Today, this happened on Twitter:
Scott is a speaker and author, and someone I have a lot of respect for. He has written a number of books that are worth your time, most notably one about his time with Automattic. We actually met one time, at my first ever Automattic Grand Meetup, which took place in San Francisco. I was nervous. I’m a little nervous now, to be honest.
I do think of myself as a reformed Philosopher, and I do recognize and appreciate the historical weight that a term like ‘reformed’ can carry. All of the formal education that I have was focused on philosophy; mostly political and economic philosophy (think Nozick, Rawls) but also some headier stuff (I was especially fond of Levinas’ Talmudic studies, for example).
I currently hold an MA in Philosophy from the State University of New York, specifically the Binghamton campus (Go Bearcats!). I taught teenagers philosophy when I lived in Providence, running Ethics and Logic classes out at the Community College of Rhode Island. It was before that, though, when I was living in Binghamton, that the reformation happened.
I think probably at the root of it all was the quiet realization that while I really enjoyed thinking philosophically, I was pretty rotten at the role of a philosopher. There’s an important distinction to be made here: I don’t see anything inherently wrong in the profession and practice of philosophy – in fact, I think capital P Philosophers do some of the most important work that there is to be done! I am glad that they are out there and the world is a better place for having them.
I found myself at one end of what would turn out to be a pendulum – I was more and increasingly frustrated to be sitting in small classrooms with my fellow graduate students, discussing at great length the ideas of justice, and global equality, and so forth.
I can see now the broader view, the necessary tension that exists between making space for discussion and using thought to try to influence action farther down the road. The importance of separating theory and practice. At the time, it felt very disingenuous, and that tension ate at me.
It felt as though the pursuit of justice, and equality, was not well served talking about justice and equality. That pursuit, it required action.
So I graduated, and did not continue on to more schooling (as many of my peers did) – rather, I followed the pendulum to the far end of the spectrum, and took a job making $11,000 per year working with the Binghamton Neighborhood Assemblies Project, an Americorps placement in an experimental (and controversial) direct democracy experiment. It was in some way my personal schism, splitting away from what seemed to be, at the time, the church of academic Philosophy.
I became a community organizer, a position that would later become steeped in significance as a young Senator from Chicago would take his place on the world stage.
As I continued through my working life, I’ve continued to swing on this pendulum between practice and theory, and I’ve always found a certain personal value to bringing the dogged intellectual rigor of the philosophy classroom into my endeavors. On some level, I can reflect on how frustrating I must have been to work with at times, challenging assumptions and demanding a certain consistency of position – but it has served me well, and I can’t very well change my heart, my roots.
It was this love of Big Ideas that drew me to Automattic. Open Source is, at its core, a philosophically enormous idea, and one that cannot be ignored. Automattic’s goal, to democratize publishing on the Internet, to providing a voice for folks who would otherwise be voiceless – these are the kind of ideas that motivate me, and not just as an employee. As a philosophical thinker.
That is the distinction, for me. The “reformed” piece of “Reformed Philosopher” is not a commentary on Philosophy – it’s a commentary on me, and on my mindset. I pushed away from academic philosophy to dive into almost pure praxis, literally knocking on doors in Binghamton’s First Ward. I’ve found for myself a middle way, a place where I can engage with Big Ideas and still find ways to act on them in a way that is impactful and meaningful.
There is a shocking amount of space in business today for Big Ideas, and for folks who can chew on them and find ways to apply them in practical and meaningful ways. Reformed Philosophers who are dedicated to thinking philosophically and acting efficiently will always have a place in American business.
As always, Automattic is hiring.