So I was exposed to a few news items this weekend seemingly unrelated, but I still sense a vague connective thread between them. I’ve always has this knack for seeing connections between seemingly unrelated things; A lot of NTs are outright dismissive, but sometimes when they give me a chance, hear me out, and I explain my insight to them, they’re blown away and tell me I’m “brilliant”, or whatever.
Anyway, first of all was a story in AlterNet about the deplorable state of adjuncts, post-docs, and other members of what I usually refer to as the Academic Proletariat. It’s been a disturbing trend in Academia since the 1980s, but especially since the end of the Cold War. There are fewer and fewer tenure track professor jobs in Higher Education every year. As existing faculty retire, or die in office (sometimes literally), these positions are usually not replaced and the slack is taken up by the remaining tenured faculty and/or spread out among poorly paid Adjuncts and other marginal labor in the academic job market. It’s bad across the board, but especially dismal in the humanities. None of the story was especially new to me; Indeed, I’d read the proverbial “writing on the wall” in the works of Michael Berube and Cary Nelson way back when. Thanks to their cautionary notes, I opted to pursue a Master of Library Science degree instead of returning to academia to pursue a PhD. “I can always go back and get one later”, I told myself, reassuringly. From the position of where I sit now, I just no longer see the point to it. It’s not as if I could (at this late date) wrangle a tenure-track professor’s job out of it. A PhD dissertation often takes years to complete from start to finish. There is a whole strata of poor, tormented Academic souls who are doctoral level students that are “all but diss”, i.e. have completed all of their required course of study but completing the final dissertation. And even those who have completed the dissertation and are newly minted PhDs, they often fare little better. And none fare as well as people who instead opted for state teaching credentials and found jobs as public school teachers…public school teachers will never get rich, it’s true, but at least they have above a living wage, with health insurance, a retirement plan, and okay vacations.
I read stories like the one in AlterNet and feel a chill go down my spine, because that easily could have been me. My solution was to get an Master of Library Science. And while I’m still woefully under-employed as a mere Library Clerk, despite having 2 Master’s degrees, I can also say at least I’m paid a living wage and have a modest pension and sick leave, vacation time, have health benefits, etc. As an employee of local government, I’m in far better financial shape than many in the Academic proletariat. I just don’t see American academia as being all that sustainable if current practices and conditions persist. All the currently serving tenured professors will die off or retire eventually. If they’re never replaced, then undergraduates will be increasingly taught by a hyper-exploited academic underclass of part time adjuncts, full time “instructors” and “lecturers” lacking any form of tenure, etc. Noone will have time for original research when they’re barely making ends meet stitching together teaching contracts from semester to semester, etc.
So I dodged that bullet, but Librarianship has presented its own challenges.
Another program I watched part of today was a PBS documentary about adults with Autism and how they can succeed with support, etc. They were nice stories and all, but all the individuals shown actually receiving state assistance also had IQs below a certain mark. People with ASD’s with IQ’s over that mark did not qualify for state assistance.
I know we’re meant to be uplifted by stories of successful autistic people like Temple Grandin, or NASA scientists, or other hi-tech whiz kid types. That’s great and all, good for them.
But it seems as though, to me, if you have an ASD, but a High IQ, but are NOT skilled in maths or sciences, you’re just kinda screwed. You fall through the cracks somehow. You’re not low IQ, so no state assistance is forthcoming. But you’re not a maths and sciences or engineering mastermind who can “bootstrap” yourself either. Maybe like me you’re smart about Foreign Languages, which come easy to you…that’s all well and good but it’s not enough. It doesn’t do any good to know a lot of foreign languages if you’re not also an MBA or have some trans-national skill like being a medical doctor or engineer. Foreign Service? I did take the FSO exam, but didn’t make the cut–In part, I suspect, because I disagreed with a lot of the assumptions about economics built into a lot of the questions. I don’t accept the “Washington Consensus” on a lot of those types of issues, so I guess I’m a “bad fit” there as well. Or what if you’re brilliant with Linguistics like one of my co-authors here? Without college credentials, nobody cares. Though even with them it’s a hard slog. You may get a better job than someone without college credentials, but it may have precious little if anything to do with your academic field(s) of study.
There’s a common refrain among low-brow and middle-brow people of “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” (a saying I have always loathed with a passion); Essentially equating brains with the ability to acquire riches. While it does take some form of smarts, it also often requires a degree of ruthlessness and amorality that don’t sit well with me. I’m sure I have the smarts to be a lawyer, for example. I just find the work most lawyers do kind of revolting and soul-destroying. They also have to spend so much of their time reading legal cases, writing briefs, etc, that I don’t see how they have any time for any pleasure reading or hobbies, or whatever. It seems a job that would require far too much personal sacrifice of one’s time and sense of integrity to be worth whatever financial reward one might obtain thereby. So I seemed condemned by the particular nature of my ASD, as well as my own moral standards, to just barely get by, under-employed and under-utilized. It can be so very frustrating and disheartening if I think about it for very long, or get exposed to intersecting news stories that bring these thoughts to the forefront of my mind.
I don’t begrudge low-IQ autistics who receive state assistance; I think they should get it and support their continuing to receive it. I’m glad there are autistic success stories of people like Temple Grandin, or many a NASA engineer, etc. But there are other classes of very smart ASD people who have been left behind and forgotten about. I look about for success stories of people who look more like me, whose ASD is more like mine…and I’m still looking. There may be people who regard my life’s work as a kind of success story, but I’m not one of them. Yeah, I find foreign languages come easily to me. Yeah, I can write kinda well sometimes. Yeah, I know lots of obscure facts and am at times kinda kick-ass a trivial pursuit type games. I know way more about Anime than someone my age probably does or even ought to. I have “my moments”, every now and then. Every now and then I “wow” someone who compliments my insight, my brilliance, etc. But as far as the arc my life has taken so far, it’s been largely a disappointment, a dream deferred. I haven’t given up on Librarianship and the library profession, but I do feel like it has largely given up on me. In the meantime, I just keep doing my job, punching the clock every morning, filling ILL requests, processing them, etc, and in my downtime doing database cleanup while listening to my favorite podcasts, or audiobooks, etc. It’s a life. Not great but of course it could always be worse. It’s hard enough to scrape together a living among the Academic proletariat for NTs out there. To try and do so while having an ASD, with all the self-promotion and self-marketing it entails…just makes me shudder at the very thought of it. There but for fickle fate and a lucky choice on my part go I. I recognize that I suffer from mild depression, and my posts sometimes have a melancholy air to them, but I do try to end with a least a faint note of hopefulness or at least rueful wisdom gained. Thank you for your indulgence, dear readers.