October 9, 2006

Narrators of academic and political life

To new scholars hired into academic jobs:  Remember that your colleagues are unreliable narrators. That doesn't mean that they are necessarily vicious, mean, backstabbing folks (and I hope you don't run into those types, because they unfortunately exist). I mean that people to whom you look for advice on institutional morays have their own sets of lenses that distort and color the world. They are unreliable in the classic literary sense:  Trust them as people. Just don't trust them as the definitive anthropologists of your institution. This includes me, by the way; I'd like to think of myself as an astute observer, but I'm going to have my own limitations.

As Iraq has continued to descend into chaos, with our involvement in it following apace, I've been wondering about the political version of this phenomenon: major politicians' self-delusions.  We all delude ourselves in some ways, whether minor or major, and I can't think of a president that hasn't had at least one historically significant self-delusion.  The current president's delusions about Iraq are now all too plain, but I wonder how a political history would look if written with an eye to identifying historically significant delusions operating in different eras, whether held by individuals or groups. Now that project would be an interesting version of psychohistory!

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Posted in History on October 9, 2006 8:33 PM |