August 19, 2013

The Poverty of Political Philosophy: Why I’d Rather be Hiking

By Stephon Boatwright In On the Road

Although I would like to focus solely on my adventures, the reality is that most of my time is spent in painful, monotonous, boredom and frustration. As time has gone on it seems I have lost patience with deferring my desires to another day. Those thoughts all start the same: “When I get done with grad school I’ll finally…”, or “Next year, when I save up the money I’ll…” That’s not to say I need instant gratification, I just feel like I’ve worked hard enough to start seeing some sort of payoff, and I’m letting my youth pass me by as I’m waiting for a financially secure day to come along. However, that day is becoming more and more remote in my thoughts.

 The curse of being a political scientist is that you always have a pretty good sense of your odds in the workforce and society. In our current socio-economic wasteland 4/5 of Americans will experience poverty at some point in their lives, most of the jobs being created pay between minimum wage and $12 an hour, and even fancy Ph.d candidates like me only have a 15% chance of finding university work once they attain the elusive “Dr.” title. I’ve always been aware of all of this, but as I get closer to writing my dissertation, and the country continues its self-inflicted decline, despair and resentment are beginning to set in.
 I’m typing this entry in front of a wall of books, most of which I’ve attained in the past two years of grad school. I used to fear I would never be able to match the intellect of those on my shelf; the Sartres , Chomskys, and de Beauvoirs just seem like once in a generation minds. It was always motivating to look back at my stacks though, as I imagined the titles of my future great works adorning someone else’s shelf one day.  My fears are different nowadays though, they’re much less grandiose, more basic, proletarian even. I fear I won’t even get a chance to prove my intellect, to write the books. Hell, I fear I’ll be taking my Ph.d to start serving at the local bar due to lack of employment and exploding student loans. “Hi, I’m Dr. Boatwright! What will you be drinking tonight?  Oh, I’m sorry, we’re out of Red Bull so I can’t make a Jager bomb. Have you heard of a Car Bomb though?”
Or, even worse, I’ll continue my work at Lowe’s, the part-time job that I just can’t seem to escape. Lowe’s is a fitting place to be miserable and resentful: it’s a concrete box with no windows, and if you stick around for 30 seconds you will see something idiotic occur. Of course I’ve looked and applied to new jobs, but I live in Syracuse, NY, where “Poverty is the city’s overwhelming social characteristic”; the market for quality jobs isn’t exactly exploding here. The periodic thought I could be trapped here is one of the primary reasons I’ve become an adventure loving day dreamer.  I would be lying if I said I hadn’t seriously considered walking out and catching the first bus to anywhere.
There’s something so liberating about a trail through the woods, or along a river, or anywhere away from the socially constructed mess we call Western Civilization. There’s no fee to walk the trail, no billboards or consumerism, one doesn’t need a degree or certificate, or to jump through the hoops that authority regularly places in our way, and whether you reach your destination is solely the product of your own labor; you are in complete control of your destiny. I don’t think there’s many places or times we can say that in our lives anymore. If I could find a way to trade my degrees for a full-time job exploring and VW Bus to live in, I probably would. Until that day though, I’ll struggle on with the rest of you
“There’s a place up ahead and I’m goin’ just as fast as my feet can fly
Come away, come away if you’re goin’, leave the sinkin’ ship behind.”

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