Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Post 410

Blogger tells me that up till this point, I've created 409 posts -- which makes this 410.

That really doesn't mean a thing. But it's enough of a start to get me rolling on a new post, anyway.

I've arrived at the beginning of yet another new chapter in my life: a return to school. Monday, I began coursework on a master of arts in political science at Binghamton University, a scant 40 miles down the road from where I live now.

After only a couple days of actively participating in the program, I'm already acutely aware of the fact that my classmates (and the faculty) are academics -- members, or potential members, of the intelligentsia I have never felt much of a synchronisity with. They've all got extensive backgrounds in the social sciences... familiarity with Gauss-Markov assumptions in analytical statistics, understandings of the differences between "soft" and "hard" power, and the knowledge of what the term "rent-seeking behavior" actually means.

So I tend to feel as though I'm starting from behind the curve. I'm good at dropping a name or two when conversations turn philosophical -- I can identify an idea as essentially "Rogerian" or explain how the terms "liberal" and "conservative" both began as descriptions of different branches of the same post-Frech-Revolutionary tree -- but I'm hopelessly at sea when it comes to scientific method and the tools used in empirical enquiry, which are critical tools in the study of political science.

At least, that's how I felt when I showed up on campus for the first time. There I was, a pot-bellied, tired, ex-soldier, looking for directions on a prestigious state school filled with fresh-faced freshmen 10 years younger than me, gabbing to each other about what they expected out of school.

And after delving into the first set of assigned readings -- all treatises either attacking or defending the social science claim known as "Rational Choice Theory" -- I can feel my brain starting to turn on again. I don't pretend to understand the underpinings of political science yet, but it's certainly fun to re-examine the differences between inductive and deductive reasoning, and to look at the various ways a dispassionate researcher might examine the current conflict between Georgia and Russia.

Without any claims of being a great writer, I know this, though: I've got them schooled when it comes to putting words into sentences. These clowns know nothing about getting ideas across to people outside their field -- which might make for an interesting research paper in itself. I may not know how to plot a curve on a Cartesian table, but I can at least express my lack of knowledge in a way that makes some sort of sense.

But I've gained at least one insight: my understanding and feelings about politics have, up to this point, been rhetorical in nature. That's kind of a loaded word, so what I mean is this: I've listened to arguments, and aligned myself with whatever argument I feel takes into account the most variables and offers the best solution -- in its own terms.

That's a little weird, even for me to go back over and try to make sense out of. But the point is this: till now, nothing I've understood politically has ever been based on any scientifically testable data. Evidently, this is exactly the problem I'm going to be fixing over the next three semesters, and truth be told, I'm both incredibly excited and hopelessly intimidated.

I now have a desk under the Glenn Bartle Library (South), where I am apparently free to keep books, and am informally expected to spend the balance of my time while enrolled in the Binghamton University Graduate Program. I'm looking at two months of being totally broke until my G.I. Bill benefits kick in, but once that happens, I'll be free to completely delve into devotion to study and academia -- which hopefully will mean more faithful updating of this poor blog.

They tell me I should look at this as a 9-5 job. I've had those -- which have typically been more demanding than "9-5." Whatever the case, I'm excited about this new step (which I'm not paying for -- thank you, five years in the Army), and while I'm admittedly nervous, it's certainly the "right" direction to be moving in.

More soon....