|Volume 1: No. 09|
A Computist who wishes to remain anonymous [Gensym2] comments that:
Independent thinkers and researchers do need to help each other. It is only after we have been knighted (say, tenured in a top-ranked department) that we are given the privilege of speaking our minds openly.
We are up against two powerful and well-established groups. The first is the academic elite, with good pedigree, pull from advisors, and connection with classmates and friends. This academic "nobility" does not consider people from outside too seriously until they have established themselves -- or are "knighted," so to speak. Some of them won't even talk to you. This group is very static and impossible to penetrate.
The second is the group of hustlers that only care about success, measured either in fame (reputation) or fortune (grant money). As long as you are useful, they collaborate with you. As soon as your utility wanes, they cool down and kick you out. They are businessmen who have chosen academia and research as their business. This group is easy to join, but hard to stay in.
I think the nobility has always considered themselves "proper," while the rest of the oppressed people found them Machiavellian. It is inherent in the nobility to have one code of conduct among themselves (Miss Manners) and another completely different with respect to the plebe. This has deep cultural roots, as the English have their classes, the Japanese have the distinction between "we" and "they," and WASP Americans have had the distinction between "white" and "colored." Noblewomen must be treated with honor, while country girls are fair game.
Today's research-community example would be our citation and review standards. Nobleresearchers must be cited and treated with honor, while country folk must keep in their places. The nobility feel justified in a little butt-kicking because the populace is trying to profane the temple of truth with a lack of rigor or ideas.
From our point of view, they are trying to protect their exclusivity. They would feel quite offended by that insinuation. "How dare you, a lowly country boy, say such things to a nobleresearcher?" The system preserves itself beautifully. You can criticize it only from within (a question of "qualifications"), but once you make it, you must conform to the gentlemanly rules of conduct that make naked analysis and direct critique impossible.
They will show that the system is not closed by pointing to the few that "made it." They hide the fact that the few who made it did so despite the system, not because of it. [Or perhaps that's part of the system. Abbott's Flatland suggests that ambitious and charismatic triangles would be promoted to squares in order to deprive the lower class of leaders. Much the same process operates in our slums, where any who succeed move to the suburbs and cease to be activists or role models. -- KIL]
Now, the entrepreneurs (or the bourgeois) make very good alliances with the nobility. The social stability of systems based on nobility is good for the ascension of bourgeois and their grab for power, so they have no interest in changing the system. They only want to establish a meritocracy in parallel with the birth-based nobility. This is the stable foundation of Chinese dynasties and the European societies.
The question that I have been thinking for a long time, both in the microcosm of the research community and the larger context of the "information revolution" that supposedly will evolve out of industrial civilization, is whether this kind of social organization will change. I wonder if the rapid dissemination of information, which might change the balance of power quickly, would make the nobility/bourgeois combination less formidable.
As the Third World, we have some inherent weaknesses. It may have been our weaknesses that brought us together in the first place. Computists is a worthy cause and fascinating experiment. More of us will gradually wake up and attempt to contribute.