A Doctor Talks About Addiction

Part One, The Read Conference Paper

An interview, number one in a series, with a not-so-well-known metaphysician and metaphysician's assistant regarding the plague of addictions presently running roughshod over the campuses of Amerika. This interview focused on the use of Read Conference Paper (RCP), a ubiquitous drug to which many otherwise respectable academics are presently addicted; worse, many of these academy-addicts support their habit by starting naive students on the path to reading papers at conferences.

Q: Why are conference papers read?

A: Because they can't read themselves!

Q: Ha, ha. In top form tonight, I see, Doctor. Now, seriously.

A: Bit on edge, eh? No matter. My answer was quite serious, after all. That's why it was a joke. Think. If conference papers could read themselves (which they most certainly could; the technology's available), would the writers stop showing up to read them?

Q: I don't follow you . . . papers read themselves?

A: Of course. Video or audio recording, you see. If there's a video recording, that'll work. Picture and all . . . Of course, virtual reality would be better, but expensive . . . and for those folks who can't even afford video, there'd be audio-recording. For a picture, I guess a life-size cardboard cutout of the reader could be rigged up to stand behind the platform. Actually, I don't know why this isn't more frequently used than it is at conferences now--I mean, who'd care? Think of all the extra time that could be spent drinking and getting laid, for example, with this method.

Q: But would conference papers be any more interesting? I mean, who'd show up just to watch a video or a cardboard cutout?

A: Well, I could see it going several ways, actually . . . It could be that nobody'd show up at all, and then nobody'd know the difference, and really important things could be done like shopping, talking, eating, drinking, having sex . . . And of course if some poor sot did walk in to hear the paper, they'd be accomodated as well. They could sit and listen . . . [Q guffaws, snorts] . . . Hey, I know, but there are perverts in this world who like to have their heads filled with wisdom, you know . . . we gotta be generous, even for S&M artists. We could even provide coffee and other stimulants; you know, side-drugs, high-enhancers . . .

Q: (still chortling softly) But how could these walk-in people ask questions and get answers? I mean, from a tape . . .

A: Answers? Now we're talking heavy-duty addiction . . . I'm not sure we can provide that kind of stuff! Answers . . . ! I mean, there have to be some ethical considerations here after all . . . But I suppose if we had to have answers to these questions we could provide each seat with a remote control; you know, fast-forward/rewind for boredom or confusion, and pre-taped answers good for any academic question . . . just push the "answer" button.

Q: How would that work? How could we possibly anticipate all the various questions? Especially with a variety of papers at a big conference--like, say, the MLA?

A: Anticipate questions? How silly! The answers are always the same anyway. We could probably cover all possibilities quite well with three or four stock answers.

Q: Such as?

A: Such as, "Well, I hope to cover that more completely in my forthcoming book," "That's a difficult and complex issue. Why don't you get together with me for coffee later so we can discuss it fully?" "That's difficult to say without the text right in front of me; let me get back to you on that," and (for the more honest sorts) "Shit, I dunno."

Q: Well, look--we started out talking about addictions, and you've mentioned Read Conference Paper as a potent and pervasive drug. What is Read Conference Paper, anyway?

A: Let's call the stuff RCP; it's easier to remember. But accent the "R" carefully or folks could think PCP, which is similar in effect to RCP but less bulky and considered in poor taste among academics. RCP, as we've analyzed it in our laboratories, is about ten to twenty-five pages of words, composed generally of equal parts of morphemes, sememes, and syntactical structures. These are the soporific components, often inducing narcolepsy in under five minutes in our experimental subjects. There is another element often present as well. We aren't sure yet what to call it--in fact, we can't yet analyze it out by any known method--but it seems to be a very potent thing. We call it "ingredient X."

Q: The other parts induce narcoleptic seizures. What does this "ingredient X" do?

A: It's very eclectic in effect. It can cause dancing, singing, weeping, laughter, passion . . . it's very unpredictable. Fortunately for those who sit in these readings, it's usually very carefully screened out by the readers prior to their administering RCP to an audience; it's a tricky procedure called "academic sublimation," which novice paper-writers have to master before they're allowed to dispense RCP to an audience.

Q: Fascinating. But what are the actual dynamics of this addiction? Bring it home to us.

A: Well, Read Conference Paper--RCP--is the drug. The writers are the drug-producers and dispensers, the audience eager addicts waiting for a fix.

Q: But how do otherwise sane academics become addicts? Are the writers also addicts or do they just profit by hooking others?

A: Well, you know, it's devilishly difficult to sell dope and not use. In fact, most if not all producers are also addicts who sell to maintain their own habit efficiently. Similarly, most audience-addicts are also either potential or actual pushers. It's like this, typically . . . At first, when a subject is introduced to RCP--usually as a graduate student--it's fun, different, a little scary. After experiences with RCP, however, the novice finds that more is necessary to get the same high. Often, the high is no longer found in simply consuming RCP--the addict must dispense it to get the high. RCP itself, eventually, is no longer the high--the high from RCP becomes entangled in the context of using it, publicly, with other addicts. It's known among treatment professionals as "addiction to lifestyle" . . . in this case, academic lifestyle.

Q: But surely these well-educated people can see what is happening to them?

A: Denial is not a river in Egypt. But in a sense you're right; there's no malignant central intelligence at work here unless you believe in Satan. It's a whole system, a whole mythology, a Weltanschauung so tied to everyday life that it seems "normal." Some people call it "patriarchy." Of course, RCP is just one manifestation of this overall environmentally-derived denial; hence our series on addiction.

Q: "Environmentally-derived denial"? Explain. Sounds like academic smokeblowing to us.

A: Well, as Marshall McLuhan is supposed to have said, it's fairly certain that fish didn't discover water. These drugs, these addictions are so closely tied to our environment we don't see them. They seem to be us. As with most addictions, what seems an addiction to one addict seems perfectly normal to another. We can see the addictions of others, but rarely our own. For example, I notice that you journalists seem to be addicted to voice-reproduction and word-processing technologies.

Q: But those are the tools of our trade!

A: Precisely.

Q: Hmph. But isn't RCP, then, a rather innocuous addiction? Much like microphones, or computers? I mean, what does it hurt? It's not like, say, heroin addiction.

A: Who can say if one is worse than another? Illness and degradation are, after all, relative, subjectively felt experiences. But it seems that some addictions are certainly larger than others; that is, they affect more people in more ways than other addictions. They are broader, deeper addictions you might say--and heroin addiction would be an overt symptom of these underlying addictions. In twelve-step fellowships, these "secondary addictions" are known as "character defects." It is vital to recovery from even heroin addiction that they be dealt with if long-term abstinence is to be achieved. The "less innocuous" addictions are in fact what is wrong for the heroin addict, the alcoholic, the RCP-user: the drugs are just very dangerous--even fatal--complications on top of the deeper addictions. Of course, some addicts never suffer these complications. And these are often the sickest of the sick--they have no idea what's wrong with them, and they want a label for it. Well, call it "addiction to patriarchal lifestyle" if you wish. It certainly has enough manifestations.

Q: Yes, but still--take RCP. Everybody's doing it, it's legal and even socially sanctioned; in fact there are social rewards for using RCP. So what's really wrong with doing it? And shouldn't scholars communicate? Isn t this series of interviews one example?

A: I guess you never listened to your parents. Just because everybody else is doing it, it's OK? That never worked for me. But look at it this way: what kind of communication do we really want with each other? Some kind of sick dependence on each other, or a healthy sharing? Some sort of cutthroat competition, or cooperation? What results do we want from conferences, from communicating as scholars? Knowledge? Love? Peace of mind? The hungry being fed rather than addicts being supplied with dope? Power with each other or power over each other? And, hell, for that matter, do we even want communication? How about communion as an alternative? Or identification at a deep level?

Q: Well, all I know is that I plan to keep taping and writing.

A: You aren't ready to change till you're ready, brother.

As a follow-up to this provocative interview, we append the testimonial--audiotaped at a local Academics Anonymous meeting early in 1992 and transcribed unedited--of a recovering RCP addict. This will, it is hoped, answer some of the questions raised by the interviewer, who was not entirely convinced of the harmfulness of the drug. The speaker, one "Doug R.," waxes eloquent not only on the dangers of the drug but on the etiology of Read Conference Paper addiction, and provides a powerful inside view of its deadly attractiveness.

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Copyright 1993 Doug Robinson and Bill Kaul