What did you do in the war dad, what did you do in the war?

Marx and Engels in the German Ideology: “how grossly Feuerbach is deceiving himself when by virtue of the qualification “common man” he declares himself a communist, transforms the latter into a predicate of “man,” and thereby thinks it possible to change the word “communist,” which in the real world means the follower of a definite revolutionary party, into a mere category.”

A friend who worked for a long time as a secretary in a university recently described a repeated experience of people saying she was “smart enough to do something else.” The sentiment is “she’s not just her job” and “she’s not like the rest who are
just their jobs.” It’s the myth of the metals all over again, which seems to be a favorite myth of the petit bourgeoisie. (Sp? Incidentally, Althusser’s remark that universitarians are petit bourgeois is what made me start to come around re: my prior hostility to him.) This reminds me of an argument on Long Sunday once.

Here’s what I think. Being paid to do something does not mean that one is better at that something than those who don’t get paid for it. Getting paid to do something and being good at that something are independent of each other. Especially with regard to thinking. On that in particular, success in the university is a function not of merit but of cred (one could say gaining cred is a type of skill, but that’s circular). Cred is like a form of money. Like money, one can get cred in several ways. One can work very hard and earn it. One can inherit it. One can counterfeit or steal it. One can luck into it. Having cred is not evidence of any particular of these having happened, only evidence that one of them happened. Furthermore, lack of cred is not evidence of any of these not having happened (most importantly the “hard work” one), but merely evidence that either cred was gained then lost or that there was not a conversion of other activity into cred. (Also, just to note, frequently it’s some innate quality like smarts that is appealed to instead of “hard work”, which is even more ridiculous. The two seem to be appealed to based on whatever will work rhetorically at the time. A nice and respectable piece of sophistry, but one which should be recognized if one is not to lapse into bad faith.)

Advertisements