When you pose a simple question in plain English to your fellows, which of the following most typically describes the response:

  1. An equally simple, on-topic response?
  2. A brief request for clarification?
  3. A long-winded counterattack that is only tangentially (if at all) related to the original question?

If you answered #3, congratulations! You are most likely among highly-educated professionals.

How come? I can’t say for certain. It is just a pattern I have noticed. Best guess would be that the more one knows, the more one becomes attuned to dog whistles and shibboleths–even when they’re not there!

“Not listening” would also be high on the list. Someone who spends a lot of time holding forth on a topic may find it difficult to switch back into a listening mindset. Instead of reading and answering the question, they hit the reply button and continue with their current monologues–already in-progress.

Another dimension is latent hostility. In my experience, professors of all things subjective are the worst about this. Same employer, same title, same education, same politics–most even live in the same neighborhood. One would expect them to all be brothers by another mother. Not so! Mix “familiarity breeding contempt” with “jockeying for position” and decades of hyper-subtle disagreements over theory and pedagogy, and watch it blossom into a most seething hatred.

A wise man once said that if you encounter your doppelganger, there are only two rational courses of action: A) kill him, the world is not big enough for the both of you, or B) have sex with him. He knows all of your spots, and since this is a copy of yourself, it’s not gay–it’s masturbation! Professional monocultures are uncomfortably close to this. Since most of you mofos are too damn ugly for plan B, everything slopes toward plan A by default.

What is the answer then? Preemptive empathy has been the most effective for me. Look at what you have written, try to imagine the kinds of dog-whistle people will hallucinate into it, then preemptively deflate those objections. “Will it be wordier?” Yes. “Isn’t that rather time consuming?” Boy howdy it is! Still less time-consuming than extinguishing nerd jihads over imaginary disagreements.

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