To Ruffle Feathers, and Not Face the Backlash of it

I wrote this last summer on the Faculty Lounge, A Dangerous Volksgeist: Indian Law Journal Rejects Solicited Article on Indus Waters Treaty.

I think I am way past that bridge on backlash. I think it’s hard to write when neither your country nor your community support you. I think the pandemic has shown that our days are so numbered. And that I just don’t care any more. I am so fed up with the status quo and how things are. From California to Karachi, they entire world is on the brink of climate catastrophe. We are way past that tipping point. It startles me how people just sit around and think everything is okay.

As the prototype academic, I write enough to raise questions, but not enough to ruffle feathers, so that I can benefit from the fruits of my research and writing toils and not face the backlash of it. It is a fine line to stay out of sight, out of trouble, and still seem like an intellectual. In 1927, French essay Julien Benda published this once famous attack on the intellectual corruption of the age in La Trahison des clercs (The Treason of the Intellectuals).  Roger Kimball noted the depth of the intellectual treason that Benda described:

The “treason” or betrayal [Benda] sought to publish concerned the way that intellectuals had lately allowed political commitment to insinuate itself into their understanding of the intellectual vocation as such. Increasingly, Benda claimed, politics was “mingled with their work as artists, as men of learning, as philosophers.” The ideal of disinterestedness, the universality of truth: such guiding principles were contemptuously deployed as masks when they were not jettisoned altogether. It was in this sense that he castigated the “desire to abase the values of knowledge before the values of action.”

In its crassest but perhaps also most powerful form, this desire led to that familiar phenomenon Benda dubbed “the cult of success.” It is summed up, he writes, in “the teaching that says that when a will is successful that fact alone gives it a moral value, whereas the will which fails is for that reason alone deserving of contempt.” 
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Nadia Ahmad

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