Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Hide Your Degree, Hide Your Accomplishments

My Ph.D. ain't helping.

If I want to have a constructive argument with people about politics, I can't refer to my education or my profession anymore.

My degrees put me at a disadvantage.

That's one way I'm experiencing today's brand of populism.

Achievements I am very proud of are being used to set me apart - to sow distrust and undermine the ideas I bring to a conversation.

If I use my skills as a scholar to demonstrate a source is biased or flawed, my skills are dismissed as tools of the elite.

My arguments about political rhetoric leave people I respect feeling insulted.

I have had people tell me, "We are sick and tired of people like you thinking we're stupid."

And this didn't start in November. I dealt with this during the Democratic primary, the general election, and now under a new administration.

It's more than anti-intellectualism.

It is an effort to consolidate "rhetorical capital."
Here's what I mean by that: A person's rhetorical position is strengthened when people trust that person more than they trust other sources of information. So, one way to earn trust is by undermining trusted institutions.
"You can't trust the scientists. They are just after funding."
"You can't trust the economists. They work for Wall Street."
"You can't trust the teachers. They just cost tax dollars."
"You can't trust the media. They are owned by corporations/They have a liberal agenda."
I worked my way through universities to become a professional scholar in a community I admire.
But now the legitimacy of universities is under attack.

A claim of expertise is met with cynicism.

I found some strategies to avoid inadvertently silencing myself in this piece about populism in South America.
“'Don’t listen to them, folks', says the populist. 'Stop letting them think they can school and fool you. The only true fact is that the enemies are few and that they lie. Let’s show them they’re the ones who are wrong. They’re the ones who are stupid. They’re scared! Or, worse, fearing justice! They think only about themselves. Turn off the TV. Listen to me.'
The author goes on to point out that if your arguments against a populist show contempt, you’ve "just lost the first battle. Instead of fighting polarization, you’ve played into it."

The new challenge for me is to know how my strengths can be used against me.

Intellectually, it's an interesting challenge.
Spiritually, it's crushing me.

NOTE ADDED 1/25/2017
A few people have thoughtfully responded to this post with something like, 'Perhaps it's best that your arguments stand on their own. A good argument should not depend on your professional qualifications.'

I just want to say that I completely agree with that and I hope this much is clear:
I do not think people should listen to me because of my profession. I do not think my political arguments carry more weight because of my degrees.

This post is about my experiences of having those qualifications used against me. People are dismissing my views because my advanced degree represents a link to "the establishment" they are blaming for the state of affairs they deem unacceptable.

This is why I have to hide my degree; because it weakens my position before an argument even begins.

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