Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Academy and Society  §

The title of this post is evocative of the post itself, which will ramble because it’s late.

Thing is, anyone reading this post from either the world of academics or from the broader economy will misinterpret what the title means because I have engaged in “code-switching” in mid-title. The title refers to the “academic” definition of “academy” and to the “mainstream society” understanding of “society.”

— § —

I defended my dissertation last May and promptly fell into a kind of academic hiatus. Not a permanent one, but one borne of the relief that comes from finally having completed something that’s been underway for the better part of a decade.

In the period since defending, I’ve returned in some ways—again, not necessarily permanently, but for the moment—to my previous career in writing, publishing, and corporate communication.

Before defending, I spent much of my time working with and thinking like academics. After defending, I am spending much of my time working with and thinking like business folk in “mainstream society.”

Over the course of my life I’ve always tried to keep both of these threads of productivity active, nurturing both, helping both to progress. I’ve always figured that each of them really requires a “Plan B” somewhere in the works to provide alternatives in case of emergency. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve done it.

— § —

I’ve felt this sensation before, but never so keenly as now. These two worlds aren’t just orthogonal or irreconcilable; they’re mutually *beyond imagination*.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, in an often-repeated quote, that the mark of true intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing thoughts in one’s head at the same time. I’d beg to differ. Doing that is rather easy because the thoughts are of the same *kind*. The have to be in order to be opposed, or frankly *opposable*.

The mark of true intelligence (which I have only in fits and starts) is the ability to hold two thoughts in mind at once that cannot be expressed in the same language, using the same schema, or with reference to the same socially constructed metaphysics.

This is the case with, say, a pairing of thoughts in which one is native to the academy and one is native to business.

— § —

Academic thinking, schema, language, cognition, and problem-solving are highly abstract and operate at scale in generalizations and statistical likelihoods and unlikelihoods, referring to society as a whole.

Business and popular thinking, schema, language, cognition, and problem-solving are highly concrete and operate almost entirely practically, in inputs and outputs, initiations and outcomes, and simply do not conceive of society at all.

— § —

I keep reading about the desire for the academy to produce job-ready graduates.

This will never happen. It can’t happen—for the same reason that academics are entirely marginalized within the business world and business leaders are entirely marginalized within the academic world. The two are universes apart; the gulf that separates them is transcendental.

Academics literally have no schema or terms with which to represent—much less anything to say about—business and popular concerns. Any attempts to make such representations or expressions nonetheless emerge in ways that are unintelligible and inapplicable so far as the business and popular communities are concerned.

And the converse is also true.

The academy does not produce job-ready graduates because “jobs” and “work” and indeed individual tasks and work practices, as understood by those in the business and popular communities, are fundamentally, essentially unrepresentable and inexpressible in academic terms.

And, of course, vice-versa.

This goes well beyond the general problem of translation as a project (i.e. translation of thinking, terms, and purposes from one context to the other) and into the specific  problem of what Lyotard called the  *differend*— the case in which conventional concepts in one language game simply do not exist, can not be expressed, and are frankly impossible to conceive of in the other.

— § —

There is a gap here to be bridged, or that ought to be bridged, but in recent weeks I find myself startled, perhaps even stunned, by its size. It’s more than a single person or department or discipline’s life’s work to accomplish this. The *differend* may even make it impossible.

In practical terms for me (thinking practically as I am wont to do at the moment, working primarily as I am in business), this means that it is more difficult than ever to switch between the two worlds. It requires days or even weeks of adjustment. This is largely an artifact of competence; the more competent one becomes at one or the other language game, the more one has internalized and habitualized its rules and cognitive conventions; that is, in some sense, the definition of competence.

But they are beyond incommensurable or incompatible; they are simply different in kind and metaphysics.

The result of any comparison or attempt to examine similarities, contrasts, and tensions, is incoherence—utter nonsense.

It strikes me that I can’t continue to do this much longer. I shall have to pick one or the other career thread and go with it once and for all, because it is becoming nearly impossible to maintain competence in one without losing competence in the other.

My brain simply doesn’t have enough intelligence to do it; competence in one increasingly precludes and occludes competence in the other.

This is a sad thing, both for me personally, and for what is says both about the academy and about society.