Wednesday, March 28, 2012
my thoughts and possible realizations of getting a ph.d. in a "liberatory" field
what can i say?
i’m not so sure of anything anymore. just got out of a “discussion” about neoliberalism and its various impacts on social systems, especially higher education. metaphorically the outcomes of these actions were equated with a “zombie culture” a system of the living dead that preys on the living. we acknowledged how steeped in neoliberalism higher ed was and especially programs like cultural studies. i wondered, how can we know about this but not do anything about it? how can such a program that critiques these systems simultaneously perpetuate them? i spoke about the process of getting a dissertation, especially the preliminary exams and dissertation process. i noted how the experiences reiterated to me were deeply alienating, soul crushing experiences (which oddly enough was done out of love somehow).
i am having trouble signing on to the belief that this process is in any way humanizing given its legacy of being the exact opposite—it makes or breaks you after all right? you must remove yourself from your loved ones, work in isolation with these unreasonable expectations hanging over your head of becoming an expert in your field, an intellectual, that you are cultivating this intellectual capital that puts you above the rest; a perpetuation of these deeply oppressive hierarchies.
i did not come to this program to learn how to play the game, go off and play the game and teach others how to play the game! same goes for sociology. i idealized this program—and sociology—of being a place where i would acquire the tools needed to enact some kind of change in these types of systems! not simply know what is going on for the sake of understanding it in and of itself and just continue on my way happy with the knowledge i’ve gained. i know the process of becoming and getting a ph.d is hard work and i’m okay with that part. not okay with how dehumanizing that process continues to be, and the implication of higher ed being part of a larger system steeped in neoliberalism is that i shouldn’t expect anything less of any higher ed program, no matter what clothing it wears, what ideals it spouts.
someone used the analogy of the process being one where individuals have to give up and rearrange their thinking about things; that that is what is painful about the process. i responded with what i feel this means i have to give up: the ideals that i came in with, ideals that i am here to not only understand but somehow use what i have learned to enact more just ways of being in whatever situation that is i find myself being of service—to practice the ideals of social justice and wellbeing of myself and others.
i wrote this found poem from transcripts of an interview with a meth addict in which s/he describes her/his experiences with the drug. here is the poem i wrote:
in the beginning?
it gave me energy
for a while
but...all it does is just deteriorate and break you down
lies like you wouldn’t believe
changes your brain structure so much
and i thought we had a connection
that’s what i fell in love with
looking at it made me wonder if i am addicted to education and the idea of it as a liberatory space while having experienced it as the opposite of that? fixated on the feeling that what i come away with is something that allows me the ability to enact social justice when that is nothing more than a fantasy in ‘real’ life? it reminds me of the silly kid i was in thinking i was going to be an astronaut, traveling the galaxies and jumping off the rings of Saturn, or becoming a scientist who discovers the cure for AIDS; a childhood fantasy i had to let go of once my relationships with science became problematic.
academia does the same things this poem about addiction describes and the process of learning these exciting things about structural and systematic oppression—the ability to put a theoretical face to what is happening in society—fills me with the joy of knowing but the anxiousness of wondering what i could do about it. it breaks my heart to think that i was in love with nothing more than an idea; a fantasy and that love doesn’t live here at all—not the kind that propels anyone to meaningful action.
i want a ph.d. so i can teach others about these troubling ways of society but now i feel at a loss. how can i move forward knowing what i do? i want to think that i would do things differently, but after having taught once and knowing the implications of the education system i participate in...i just don’t know how can i be happy where love is not valued, encouraged, accepted or fostered? i don’t want to become a zombie. and is that what moving forward means i’m signing on for?
being at my alma mater seemed like such a humanizing place in comparison. i didn’t understand a lot but my soul was never desecrated for my lack of understanding nor was i being trained to play some kind of game ...everyone here seems too busy to care about making anything humanizing possible...
what does it mean to get a ph.d. in a place that does care about humanity and love? that practices what it preaches about social justice?
where do i go from here?