Let’s NOT be friends!

Over at the Philosophy Smoker, ‘notthatdifficult’ offered some interesting advice at 11:42am:

(a) where grad students teach undergrads, they are acting as professors and should not, therefore, in their professorial role, befriend, date or fuck ANY undergrads at the institution where they work. Happy to clarify that. If they do, they are asking for trouble. (b) when grad students are colleagues with each other, they should not treat each other as a dating/fucking pool, and should not, as a rule, romantically proposition each other. I’d even go as far as to say they should exercise some reasonable caution in forming platonic friendships. Yeah, it may not be the most realistic guideline ever. It’s still a good one. Your colleagues are NOT your dating pool. And, honestly, if you are truly in love or its destiny or whatever, okay – but be forewarned that it could go horribly wrong and result in disaster. Be it on your head then. (The exact same could probably said of friendship. Who hasn’t seen a grad student relationship or friendship completely implode and make problems for the rest of everyone in the department?)” [emphasis mine]

This writer also finds it scandalous that colleagues should be married: “Notoriously, for example, the current President of Harvard, always trotted out for show as a splendid example of the achievement of women, married her colleague who was very much her senior at the time of their first involvement. Like examples abound across academe.

I’ve heard this view expressed before by someone I can only describe as a self-obsessed, image-hungry moralizer. I have reason to think that person is non-identical with the commenter at the Smoker. How common is this view, exactly? I hope it’s limited to two people, but I worry that that might not be the case.

According to this view, it is wrong for a grad student to become involved with anyone taking an undergraduate degree in any department — even any faculty — at the same university, regardless of any other details of the two people. Could someone please explain to me why that would be so?

Moreover, as I just commented at the Smoker:

Aristotle, the Epicureans, Hypatia, and many other ancient thinkers thought the best life was one of reasoned contemplation with philosophical friends. What fools!

In the middle ages, professors and students alike lived within the university community and there was often no difference between the two. Imbeciles!

The early modern philosophers? Don’t get me started! Hobbes, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Rousseau, Voltaire, Locke, Berkeley, Hume… rather than hold academic positions, they seem to have seen philosophy as a sort of lifestyle choice, in which the main idea was to circulate their ideas among philosophical circles of friends — friends! — rather than for professional advancement. And yes, they actually sat down with one another as friends and discussed it out of interest! How unprofessional and deluded!

But the real outrages had to wait until the mid 19th century, when it all started to go bad. John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor? Why, they actually married and collaborated! How incestuous!

But the 20th century got even worse. Sartre and de Beauvoir! Anscombe and Geach! Openly involved with each other! Ew! How dare they?

And Philippa Foot and Iris Murdoch? Two philosophers, who were friends! And roommates! And had a fricking affair! Can one imagine a greater sacrelige?

And let’s pass over in silence the many scandalous! scandalous! marriages between philosophers working in the same departments, and between professor couples who work in different departments at the same school nowadays! Get a room, people, and tender your resignation on your way there! Not only do these academics dare cause an affront to public morals by fraternizing and even doing the nasty with other academics, but they can’t even exercise sufficient restraint to work at different universities in different cities or, preferably, in different states or countries (if they have to be involved with other academics at all). And then they want to actually get married, and expect us to honor their relationships! When will the outrages end?

Wake up, everyone. It’s the 21st century now, and we need to get it right at last. If you want to date, have sex, or be married, be sure to limit your romantic partners to maids, construction workers, landscapers, businesspeople, neurosurgeons, panhandlers… anyone but other academics! Them’s the rules!

And remember: philosophy, and academic life in general, must not be a passion for you. If it is, you’ll be tempted to find love and friendship in academia, and maybe even in your own department. You must treat academic life as a 9-5 job, with some work to take home to do alone — not with anyone else.

If any colleagues invite you to any social events, or to shoot some hoops after the day is done, just say no! And let them hear no. They’re the ones being inappropriate by suggesting an inappropriate, friendly liaison. Healthy workplaces require that nobody be friends, and the only philosophy worth anything is done in isolation in the evenings. Be polite with your colleagues (or your fellow students), but draw the line sharply and never cross it.

One thought on “Let’s NOT be friends!

  1. You also left out the Churchlands, who a lecturer in my undergrad claimed were not only a married couple, but their own little philosophical movement.

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