Microcosmographia Academica II

From the Moveable Type chuck-pearson.org blog, July 15, 2005.

It’s old English, but hopefully this is a bit clearer of a quote than what I quoted yesterday. Please bear in mind that I, as I read this, am thinking about every effort I have made over the past five years to toss out my good and reasonable ideas about how the academic enterprise should be run and the responses that I have gotten back to those ideas (which have been varying flavors of “no, thanks, not today”).

So, with that in mind, from the introduction to the book, which is ominously titled simply “Warning”:

I shall take it that you are in the first flush of ambition, and just beginning to make yourself disagreeable. You think (do you not?) that you have only to state a reasonable case, and people must listen to reason and act upon at once. It is just this conviction that makes you so unpleasant. There is little hope of dissuading you; but has it occurred to you that nothing is ever done until every one is convinced that it ought to be done, and has been convinced for so long that it is now time to do something else? And are you not aware that conviction has never yet been produced by an appeal to reason, which only makes people uncomfortable? If you want to move them, you must address your arguments to prejudice and the political motive, which I will presently describe. I should hesitate to write down so elementary a principle, if I were not sure you need to be told it. And you will not believe me, because you think your cases are so much more reasonable than mine can have been, and you are ashamed to study men’s weaknesses and prejudices. You would rather batter away at the Shield of Faith than spy it the joints in the harness.

All over again.

So much of my general frustration with Life, The Universe, and Everything has been tied up with this idea that, dang it, my ideas make sense, and why doesn’t everybody else jump on board with my ideas? Cornford’s response to that (translated into a less elegant, but more direct, contemporary English) would be something along the lines of “you dork, why do you think that everybody else is motivated by the same high ideals that you are? People want to protect their own positions. People want to protect their own principles. People, for God’s sake, want to protect their own incomes. And many people just want to protect the way things are, for the sake of protecting the way things are and nothing else. And you’re so arrogant to believe that you have a better way? Fine. But you’re never going to get anywhere unless you convince everybody else that your way is better, and don’t you dare think that should be an easy task, because it’s not.”

Common sense, I suppose, but I’ve never been accused of having common sense.

(Edit after comparing the titles of the two posts: Has anybody noticed how easy it is to sneak in an extra c into a hyper-long Latin title? For crying out loud, I keep wanting to type Microcosmographica Academi_a, instead of placing the c the other way around, which is the way it’s supposed to be (and, I think, finally, the way I have it in the title to this post).)

Microcosmographica Academica

From the Moveable Type chuck-pearson.org blog, July 14, 2005.

I’m learning my way around Inside Higher Ed. It’s a wonderful news site for affairs of higher education generally.

One of the recent pieces that has popped up there is a review of a 1908 English work of satire and wit called Microcosmographica Academica. It was authored by Francis M. Cornford, who was at the time a not-too-young professor of classics at Cambridge. An online copy of the book is available; it’s apparently escaped to the public domain, always a good thing.

The text itself I’m only starting to get through, but I’m already absolutely clobbered by one of Cornford’s descriptions. As you work your way through the parties involved in academic politics, after he describes Conservative Liberals, Liberal Conservatives (and those two are as different as they appear to be), Non-placets (men of principle) and Adullamites (men who want all the money there is going), we reach this beast:

The Young Man in a Hurry is a narrow-minded and ridiculously youthful prig, who is inexperienced enough to imagine that something might be done before very long, and even to suggest definite things. His most dangerous defect being want of experience, everything should be done to prevent him from taking any part in affairs. He may be known by his propensity to organise societies for the purpose of making silk purses out of sows’ ears. This tendency is not so dangerous as it might seem; for it may be observed that the sows, after taking their washing with a grunt or two, trundle back unharmed to the wallow; and the purse-market is quoted as firm. The Young Man in a Hurry is afflicted with a conscience, which is apt to break out, like measles, in patches. To listen to him, you would think that he united the virtues of a Brutus to the passion for lost causes of a Cato; he has not learnt that most of his causes are lost by letting the Cato out of the bag, instead of tying him up firmly and sitting on him, as experienced people do.

Ho-lee shaving cream.

I am convicted. Nay, I am pricked to my very soul.

I’m gonna have to read more of this.