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Hi John, As an academic myself and an avid reader/subscriber of your work, I think you bring a lot of refreshing insights to a lot of questions and subjects that I'm currently working on - particularly on the question of contemporary fascism. I think there's a sense among academics that obtaining the PhD - getting into graduate school, taking a bunch of seminars, passing comprehensive exams, writing and defending a dissertation, and doing all that on a TA stipend below minimum wage - confers a certain authority and legitimacy (i.e. privilege of having eaten shit to get to a TT job) that non-academics are assumed not to have. It's a wrong attitude obviously; but it's one that comes from a certain socialization that is definitely, as you say, archaic in form. (Also, Marxists are generally insufferable).

One of the consequences of this is that there's a significant amount of disdain or contempt in the public about academics, more generally, that comes with the deepening chasm between faculty and the public. As an professor in FL in the midst of substantial political attacks, this is a major problem since the public doesn't see the value of our role in public education. We have no natural allies to help us in this struggle since we've largely abdicated a public role. In part, this has a lot to do with the demands of tenure, publishing for an audience of our colleagues rather than a wider public. But it has handicapped up tremendously against such political threats.

In any event, thanks for your work and I'm looking forward to reading your book.

Alex

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founding

Two answers, two agreements from me

I never even entertained the Man in the High Castle scenario because it's so ridiculous for the brute material reasons you describe, but I actually like your formulation of a realistic alternative. Were you a novelist I'd say, write that novel!

A couple of years ago I worked very hard to write a paper. I didn't do it to influence the world or make a splash or get acknowledged by experts, but because I had some questions I wanted to answer, I wanted to try my hand at doing so rigorously, and I found the exercise valuable to that end. I'm proud of the results, but I thought, well, I wrote it, why not try to get it published? I have no shortage of friends and acquaintances in academia, so I asked them for advice. The advice wasn't surprising, but essentially boiled down to: the skillset required to get a paper published is completely unrelated to the skillset required to write an intellectually rigorous paper. The former is all about situating yourself in a current literature and more or less playing academic politics. And if you're not even part of an institution you've already lost the game more often than not.

I wasn't bitter about it especially; it was in line with my expectations. Academia is an absolute dog eats dog profession, however much the established ones like to act like they're above it all. Academic journals are less a means of ensuring intellectual rigor than a stamp of professional approval that has incredible value for career advancement in a specific profession, something I don't need, and which hundreds of thousands of actual professionals are fighting tooth and nail to get. *Of course* it would be near impossible for an outsider like myself to get it, from that point of view.

Sympathy and understanding aside, though, I'm entirely on the same page as you about the academic type you're talking about. They're going to pretend their territoriality stems from superiority rather than precarity? They're going to pretend they got to where they are through superior intellectual achievement rather than by crushing intellectual equals in a brutal free-for-all for a very small set of job postings?

I have tremendous respect for professional scholars who know their subject matter in and out. But I completely agree with you; there isn't some secret arcane art to reading and learning. Anyone can do it. Autodidacts do tend to make a number of predictable mistakes; that is why I personally tend to reach out to academics with my questions (and honestly, have found every single one of them very patient and helpful!) But professional academics *also* make a number of predictable mistakes, stemming from the way internal conversations have their own sort of momentum and blindspots. Exchanges between outsiders and insiders is precisely the way to mutually cover these blindspots!

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I think Roth’s The Plot Against America is closer to your take on how a fascist victory would play out.

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Apr 19, 2023·edited Apr 19, 2023Liked by John Ganz

“ Bad or difficult writing fails on the level of basic communication.”

-“Ah, but have you considered that that’s a feature, not a bug?” - two thirds of the economists I had to read in grad school.

Impenetrability is absolutely an active defence against the smart lay reader (and the academic of a different discipline).

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Apr 19, 2023Liked by John Ganz

do people ever write in to the mailbag like it’s an advice column and they want to know whether to break up or not

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Apr 19, 2023Liked by John Ganz

I am an academic, and very glad you are writing about our stupid fucking shit. Everything you describe is what many people who are academics have to contend with while trying to learn shit and talk about shit and write about shit. I tend to think of it as the tax I pay to be an academic--basically I crashed a wedding for the free food, and now I am forced to talk for hours with the groom’s right wing aunt and uncle. Eventually, they will go home and someone will come along who is better at conversation. There are lots of these people in academia, but they are hidden in the crowd. The social mores many academics follow are probably because they are usually upper middle class from the suburbs who were raised a certain way, and the usefulness of being obnoxious can be reinforced over time in various institutions. In other words, I suspect a lot of it preceded academia and simply leaked into the culture of academia based on my observations of who is most obnoxious on social media, and in podcasts--e.g., you see similar types of behavior in practicing lawyers who are not academics--the same foibles. The weird thing is that academics are (not on their own) essential as a group to protect and nurture the best things humans think and do. Think of us as beavers creating a wetlands. Beavers ARE very annoying but many species depend on the beavers.

The TV show ‘The Man in the High Castle’ has the flaws you mention, with an additional disturbing element where they essentially depict the Nazi society precisely as the fascists imagine it will be. So if you were inclined to fascism, it’s practically a commercial for fascism. They leave out all the stupidity and economic and political corruption and sheer incompetence. Of course, we have this as well but if you unpack the fascist fantasies they suppose something absurd--that a whole society could operate by sucking the blood of slaves and still be clean, dignified, happy and fulfilling. Of course, the fascist fantasies are partly about the thrill of having slaves but unfortunately Hollywood has left out the tawdry absurdity and the Nazis are always so dapper and controlled and slick even if they have scars on their faces. Hogan’s Heroes is underrated for putting out an alternative vision. Downfall also made a contribution to the realization these are drug-addicted wackos who will murder their own children but there’s still work to be done.

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For what it's worth, I hated the series of Man in the High Castle but loved PKD's book, for reasons that map pretty closely on the ones you said. The book takes place almost entirely in Japanese-occupied California; there are Nazi diplomats coming through but the Reich itself is relegated to the background. The proximate theme is life under an intimidating-seeming but ultimately incompetent occupation, with the implication being a critique of the U.S. occupation of Japan. The deeper theme is PKD skewering the idea of both historical inevitability and alternative history as a genre -- he does a fascinating alternative-history-within-an-alternative-history thing by having the characters read a banned book in which the Allies won WWII but in a completely different way than happened in our timeline.

The series fucked all of that up, first by making it into a Nazi fetish hour ("oooh cool Hugo Boss uniforms" "oooh sick they're melting down the Liberty Bell"), and then by making the alt-alt-history into some kind of message from the "real" dimension, implying that the deterministic history we all know and love is still out there somewhere. At least, that's what I got from the episodes I saw before I stopped watching it.

Anyway, all of that is to say, I recommend the book.

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Apr 20, 2023Liked by John Ganz

Re your comment about Orwell being guilty of some of the assumptions of totalitarianism for which he criticizes Burnham. I think that at the very end of '1984' Orwell undercuts the grandiose claims of the Big Brother regime with his Appendix about Newspeak, which refers to Ingsoc in the past tense. A lot of people assume that section is just Orwell explaining to readers how Newspeak works. But it could also be a voice from even further in the future than 1984 looking back on a totalitarian state that has collapsed. Of course it being written in the tone of a prissy intellectual might also go to your point about how academics conduct themselves when trying to 'inform' the public.

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Apr 19, 2023Liked by John Ganz

When I read the first question I thought of mentioning the to my mind more realistic scenario in Stephen Fry's AH novel where a Nazi Germany took all of Europe without much fighting with an early advantage in nuclear weapons. Of course even in that extreme scenario taking over the United States is outlandish; the US just toodles along, adapts, and the Civil Rights Movement doesn't happen.

And then you more or less outlined it!

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Apr 19, 2023Liked by John Ganz

Thanks for the response! I found it very thought provoking.

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Apr 20, 2023Liked by John Ganz

As a longtime adjunct working in the humanities, I just want to say that my response to your critique of academia was me mumbling "hell yeah" and "get 'em" under my breath as I was reading.

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You’re right about everything.

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100% agree on academia. Within my adult lifetime its progressively eaten the left, very much to the latter's degradation and increasing class alienation and sectarianism. When I was in the Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign in 1990, out of a core of maybe 50 people, 2-3 were doing their PhD on the Poll Tax struggle and/or the riot(s). By the time of Occupy NY, Mark Bray was telling me that within a few weeks, the only people who had the time to participate in the daytime meetings were all grad students doing their PhDs on Occupy Wall Street. Effectively the activism has been consumed by the parasitism of the ideological classes (and in Marx, academia is very much part of the ideological superstructure). Of my generation of activists that came of age in the mid to late 80s, I am one of the few who is not now an academic. The effects this has had on the left's ability to communicate with workers who never went to college, is absolutely dire.

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"The U.S. would never totally recover from the Depression or become one of the paramount powers in the world." Curious to hear more how you think about the economics of this alternative scenario.

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Thanks for your comment on non-academics reading academic books. That's me. I have no formal education beyond high school but read a wide range of books, including stuff written by academics for academics. Sometimes it's rewarding and sometimes it's insufferable.

Have you ever read Nettl's Rosa Luxemburg biography? Before reading it I didn't appreciate that the revolution vs reform argument has been underway for well over a century - and what a fruitless and largely pointless battle it has been for those of us on the left. I also think it's hilarious that 'Kautskyite' is still considered a terrible insult amongst academic leftists. Talk about preaching to the choir!

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“They should be happy I’m writing about their stupid fucking shit in the first place—no one else even fucking cares!”

Made me laugh I agree

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