If we’re so anti-establishment, if we’re the fucking mean punk school, why do we give a shit?
You know it’s a valid question and one I have been struggling to come up with an answer for.
I am choosing to directly confront the issue today because of one reason. Today I got a like from Professor Sarah M. Durant, Acting Director of Science for the Institute of Zoology at the Zoological Society of London.
If you’ve been following my top ten cats series you’ve actually learned a lot about me. You will know that I skipped work in an autistic meltdown to catch a train and walked to London Zoo in the rain in my work attire (including Cuban heels that ruined my feet for a week afterwards). You will know that the cheetah is my favourite species of cat, although not We Lack Discipline’s number one. You will also know that that is because in my failed attempt to become a qualified biologist, in pursuit of working in zoology, I worked on several projects to do with cheetahs and (Durant et. al.) was probably the most repeated phrase in all of them.
When she liked my tweet, I didn’t cry, but I welled up. This isn’t just a ‘like’ from a person to me. This is acknowledgement. From someone whose work I massively respected, spent hours reading and – when I left university – never believed I would ever have any interaction with, despite my interest. That acknowledgement hit me, hard.
You see I’ve long since learned that ‘academia’ the vague concept, is not necessary in the pursuit of knowledge, if that is your sole aim.
Libraries are an exceptional resource, the internet has made access more open than ever, Wikipedia (for all that it is discredited in academic circles – and rightfully so given that for an afternoon the ‘Spoonerism’ was invented by Epic T. McSpooner, the cowboy-astronaut – I know, I did the edit) is a fountain of knowledge directing you to all sorts of sources, if you want academic papers you can often just contact the academics themselves for a PDF because they know they are usually behind a paywall and not everyone can afford the entry fee.
You can learn without needing to go to school. In fact we all do, on a daily basis. How we learn, the ability to discern what information to trust and what not to? That’s the skill that’s lacking.
Now if you want to push the frontiers of that knowledge? You’d better find your way into that ruthless academic world just like if you want to win the World Series of Poker you’d better start gambling. That doesn’t make either of them a good world to get into.
We Lack Discipline is about more than democratising knowledge it’s about democratising, and making accessible, all different kinds of knowledge to people like me. The curious flunkies and intelligent drop-outs, the people that that world doesn’t suit but they don’t stop reading, they don’t lose their curiosity.
We Lack Discipline is for the people who never got the chance to go to university but were always interested in animals, or Romans or psychology but life got in the way.
It’s for the people who never felt comfortable in that world because where they grew up swearing was used like fucking punctuation, and reading a book got you mocked but they’ve grown up now, they’re sturdier in their knowledge of themselves and feel self-conscious getting involved because – well let’s be honest it’s not a welcoming world, is it?
But we need our academics. Again, there’s no new knowledge without them and whether they were privileged enough to cruise into that world, or whether they had to fight hell-for-leather for their position if I get misty-eyed because I get a like from them on twitter you can bet your arse that they’ve worked theirs off.
Academia is a fucking savage world, sexist, racist, homophobic, classist, ableist. Outside of sports or politics I couldn’t think of a more elitist world, inclined to sticking its head up its own arse whilst shooting itself in the foot – a remarkable feat, really!
The individuals within it, though? They worked hard to get there, I guarantee it. I know it, I may be no academic myself but I’ve been close enough to people who are, I’ve helped them work, I’ve seen how hard they work.
You leave that undergrad world and you’re getting yourself into something just as rough, just as brutal and just as competitive as working-class life – In different ways, and with less direct threat of violence, but no less intimidating.
The point is whether it is engaging with Dr. Cora Beth on her Comfort Classics, whether it’s a like from Professor Mary Beard, whether it’s being followed by an inspiration for my foray into biology in Dr. Karl Shuker or whether it’s a like from Professor Durant it represents something I did not find when I was at university.
It represents what I have been asking for, for such a long time, in so many of my pursuits and that’s someone just listening, and acknowledging me.
I don’t need the validation of the academic establishment. I think I said after the Mary Beard ‘like’ that now all I need is a reputable institution to offer me an honorary PhD. I could turn down and my academic dreams have come true.
That’s where I’m at, now. The question is asked of me all the time “would I go back and study for a degree?”
Do you know what? I could invest five years in paying off my student loan overpayments, applying for places, getting turned down, applying again, getting turned down, going to whatever university wants to pick up my scraps to work my arse off studying one specific thing, so some posh prick can scoff at my degree certificate because it didn’t come from a Russell Group university, so I can work even harder for respect, in one specialist topic.
Or I could spend five years not shutting the fuck up about all the things I’m passionate about. Literally talking about everything I do and study, comparing literature to video games to paintings, discussing Roman history, feeling like I’ve had enough of the Romans so moving on to Assyrians, then getting bored of that so my interest goes back to cats – I can research what I want, when I want, keep building an audience, keep building a voice, make it accessible and available for everyone out there and maybe try and make a little career for myself doing that.
Hopefully I can eventually have the money to pay other people, whether no more qualified than this particular Curious Idiot™ or whether they are actually academics, to work with us, write articles for us, podcast with us, make videos with us. Hopefully I can continue to grow a truly grassroots academic outreach scheme.
Which do you think is the option that seems better to an already two-time dropout Curious Idiot™?
It’s no contest, but I need the respect of my peers. I need to work to earn that respect. I need academics to see through the jokes and the swearing to the real nuts and bolts of this project and understand what I’m trying to do here.
And those likes, those engagements, those retweets, those collaborations…To the man who has nothing, they mean everything.