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A Socratic dialogue with Jared Leto on the death of Academia


Academia: A purgatory tale


“Already clear that the future of Western Civilization is increasingly intense cultic-swoon iterations of "Clean your room!" until it's been entirely evacuated.” - Nick Land, probably


Jared Leto walks into my dark office, squirming with a childlike hesitation that can only be described as a 30 Seconds to Mars fan asking their divorced mother for concert money, maybe some crack too. He finally looks up to me, eyelash flaps and all, and says:

“Master. I’m damaged.”

“You seem wise. Tell me, what is it like to be ‘damaged’?”

Leto went on into a lengthy monologue about his parental relationships and failed love affairs, and yet, the only thing that kept me from rudely interrupting his sincere but unfocused stream of banalities was how much he resembled Macaulay Culkin during those moments. It was uncanny, so, out of sheer artistic curiosity I went along with it, an occasional nod here and there, blurting out acknowledgements elsewhere.

“Teacher, what am I to do?”

“Huh? Oh. I believe I understand where the fault in your argument lies.”

“Argument?”

“You see, Jared. You seem incapable of coming to grips with one grim reality. You’ve come a very long way to get to where you are, nonetheless, the only apparent path for you to reach the next level in your career is to settle for mediocrity; and maybe… after lengthy years of compromise, you’ll finally grab onto something special. That is if there’s anything left of you afterwards.”

“Well said, sensei.”

“The crux of the matter is, you are in that compromising period right now. You can’t admit to yourself the fault of the system you have dedicated your life to. That wouldn’t be very collegial of you. So, you look for scapegoats, childhood trauma, your upbringing, your character, your intelligence to explain your failures.”

“By Jove, Socrates, you’re right!”

“But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Whenever a conversation takes to the personal and sincere, I become irrevocably uncomfortable. So, for the sake of my thesis… I mean, your transference… let us talk about you in third-person, specifically that of a completely different person, in a completely different professional environment. A person that you may find shares a number of insecurities with you.”

“As you wish.”

“Alright. Let us imagine a philosophy PhD student… named… Gerald Lettuce. Middle-class background, excellent dental hygiene. Notwithstanding the enormous student debt that hangs over him, Gerald believes that he will make it in academia, with his insightful takes on long dead philosophers and what he believes is a groundbreaking theory of everything. After all, he’s spent all of his life being a student, so any deviation seems disingenuous to himself and the horde of lecturers that seemed a bit too kin on grounding his philosophical ambitions to an acceptable competitive level.”

“I can really relate to this hypothetical character.”

“Huh? Oh, good. Well, as you can imagine, years of being in the part-time gig economy left Gerald in quite dire financial circumstances, so a publishing deal seemed like the only way out. He compared himself to the quality of works produced by his published colleagues and, now filled with an inflated sense of self-importance, went on to finish what he believed to be a book-sized introduction to his future magnum opus.”

“Like Walk on Water or Suicide Squad!”

“What? No. Anyway, a very tumultuous year passed, days spent starving and writing, juggling academic responsibilities and his part-time jobs as a barista in two different Costa Coffee locations left him shattered, disheveled but still resolute. It’s finally complete. His work of philosophical art.”

“What happened?”

“Peer-review called him “overly-enthusiastic” and “polemic to the point of informality”, which is unacceptable.”

“Just like critics said my Joker performance was. Those bastards.”

“Settle down, there. Now, Gerald, disillusioned by his colleagues, turned increasingly more disgruntled and bitter after each rejection by publishers. And yet, his occasional ravings on Twitter didn’t surmount to much, as the threat of unemployment, homelessness and starvation eventually crept up on him. He sold himself out, settled for agreed upon narratives within the humanities and began bastardizing his works in exchange for the promise of food and electricity.”

“That’s awful!”

“I don’t believe it would be much of a jump in induction to say that the commodification of philosophical enterprise would lead to a positive feedback-loop akin to what we see now. Starving academics settling for mediocrity, publishing companies printing out said mediocrities for all the world to see, demeaning the philosophical discipline as overly-theoretical, sophist, uninspired, vapid, dry and impractical. As the world begins to mistrust such academics, professors migrate to the proverbial ivory-tower, weary of any possible competitors for their tenures, hoarding degrees, references and accreditations the only way they know. Selling themselves to the dominant narrative, merely mix-and-matching different interpretations of long dead thinkers to keep those royalties coming. Correct me if I’m wrong here, Jared.”

“I can’t think of anything wrong with your argument, teacher.”

“Good. Now, these positive feedback-circuits usually build up momentum up until they explode. Aside from the distrust and condescension academics get from the public, I have to ask you… Who reads contemporary theory anymore?”

“I know I don’t ha-ha!”

“I know you don’t, which is why it strikes me as odd that people still pursue a career in academia. For what? Money? Recognition? Tinder dates? For what, I ask!”

“Hear-hear!”

“Philosophy is not a commodity, it’s not a business. Why would you waste your life in academia when you have a better chance of getting recognized online? People write on the internet exactly because there are no restrictions, no unsaid rules, no dominant narratives. Eventually you might even get what you would call a general feeling of intellectual comradery, from all of the wonderfully edgy and shamelessly playful individuals you hold constructive debates with. And then, a feeling of mutual respect will permeate your group, better than any watercooler talk you might get from the campus refectory. What philosophy is missing as a discipline is jouissance, playfulness, pushing the envelope, an uncompromising creative disposition. All of this you can get online, not in lecture halls.”

“Well said, sir.”

“Here’s how I think things will play out. Economic recessions and humanities budget cuts will lead to the untimely death of Academized philosophy, the general sentiment of unprofitability will extend to students and academics alike. However, science as an institution, although remaining profitable due to military-industrial complex contracts and techno-capitalism, will begin to see mistrust in the public due to the ever-more apparent political bias it imbues its descriptive findings with. It will become increasingly more obvious that science cannot prescribe moral truths, so the public will have to look elsewhere for meaning. They will find it in layman’s philosophy popularized by popular figures like Jordan Peterson, Joe Rogan, Sam Harris and PewDiePie. Most will be content with that level of philosophical knowledge. But a minority will undoubtedly treat them as a gateway towards more nuanced understandings of the world. Finding no interest in decaying academia, they will pursue theoretical discussions and eventually writing on the internet. Groups online will become the viable alternative to academic institutions, offering a rhizomatic view of knowledge, a playful disposition towards critique and debate, a chance of getting recognized for your most genuine beliefs, not for your compromises. And of course, they’ll have a much more stable job on the side. You don’t have to work as a philosopher to be one.”

“Are we still talking about me?”

“Of course. If you can’t see it, you’re not looking deep enough into what I’ve said.”

“My mistake, master. How could I not see it? You’re saying that I should wait for an economic recession to happen so Hollywood won’t have a choice but to pump out mediocre works of cinema with an overarching neoliberal narrative. Eventually Bollywood and the Chinese film industry will overtake them in sales, and I’ll already be there, ahead of everybody. Thank you master!”

“You’re welcome.”

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