I HAVE always admired and respected Randy David. For one who lacks the required doctoral degree, he has established for himself a name not only in sociology as an academic discipline but also in the sociological imagination of those who read him. His reputation as an intellectual giant in his discipline has earned him the title of a full professor in the premier university of the country. In my generation, no one can achieve that title and rank without earning first the academic degree credentials.
I have not worked closely with Randy David, and in fact while we had been introduced long time ago, we have not been given the opportunity to collaborate and work together, not even when I was still with the state university.
But unknown to many, I have used Randy David’s career path as a model to emulate. Randy is a well-established and highly esteemed public intellectual, a title that many would like to attach to my name, but I do not with full confidence willfully appropriate to describe my work. I may be trying to do work in the public domain outside the university, drawing inspiration from people like him who traversed the boundary between academe and the media. But I do not label myself as a public intellectual. I would rather reserve that title to people like Randy.
There was a time that reading his columns was a part of my routine. I was impressed by the manner he brings sociological theorizing into the world of the ordinary and the everyday. People like him, Solita Monsod, Mike Tan and Ambeth Ocampo belong to a cohort of academics who took teaching out of the classroom and into the popular domain. They translated their academic knowledge into popular discourse.
There was a time when I fully subscribed to Randy’s political line. But eventually, I began to have serious disagreements with his stances not only on matters of theorizing, but also on matters of politics. But always, I have respected his views.
This is the essence of collegiality. Dissent among academics is what drives the intellectual growth of universities. Young scholars endure scathing criticism by blind peer reviewers to gain a place in academe. Academics publish in journals and deliver public lectures so that their works can be openly critiqued by their peers.
What I liked about people like Randy David is that in getting out of the confines of the university, and in going into popular media, to column writing and TV hosting, they descended into the level of the ordinary and the everyday. Randy epitomized the very few academics who were willing to tone down their jargon, speak and write in popularized format and use the Filipino language as sincere gestures to be inclusive and authentic to the demands of those people who do not have advanced academic degrees.
Randy is one of the people who inspired me to go beyond my academic publications, and migrate into the world of social media blogging, newspaper column writing, radio hosting and Internet video hosting. It was my way of giving back to the people. I see in these activities the fulfillment of my duty to serve the people the way UP has challenged me, and to teach minds, touch hearts and transform lives the way De La Salle University now exhorts me.
Randy David inspired me to be inclusive, and to bridge the gap between elitist academia and the demands of the hoi polloi. He was one of the templates I use as I tried to get rid of my jargon, simplify my words, and write my ideas in less than a thousand words. As someone used to writing at least 8,000 words of alienating, academic prose, this is not only humbling but truly transformative.
Venturing into the world where Randy David earned his name as a public intellectual made me realize the rewards of humility, and sensitivity to the needs of the ordinary citizen.
It is precisely in this context that I was saddened when I read how Randy David diminished those very same citizens simply because he disagrees with their politics. And it so happened that the citizens Randy wrote about are members of a cohort to which I associate myself with. Exhorting his own allies in his line of politics, he basically diminished bloggers and social media supporters as illiterate trolls when he wrote:
“This fight ultimately has to be waged in the Internet itself by digital activists who refuse to have their reality defined by trolls that can neither spell right nor write grammatically, they resort to exclamation points to call attention, and that, most importantly, paint a world we cannot recognize.”
This, without any doubt, is a blatantly elitist slur against ordinary citizens who are simply expressing their politics despite their formal academic handicaps. Beyond Randy’s known political leanings, what he wrote is in fact a slur that cuts across political lines.
As one who made a name by descending from the ivory tower of academic sociology and moved into the public imagination of a medium inhabited by people many of whom probably do not spell correctly or write grammatically, Randy should be the last person to embody such intellectual arrogance and demeaning stance.
Randy became full professor of UP even without a doctorate, unlike most of us who had to endure the torture associated with the rituals of writing a Ph.D. dissertation and defending it before a panel. This is because he excelled despite the academic handicap. He should therefore have appreciated that there is a more substantive element to humanity than complying with the conventions of grammar, spelling and writing with correct punctuation marks.
Randy accuses people whose politics he disagrees with of being trolls and fakers who paint a world he cannot recognize. In doing so, Randy may have painted himself in a world where he himself can no longer be recognized.