Friday, 27 September 2019

Be careful what you make your profession

Being a professional is usually morally inferior to being an amateur; because of the very powerful distortions involved in making a living.

Nowadays especially, the immorality of making a living - especially the mandatory dishonesty - is more powerful than it used to be - but it has always been a factor.

Professionals usually have the advantage of devoting more time and effort to what they do (because they don't have to break off every day, and make a living doing something else), and there is usually a 'minimum standard' of professionals, which does not apply to amateurs.

But all modern professionals do less of their profession and more bureaucracy than they used to do - and the trend is everywhere increasing; indeed, the disproportion in favour of bureaucracy may be total.

And bureaucracy means, always, doing 'what other people say' - so your autonomy is lost. And it may well be the hope of making a personal contribution that drew you into that work in the first place.  

In sum, here-and-now, it is likely to be better to do what you most care about as an amateur; rather than trying to make it also your livelihood.

Note: The example of science:


Dividualist said...

Pretty much has always been so - hence sinecures. Kierkegaard had a sinecure in the Danish diplomatic service. He was a honest philosopher. Hegel was a professional philosopher and I tend to agree with Schopenhauer saying he was a fraud.

Bruce Charlton said...

@D - Yes, it has always been so to some extent - which is why so much of the best work (by geniuses) was done by amateurs, not paid to do that kind of work.

eg. there were no professional scientists until late Victorian times. And most scientists used to be paid to teach, not do, science - the 'research' was in at the scientist's own expense and in their own time when not engaged in teaching (but there was typically adequate time for this).

The same applies to writing fiction, and even more so poetry. e.g CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien were amateur fiction writers, publishing not much, but some of it at the highest level. Their modern professional equivalents are usually professional fantasy writers, therefore necessarily far more productive; but Not As Good.

However, if it was always difficult for a professional to be a genius (because it is difficult for a genius to be a professional) it is much more so now - and this happened incrementally and very fully through the past 40 years of my working life.

(Tolkien and Lewis would not be academics nowadays - they were not bureaucrats. They would, indeed, be all-but un-employable. The idea of such geniuses as Newton, Dirac or Wittgenstein functioning in the modern so-called-university is unthinkable.)

William Wildblood said...

Doesn't the word amateur derive from the Latin for love? It's the old distinction between doing something for love and doing it for money. How could the former not be superior?

dearieme said...

I often interviewed applicants for tenure-track academic jobs. As time rolled by they tended to be better credentialed but less intelligent and high spirited. Not that there was ever any guarantee that the intelligent and high spirited would be appointed anyway, such are the ways of Appointment Committees.

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - All committees are bad, intrinsically; but my place made extra sure that they would be bad by having the chair and two others from the five persons as outsiders to the subject matter and the department. These were appointed to the committee on an ad hoc basis just for the day - and therefore unable to evaluate specific applicants but only able to apply only standard, checklist, generic 'academic staff' criteria to appointments.

In sum the committee had power but no knowledge, and did not have to live-with the results of their deliberations. Sticking a pin in the list of names while blindfold would have had similar validity.

This was some 25 years ago - no doubt things are Much Worse now that the appointees of the above shambles are running the system.