions, I challenge the notion that to be a good American is simply to be discontent. There is a far more defining characteristic to which we must all aspire. Hamilton understood this. So did many of the Founding Fathers. What is it that we all forgot?

False Identities

Intersectionality dictates that everyone individual identity is affected by the unique intersection of numerous “roles” or categories. I am white, female, straight, a student, liberal, and American. I accept these titles; I associate myself with these notions of identity. Common discourse encourages me to believe these labels are the defining aspects of my experience. Yet, I notice I flaw in this understanding.

If these labels are the tools with which I was socialized, what exactly are they? They contain no space. Their definitions are fluid. After all, who is an American? A United States citizen? An immigrant, legal but not yet a citizen? Who is female? Someone born with a vagina? What if one’s vagina is constructed? What if one’s vagina is later removed? Modern sex theory forces any legitimate intellectual to acknowledge that such strict sexual preferences such as straight and gay are entirely false; all sexualities exist on a sliding scale. We also now know that race is not biological. We come to the crux of the issue: all  of these labels are socially constructed.

While their construction is entirely real, we are given a choice. Do we continue to reconstruct them everyday with our actions, thoughts, and speech? Would we chose to abandon them if given the chance? Would we prefer to construct alternate identities?

Furthermore, are we only these labels? No matter how much I read upon the subject, I fail to find a proper word to describe the inherent me-ness that does not qualify in any of these labels. I operate within my labels, but what is doing that actual operation is more than these social constructs. As much as I adamantly believe in the socialization of the self, I am forced to conclude that something else is going on simultaneously. For an intellectual, for one who is curious, for a human, this question is baffling. All around me, in present and past, I watch and study people grappling with this notion. Are we meant to know? What exactly are we?