Friday, July 27, 2007

Why sometimes you want a guy with a tie on your side...

Years ago I sat in musicology seminars with certain young people (well, younger than I, anyway) who had sussed out that one of the ways to be one of the Kewl Kids--e.g., "challenging young scholars," "AMS 50 recipients," "favored research assistant"--was to have figured out whatever was the most recent analytical/philosophical critique, learn its buzzwords, employ them around professors and in conference abstracts, and generally position yourself as a gadfly who could always trump somebody else's terminological post-modernism.

One such, a favorite of the professor in the seminar, was a former law student who, every time I turned around, would parrot the most recent critiques of everything that was wrong with our discipline, and whether it "wouldn't be more honest and ethical to get out of the profession." I finally got sick of this one day and said, "Yes, you should get out of the profession. Because the things that are wrong with professions get changed by those who have the stamina to stay in, fight the entrenchment of the way things are to shift them toward the way they could be, and be satisfied with glacial--but real--change." He was shocked at my "uncollegiality," though later several other seminar members thanked me for shutting the guy up.

There are Buddhist combat soldiers, too--who are willing to consciously take on the bad karm of killing, if by staying in the military they can mitigate by one iota the cruelty that those who like being soldiers are otherwise prone to. Similarly, I have a good, good friend who for many years ran the animal lab at a major research institution. It tore at his heart and I could never fathom how he could stand it, or why he would choose to. But now, 16 years after he first started pushing for it, that particular lab has completely ceased use of lab animals, in favor of simulcra. That's what real commitment does: it works to understand, first, what is, and uses Buddhist skilful means to shift what is a few millimeters toward what it could be.

Years ago my elder brother was picketed by a group of housing activists because, as a consultant, he had opposed the renewal of the existing laws governing rent-control in a major East Coast city. Unlike 99.9% of the suits who make such decisions, my brother was (a) certain of the accuracy of his analysis and of his suggestions for long-term net-positive change in housing policy, and (b) completely unafraid to argue his point. So he walked down from his top-floor office and talked with the picketers--never losing his temper, never becoming defensive, always completely in control of the comprehensive facts of the situation, and confident of the validity of his analysis. Most of those picketers walked away, if not convinced, at least willing to recognize that he wasn't the "Enemy."

Hence this: excerpt from a Linda Ellerbee-hosted documentary referencing my brother's global non-profit consultancy. This--this clarity, articulateness, competence, and absolute fuckin' bedrock dedication to real-world solutions driven both by a recognition of the fact that poverty is both unnecessary and wasteful, and that it can be addressed--is why sometimes you want a guy with a tie on your side.


Damn, I am proud of my brothers.

No comments: