A Philosopher's Blog

Ivory Towers & Gold Towers

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on February 1, 2012
English: Governor Mitt Romney of MA

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Academics in general and philosophers in particular are often accused of dwelling in ivory towers that lift them out of the “real world” (which is, presumably, everything outside of academics). Being a philosophy professor, I do have some sympathy to this notion. After all, I do know professors who match the stereotypes of the ivory tower dwellers point for point.  I also am quite well aware that it is very easy to let a clever thought lead one far from the surly bounds of earth and out into the stratosphere and perhaps to infinity and beyond.

In some cases, speaking of academics as ivory tower dwellers is a harmless bit of commentary on their eccentric ways. However, it can also be a fairly serious charge-that academics in general and philosophers in particular are operating in isolation from the real world and engaged in practices that have no use or merit beyond the confines of these towers. In the case of philosophers, a review of the professional journals and conference subjects will tend to lend credence to that view.

In addition to, as Socrates might say, the usual attacks on philosophers, there is also a strong current of anti-intellectualism in the West-most especially in the United States. Here in the States we have a rather influential political movement that regularly attacks experts, intellectuals and education. These folks often put forth the odd notion that experts are not to be trusted specifically because they are experts and that education somehow makes a person less capable in regards to “getting it.” Going along with this is also an anti-science current that embraces such things as paranoia about vaccines (that has, bizarrely enough, led parents to swap infectious lollipops by mail).

While on my morning run, I was thinking about these matters and also about the Republican primary in my state of Florida. Specifically, I was thinking about the charges against Mitt Romney that he is “out of touch.” For those not familiar with Mitt, he wants to be the Republican nominee for president. In terms of his being out of touch, folks have pointed to his passionate (well, passionate for him) claim that corporations are people, his offer to make a $10,000 bet with Rick Perry during a debate, the fact that he makes about $57,000 per day from capital gains, and his remark that he did not make very much from speaker fees (he made about $374,000). Romney has also been bashed a bit because he knows French.

As I ran, I thought about how often I have been accused about being “out of touch” in my “ivory tower.” However, it struck me that the towers of gold provide far more isolation than the towers of ivory. After all, while I am a philosophy professor, my ivory tower is more of a small ivory shack behind my very non-ivory townhouse.  True, I do go out into that shack and think about odd things. But when I am not engaged in philosophy, I live a rather down to earth life: I drive myself to work in a 2001 Toyota, I cook my own meals, clean my own toilets, paint my own house (with help from my friend), do my own laundry, and so on. By way of contrast, thanks to the budget cuts in education, my yearly salary as a tenured full professor is less than what Romney makes per day. As such, I seem to be very much in touch with the “real world” of bills, taxes, grocery shopping and toilet cleaning. Based on my own experience, many professors tend to be in the same situation (there are, of course, exceptions involving the academic stars).

By way on contrast, consider the politicians who claim to be “in touch.” In the States, our higher end politicians tend to be millionaires. As noted above, Romney makes about $57,000 a day from his investments. His main foe, Newt Gingrich, is a millionaire insider. President Obama is also a millionaire. As such, the idea that such people are “in touch” seems a bit odd-especially given that I am so often accused of automatically being “out of touch” in my “ivory tower.”

It might, of course, be argued that a person who is a millionaire and who owns multiple houses (as is so often the case with the higher end politicians) can still be “in touch” and “get it.” However, if such folks can gaze down from their gold towers and see the plight of the common folks, then those of us who are supposed to hang out in towers of ivory should also be able to do this. Unless, of course, the towers of gold provide a better view.

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37 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on February 1, 2012 at 9:11 am

    To see if you are in touch, take the following quiz from Charles Murray’s new book “Coming Apart”:

    I suspect everybody posted here is in touch–even anon when he takes his meds…

    • anon said, on February 1, 2012 at 2:42 pm

      Which meds to I get to take today? What’s the point of that quiz anyways, to waste one’s time?

    • wtp said, on February 1, 2012 at 10:28 pm


      • T. J. Babson said, on February 1, 2012 at 11:15 pm


        • dhammett said, on February 2, 2012 at 12:19 am

          OMG, TJ! We’re almost soul-mates. . . 56 here. Is it possible you’re my long-lost twin? You probably surged ahead on the Jimmie/Jimmy question.

          I wonder where Gingrich, Obama, Romney, Santorum and the members of the House and Senate would score here? I’d almost be more interested in those numbers than I am in their tax returns.

          Just offhand though, I think tests like this are bullshit, don’t you? Variations of such “insightful” question lists have been around in the Reader’s Digest and Parade Magazine since I was a kid and probably before. Only difference was, those little quizzes weren’t based on “research” (meaningful or otherwise). The editor just sent some poor schmuck off into a corner with the assignment to come up with something to keep readers occupied while they between jokes and schmaltzy stories and cartoons and advertisements.

          • T. J. Babson said, on February 2, 2012 at 8:46 am

            “Reader’s Digest and Parade Magazine”

            How very 56 of you, dhammett…

  2. Douglas Moore said, on February 1, 2012 at 9:49 am

    That would make Obama out of touch on several fronts.

    Part of the reason you may be out of touch, Mike, is because you consider yourself more pure than those who make lots of money. That is part of being an out of touch philosopher.

    Besides, isn’t how one made his money important? I’m sure Romney is more in touch than Paris Hilton.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 1, 2012 at 2:11 pm

      Well, I’m more pure than some and less pure than others. I think I’m ahead of Newt in purity, but not so much because of his money.

      • T. J. Babson said, on February 1, 2012 at 2:52 pm

        Some questions for future runs:

        Can one be rich and also be a philosopher?

        Can one be married and also be a philosopher?

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 2, 2012 at 11:13 am

          Yes. In fact, Socrates said that a man should get married. If he finds a good woman, he will be happy. If not, he will be a philosopher.

  3. T. J. Babson said, on February 1, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Forget towers, shouldn’t all philosophers follow the example of Diogenes and live in a barrel?

  4. T. J. Babson said, on February 1, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    The logical end of the Blue State model: Demographic suicide…

    A startling number of Japanese youths have turned their backs on sex and relationships, a new survey has found.

    The survey, conducted by the Japan Family Planning Association, found that 36% of males aged 16 to 19 said that they had “no interest” in or even “despised” sex. That’s almost a 19% increase since the survey was last conducted in 2008.

    If that’s not bad enough, The Wall Street Journal reports that a whopping 59% of female respondents aged 16 to 19 said they were uninterested in or averse to sex, a near 12% increase since 2008.


    • anon said, on February 2, 2012 at 9:04 am

      What is a “Blue State model” and what does it have to do with Japan?

      • T. J. Babson said, on February 2, 2012 at 9:54 am

        “59% of female respondents aged 16 to 19 said they were uninterested in or averse to sex”

        anon, do these sound more like Texas girls or Massachusetts girls?

        • anon said, on February 2, 2012 at 10:46 am

          Sounds like a false dilemma to me.

        • anon said, on February 2, 2012 at 10:49 am

          Actually if you want to force me to choose I’d say Texas because we all know that unmarried girls need to stay abstinent and “blue state” girls all want to have abortions and kill babies.

        • dhammett said, on February 2, 2012 at 11:37 am

          TJ: Did they only poll girls who were considering becoming Brides of Christ?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 2, 2012 at 11:18 am

      What? How do the views connect to blue states?

      • T. J. Babson said, on February 2, 2012 at 1:00 pm

        My hypothesis is that as a society becomes feminized it will commit demographic suicide. Blue states are well on their way…

        • dhammett said, on February 2, 2012 at 1:57 pm

          It’s my hunch that the desire among women aged 16 to 19 to have sex is relatively strong whatever their state colors may be. Just point me to those states where women of legal age really, really want to copulate. If I pump out a passel of ugly conservatives in the process, well, that’s just a chance I’ll have to take. 🙂

          • T. J. Babson said, on February 2, 2012 at 2:33 pm

            Think you can handle a red state girl, dhammett?

            • dhammett said, on February 2, 2012 at 5:31 pm

              A red state woman: porn star with a weapon. . .uttocks jiggling with every shot. I’m all atwitter. Really

              I’d chew’er up and spit’er out. . .with a powerful pre-cunnilingual antimicrobial prophylaxis and maniacal gargling and brushing of teeth after the act, of course (less of an imperative with blue state women, I’d guess).

              Just curious. Do red state men perform cunnilingus? Or do they dislike looking up to their women?

              You got us onto sex at your Feb 1, 9:09.pm post. Let it drop , please?

            • dhammett said, on February 2, 2012 at 5:34 pm

              My error in line one of 2/2 5:31 gives me the opportunity to change that to “. . .ass jiggling with every shot”.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 3, 2012 at 10:18 am

          What do you mean by “feminized”?

          I don’t envision American teens giving up on sex-no matter how hard abstinence is pushed. Interestingly, the Japanese kids who are against sex should please the abstinence folks-perhaps they are trying to find the Japanese secret (I suspect it involves electronic gadgets and online gaming).

  5. Edward said, on February 1, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    The blanket criticisms of philosophy drive me nuts. I have a good friend who attacks philosophers so virulently and often that I’m beginning to wonder whether the entire discipline raped her mother. She accuses all persons interested in philosophy of providing nothing of value to the world, evidently thinking that ethics, for instance, doesn’t serve a valid purpose for humanity. She contrasts philosophy with the hard sciences, such as her study of biology, but doesn’t seem to apply the same hatred to novelists, artists, musicians, historians, political scientists, and so on, nor does she acknowledge that various areas of scientific inquiry are subject to the same criticism as being preoccupied with answers but not focused on solutions to problems. If these conversations keep up, I’m going to have to write a lengthy essay on why philosophy matters.

    • Douglas Moore said, on February 2, 2012 at 9:47 am

      Most “philosophers” are not philosophers at all, but mere historians of philosophy.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 2, 2012 at 11:19 am

      I do wonder about the rage some people express against philosophy (and also the rage some folks express against science or art).

      • dhammett said, on February 2, 2012 at 12:24 pm

        Not to worry. Each of us is programmed to bitch about something and ignore others. Personally, I rage against those who rage against philosophy and science and art and the law and helping starving children. I also rage against those who don’t rage against driving while texting and cigarette butts on the sidewalk and plumbers’ ass cracks and dog shit on the street and child molesters.

  6. Douglas Moore said, on February 2, 2012 at 10:13 am

    By the way, Mike, I don’t consider you out of touch, only a bit stubborn.

    While working in Afghanistan, a Defense intelligence Analyst on my working team told me that the other DIA analyst and an Army Major also on our team looked down on me because I was “blue collar.” The analyst had to Bachelor’s degree, sported Gucci eye glasses, dressed in only the best clothes (he also bragged that he was voted best-dressed in high school–something I would definitely NOT brag about) while the Major had an Army-bought master’s degree from Georgetown University and constantly boasted how rich his parents were. In the States, he worked in the place where most Army Officers lose their souls: The Pentagon. These two were the most arrogant, elitist and difficult-to-get-along-with people I have worked with in any job–ever. What made it worse, is that they constantly smoozed with higher-ups–it’s what they held most dear, and they were simply not that good at their jobs. They were people who’ve probably never had dirty finger nails and I found them thoroughly disgusting. Eventually when the Major told me to put classified material in a report marked unclassified, I’d had enough and requested to be moved–best decision I’ve made.

    Score: 61

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 2, 2012 at 11:23 am

      Someone has to get things do so the fancy lads can have the free time to complain about those people.

    • dhammett said, on February 2, 2012 at 12:28 pm

      61. Not enough to make a difference. You and I and TJ are like bros. 🙂 Or should I say 😦 ?
      If I had lied about just one question I could have been a 60, too.

  7. T. J. Babson said, on February 3, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Murray’s book will likely be the most important book published this year:

    Coming Apart is a must-read for many reasons, but its main value comes from its insistence on drilling down beyond materialism. In a book ostensibly about class, Murray spends much of his time exploring the things that really matter in life, fighting against the presumption that we’re here to merely pass our days as pleasantly as possible.

    “If we ask what are the domains through which human beings achieve deep satisfactions in life — achieve happiness,” Murray writes, “the answer is that there are just four: Family, vocation, community, and faith.” The advancement of the welfare state, he argues, results in the slow gutting of these domains, as well as personal responsibility, which are “the institutions through which people live satisfying lives.” This cultural disintegration has had a disastrous human cost for the working class. It’s a cost that many in the new upper class don’t experience or understand.

    Unfortunately, in today’s political landscape, the idea that government “help” can sap human virtue is a radical concept. “Those in the new upper class who don’t care about politics don’t mind the drift toward the European model,” Murray points out, “because paying taxes is a cheap price for a quiet conscience — much cheaper than actually having to get involved in the lives of their fellow citizens.”


    • T. J. Babson said, on February 3, 2012 at 11:50 am

      That last bit is worth repeating:

      “Those in the new upper class who don’t care about politics don’t mind the drift toward the European model,” Murray points out, “because paying taxes is a cheap price for a quiet conscience — much cheaper than actually having to get involved in the lives of their fellow citizens.”

  8. alex said, on March 30, 2012 at 6:57 am

    Those who can’t do, teach. If you were able to provide value to the economy, you might be in a gold tower, but instead, you hide in an ivory one…and you drive a crappy car. At least you have no delusions about that. You know how you can tell that Professors are out of touch with reality? The beard to no beard ratio when comparing male professors to males who do not work in academic. I’m not talking about typical bears/facial hair. I’m talking about giant grizzly adams beards, that if you reach into far enough, you might be able to recover a rough draft of their dissertation. And glasses that are so thick that the only things they can see through them the letters on the book that they hibernate inside. I bet that the only thing holding together your piece of garbage toyota are a bunch of Obama bumper stickers…And you’re the “people’s professor”….hahahaha

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 30, 2012 at 10:12 am

      If one cannot do, then how can one teach? Check out Aristotle’s arguments on this rather than relying on a musty saying.

      Actually, it is a truck, not a car. Plus, the 2001 Tacoma is a rather good little truck-check out the reviews. I’ve had it since 2001 with only a few repairs needed. The only stickers I have on it are my GWTC bumper sticker, a 1.0 sticker, an Apple sticker (of course), and a Warcrafters Anonymous sticker.

      As far as beards and glasses go, there seems to be no connection between a person’s facial hair and their connection to reality. You can, of course, take this up with Chuck Norris and Wolf Blitzer. The same for glasses. In any case, I don’t have a beard-too damn hot here in Florida.

      In any case, thanks for your comments-they certainly added significant depth to the discussion.

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