Friday, January 13, 2006

Self-assessment exercise

Academic philosophy is an intellectual game characterised by a lot of cut-and-thrust gladiatorial behaviour. Some of the fighting happens in person, and lots of it happens in the very strange time-delayed world of peer-reviewed publication.

Aspects of my personality compatible with the game
  1. I think unusually quickly on the fly. This makes me good in real-time debates.

  2. I don't find the gladiatorial thing threatening. Criticism of my philosophical views doesn't make me feel defensive or insecure. I like challenges to my arguments, and find them fun and interesting. I've been surprised to discover this, because I can be woefully oversensitive about other things.

  3. I get real joy out of good philosophical arguments, of just the kind that I get from music or mountains.

Aspects of my personality incompatible with the game
  1. I overthink things. If the debate is happening in real time, I don't have time for this, so I come across as pithy and decisive. My written work, on the other hand, suffers from getting bogged down with a million disclaimers and overcautious hedging. This means that it lacks clarity and punch. Also, the hedging takes too long and fosters insecurity in my argument, which apparently I can only generate myself. This in turn means that I never get done with anything written because either I'm dissatisfied because it's unclear or because it's not hedged enough, and I am constantly pinging from the fish to the bait cutting.

  2. I get angry about terrible arguments. I get so frustrated and enraged about the necessity of defending good positions from really terrible, weak objections and opponent positions that I can't concentrate. If I'm listening to or reading an argument with a huge hole in it, or one which dismisses a beautiful, powerful position on some bullshit grounds, I have to breathe slowly to calm myself down. I have developed doodling strategies to help. This is completely crazy. In the first place, I can't understand why my response is so extreme -- it is completely disproportional to my own assessment of how important it is. Second, I really need to attenuate this response if I'm going to succeed in this academic gig, because otherwise I'm going to die early.


pluvialis said...

Can one attenuate one's response by habituation, like you can with a bad smell? Exposing oneself to bad arguments all the time?

Probably not

Xtin said...

Bwahahaha! An excellent idea. I could do it with my own arguments, only that probably wouldn't work on the same principle as one's own farts never smelling too bad.