The Pleasures of Ketman

The Z Man’s column today talks about grifting.  In the comments, there’s lots of speculation as to what the grifter gets out of it.  After all, there are lots of grifts — a commenter mentions three-card monte — where the daily take is no better, and probably worse, than you’d get from a McJob.  But for the grifter, doing something, anything, that isn’t a payroll job seems to be half the point….

I suggest that the answer is something like something like ketman.  It means “paying lip service to official ideology while secretly subverting it.”  It’s a sour sort of pleasure, but believe me, it is a pleasure.  I did it for years.

I got into the higher ed biz fully intending to practice what Milosz calls “aesthetic ketman.”  I loved my subject, but my subject was recondite enough, I figured, that I could keep the SJW bullshit to a bare minimum.  I don’t remember what they called “intersectionality” back then, but whatever it was, I’d just make a few brief nods to it, then get on with my work in relative peace.  Throw a few quotes from Foucault, Judith Butler, Gayatri Spivak, and the like in my dissertation intro, and that was that.

The problem, though, is that the sour pleasure of ketman is addictive, and like any addiction, you need to keep upping the dose to feel the same effect.

My first few years in grad school, anyone who cared to look could’ve easily spotted me as a secret shitlord.  For one thing, I was the only guy in the whole damn town who actually looked happy.  For one thing, professing is a 24/7 job — that’s “24 hours a week, 7 months a year,” and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  All that free time is lovely, especially in a college town with 24-hour everything and scads of scantily clad undergraduate eye candy.

But more importantly, there’s the pleasure of ketman.  So long as I make a few radical noises, I can get you sheep to believe anything I say.  I used to tell people I studied transgendered potato farmers in the Kenyan uplands.  I told this obnoxious girl from the Gender Studies department my dissertation was on resistance strategies of Eskimos in the Waffen-SS.  I cited Alan Sokal’s hoax paper on the social construction of gravity in every seminar taught by a radical feminist, and no one ever called me on it.  Anyone who thinks I’m kidding obviously hasn’t been on campus in the last 20 years or so.  It was fucking hilarious….

….for a time.  And then it got sad, then nauseating, because I eventually realized I was no different from the fools who swallowed my bullshit.  It doesn’t matter if you’re being exquisitely ironic when you tell a room full of freshmen that “gender is a social construction.”  They can’t recognize irony anyway, and even if they could, parroting the phrase “gender is a social construction” is still required to pass the class.  More importantly, what if they did recognize it?  I’m up there thinking I’m a shitlord, speaking truth to power to anyone smart enough to figure it out, but all they see is another fat, middle-aged sellout parroting nonsense.  If I were serious about my shitlordery, they think, then I’d quit.  But I don’t quit, which must mean my so-called “principles” are worth… what?  We’ve already established you’re a whore, madam; now we’re just haggling over the price.

Ketman fails on its own terms, I guess I’m saying, because there’s no way to use The System without The System also using you, and economies of scale being what they are, The System always wins.  But until you figure that out, ketman lets you go on being a happy cog in the machine, because you’re really sticking it to the rubes…

Either way it ends in disillusion.  It’s like the Revolutionary’s Dilemma: even if you believe your own bullshit, you come to hate the people who believe in you.  They’re either dumb sheeple who’ll believe anything, or they’re even dumber sheeple who are too stupid even to grok that.  The only way out is to approach ketman not as a survival strategy, but as an identity.  I couldn’t… but then again, I had a choice.  The people Milosz describes didn’t, so go read the book if you want to see how it turns out.


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7 thoughts on “The Pleasures of Ketman

  1. Maus

    Your concluding paragraph neatly frames one of the existential issues I grapple with constantly. I really despise stupidity. I recognize that #woke is stoking the potential for white genocide; and that the moral imperative of Our Thing is to act in my daily life (as opposed to merely talking a good game) as if “It’s OK to be white” actively guides my social and cultural choices. But I loathe stupid white people just as much as I do any other of the moronic colors of Benetton. My contempt for stupidity is such that I cannot be moved by pity to help, or even care about, the downtrodden lives of today’s white trash felons, single mothers by choice, tattooed thots, heroin-addicted hipsters, college-debt plagued SJWs, etc. I try to let Mike Rowe’s stirring paean to the nobility of the trades and honest, hard work disabuse me of my prejudice; but I’ve encountered too many lower-class, blue-collar, high-school-dropout tradesmen whose idiocy, poor work ethic, degeneracy and criminality are manifest. My colleagues and I used to diagnose that the root problem with 90% of the defendants we prosecuted was “felony stupid.” Only a fraction of our cases involved either a truly evil psychopath or a sociopath of sophisticated intelligence. Without question, those rare cases were both the most interesting intellectually and also had the most sympathetic victims.
    The challenge today is to avoid becoming overwhelmed by feelings of alienation, isolation and despair. The elite of the Cathedral, particularly the Academy, have rejected me precisely because I refuse to indulge in the bitter, bitter ketman. One reason I appreciate Zman’s work so much is his call for building IRL community amongst the DR. But I in turn hamper my own cooperation with that project by rejecting non-exclusive solidarity with all who might embrace the DR. In the end, there are some with whom I will not abide. Call me an arrogant snob; but my personal Dunbar number is vanishingly likely to have anyone from the left side of the IQ bell curve.

    1. contrariandutchman

      I do not suffer fools gladly myself. I have found it useful to focus on what people are good at or virtuous in rather then their defects. It really helps me tolerate people well to the lef side of the iq distribution.

      This doenst work always, some creatures, I am loath to deem them part of my species, are too severely short on good aspects. Still, I find an honest tradesman much more pleasant to be around then a self-declared intellectua lwho may have a higher iq but not remotely enough to not be deeply in dunning-kruger territory.

    2. Maus

      On futher reflection, I feel as if I come across too douchy above. The root of the conundrum is to what extent does Fraternite demand Egalite? If the DR revolution is predicated on their inextricability, then I fear it is doomed to failure. I utterly reject egalitarianism. As a truth-seeking realist, it seems self-evident that all of life, and particularly human culture, is hierarchical, an ordered chain of being. The growth of an individual’s wisdom is precisely the realization of his place in any particular heirarchy and the choice to focus on his strengths rather than bemoaning his weaknesses or wasting effort to rehabilitate them beyond the minimum competence needed for survival.

  2. MBlanc46

    I happen to be working at the moment. The book is on diversity in higher education and how it’s not being forced down peoples’ throats forcefully enough and how to do it more forcefully. The author (a sociology prof) cites a study that the average academic puts in 61 hours a week. I know that during my brief stay in academia, I put in more than 24 hours per week. But I was very young and very enthusiastic and definitely interested in impressing those delectable undergraduate gels. Take it for what you will.

    Your list of name-drops was definitely on point, but I do think that Homi Bhabha is an absolute must.

    1. Severian Post author

      Exaggeration for effect, though I did find myself wondering, quite often, just what the hell these people did in all those hours they claimed to be working. Do y’all not know how to skim a monograph? Have you not spotted the patterns in all undergraduate essays? Or is this all “university service,” that mysterious Force that counts for tenure, but no one can actually define? (unless you haven’t done enough of it, which is what they cite when they don’t want to give you tenure but can’t fault your “scholarship,” because it’s the same politicized jibbajabba as yours?) Add to this the fact that these people are, in effect, hobbyists — that is, they’d do this kind of stuff for free, since it’s their life — and I just don’t buy it…

      …. or maybe I do, thanks to the magic of the word “average.” Since the “average” academic is a postdoc or adjunct on slave wages, I bet xzhey actually DO put in some long hours, but that’s hardly flattering to academic amour propre, so it goes unmentioned.

      1. MBlanc46

        It’s full-time tenure-track types. I didn’t check out the study, but it’s doubtless self-reports. The people that he interviews are “diversity workers” (some faculty, some admins, some students). He thinks that they should get extra money, or course credit, for their “diversity work”. I wish that these people should work much less, as their work is so destructive of Western civilization.

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