Twofish's Blog

July 19, 2006

Pain is bad. Pain is good.

Filed under: academia, wikipedia — twofish @ 6:59 pm

Being a journalist is difficult, because stories are complex. I could write a several hundred pages on what has happened to me in the last 72 hours, and its hard to distill everything down to something managable. Like any good story, it is compicated, and there are parts of it which are sensitive, and the internet makes this much harder in a lot of ways. I don’t have that much control over who reads it and the last thing I want to too much attention.

Also, the internet makes it very easy to figure out who the fairy princess is, and if you do some more digging, it isn’t too hard to find to find bits of the story that I don’t want told. Traffic accidents are public records, and if I were a public official, it would take people fifteen minutes to figure out what happened, and confront me with some issues that I don’t want to deal with.

So people just shut up, and real stories don’t get told, and the media gets filled in with junk.

The nice thing about wikipedia is that it shows the principle that if you have enough good stuff, the junk gets overwhelmed, and so that is why I’m trying to tell parts of my story, because I’m trying to put enough good stuff on the internet, to drive out the bad. Mark Latham told his story, which makes it easier for me to tell mine. Maybe if I talk about my story it will make it easier for other people to tell theirs.

There are layers, upon layers, upon layers of this story, but since I’m going to be at Wikimania, let me focus on the parts that are relevant to Wikimania. Let me start with a shocking admission.

I cried last night.

In academia and business, crying is a sign of weakness. CEO’s and professors aren’t suppose to cry. They especially aren’t suppose to cry about “business.” Crying is weakness. But weakness in this case is actually important. I was crying because I was in pain. Pain is bad because it is pain, but pain is good because pain is natures way of telling you that something is wrong.

So I finished crying, and tried to figure out why that article was causing me so much anguish. There are a lot of levels of this story that aren’t relevant to wikimania, but there is also a lot of stuff that is relevant.

I try to deal with feelings constructively, and the way that I dealt with the fact that I hated the fairy princess as much as I did and that she was too busy to notice me (she’s nice but she is terribly busy), was to imagine that I could surpass her academically. The disturbing thing about the article was that

1) it became obvious that this was unlikely to happen, her academic output is far more than mine

2) it became obvious that there are some reasons that I can’t control that this can’t happen. Her family is perfect. Mine is very far from perfect, and that means that I’ve had to deal with a lot of issues that she hadn’t. She’s now part of an established academic power structure. In order to get anywhere, I’m going to have to create an alternative academic power structure (hence the relevance to wikimania). She’s got six million in grants from NIH. I’m struggling with credit cards so that I can get to wikimania.

3) It’s not going to happen before I’m forty. I can imagine that in twenty years, wikiversity will challenge the traditional academic institutions. It won’t get me on the “young researchers” list. The age forty is important, because the systems are set up so that if you don’t make it before you are forty, bad things start happening.

4) She just had her third daugther. I had always consoled myself that even though I wasn’t in academia, I at least had a good family life. But seeing someone who does seem to manage to “have it all” just seemed to destroy that excuse.

5) She isn’t as old as I thought. I’d always assumed that the fairy princess was six years older than me instead of three years older. The relevance here is that it gives me less time to catch up.

6) The fact that she is a full time academic, and the fact that I’m struggling being a part time one makes a lot of difference.

It’s like building your own car. You start going down the road, you start feeling a little proud of yourself, and WRRROOOMMM a Ferrari comes flying by and kicks dust in your face.

And the story talks about lack of ego as if it where a good thing. This is going to sound arrogant, but I think it is objectively true. I’m as smart as the fairy princess. I’ve worked just as hard. But she is in the power structure, I’m not. This isn’t to denigrate her accomplishments, but the fact that her parents were both university professors while my father was a community college professor made a major difference. You learn a lot from your parents including the secret handshakes. I’ve managed to learn a lot of the handshakes, but that takes time, and if you have a ruthlessly selective system, the minor advantage that these things provide makes a big difference. It creates an aristocracy. This is not good.

I am one angry, arrogant loser.

Academia is controlled by some select committees and boards. She’s on the admission boards, the scholarship boards, the peer review boards, the funding boards. I’m not. She is a winner. I’m a loser, and losers don’t get invited into the academic power structure.

And I think this hurts society. The NSF wrote a paper on the future of science in America which was the biggest piece of total utter garbage I’ve ever read. It was total garbage because the people who wrote it were winners in the academic system. There wasn’t any input from losers like myself. Losers don’t get invited to the power structure which is bad because you lose some important amounts of input.

I scare people sometimes. This is intentional. You don’t get invited into a power structure. They’ll only invite you if you are nice and egoless. You have to force your way in. You have to fight tooth and nail to get in. You have to rally people with pickforks. Because if they invite you in, it will be on their terms, not yours, and their terms have never been good enough to get me where I want to be. That’s been the story of my life, its not her story, and that is why I’m excitable and arrogant and she is calm and without ego. She is a fairy princess. I’m just an ugly, dirty peasant rebel angry enough to try to be part of a revolution.

I’m arrogant enough to think that I deserve to be in the academic power structure. I’m arrogant enough to think I deserve to be listened to. I wish I could meekly submit an application and wait for the decision of the admissions committee. If they would give it to me that way. Fine. I’ll do things the easy way. But if I keep getting rejection letters, then the problem isn’t with me. I deserve the job. I deserve the professorship. If they won’t let me in, to hell with them. I’ll force my way in. I may fail, but if I don’t try and fight, I become a little less human.

And this is why wikipedia exciting. Don’t kid yourself to say that there isn’t a power structure in wikipedia. Every society has its power structure, but unlike traditional academia, wikipedia has an open structure and architecture. If I were on the Rhodes Scholarship selection committee and on the faculty selection committees, I’d work like hell to defend that power structure. But I never got invited there. Instead, I started posting on wikipedia, got administrator privileges, and I’m going to Wikimania. Wikipedia gets me where I want to go, and if that means destroying traditional academia. To hell with it.

This has been a hard article to write. It may have too much detail, and its possible to identify the people involved, but my motives are good, and detail is necessary to make good decisions.

See you all at wikimania….


1 Comment »

  1. Hi Twofish ,

    I don’t know you personally but I would like to tell you a few things regarding life.

    # It is not a good idea to compare yourself with somebody.Life is too short to regret the failures caused by things out of your control.Your college friend might be 100 times more successful than you but that doesn’t make you or shouldn’t make you any less happy than you already are.If you are truly an academic then you shouldn’t be a materialistic person and be happy with whatever you have achieved in life and thus respect yourself.The world is a harsh place and people are judged by their appearances, if somebody is a Chief then he/she is a GOD,
    people will not see what type of person they are and how they have achieved the success.

    # There are other ways to achieve happiness, if you want to be an academic you still can.But again a price has to be paid for this.If you ask me its not worth it.If I am not Einstein then what is the point of being a average academic and earning grants through power structure, politics and mediocre research.In short its better to be an honest mediocre corporate than dishonest rich academic because deep down we know I don’t deserve this.

    #If your family is not good shape then put the same energy that you put in work to make it better.

    #Pray to God.

    Comment by your friend — May 30, 2009 @ 2:48 pm

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