Here be dragons, and that way lie monsters

16 December 2011

Here’s my question: when presented with spectacular levels of cognitive dissonance, how will you respond?

I’m starting to think the only way for me is either madness or depression.

I’d like to suggest that there’s no way to take into account the utter unfairness, the lies and deceptions, the selfishness and obtuseness, without developing a noticeable facial twitch and/or getting institutionalized.

Yup, just like they used to write on old maps, in those vast stretches of unexplored ocean: “here be dragons.” Or, “here dog-headed beings are born.”

Let’s just take as an example what I’ve been witness to in the last semester, which include the most astoundingly feckless treatment of graduate students and the most resoundingly nonsensical tenure decisions.

Yet as I look around at the responses of my peers and colleagues, I don’t see much madness or depression. As a result I’ve come to realize there are a range of psychological types which allow those individuals to somehow take all this information in stride rather than lock arms with Nurse Ratched. Let me delineate:

  1. The narcissist. “If this information does not help or hurt me personally, I can remain completely unaffected by it.”
  2. The truther. “If that person was denied tenure (and/or if that grad student was treated like shit by his/her advisor), there must be a good reason.”
  3. The Pangloss. “Everything the university does must necessarily be the best thing it can do.” Unsaid: “If I cannot believe this, everything will fall apart. Therefore, yay, university!”
  4. The house of cards fraidy cat. “I cannot do or say anything because the university might hurt me on my own way to promotion.”
  5. The psychopath. “My spectacularly unqualified friend/partner got tenure, therefore I will post numerous congratulatory messages about it on Facebook. It does not occur to me that this might hurt my Facebook friends and close colleagues whose tenure was unfairly denied, because I am incapable of empathy.”
  6. The hermit. “I will not think about this, lest I feel things I can’t absorb right now. Instead I will return to my office and hide my head under the sand.”
  7. The choose-your-battles fantasist. “Rather than oppose such manifest unfairness, I will believe that I am building my strength for the next battle over something even more outrageously unfair.”

This way lie monsters, friends. Believe me, madness and/or depression are preferable.

And they say that being a professor is all about the intellectual freedom. Har har. See ya at the madhouse, compadres.

2 Responses to “Here be dragons, and that way lie monsters”

  1. servetus Says:

    I agree with everything you say. It’s either madness or depression or both. If you take refuge in depression when you start to come out of it you still have to dodge the madness obstacle.

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