18 March 2015

Musings on Arrogance

A girlfriend of mine posted this cartoon, which I obviously love for a million reasons.  Just all the yes.  This is what it is totally like to be scientifically minded in a society deeply entrenched in anti-intellectualism.  Pure perfection.

Additionally it got me thinking about the concept of “arrogance.”  It is term that gets thrown around a lot.  I especially see it thrown at women who refuse to let their own expertise be devalued.  Especially if they are unwilling to impart that expertise, on demand, as requested by (mostly) men.

I think it plays into a larger cultural trend.  While I am not saying that science-types are never genuinely arrogant, believe me, white dudes with Ph.Ds. have absolutely cornered the market on asshattery, I do think that we are quick to apply the term arrogant when we mean other things. I think people throw around the word “arrogant” when they really mean:

·         Challenging my worldview without appropriate soothing of my fragile ego.
·         Challenging my position of privilege by implying that my word is not fact due merely to said privilege.
·         Implying that I am not as smart as you about any given thing.
·         Implying that higher education might create a more comprehensive view of a topic (runs contrary to “bootstraps” social theory).
·         Refusing to entertain my nonsense when all facts point in another direction.
·         Refusing to ignore or recant your lived experience just because I don’t want to believe it.
·         Refusing to recant your lived experience in the face of me having personally never experienced it.
·         Unwillingness to engage in “good faith” arguments.
·         Refusing to provide education on demand (often related to “good faith” and “devil’s advocate” arguments).
·         Refusing to engage in “debate” when there is nothing to be debated.
·         Generally just refusing to engage in all the nonsense because it is not your job to hand educate all people, especially those who are willfully choosing to be ignorant of any given topic.
·         Implying that you have a comparable knowledge base even when you are not part of that subject’s privileged club, or an equal in the eyes of the social hierarchy.

The great irony here being that most often, the person tossing around the word “arrogance”probably means “refusal to yield to my own arrogance.”

So yeah, scientist are going to seem arrogant a lot if these are things that we label as arrogance.  I think many “pure” scientists come across as aloof, or un-personable, because they are just not interested in engaging people who have no intention of learning, or who are only there to refute every detail in the name of some myth-based world view.  If I were a climate change scientist, I just could not be bothered.

Also, science is not a service industry.  Your plumber and mechanic may not act like you are a moron (assuming you are male of course) because they want you to come back.  Scientist do not feel that burden.  The science will be here, whether you like it/need it or not. 

So yeah, we scientist are arrogant jerks.  Assuming you define that arrogance as “not acting like your personal ideology concierge.”  And that, my friends, is why I am not in academics anymore. All the goddamn other people.