Why professionalize my self? 

Today is sitting around at Big Mikes coffee shop—reading, writing, editing, organizing and pondering. Usual Sunday. Usual day of late.

I am not really sure why I am a graduate student. As one of my professors reminds us in class, nobody “accidents into graduate school.” Or, “You’re graduate students, you’re not here by accident.” Something like that.

I can dig that. I decided for graduate school after years of people telling me, why do you not have a degree? You know more than half of the folks who leave here with a degree. Get it.

So I am here out of a choice to follow a course of study that I and others think it silly of me not to follow.

The end, of course, is the power that comes with having a degree. Obviously, it is no great overarching power…it is an official or bureaucratic potential insofar as it gives me the ability to do things “legal and above board.” Otherwise I cannot teach youth in courses without sneaking in behind someone else’s robes nor operate as a philosophical counselor who works with other healthcare professionals to help folks having troubles.

These need legal certification, bureaucratic imprimatur, to vouchsafe me as someone who “knows” something about philosophizing and philosophical topics.

So, the choice is for professionalizing my self. Keith Wayne Brown, Professional Philosopher.

I’ve been alongside the disciplinized aspects of university philosophy for so long, I thought it would not be a great effort to accomplish this task. And in some ways, it has been easy enough.

It is not like I don’t already know a great deal about existential philosophy, the philosophical aspects of eastern religion/culture, the ways that thinkers like Foucault and Derrida have been used for literary theory… this semester’s grab bag of topics for which I am receiving accreditation. Now, there will be line on an official transcript with an official grade, from official to official.

So yes… in respect to all of this being chosen by me as a course of professionalization, no accident. As for the topics,of course, these are accidental to me since I have to take what I can get in order to meet the requirements set out for professionalization—so many course credits in so many kinds of topics, etc.

That is the easy part. Much more difficult–dare I say disturbing–for me is “I” becoming official. I am a professional philosopher. Who is that “I” going to be? Where does that “I” belong?

My being is grafting itself onto the academy, taking root in the ground of disciplinization. Yet the grafting is filled with accidents of circumstance. Can I say that it is I most definitely who have made a decision to be a professional or is this a circumstance of 20 years in and around the environment of professional thinking? Have I been caught in the gravity well of determinism?

Am I making a true account of myself by way of a tactical response to the strategies of academic integration? Or am I making yet another “fiction” that can be grasped by others allowing me the freedom to do what I care about—talk to youth, read books, enjoy a walk in the sunshine?

I know, beyond just its expressibility, that such a confession—“I am a professional philosopher”—wreaks of a fictive account.

Better to admit that this enculturing happens still at the margins near the threshold. Near the exit. Is that what sophistic self tells Socratic self to keep me inside the ivy covered halls? “Hey, look… you are close enough to the door if you get really freaked out. Don’t sweat it.”

While I am working toward terminal professional degree (PhD) designation, I am not really attempting to become a professional academic. My target is not to be a tenured professor or even contracted lecturer, which still are primarily the area of professional development for degreed philosophers. I’m actually doing this to pick up jobs here and there teaching while I develop a philosophical counseling practice (which will require yet another certifying process beyond my MA and PhD).

Still: I will have professionalized my self–no longer Keith who philosophizes in coffee shops but now Keith Wayne Brown, Professional Philosopher.

So anyway, here I am on a Sunday afternoon juggling my thoughts between outlining paper projects, writing take home exams, making a powerpoint presentation of my recent visit to a Hindu temple, lining up travel arrangements for international participants at the Rural Sustainability workshop, logging images/editing chapters for two book projects, and gathering info on what the steps will be to put mom in a nursing home when she decides she does not want to live alone anymore. And I am working–as is my husband–to keep open lines of communication in our marriage so our togetherness stays healthy. Oh yes… I’m dealing with an infected ear and eye on top of my other general health issues.

Of course, I am not alone in being overworked and overcommitted. That is not only the way of neoliberal academics but of the neoliberal society of control which burdens each of us in our I-It attitude, keeping us away from I-Thou relationships, reducing each of us to a solitary thing that looks for what feels good to escape from the institutional tedium in which we are supposed to find work to be our defining good…

So research papers… Professional requirements. The bane of my educational existence.

The American system requires these all along the way because there is no trust that the student is learning/evolving if instructors wait to see how they do on comprehensive exams and in the thesis/dissertation. There must be proof each step of the way. In America, so the assumption seems to go, people will not learn for the sake of learning. Or if they do, it works better if their love of learning evidences in the paths already established by the educational superstructure: many classes, lots of projects, even more writing of essays, test and quizzes, etc.

I wanted to write about Carlos Castaneda this semester, just as a way to write about something a bit non-traditional… I realized a little while ago that was not going to be something that would keep me interested precisely because it was a reaction to the organization of academia.

Every academic paper for me begins as a false start. I get ahead of myself imagining what interests me. Then, as time runs out, I settle for what will be deliverable to the instructor. I go back to the starting line and wait for the signal to get underway for real. The penalty, of course, derives from having spent too much time on dialoguing with youth around campus or from reading a text over and over to approach better comprehension or from the lingering malaise in my soul where academia abides.

This semester, I’ve pondered over and over the argument, “If you want to be taken seriously, you have to show you have mastery of the means of academic production.” That is, academics—and some folks beyond the walls, I suppose—will not take you seriously if you cannot demonstrate membership in the educational tribe by talking the talk, writing the writs, and referencing the references.

I wonder at this structure very often. You can see variations of this notion all over this blog (here or here) and my Facebook page.

For instance, if you ask that each student demonstrate in a particular course the specific demands of that sub-section in the profession, why—if they get A’s or B’s… standards afterall—do they need to demonstrate comprehensive information after the required number of courses have been completed? To show they can put the accumulated particles of information into a holistic (historical) accounting? To make sure a poseur did not sneak through the cracks of the profession?

If the professor does it because (s)he has a duty to prepare the student, why is the system at the professional level not more personalized? If it is about a higher duty, surely that should break free of the I-It structures that tend to reduce action to GPA’s and testable results. Are dialog and exploration of ideas between I and Thou not of higher import?

Tests, presentations, and writing assignments given to each student appear in terms of an opportunity for the pupils to demonstrate they have been paying attention. The assignments then require a level of formality that displaces anything more than professional connection.

If a professor approves my assignment, gives me good marks, it is a professional recognition: authority figure endorsing applicant. In terms of professional integrity, a part of the disciplinary wall must be a forestalling of any I-Thou relationship. Classes are structured to be experiences not to be chiasms of spiritual transformation.

So, of course, I wonder why I really want to become a professional after twenty years of living on the edge of higher education.

Since I am a philosopher who follows Socrates–Know Thyself!–]by way of existential phenomenology, I have nothing to offer as a product of academic integrity other than I (re)produce my own being as an accredited thinker. Thus, if I really mean to take up the full merit of being a Doctor of Philosophy, it means being a teacher of Know Thyself. My object and my project are “I.”

And I asks again, why professionalize my self?


  1. What’s interesting is that it seems we have free will, but under examination there is not anything like that to be found. Just patterns. I would agree you are not accidentally in grad school, but not sure if it is yours (or anyone’s ) “un-accident” either. At the same time I think it’s OK to just enjoy being the free flow of experience. No free will, no determinism either, just things as they happen. Haha hope you don’t mind me philosophizing a bit.

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