Congratulations are due to my younger brother, who completed his preliminary exams in sociology yesterday; assuming the large mid-atlantic state school he attends never finds out that he actually spent the past week playing Grand Theft Auto and watching LonelyGirl15 videos on YouTube, he will soon enter the purgatorio of the dissertation, a phase of human devolution about which I have absolutely nothing positive or inspiring to offer. For much of the 3.5 years I spent working on mine, I greeted each morning with a millstone of despair hanging around my neck, the weight lifted only slightly by the realization that I might be flattened at any moment by a city bus or a plummeting aircraft. However small that chance might have been, it offered me a reason to shuffle out of bed. One day while I was staring numbly at the walls, a group of marginally literate gnomes broke into my apartment and wrote 314 pages of prose, which I promptly submitted under my own name to the University of Minnesota.
If the opening section of my brother’s preliminary essays is any indication, he’ll have a much easier go at this than I did:
In a press conference two days after winning the 2004 presidential election, George W. Bush declared, “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style.” True to his style, Bush embarked on a national tour promoting the strengthening (privatization) of Social Security, a social insurance program established to protect against downward mobility. During one of his admission-by-ticket-only town hall discussions while on tour in Nebraska, the following exchange occurred:
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, but nevertheless, there’s a
certain comfort to know that the promises made will be
kept by the government.
MS. MORNIN: Yes.
THE PRESIDENT: And so thank you for asking that. You
don’t have to worry.
MS. MORNIN: That’s good, because I work three jobs and
I feel like I contribute.
THE PRESIDENT: You work three jobs?
MS. MORNIN: Three jobs, yes.
THE PRESIDENT: Uniquely American, isn’t it? I mean,
that is fantastic that you’re doing that. (Applause.)
Get any sleep? (Laughter.)
MS. MORNIN: Not much. Not much.
Working three jobs in itself is probably not “uniquely American.” What is uniquely American is, in comparison to other rich nations, the large degree of income inequality, high rates of absolute and relative poverty, and the low amount of non-elderly cash and near-cash social expenditures combined with a high percentage of low-wage workers earning less than 65 percent of median earnings. And so we all have a good laugh when the president asks the woman working three jobs if she gets much sleep.
My brother added in an e-mail that “I really wanted to then include a line like, ‘When Bush asks that question, why do people laugh rather than [ask for something that I'm not going to reprint on this blog because I geniunely think we might all get in serious trouble for it -- d]? One, because that would be rude. Second, because of the prevailing belief in social mobility.’ But i’ll just stick with what I’ve got.”
Anyhow, best of luck to my brother. If David Horowitz put together a list of the 101 Most Dangerous Graduate Students in America, I would gladly nominate him for inclusion. He once ate three Hardee’s Monster Thickburgers in one sitting, so I’m pretty sure he can finish a Ph.D.