Pierre Schlag on… well, us, and who we are

Check out this wonderful piece by Pierre Schlag in the Journal of International Dispute Settlement.

It’s wonderful not because it talks to me (who cares – except me of course). It’s wonderful because it speaks of the core concern we all face in academia (at least those of us who still care about our job): are we any good at it? Are we good academics? Isn’t this what we all want to be: good?

That question decides more or less everything in our world: the sort of university we want to join, our personality, how pretentious (if we fail) or arrogant (if we succeed, but stay stupid) we become. If we dare to write with ideas or if we stay case journalists. If we annoy others or live and let live. It’s the one currency that we can’t live without. But what does it mean to be good? Schlag, liberal enough here to make even JS Mill content, tells us that it is a question of choice. A question of choice in the sense that there are many ways to be good. Sounds good, and reassuring.

But that’s not all. It’s also, and that’s his point, a question of choice in the sense that the one thing we can’t get out of is making that choice, after, or even better before, each sentence we write: is this what I want to do? Is this what I want to be? Is this how I want to be good?

Then perhaps – perhaps – some people will come to the conclusion that their aim in being good actually makes fairly little sense, when being an academic. I mean, one can be extremely good in rote learning the phone book, and spending a whole life on it. (Well, now there’s an app for that, so it might be quicker.)

Doesn’t make sense? Read the article. It does, there.

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