What it is

What it is is this: one of the things I found very uncomfortable about academia was the feeling that I always had to prove myself. Or prove something. I never really liked that feeling. I love learning, and I know that there will be many, many things for me to learn. But I was never very fond of the feeling of intense inadequacy I was always left with in most of my academic career.

It wasn’t in writing papers, because I did rather enjoy writing papers. I didn’t mind sitting examinations, either. What made my teeth itch were the intense discussions that people got in to that really didn’t, in the Grand Scheme of Things matter much (what I mean to say is that whatever the result of those arguments, the world would still be essentially the same place it was the morning before.

Don’t get me wrong. I like discussing literature and religion and philosophy and hypotheses. I enjoy vigorous debate. I certainly don’t enjoy it **all the time**. Sometimes, I think it’s good to disagree, and sometimes (more often than not), I would play Devil’s Advocate simply because sometimes it gets pretty dull when you’re all sitting around agreeing with each other all the time.

But ultimately, I preferred to listen to others have their discussions, or I would choose to do something else, not because I didn’t understand or because I found the topics uninteresting (quite the opposite), but because usually, these kinds of things left me feeling stupid and frustrated. That’s probably very petty, I realise that.

Perhaps it’s just that some people are storytellers and some people are apologists, and perhaps cenobyte is much, much more the former.

cenobyte is a writer, editor, blogger, and super genius from Saskatchewan, Canada.


  1. I know EXACTLY what you mean and I often felt the same way. Was it the company we kept? Perhaps the people who are entering so passionately into such discussions feel that they *do* have something to prove. I know I felt that way, but that is likely related to my extreme low self-esteem stemming from childhood. Many of the people who made me feel inadequate in such discussions went through similar situations and maybe they were using these discussions to lift themselves up and boost their self image. However, I have to agree with coyote in that these discussions are important to a certain extent. It is these sort of discussions that may ultimately lead to a movement for change. These discussions are the means by which we either learn a new perspective or we learn more about how stubborn and closed minded we can be. Either way, we learn something about something and that is pretty darn cool.

  2. See and I LOVE to discuss those things all the time. I love vigorous disagreements that lead to many different ideas flying at high speed through the air at one another especially when there is an audience.Because of my fundamental disagreement with one of your statements: “What made my teeth itch were the intense discussions that people got in to that really didn’t, in the Grand Scheme of Things matter much (what I mean to say is that whatever the result of those arguments, the world would still be essentially the same place it was the morning before.” These discussions are the EXACT things that change the world. (Ooooh I had a tense/tense moment there.) Perspective and how we view things can only be broaded and changed when we discuss those things around us that cause the greatest controversy.I want people to tell me I’m wrong and why. I want them to knock down my argument with anything they’ve got available, and then I can either rebut or learn from those statements new perspectives. And I intend to do the same to anyone else who’s argument differs from mine so they can do the same. I consider it the only respectful and considerate thing to do. As long as those arguments are not boiled down to personal attacks and false statements. And this explains why you usually say to me ‘Well whatever way you want to see it.’ :)

  3. It’s not that I mind getting into discussions about Big Ticket Items. It’s that there are times when i would much rather just acknowledge the wonder or beauty in something (like a theory of social management) rather than debate it.And no, these discussions *do not* change the world. Some of the ideas you discuss might, but after the 50th time we’ve debated whether politics left of centre are more like Mussolini or Castro, I really don’t think there’s anything left to say. I’m also not saying that debate is unnecessary, and I’m not saying that there are things that shouldn’t be debated. What I’m saying Coyote, that you seem to have glossed over, is that sometimes, I get the sense that people (academics are *particularly* bad for this) enter in to debate not because it is important or necessary but because it is the common mode of communication.To take a very real example, I got really pissy last week when, at movie night, we spent over an hour debating whether or not a certain book was the ‘most important book in X field’ to be published. Regardless of whether it was or wasn’t, it’s not going to change the world. I didn’t want to debate. I didn’t want to have to prove myself that night. There is a time and a place where ‘vigorous debate’ and academic arguments are just not appropriate or desirable, and that was one of those times and places. The biggest point I was trying to make really, other than ‘sometimes I’m not interested in this’ is that constant debate or argument over abstract ideas makes me feel like a complete idiot. Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don’t, and sometimes, i do it and shouldn’t.I don’t have problems with debating controversial subjects. I think vigorous debate surrounding the issue of gay marriage might just change the world. Vigorous debate about whether a certain book is the paragon of informaiton and culture it is set out to be, on the other hand is not. Particularly when I’m just not in the mood. What I was *trying* to say was that that was one thing I detested about University. Debates in class were great. Even outside of class to a certain extent. But there were times I had no desire to engage in those discussions, and by about the third time someone quoted Jung or Bohr or Derrida or some quantum physicist, I ended up walking away.The reason I say “however you see it” isn’t that I don’t want to enter in to debate with you. It isn’t because I disagree. It’s that usually, the time and the place are not, in my opinion, conducive to debate. F’rinstance, at games. I have other things I need to do; other things I want to do. See, I think you’ve missed my point.::sigh::

  4. All that stuff happens in my head, I guess and I don’t get the same thing out of debate that other folks do. Sometimes. Sometimes, I’m the guy playing devil’s advocate because it amuses me to get folks riled up. Someone once described me as a very “lateral” thinker. I had never really thought about it before. I make those connexions (whether or not they’re “valid”) and can have a fairly rigorous debate about them *in my head*. Hm. Maybe I shouldn’t talk about that.I also have to look at the fact that I was a part of academia more than ten years ago. Most of my friends are just getting in to it now. I mean, even at the time I didn’t like the constant debates about stuff that really didn’t matter (outside of academia…and now I want to start talking about macademias…damn). But now, well, I guess I just have other things to do with my free time that don’t involve trying to rememeber what so-and-so said about such-and-such and whether that author’s take on the shipping of peanut butter overseas is really going to affect world gas prices.You know?

  5. Oh.And.In case I didn’t say thank you? Thank you.My recent professorial problem was discussed with many many many people. From a professor I respect, to various friends and aquaintances, to you.And I felt the best after talking to you.Two reasons. New perspectives are great. But mostly cuz of all those people I talked to, you were the only one that both understood my problem and stepped down to my level to tell me what you thought. And since I respect your brain as being far more creative and intelligent than my own, I would have to say your words probably carried the most weight.So thanks Ceno.

  6. No. I got your point. I made my own. :) I agree time and place is important. My points flows from yours. And it starts here: Every one of those discussions, even if they are apparently unimportant, are important because even the little disagreements allow for changes in perspective. It amazes me that a disagreement and new information I may have gotten about say … the interpretation of various H.P. Lovecraft stories when viewed in relation to Lacan’s Mirror Stage, can then allow me to understand how those processes may in fact alter how my daughter views her own relationships at school when she compares her body type (Even if she weren’t fluffy, she’d be a big girl) to her school mates. Yet she still has a rather healthy and positive attitude towards how ‘cute’ she is.But maybe that’s me. My brain is wired in such a way that I don’t learn through just cataloguing a piece of information. It must connect elsewhere and travel amongst all the other ideas in my head.But let me go back to your point.I understand it. I appreciate it. I do believe that when you say those things, for the most part I then nod and say ‘Ok where to from here then?’ I usually do the same with most things when people point that out. Mostly because I know I’m incredibly zealous in my pursuit of conversations that push my mind to new perspectives.And I agree with you. Academics tend to pigeon hole themselves into debates that focus on very tiny insignificant details. Because of that they forget that these things can become much bigger and more important.It all depends on … perspective. :)

  7. AAAGHH! You had schmutz on your coat?To paraphrase a guy from, well, a few years ago, there are probably vertical debaters and horizontal debaters. Horizontal debaters are arguing for the sake of arguing, to show off the fact that (a) they know, or think they know, something, and (b) they are now out of their parents’ control and can actually talk back to people. Vertical debaters realize the value of the dialectic in advancing their understanding of the topic, often, in fact, advancing their conscious understanding of what they actually think about a topic. Have you ever had the experience of getting into a debate with someone and surprising yourself by what comes out of your mouth? I mean in a good way? A thought or a position that, if someone had just simply asked you to state what you thought about the issue, you would never have articulated. It’s a priceless part of being intel-ligently human, and a process that is made a complete mockery of in 99.9% of what is called “parliamentary debate.” One can only hope that something more sophisticated is going on in those committee meetings they all spend so much time in.Vertical debating is, in fact, a form of creation, like writing a story/poem, or singing a song. And, it’s like playin the blues, man. It’s easy to do, but damn hard to do well.

  8. ::blush::Well, you’re certainly welcome, although I don’t know that there was any stepping “down” to any level at all. If anything I just kind of sidled over closer to where you were standing. Nervously. Kind of picking at some schmutz on my coat.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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