Friday, January 29, 2016

A minority of one

"What is your hobby?" asked a student.

For all the autoethnography that I engage in here in this blog, in my newspaper op-eds, and even in conference talks, when students ask me questions about me or my views, I don't open up.

"I like cooking" I told the student who asked about my hobby.  Thankfully, she didn't ask me about my views on cooking and eating animals ;)

In another class too it happened. I had barely walked in to the room when a student shot a question at me: "How come unlike other professors you are not wearing a union tshirt, Dr. Khé?"

I typically do not respond to such questions in the classroom.  It is not because I do not talk about my what I do when not "working" or what I think about the faculty union.  There are plenty of blog-posts on all those and more.  Yet, I try my best to deflect those questions away for one simple reason--we get together in a classroom for a specific reason, which is to learn about the scheduled topic.  To talk about the union or my hobby is nothing but an abuse of the power and privilege that I have in that classroom just because I am the instructor.

"I don't want to take up class time on that" I replied.  "I am old-fashioned that way" I added.

"No, you are not old-fashioned" came a quick retort.  "Other professors have been talking about it in class" jumped in another.

It looked like I had to satisfy the mob ;)  The clock said it was not class time yet--two minutes before the official start time.  I dragged myself to responding to why I wasn't wearing a union tshirt.  But, that opened up more questions.  "Are you against unions?" "Are you the only professor not a union member?" "Do you benefit from not being in the union?" "Are you worried about groupthink?" Important questions that students and taxpayers need to think about, and juicy topics for me.  But, I am old-fashioned!  Perhaps my responses were all way briefer than what they wanted to hear.  But, as the clock indicated it was class time, I began the process of putting them to sleep via my lecturing ;)

I worry that I will become one of the many who do not think twice about using and abusing their power and position.  Right from when I was young, I have found it difficult to work with people with power and authority because almost always they abuse it.  Whether it is the police or the politicians or the World Bank or the union or the religions or  even a lowly Ramamritham, rare is the person who does not abuse the power and the privilege that come with that position.

Over the years, and especially from my own personal experiences, I have also come to understand that it takes a lot of effort to resist the urge.  If a union leader can abuse the position's power and privilege, and if a lowly Ramamritham can, then should we be surprised when a Bill Clinton takes advantage of an intern, or ...?

Thus, I continue to tilt at real and imaginary windmills.  As George Orwell put it so well in 1984:
He wondered, as he had many times wondered before, whether he himself was a lunatic. Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one.
It looks like within my small professional world I will forever be a lunatic, and in a minority of one.  That's ok too.


Mike Hoth said...

You didn't direct them to your blog with the promise of answers? All you've done is resurface those questions in my mind, along with the one "how many of your students, current or former, read your blog?" Your commenters seem to be a pretty small pool, but I can't help but wonder if you know the traffic you get from unique IPs.

Sriram Khé said...

I figured that if students are interested, then they will find out what I have to say in the blog ... on the other hand, if they had asked those questions outside of class time, then I would have answered them all in great detail ... there was no way I was going to use up class time for those questions.

There are a couple of dozen subscribers to this blog, another dozen who follow the blog, more than fifty who track my public Facebook page (where all the tweets automatically feed in), a couple of dozen followers of my personal FB page, and some hundred Twitter followers ( i try to delete the robot follows) ... the RSS feed reports that it reaches an average of 150 to 200 a day ... Very few of these are current or former students, and many I have no idea who they are. Very, very few comment. At FB, some do tend to use the "like" option.
I provide these stats because you seem to wonder about the traffic here. I suppose if my blogging were to increase traffic in order to earn money via ads, then I would worry about the stats--but, here too, money is not what I am after and so it does not matter at all ... am happy when people comment, but not disappointed if nobody comments either--after all, I am used to being ignored ;)

mahesh said...

Sir in Nayagan style:

Neenga nallavara, kaettavara? :)

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely!!!


Sriram Khé said...

You make me smile with your "sir" usage ;)
Of course I am a "nallavan"!!! ;)

Anne in Salem said...

I wonder if the abuse of power and position increases over the duration of the position. I think most people new to a job are too nervous to risk anything. Once the position is more secure, whether through union-secured tenure or reelection, the risks may not appear to be so great.

Perhaps there is also a correlation between duration, increase of cynicism, and abuse of power. Again, the rookies are idealistic - going to save the world or at least their little parts of it. Those who have been around for a while know that idealism achieves squat and corruption gets the job done.

Depressing yet, but perhaps I am wrong.

Sriram Khé said...

Oh, there is abuse of power and position everywhere, not merely in jobs. Parents abuse their power and position. Neighbors abuse it. I think to abuse one's privileges is human, and it is left to each and every one of us to resist that temptation.

"corruption gets the job done" you write. It depends. If one's goal is to get whatever done, well ... on the other hand, idealism is not merely to get that whatever done if it means giving up on those ideals. While idealism might therefore appear that things are not getting done, we need to pause and think about whether that getting done is truly worth it. Is China's fantastic economic growth, for instance, worth all the ruination of its natural environment that literally kills its own people who do not enjoy the kinds of rights that we take for granted here in the US? I think we are far too quick to criticize idealism, when we instead ought to be a lot more vigilant about the deviations from the ideal.

Anonymous said...

I am one of those who read your blog regularly, but rarely comment. Your blog is interesting and different. Keep up the good work!

Sriram Khé said...

Thanks, Anon!

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