Provoking unguarded responses

I stand in awe of the Occupy movement’s knack for provoking unguarded responses from folks who in theory dismiss them but in practice find points at which to empathize with them. Here’s a perfect example from Will Wilkinson. In it he largely adopts a “quit your whining” position, by pointing out that he accepted the same sort of student debt burden that so many protesters are groaning beneath—but he refrains from whining because he thinks the expense was worth it (although he is very vague about why):

I don’t know that when I took out student loans to help support myself that I thought I was taking some kind of “gamble.” I knew I was redistributing income from my future to my present self, and not really because I needed the money to make an investment that would payoff, but because I wanted to study philosophy and I couldn’t otherwise afford it. I was buying the rarefied leisure of grad school and knowledge of philosophy. Now I know all about philosophy, will for the rest of my live, and I love it! Did I get some remunerative skills in the bargain? I reckon I did. I certainly sharpened my analytical and argumentative abilities, which came in handy as a think-tank fellow, and come in handy now as a semi-employed blogger for The Economist and Big Think. But so what! I spent years reading and thinking about Aristotle and Kant and Quine and Rawls, which is not everyone’s idea of a holiday, but I’ll always treasure that time in my life, and I’ve got more to show for it than a scrapbook of exotic snapshots. It remade my mind. [Boldface added]

Wilkinson says, “I wanted to study philosophy and I couldn’t otherwise afford it.” And what did his study of philosophy entail—at least the part he treasures? “I spent years reading and thinking about Aristotle and Kant and Quine and Rawls.”

Now, copies of the works of Aristotle and Kant and Quine and Rawls are easily available and very inexpensive. And it doesn’t take much time or effort for a young man to support himself in a way that leaves the bulk of his time available for reading, at least if his tastes are simple. So I have to figure that the money that Wilkinson borrowed to study philosophy went to pay for something else, something that he choose not to bring up.

It comes out a little clearer in the next section:

I studied painting and drawing at State U on an art scholarship. I studied philosophy at two more State Us, subsidized by taxpayers the whole way, either in the form of tuition waivers (for being a graduate teaching assistant, a job that doesn’t really ask that much of you, to be honest) or in the form of cheap loans I certainly couldn’t have landed on the market. ("Please, sir: I have an art degree with a mediocre GPA, and I would like your bank to give me some money to read Roderick Chisholm. Please?") "The system" gave me a very nice time, and helped me accumulate some rather luxurious if not exceedingly practical "human capital."at State U on an art scholarship. I studied philosophy at two more State Us, subsidized by taxpayers the whole way, either in the form of tuition waivers (for being a graduate teaching assistant, a job that doesn’t really ask that much of you, to be honest) or in the form of cheap loans I certainly couldn’t have landed on the market. ("Please, sir: I have an art degree with a mediocre GPA, and I would like your bank to give me some money to read Roderick Chisholm. Please?") "The system" gave me a very nice time, and helped me accumulate some rather luxurious if not exceedingly practical "human capital."

Painting and drawing are no more expensive to study than philosophy, if all you want to do is study them. But it can cost quite a lot if you decide you can only pursue that study in the context of “a very nice time.” You can write in a garret, or you can write on a cruise ship.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s