by Derek Strahan
It helps to realise that academics, despite being graced with letters after their name, denoting a high degree of intellectual attainment, are, like all human beings, primarily territorial mammals; and that among them are individuals, of both genders, who have alpha dominant behavioural characteristics.
Territorial acquisition in most humans is a relatively straightforward matter. It involves taking possession of some form of tangible territory, whether it be title to land, or ownership of a specific asset, such as an organisation, or participation in shared territory, which membership of an organisation confers. Most humans obtain a variety of territories, some owned outright and some shared. Some are satisfied with less territory than others possess, and some are not satisfied unless they manifestly own a great deal more territory than anyone else, which can be done by becoming extremely rich.
Artists occupy a sub-category, since the territory which they own is property of the mind which they themselves create, and to which they then lay claim. It is only recently that artists have had rights in their own territory through copyright laws, which define such territory as intellectual property. All property owners, from time to time, have to defend their right of ownership.
The situation for academics, in respect of territory and the ownership thereof, is quite unique, since the only kind of territory to which they can lay claim, through their professional activity, is of an intellectual kind, but it is not territory which is clearly demarcated, as is, say, a book, or a painting or a piece of music. It is territory which is created by an activity known as research, and the results of research among academics can be fiercely defended, and equally fiercely disputed.
The reason for this is simple: the purpose of research is to reveal new knowledge of one kind or another: either as yet undiscovered fact, of history or of science, or a way of observing fact which is sufficiently novel to qualify as original.
The usual way of claiming this kind of territory is through publication of some kind, either in a thesis, or in a learned journal. The operative fact of ownership is the date of publication.
The process is analogous to prospecting for gold, and just as hazardous, since, like gold, results can be stolen. It is because of the extremely tenuous nature of this kind of prospecting, that battles over territory among academics, known as “turf wars”, are among the most viciously fought by humans in any sphere of activity.
Not all academics have either the inclination or the aptitude to engage in turf wars at the very highest level of human intellectual endeavour; but this disinclination does not render them immune to those passions which are common to all territorial mammals. Inability to strike conceptual gold does not diminish their desire for territory. In the absence of a stake which bears a rich vein, many academics settle for INFLUENCE as a path to the acquisition of territory. A SPHERE OF INFLUENCE can be established, especially in the arts, by writing a knowledgeable book on a speciality, whose overt purpose is to inform through impartial scholarship, but whose covert purpose is to create the desired SPHERE OF INFLUENCE.
The recipe for doing this is straightforward. If, for example, you are a musicologist, begin with a historical section on the music of your nation which analyses the influences which have been absorbed by composers past and present, and show how these have been reflected in their work.
Assume then, the mantle of a prophet, and venture to foretell what the future holds, in the way of creative work. Assume also, the visionary zeal and didactic function of a prophet, showing concern that the music of the future should be worthy of the nation. Your analysis of music both past and present should pinpoint weaknesses in the conceptual thinking of suspect composers, which you, given your expertise, are able to articulate. You are now a credentialled art guru. Bestowing the benefit of your wisdom in these matters upon your own students then becomes a task, which you undertake with missionary zeal, for the benefit of the nation, of course. You are showing the way to the future. This you do by employing a somewhat subtle device, which we shall call “prescriptive prophesy”. Your vision of the future of music becomes a prescription of how others should create music. You lay down the blueprint. Your students must follow. If they succeed, their success becomes your success. (That you have hijacked their creativity is not a consideration).
To ensure that your influence operates outside the limited arena of academia, you become a music critic for a major daily newspaper, preferably one which has national circulation. Your informed critiques become a means of rewarding composers who follow your prescriptions and punishing those who do not. You also chide musicians who perform music of which you do not approve, and reward those who perform music of which you do approve, much of which, coincidentally, is composed by your own protégés, or by students of your collegiate allies.
Your ultimate goal is to influence committees in charge of dispensing funds to aspiring composers, so that approved protégés will predominantly be the ones in the vanguard of the musical revolution at the head of which your own flag will be fluttering .
But you are always objective, always seeking what is best for the national art, always working in the service of a cause greater than yourself.
Really? Really not! You are, in fact, plainly and simply, an alpha dominant territorial mammal who, lacking individual creativity, has used intellectual cunning to create your own territory by forming a SPHERE OF INFLUENCE. Having formed it, you then proceed to enlarge and defend it aggressively. This aggression surfaces in the tactical dispensation of favours, and in unusually brutal critical assaults on any individuals who you perceive to be threatening to your hegemony. There are few creatures in the human jungle more savage and unprincipled than an academic fighting to defend his or her own turf, and the continuance of his or her own tenure. Only the fascist dictator is more tenacious in acquiring and holding power and, coincidentally, is also sometimes a frustrated artist.
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