Friday, January 12, 2007

More considerations in favor of seeking Asylum

Yesterday's post was essentially a list of the things I loved about the "British Isles" (apologies to the Irish). Since tonight's post will be the last one for a couple of days (I work 16 hours on Saturday and 16 hours on Sunday as a nurse, so no time or energy for blogging on the weekend), I thought I would continue to curry favor with the audience abroad, and continue with the "why I want political asylum over there" theme.

One good thing about my schedule is that it allows me to pursue my teaching, writing and research during the week without having to suffer serious financial hardship. Nursing in the US now pays well enough to permit nurses to live a decent life (as it damn well should). Obviously, intellectual life matters to me, and in certain respects the quality of intellectual life in Ireland and the UK is preferable to that in the US. The contrast is not in the quality of scholarship, or scholars. It is, rather, a matter of attitude and atmosphere.

In Philosophy, for example, the USA pretty clearly leads the world in terms of the sheer NUMBER of brilliant philosophers doing serious philosophy today. For example, for every Onora O'Neill doing serious Kant scholarship in the UK, the US has a Barbara Herman, Kris Kosgaard, Tom Woods, Jay Rosenberg and David Velleman. And so it should, given the relative population of the two countries and the funds available. For the same reason, the rewards for US philosophers are probably, on average, greater in purely financial terms. If you are lucky enough to be one of the "rock stars" in the field, and there is genuine competition among institutions to hire you, the USA is (mostly) the place to be.

Nor is it the case that the UK has, necessarily, the VERY best individual in many fields, as was the case a century ago. To return to the Kant example, Baroness O'neill is a formidable Kant scholar, but not clearly BETTER than Kris Kosgaard at Harvard, or Barbara Herman at UCLA. So, what's so great across the pond?

Consider the case of Baroness O'Neill. She is "Baroness," I gather, because her accomplishments are recognized by a broader segment of society than would be the case for a comparable scholar in the US. And while a cross-bench peerage in the House of Lords is not exactly the pinnacle of political power and public recognition, no intellectual in the US holds a post of similar public regard, nor can so readily be publicly heard. So, it at least seems to this American observer that there is a bit more interchange between the academic world and the wider public on the other side of the pond. Query: is this an unwelcome relic of Jacksonian democracy? More on this idea in later posts.

Exchange within the academic world seems a bit more fertile as well. Here, I think Nursing serves as a useful example. Nursing has been an ACADEMIC discipline in the US, with schools attached to major universities, for a longer period of time than has been the case abroad. Yet, there is far more collegiality between nursing scholars and other scholars in the UK, Ireland and Europe than seems to be the case in the US. Again, it is not a matter of money or the quality of the individuals, but rather one of atmosphere and attitude. That a nurse might have something to offer a seminar on, say, justice and the allocation of heathcare resources, just wouldn't even enter the minds of the philosophers, political scientists, economists and public health types who typically organize such things at US universities. It would occur to their counterparts in Europe right off.

Here is a thought, to be revisited later. Could some of this, at least, be the result of some sort of odd class consciousness? Americans like to think of themselves as a classless society, much to the amusement of the rest of the western world. Perhaps this is some evidence that such a consciousness exists at many levels. Perhaps the image of nurse as the bed-pan emptying, body washing, working class woman of good heart but limited intellect still informs attitudes and judgements, as does the image of "philosopher" as an ivory tower intellectual who has nothing useful to say about the world of practical affairs. And, perhaps, this is all the more pernicious in America because Americans are reluctant to acknowledge that there is, in America, any such conception as that of "Class" to inform collective judgement.  Another unfortunate relic of Jacksonian democracy?


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About Me

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Greensboro, North Carolina, United States
Writer, Adjunct Philosophy Professor, and Nurse. Formerly an Attorney. Political and Religious liberal (with a capital "L"). Gun lover (I AM American, after all is said and done). Dog lover.