I’m going to try to get a copy of his diaries. I had read about how insane the man was, but now that I actually read what he has to say, he sounds sane.
One thing that I’ve found useful is to study things that don’t seem to be directly related to what I’m interested in. For example, if I were to read a book on the Kuomintang, I already have opinions and emotions attached to it, but I don’t have these opinions and emotions attached to the Australian Labor Party or Australian politics in general, and I’ve found that by studying something I’m not directly involved with, it gives me a much better view of the stuff I am directly involved with.
I’ve learned a huge amount about Chinese nationalism by studying Arab and Eastern European nationalism. Other things that I’ve looked at that are very useful to me are looking at the constitutional development of the Irish Free State, the Australian constitutional crisis of 1974, and the development of British party politics after the English Revolution (I read about Oliver Cromwell and I see Mao Tsetung.) I’ve trying to understand the developmental politics of Latin America, which is a whole different world than the developmental politics of China.
For an example of how this works, if you get me started talking about Tibet or Taiwan, there is a good chance that I will come across like a rabid dog. But I see Hungarians and Romanians talking about the history of Transylvania, and I see them looking like idiots, which gives my pause for how I look to someone who isn’t involved in Chinese issues. Also, understanding why Hungarians, Romanians, and Arabs feel as strongly as they do about issues that I hardly care about, lets me understand why I feel as strongly about the issues that I do care about, and studying the situation in Kosovo helps me understand how nationalistic impulses can lead to irrational and self-destructive decisions.
Having said that….
Latham’s speech was ten reasons you shouldn’t get involved in organized politics. I could probably give a speech for ten reasons that you shouldn’t get involved in organized academia. The really important commonality is that becoming a scientist or academic nowadays requires a considerable sacrifice in family time. I’m reading about the non-sense that Latham says goes on in politics, and it sounds a lot like the non-sense that seems to go on in academia. To “succeed” in academia you have to have a single-minded devotion to academic, never mind other things like having a family, or a decent standard of living. Whether or not one wants to do that is a personal choice, and I don’t mean to disparge people who do that….
But just like Latham is questioning whether organized politics is the most useful way of solving the problems that exist, I wonder if organized academia is actually the most useful way of doing scholarship.