Tear Down The Tower!

Tear Down The Tower! November 25, 2017

Tear Down the Tower

Ivy Helman writes in her blog post “Academics and Activism”:

Life in an ivory tower would only serve to distance one’s self from activism. Why do such a thing? Then the answer came to me: privilege. One can afford to step back. One can choose to work in the ivory tower glancing down at the people below. One’s life and one’s position in it are secure, anddesert-view-tower one has the time and the space to explore eccentricities, minute nuances and obscure notions. And, one could spend one’s life doing such without any significant need to behave differently. The subjects of study will continue to be there. There is plenty of academic fodder.

To me that is counterproductive. Working in academia at the intersection of religion, feminism and (in this case) refugees, especially in Europe, demands education, activism, advocacy, empowerment and so much more. There cannot and should not be any sort of tower when one’s goal is to make one’s own job obsolete. That’s definitely one of my goals at the intersection of religion and feminism: to not be needed anymore! Unfortunately, we are not there yet.

Later in the same post she writes:

I truly believe that activism is essential. We have to stand up and fight for the world we want. We have to give voice to the voice-less, empower the powerless and acknowledge as well as challenge privilege every time we encounter it! While it’s easier to plant oneself high-up in an ivory tower that is comfortable, warm and secure and, once there, stay inside, that’s not living! That’s not justice. That’s nothing more than apathy, complacency and heaps and heaps of privilege along the way. If we are truly committed to change, education, empowerment, justice, equality and flourishing, we can’t stay put. Tear down the tower!

Click through to read the whole thing.



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  • John MacDonald

    I’m always interested in activism, and in terms of my recent activity have donated time to a second hand clothing store (St. Vincent de Paul) and a soup kitchen (Loaves and Fishes). I am always impressed when secular people like Bart Ehrman donate time and money to causes. I wonder if there is a correlation between charitable behavior and religion. It’s a small sample size, but at least from the people I know, it seems that the religious people spent more time being charitable than the secular people. For my part, I’m agnostic. I believe there is a ὑποκείμενον underlying everything, but have no way of knowing if it is a “Mind” as ordinary, everyday religion claims. As to whether there is a God somehow active in reality, I simply don’t know, so guessing that there is a Mind ἀρχή underneath it all seems just as speculative as guessing that there isn’t one. But in terms of being charitable, I have always been motivated by my state of unknowing, feeling kinship with those poor individuals who seem adrift, lacking foundation.

  • Rafi Simonton

    Since I’ve been an activist since grade school, the reasons for extroverted activism seen obvious to me. However, I also am among those whose inclinations, like mystics and contemplatives, are more interior, introverted. Whose contribution is to make clear what it is we’re all working toward.

    Nor do I have any problem with allowing for residents of ivory towers. And I say this as someone who was a blue collar worker until going back to college in my 40s and then grad school in my 50s. Some decades ago, political science shifted from a focus on the theoretical, on what could be, to practical data-driven research. Of course numbers make the results seem oh-so-scientific. But elected officials and their election committee staff already know the numbers; they have to. What we desperately need, as is more and more evident with each new election cycle, are the lofty “impractical” ideas that those ivory tower academics are able to provide. Like innovation–how to make government and the economic system more responsive, more democratic. Or inspiration, eloquent reminders of the philosophical ideals upon which the USA and many other countries were founded.

  • arcseconds

    Does “That’s nothing more than apathy, complacency and heaps and heaps of privilege along the way” apply to all non-activist academics?

    It seems a bit inhuman to research refugees, and yet be uninterested in doing anything for refugees, but where does this leave computer scientists or chemists?

    It’s not clear to me that there’s a problem with someone researching e.g. new ways to process data or new ways to measure trace elements and not engaging in activism.

    • I do think that some variation may be legitimate depending on field. Some more naturally connect than others. But as we saw recently, a historian of Roman art can challenge the way racists have co-opted the white colorless images that are so familiar to us. And even when activism is less natural in relation to one’s area of academic expertise, that doesn’t mean that one cannot be an activist on behalf of colleagues and students at one’s own institution who are in marginalized and vulnerable constituencies.