Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 374.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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Date: Mon, 09 Dec 2002 07:51:38 +0000
From: Roy Flannagan <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: 16.363 supping with a long spoon? and "He who eats
with the devil must use a long spoon"
The idea of buying ethics is an amusing one, from a distance, though all of
us are wary about being bought or sold. It is tempting to buy off the
academies, the untouchable scholars, the impeccable reputations of a
Harvard Kissinger or a Brandeis Reich. I asked students in a Renaissance
Literature class this semester, apropos Dr. Faustus, what they thought
their souls might be worth, and one of them found a soul going for sale on
eBay (it was only bid up to something like $2.47).
It is sad when a chemist testifies on behalf of a tobacco company that
there is no established truth to the rumor that smoking causes cancer, and
it is sad when the lobbyists of pharmaceutical companies convince senators
to vote against the release of the generic versions of drugs the companies
have a patent on.
I have seen academics who refuse to be bought out and other academics whose
institutions begged, borrowed, or stole their profitable intellectual
property. As an editor of a scholarly journal, I need to be wary whenever
I am taken out to dinner by a publisher or even by a scholar on the make,
someone who needs to be published. Even the lowly academic needs to ask,
constantly, Is he or she trying to buy me out? or Am I for sale? We may
get asked out for lunch before a departmental election, by a candidate or a
We who are protected by the academy and by tenure think that our opinions
are arrived at objectively, yet we are blind followers of fashion, and
petty-minded grubbers for the 2% raise pool. When the head monkey in
Paris, as Thoreau put it, gets a new hat, the news travels fast and all the
academic monkeys in the U.S. or U.K. have to buy that hat. When the Apple
corporation donates a new Mac lab to the English Department, giving all the
old Mac to faculty members, we may be hooked into that technology for
life. When IBM or Microsoft donates to our electronic text project, it
buys little pieces of our hearts and minds. We begin putting capital
letters in the middle of words, as in WordPerfect or Quark XPress, to
follow fashion and to go where the money is.
We are all whores, at least potentially, though some of us may elect to be
pimps, and the annual Pimp and Ho ball in Los Angeles attracts many
professionals who are no longer on the street. At least we see
professional athletes get their bones broken to justify their large
salaries, but corrupt CEOs, or deans, may get off with a large pension at
the end of a nefarious career. And at the high school, Pepsi donates to the
impoverished schools, to get rid of the Coke machines in the cafeteria. My
point is that, no matter where you work, your soul may be for sale, and in
order to maintain any sense of integrity or individuality, you need to be
on guard constantly about selling out.
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