On academic jargon, twentysomething hipsters, and bullshit

This will be short, since there’s only so much to say about this.

“If you can’t write something at an eighth-grade level, you either don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about or you’re just trying to impress people. Either way, you’re full of shit and sound like an asshole.”

Those are words I’ll take with me to my grave. They were said to me one evening in the spring of 2010 by my academic adviser, mentor, my favorite political science professor, the man who sat in final judgment of whether I received my political science degree, and one of the smartest motherfuckers ever to have walked this planet. They were said somewhere between the fifth and sixth beer of the evening, in his home, during a discussion that got particularly heated over my undergrad capstone paper.

I’d just turned in a draft to him in which the F-K readability score was actually lower than the grade level, something which made him absolutely livid. To the point, in fact, from that point forward he’d refuse to accept from me any draft or revision that had higher than an eighth-grade reading level (and believe me, he checked). I was angry in return, but I buckled down and did it; in doing so, I realized he was absolutely, positively, unarguably right.

It is immeasurably harder to “write down” than it is to not. One does have to have mastery over the subject material to condense it and write in an accessible, easily-understood form. Moreover, there’s no reason to not — academic jargon is exclusive, tiresome to read, distracting, at times condescending, and even counter-productive if one is writing to persuade or inform an audience. The only reason to ever engage in it, save the minority of profession-exclusive writing intended only for internal consumption, is to stroke egos or self-consciously obfuscate a lack of mastery of subject material.

That’s why I cannot take twentysomething, pseudo-intellectual, hipsters seriously. I’ve been there, done that, got called out for it, gone back to the drawing board, and came out the other side far stronger for it. They’re not out to persuade, win hearts and minds, or effect meaningful, long-term change in their chosen field(s) — they’re out to prove how much they “know” and how “smart” they are. And, humorously enough, in the course of doing so either alienate the individuals who aren’t “in the know” or demonstrate prima facie to those “in the know” how colossally full of shit they are.

And either way, they sound like assholes.

[That paper, by the way, was a legal interpretivist analysis of the Citizens United Supreme Court case, contrast with previous case law, and comparison with Bush v. Gore to argue the decision privileges certain modes of political speech (financial expenditure) over others (voting), in direct conflict with modern American democratic principles. Being the decision had only been released three months’ prior to the deadline, almost all my research was original. My final draft received an A+, one of the proudest moments of my life.]