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Sell Outs and Sell Ins

3 minutes read

It's interesting to note that, since I've shifted a lot of my intellectual energy to autonomous work on the internet, I've received a fair number of accusations about "selling out" or "pandering."

It's very strange because academia pays me to constrain my intellectual ability into a highly ideological and politically defanged kind of work. Being a "radical academic," that is, a normal academic in the softer social sciences and/or humanities, is the purest conceivable form of intellectual selling-out or pandering. It's because of my grappling with this unfortunate fact that I've shifted a great deal of my waking hours from my academic responsibilities, to completely autonomous public work on whatever topics seem most important to me, in the most transparent and direct, honest style I know how to practice. And I've literally made no money at all. (The only payments I can possibly think of are extensions of my academic cog-function, not my autonomous projects, namely 'honoraria' for articles or interviews in mainstream media. I did set up an Amazon affiliates count just for the hell of it some time ago but it's raised nowhere near enough to even be paid out yet lol.)

What does it mean that precisely in an autonomous and principled move away from selling out I am receiving the only accusations of selling out I've ever received? One thing this says to me is that, in doing anything public, one will probably receive a quantity of such objections in proportion to the publicity, no matter what path you take. The accusation seems to be indexed simply to my intensity levels and orthogonal to any meaningful judgment about motives and authenticity; perhaps the harder one pushes on anything, the more likely someone will infer bad motives. And perhaps this is a reasonable heuristic, given that intense productivity in capitalist culture is often correlated with dubious motives.

The irony is that I would quite like to have people criticize me whenever I might be guilty of selling out. I kind of wish smart, radical intellectuals shamed me for being a sellout academic, pressuring me to do more radical autonomous work. I receive almost none of this. Getting lost in ignoble temptations and base motives is a huge problem, a fatal trap for authentic intellectuals, and I'm far from perfect so I have to imagine that periodically I must be as vulnerable to this pitfall as anyone else. It'd be great if hearing these accusations could be a reliable signal I'm doing something wrong. Unfortunately, receiving them at present will only have the unfortunate, ironic effect of making it harder for me to know in the future if I am losing my way, given that so far such accusations are inversely correlated with all objective measures of selling out.

This odd experience has also had the salutary effect of making me somewhat less allergic to money. If I'm going to receive a dose of sellout accusations when my creative work could not be more fully insulated from the scourge of money, it makes me think: Well, now I might as well start thinking about how to make some money with it… This should also be filed under "data points increasing my sympathy for the 'free market anarchism' school." Maybe the entrepreneurial vector is the line of flight, and the modest salaried bureaucrat professing anti-capitalist viewpoints is the one guilty of reproducing institutionalized oppression and injustice. Perhaps the salaried bureaucrat receives critiques of "selling out" if he does anything to potentially attract value on the open market, because such a path devalues and destabilizes the conservative cartel of salaried bureaucrats who only pretend to value radical disruptions of the status quo.

In any event, receiving these accusations when they could not be more demonstrably false is a useful inoculation for my psychological processing of resentful internet-age opprobrium.


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