It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
- Teddy Roosevelt, 4/23/1910
I'm not a fan of all things Roosevelt and I've read this statement before, but it struck me when a friend posted it online this morning; This is a very just and relevant indictment of Academia (is that ironic?).
Too often academic critiques are issued as vitriolic condemnation of those "whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood." Academics, many of whom dwell deeply in the realm of theory, often chide imperfect "doers," whether they be policy-makers, humanitarian organizations, or corporations. Much of this criticism is useful insofar that it successfully changes discourse or actions for the better.
However, as someone who has experienced life on both sides of this divide, there does seem to be something hypocritical, maybe even narcissistic about a critique issued by a theoretician who makes infrequent trips into the realm of the practical. More constructive criticism may be issued by other "doers," who perhaps have theoretical training, but whose criticisms reflect the same intimate acquaintance with the reality of those whom they are critiquing.
Otherwise, criticism may become more violent and dogmatic and character, with the effect of browbeating and bullying those in the arena of the practical into inaction. I am sensitive to this issue, as my own experience with graduate school in a critical discipline has opened my mind to valid critiques, but also made me terrified of the judgement that comes with re-entering the world of the practical, which is, to be honest, where I have always been the most comfortable. I hope that I am able to somehow chart a middle road, making use of my academic preparation, but not paralyzed into inaction by that knowledge.
Skyped with my good friend in South Sudan this afternoon for a brief bit. He is coordinating the logistics required to move tens of thousands of returnees from Sudan and further afield back to South Sudan.
This business is fraught with challenges. My friend has been working directly with this program since January this year. In the most recent operation about a month ago, nearly 6,000 returnees boarded several barges to head up the Nile to uncertainty and new homes. He is now in the midst of orchestrating the return of over a thousand more.
This week he was informed that the returnees are refusing to leave unless they can leave in a much larger group - not something that is always possible in a remote backwater in rural Africa. In the mean time, a particularly virulent form of cerebral malaria has broken out in the midst of the ongoing rainy season. 30 people have died this week, as the disease seems to be drug-resistant and is not responding to any of the typical pharmaceutical cures.
It seems the only "cure" is to wait out the rains and count causalities at the end of September, a grim conclusion for sure. My friend was told, "The deaths in the camp are on [your] head." Meanwhile, people refuse to move out of the camp. These are the interactions that suck the joy out of the valuable and theoretically exciting international mandate of assembling the citizens of a new nation state.