Watch young bourgeois, and you can see that often enough their relationship with ideas is not unlike the relationship they could (might? do?) have with real estate. The idea is to get a deed to a given notion, or aesthetic, or attitude, while it’s undervalued and reap the benefits of its appreciation, and/or look for opportunities where prime pieces of conceptual real estate are changing hands and see if you’ve got enough bankroll to get in on the action. Unlike real estate markets, you’re supposed to conceal the instrumental aspect of what you’re doing, and of course, conceptual payoffs aren’t as graspable as material ones… but we all know the material isn’t everything.
I wonder how often patterns of relationships with ideas (there’s probably a theory term for that, an obscure and probably ugly word to congeal my ungainly phrase) can map onto patterns of material circumstance. It doesn’t work that way in every instance, but I think it does in some; I’d say often, but that’s just one man’s perspective. The real estate gestalt has surrounded many academics, journalists, think-piecers from the cradle. The percentage of those categories for whom this is the case will grow as higher education returns to being a finishing school for the rich. And these underlying structures of thought are harder to grasp — and to change — than opinions or commitments.
I’d love to regale you with my working class bona fides by way of contrast, but that’s a bridge too far. I come from a family of teachers, service workers (the golf industry, that harsh mistress!), and civil servants. The directives there are clear, though often at cross purposes: do a good job and follow the rules. Often, the rules say to follow the orders of some dingaling who doesn’t know how to run a golf course or what good teaching is, thereby putting one in the position of violating the directive of doing a good job. What “doing a good job” constitutes for a thinker or scholar is a lot less clear than in most jobs. But I think attempting to adhere to some sort of standard of quality under adverse (sometimes existentially absurd) working conditions and indifferent supervision is a tableau with which most of us should be familiar.