I love my subject.  I have a masters degree in it, and I advised a government on my subject for a couple of years.  I’m now an academic researcher in the area, and I’ve worked in an NGO that deals with the subject for the last year.

I certainly don’t know everything about my subject, and I never will.  But it’s probably realistic to say that I know more about my subject than most people do.  The nature of providing advice to government, and being in the academic arena, is that I’m constantly forced to gain more knowledge, and reconsider my opinions through the process of fielding questions and having to justify, explain, clarify, and refine my views.

I’m used to discussing and debating.  I like it.  I usually learn something.

I try to avoid talking about my subject in social situations, but sometimes people ask me what I do and I never remember to lie and say I’m a sewerage-clearance operative.  Occasionally, I encounter someone who learned everything they think they need to know about my subject by reading ill-informed snapshots in the gutter-press. Usually those people are polite and curious even if they might disagree with what I’m saying (and sometimes with the entire notion of what I do.

Occasionally, I meet someone who learned everything they think they know about my subject from reading ill-informed snapshots in the gutter-press and who is rude, abrasive, and arrogant to the point where I just want to smack them upside the head and walk off muttering.  So it was with an overnight guest acquaintance in my house recently.

Said guest is so self-centred she acts as though she has a measurable gravitational pull.  I have been an acquaintance of this person for the last five years.  If you put a loaded gun to her head and threatened to pull the trigger unless she could give a reasonably accurate description of what I do for a living, she would be in fear of her life in less than a New York minute.  She talks constantly about herself but neither K-man nor I can recall a time she asked a single question about our lives.

Her interest is piqued only when there’s an opportunity to demonstrate her supposed intellectual superiority, which she chose to do as I innocently attempted to consume my breakfast.  Her companion asked me what I do, and this started the conversation.

It was an utterly ludicrous one-sided argument, during which she swiftly demonstrated that she sorely lacked the knowledge she needed if she had any hope of achieving her ultimate goal of making me say you know, I’ve been wrong lo these many years – your amazing grasp of the global world order and relationships between citizen and state has caused me to completely reconsider!  I was WRONG!  I’d better go off and re-evaluate my career choices.  Thanks, this has been very enlightening!

I was calm, and she was agitated.  She got more agitated the calmer I was.  She raised her voice to tell me facts that might have been true but were unpersuasive without further argument she didn’t have (e.g. democracy is expensive to administer.  Guess what?  I know! Now, convince me it’s a price not worth paying).   I could remain calm so successfully because (and this is key) I had heard all her arguments before.  Her tone and manner indicated that she believed she was teaching me something revolutionary.  She became more and more irritated when I didn’t agree with her.

Backed into a corner she said she didn’t believe that most people would think that democracy is a fundamental human right.

I wouldn’t dream of telling her how to construct an engineering marvel (her field).  I wouldn’t even know where to begin.  If I had suggestions I would be appropriately polite and deferent if I chose to make them.  Eventually, I cracked.  I said:

“For goodness’ sake! Have you read the judgment?  The actual judgment, not a newsprint summary?  Have you ever read ANY judgment of a court from beginning to end?  I’m not picky about which judgment or which court, I won’t even insist it’s relevant to my subject area.  No?  Do you have any formal qualifications in my subject?  Did you spend years working in the field of my subject when I wasn’t looking?  No?  So don’t come at me with your ridiculous argument which by the way I’ve successfully argued against 18,000 times previously to other people, and then get annoyed at me because you’re showing yourself up as a tool.”

No, I didn’t.  But only because her companion re-entered the room to compliment me on my home-made bramble jam just in the nick of time.


7 Responses to “Smackademia”

  1. 1 Michelle November 5, 2010 at 12:56 am

    Hmm I am new to your blog and fascinated now about what your subject is – is it a secret?

  2. 2 Jenn @ Juggling Life November 5, 2010 at 2:36 am

    I really wanted to hear her response!

    • 3 nic November 5, 2010 at 2:04 pm

      @ Jenn: so did I! I was foiled, and like a deflated balloon I thanked the partner for his words about my jam and the conversation moved on.

      @ Michelle: my field is human rights (a very broad term!). It’s not a secret, but I try not to get too specific about it.

  3. 4 Jonathan November 5, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    I love the line about her own personal gravity :)

  4. 5 Jen on the Edge November 6, 2010 at 12:05 am

    So what you’re saying is that homemade bramble jam saved the day? :-)

    I would never presume to know more than, as much as, or even a fraction of what you know about your field. I would, however, be totally willing to engage you in an in-depth conversation about running gear/geekery. ;-)

  5. 6 cardinal November 10, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    How did she come to be an overnight guest? I’m catching up on your blog and just finished with your in-laws. I feel exhausted just from reading about these people! (I have plenty of my own, more’s the pity.)

    • 7 nic November 11, 2010 at 3:24 pm

      @ Cardinal: the partner invited himself over, and she comes with the package. K-man is a hopeless case and is totally unable to say no to people. In this case, the guests said they would arrive by 11pm but actually showed up at 11.45pm. You’re reading that right. So I was already exhausted and a little peeved, and then she launched herself during breakfast.

      In-laws, everybody’s got ’em!

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