John Cleese has a YouTube lecture on creativity which treats being creative as an operation that needs to be separate from everyday life, but also linked dialectically to it, if anything is to be done. His key idea is that creativity is linked to openness. This in turn is related to play and to humour. The ordinary business of life requires focus or closure, but then the opportunity to be open also requires space and time to be temporarily closed off from routine pressures.
You will find plenty to think about in the lecture. But my reason for posting the link here is that it strongly evoked a piece Fran Barone and I have in press on the OAC. Here we reviewed our Coop's history and focused on the ambiguity of its claim to be open. Cleese's lecture makes the promise and problems of being open, which we have struggled with now for four years, clearer than it ever was to those of us who started the OAC and are still, roughly speaking, responsible for it.
We aspired to be open in contrast to the closure of the AAA, academic publishing and the obstacles posed by contemporary universities to creative work. No doubt we were influenced by the open access movement. So we started with a paired opposition open vs closed. Cleese too focuses on the liberating promise of openness and caricatures closure as a social style. But we then tried to build the whole institution as a set of social practices around 'openness'. We minimised rules and organization, were reluctant to be decisive. A lot of problems followed from this and it took us many setbacks before we came round to addressing them, if we ever did in an effective way. We let in the spammers, trolls etc in the name of openness, before realising that we needed to moderate new applications. Cleese emphasises that openness and closure are complementary phases that must alternate if things are to get done.
So what I take from this lecture, in combination with our own reflections, is that it is useful to focus on what being open is good for, if necessary by contrasting it with some of the restrictive features of normal life. But in order to be successfully creative, the real task is to organize an oscillation between open and closed moments of social life.
Applying these thoughts to the OAC, it becomes obvious that creativity is at a low ebb here today. My hypothesis is that we still attract members from around the world with the promise of offering an open space for discussing anthropology. Moreover what we do here can't be the whole of life since every participant is quite fully engaged elsewhere. But the opportunity to be creative is being stifled for one or all of three reasons.
1. What we do here is not open or creative enough because of all the baggage of closure that we bring to it from elsewhere.
2. In naively celebrating openness, we neglect the dynamics of open and closed phases of social processes that need both, including our own here.
3. It wouldn't hurt to ask, as Cleese does, how being open contributes to creativity and consider in a more nuanced way than before what it might take to boost our quotient here.
What do you think?
I do hope that some of the 52 others who, as I write, have already read this post will take the time to reply. The questions raised are vital. Just to kick things off, I would ask Keith to elaborate a bit on what he means by "the baggage of closure that we bring to it from elsewhere"?
I would much rather that people watch the video, reflect and say something only if they think it would take the conversation forward. My commentary is already quite elaborate and if I could have expressed the open/closed pair as well as Cleese has, I would perhaps have seen the OAC's problems more clearly before.
Briefly, by closed he means trapped in everyday purposes, not open to playful exploration for its own sake. But this play is only useful if it later informs sustained effort under more closed conditions that are necessary for getting things done. In our case, we may feel that we can only afford to spend so many minutes scanning online because we have "more important things to do" and this inhibits reading and reflection. Cleese is talking about maybe occasionally carving out one and a half hours for isolated deep reflection on an important intellectual task. Is this compatible with reading and commenting on entries at the OAC or is that something else?
More crucially anthropology has hardly any life outside the universities and most people visiting here bring the baggage of academic hierarchy with them which prevents them from being open and creative in the sense that Cleese identifies. The academy thus kills off creativity inside and outside itself because of its overhelmingly closed culture and social practices. That is why, in my view, many academics are not civilised, in that they rarely make time outside work for seriously playful cultural pursuits.
To sum up, open play has a crucially creative role in making a project more original, but only if it is allied to sustained effort of a more closed nature. This is hard enough for anyone to achieve regularly (Cleese's main aim is to help make creativity more operational), even more to achieve it in a medium like this one which was formed at a different stage in the history of the social media and may itself now introduce closure of its own distinctive variety. For example, take the practical dominance of a few regulars whose mutual exchanges are perceived by others as excluding them, as being closed, not open.
The issue is whether short-term surfing aids or inhibits the kind of open community we once aspired to here. My conclusion is that it could be positive, but the ways our normal lives are structured makes that increasingly unlikely. Maybe we need another social form or we could improve this one. But nothing will happen without long-term commitment nourished by a dialectical oscillation between open and closed modes.
I wrote a full reply last night but accidentally wiped it, so I'll try and recreate the parts that are still relevant. I've added some things since reading Keith's reply, but hopefully this still makes sense.
Back in 2009, it was indeed far too easy for us to jump on the word "open" and vilify anything that could be construed as "closed" as if there were nothing in between the two book ends. This had a lot to do with the buoyancy of the word open in academic circles at the time that did, in hindsight, fuel a certain naivete across the entire collectivity of people joining and supporting the OAC's early days. Coupled with the clunky way Ning has of doing things and our clunky way of using it, creativity was stifled more than it was inspired. How did this happen? Keith's hypothesis is that our academic baggage is so heavy that it kills off any attempt to reach Cleese's "open mode", so our attempts at being completely free were futile; even doomed from the start. There's something to this, no doubt. But offering too much creative freedom is a problem for more typical and mundane human reasons, too. Like Csikszentmihalyi, Cleese argues that certain conditions are necessarily to be able to leave the stresses of the "closed mode" behind and be free to enter the creative open mode (or reach 'flow'). It might be counter-intuitive, but certain limitations on openness help people to reach their creative potential. A game is no fun if it has no rules, no guidelines, no aim. It's not relaxing, it's frustrating. And I fear that is one of our main problems here. We asked members to use the OAC as a platform to "do something" or "create something" new often with little other advice or support. At first that feeling of endless possibilities is refreshing, but in practical terms it is overwhelming. Having some simple guidelines is not a hindrance to creativity, but can help foster it by delimiting the safe space within which experimentation can take place. Guidelines and parameters were always a struggle for us here. Our slogan should be "everyone or anyone or someone or no one can do everything or anything or something or nothing". In this regard, the OACP worked out well as an initiative not only because it mimics a system that we already know as academics, but it comes with guidelines, a team that oversees it, and an obvious end-product. In playing to the strengths of a community driven to replicate the "closed mode" of academia, it attracts some of our most creative members. Perhaps our problem was in seeing the maligned academy as closed and what we were doing as open before we took stock of how both "modes" really work (for or against our aspirations).
Edit: I also hope some others will take the time to view the video and reply. Part of knowing how to fulfill the long-term aspirations of the site is getting feedback about it. Hindsight is 20/20, but too late. I tweeted a link to this post last night and it got 4 RTs in a matter of minutes, but no new replies. What do we take away from that, if anything? This site exists within the framework of passive social media interactions. Can we expect more?
I have now seen the video and can say with some confidence that what John Cleese does in his own inimitable style is articulate ideas that are widespread among people who regard themselves as creative. I can even offer a bit of data to support the proposition that play and creativity go hand in hand.
As part of my research on Japanese advertising creatives, I have read a book titled Hitotsu no ue no chiimu (A bit better teams). The book is a collection of essays in which eminent creative directors describe how they manage the creative teams that produce advertising. One of the authors comes across as a ferocious martinet. He describes his process as beginning with a clear idea of what he is looking for and destroying the first few rounds of ideas that his teams come up with, until they come up with something that he regards as good. Another insists that maintaining a playful mood is essential and remarks that he is perfectly willing to play the clown to lighten up the atmosphere when things get too tense. In my data on the results of six ad contests at five year intervals, the martinet has produced seven award-winning ads. Teams run by the one who clowns around have produced 255.
Also, my fading memory suggests that the first time I saw creativity described as an oscillation between openness and closure was reading Freud, who described an oscillation between unleashing the id and censoring what the id produced. "Id" and "censor" were Freud's terms; he attributed the basic idea to the German poet Schiller.
Coming round to OAC, it seems to me that we regular contributors are too often too serious, pursuing our own agendas and not paying enough attention to the need to create a welcoming, safe space for new contributors to try out ideas, which, if far-fetched in themselves, may, as Cleese points out, become the stepping stones to something valuable. Our problem on the other side is that we don't have very good reasons for reaching closure. In the ad business, and the business world more generally, closure is reached because there are projects with clearly defined goals and, perhaps even more important, clear deadlines. Are these possible in the kind of forum we have here?
Fran, we have a long conversation and maybe, if others join in, I will come back to your lucid summary. John, I had you in mind all along. Someone who has made a life mainly outside the universities and in a business that values originality above all else. Moreover, you have shown through asides that you take play seriously, singing for example, are civilised in my terms, as many academics are not.
I believe that the lessons of Clesse's lecture for our Coop (which I agree are not all that original, but they struck a chord with me at a particular time) are not all that reassuring. What he is talking about is private introspective reflection, not group chat. You may be right that we are too serious and spend most of the time reproducing our own line without truly entering into the spirit of what others are saying. I often feel that about your responses to my posts and I am sure that the feeling is reciprocated.
And have you tried joking online? It is very hard to get a complicit response. I always say never joke in a foreign language for this reason, but it applies to online interaction too. We just don't know each other and the cultural range is too wide. So for me the key Cleese-ian concept is serious play (as opposed to solemnity). This means allowing onself the freedom to be frivolous, but not necessarily funny, in pursuit of a serious point. But anyone who does that has to be prepared to be taken for being deeply unfunny even offensive.
the sense that we are not being as creative as we might be in achieving new knowledge is a big problem in all the sciences, not just anthropology, which is the science before us. It is perhaps worse, much worse in sciences like biochemistry, genetics, fundamental physics all of which have a well defined "research front." And in a military metaphor, graduate students are rushed through basic training, given tactical skills using the latest weapons, and pointed at pre-existing problems by their mentors and sent out to do battle with the unknown. The pathetic, and perhaps even tragic aspect of this version of graduate education in the sciences is that at best people have 8 to 10 years before the techniques which are the basis of their research life run out of the potential to create new knowledge. These people, probably the majority of working scientists, are then left behind the research front for the remaining 20 years of their careers unless they can find the time and a way to train themselves in new "imaginative strategies." but this is precisely what they are not trained to do, because they have been trained tactically and not strategically.
A completely separate read on this problem comes from the musicologist Leonard Meyer in his book Music, the Arts, and Ideas (1967 second edition 1994) in which he argued that we were headed to a "culture of stability" and even an "aesthetics of stability" something like that of classical China in all our arts. At the root of this prediction is the recognition of a paradox. All the arts thirst for novelty, so much so that the barrage of novelty prevents any of the art worlds from settling into a quasi-stable state with a set of (new) identifiable aesthetic principles, with two results. The first is that the only aesthetic criterion that everyone can agree is "good" is "the new." The second is that the thirst for novelty is so great that anything remotely really new is pursued by the culture at large immediately, like the pseudo-pod of an amoeba reaching out, and is drawn back in so quickly that fundamental novelty rarely gets a chance to appear, given Meyer's correlative notion that fundamental novelty takes time to gestate.
but it's good to ask the question about creativity. The French historian Annaleise Meyer (no relation to Leonard above) said that in the history of the sciences the time that it takes to formulate the question properly, is always very much longer than the time it takes to get the answer once you asked the right question. She was speaking of the history of chemistry, perhaps her insight has legs elsewhere.
One of the messages of Einstein's theory of relativity is that we are all in separate "reference frames" and that there is no privileged transcendental reference frame from which we may adjudicate differences in the way we see the world from our reference frames. But he said the first step to addressing this problem is not to "think outside the box" but to "look at the box that you're in" and look at the other person's box, and then compare the boxes. This is a rather abstract example but it has had important consequences in the history of science. The question of the origin of life on earth is so complicated that it requires collaboration between chemists, geologists, paleontologists, astronomers, biologists, physicists and many other specialties and subspecialties. In the 1970s a paleontologist named William Schopf put together a proposal for a "Center for the study of the origin of life" at UCLA and started number of summer institutes inviting scientists from the component fields needed to attack the problem. And the first thing that they worked on, and they worked on it for quite a while is the question "what does good work look like in your field?" And the reason that this was a really good strategy is that what looks like good work in one field looks like bad work in another, so to learn to trust collaborators, the first thing you have to know is not what they personally think good work looks like, but what they can tell you about what good work looks like generally in the field of their scientific practice. I know from experience that what looks like good work in physics looks terrible to geologists and vice versa.
So a couple of subsidiary questions to Keith's very potent question might be "what does good work in anthropology look like" to any member of this forum. Not the aims of the work, but the practices, the work itself, and a second question, larger and perhaps more metaphysical, is to then take the answer to the first question (good work) and say: "if working this way to understand the world is the answer, what is the question"?
I don't expect for a moment that these few remarks harvested from my reading should guide the discussion, but I do think these issues need to be part of the framing of an approach to an answer to Keith's question. Sometimes is great just to come clean in a few sentences and say "what goes without saying" and find out if it's the same thing as the other person assumes is "what goes without saying."
I think that Francine Barone's comments are also important to a framing of this question. It's very hard to find a method of work unless you have a somewhat specific problem in mind.
and John's comments about the potency of the spirit of play, reminds me of John Huizinga's book Homo ludens, in which what makes us human is our desire to play rather than the homo faber of Marx or the Homo sapiens of evolution. Shunryu Suzuki said that it was good to be serious, but not too serious, because if we get too serious, we will lose our way. I don't think that's a gnomic utterance, I think it's that the interest in seriousness can undermine the free play of intellect and truncate the development of novelty. none of that would have been news to Maria Montessori
Perhaps our problem was in seeing the maligned academy as closed and what we were doing as open before we took stock of how both "modes" really work (for or against our aspirations).
Could those of us participating in this conversation take stock individually and see where our perspectives overlap and differ? To get things started, I offer the following observations re what I experienced in graduate school at Cornell in the late 1960s.
I now find it interesting to compare my experience with the sharply bounded and narrowly focused scientific education that Mott describes. I know that in moving from classics to anthropology, Keith found himself confronted with sloppy scholarship and that working in African cities, he discovered the ad hoc informal economy that provides livelihoods for people who are not formally employed by the standards of labor statistics. I know too little about how Francine or other younger members who may be lurking here were educated and how their fieldwork and subsequent engagements with academia have shaped their perspectives. I would certainly like to know more.
I suspect that the experience described in 4. above has a lot to do with my own occasional bloody-mindedness in debates on OAC. There are, however, deeper roots: the anger of a boy given to asking philosophical questions at parents who always seemed to think them silly; the insistence on demonstrating at least the intellectual superiority of a fat, astigmatic kid who hated sports and found social life a source of constant embarrassment. The Internet allows both to rear their ugly little heads in moments of tiredness and irritation in a way impermissible in face-to-face conversation.
I can imagine nothing better than having the remarks you have harvested from your reading guide our discussion.
P.S. What you have said about education in the sciences reminds me tangentially of something I was once told by an entrepreneur who founded a company that offered a range of writing, design and technology support services to corporate clients. He said that in hiring for his technology support division, he always hired the youngest people he could find, since anyone whose training was more than five years past was obsolete. In contrast, when hiring writers, he hired the oldest people he could find, since writing is a field where experience leads to continuing improvement.
P.P.S. I will have to go back to locate the specific reference. Serendipitously, however, I have been reading a science-fiction novel, Existence, by David Brin. In it, a character remarks how the Internet has changed the possibilities of science by making it possible for people in different disciplines to rapidly learn about advances in each other's fields and incorporate them into their own thinking. In the old print world, a biologist wanting to learn about the latest thinking in physics would have to spend hours in a library, simply to acquire an overview of what physicists were thinking about. Now search engines can produce a fair summary in minutes and also identify colleagues who might be interested in transdisciplinary research. The barrier to exploiting these capabilities is, of course, the closure on which disciplines insist as they strive to defend their status and funding in competition with other disciplines.
P.P.P.S. Perhaps the hour is at hand for guerrilla scholarship that engages in asymmetric warfare against the static boundaries that disciplines strive to erect.
Fran, as you and I have discussed many times, the failure of our initiative was in building a new platform around the revolutionary dichotomy where new = open and old = closed. This fails on two counts. History never takes the form of a leap from one quality to its opposite; and, given that change is more gradual than we sometimes think, both the new and old social forms were misrepresented, since both are combinations of open and closed. So, instead of asking how we get from closed to open (with the AAA as a symbol of the first and the OAC of the second), we should rather ask how we would like to move the emphasis and balance of the open/closed pair in a more creative direction.
This involves rejecting oversimplified descriptions of what life in the universities consists of. One consequence of acceding to the corporate accountancy that has overwhelmed academic life is to forget that universities have always nurtured mavericks, as well as the free sharing of ideas and information in teaching, seminars, collaboration etc. Maybe the balance has shifted as a result of the rise of private intellectual property in the humanities and social sciences and of coercive hierarchies in the natural and applied sciences. But we don't have to look only to the free software/open source movement for inspiration; the academy promotes other models of intellectual practice which are becoming more marginal, even repressed, but are still there.
I would not say that the universities are solely responsible for killing off creativity here. I do think that the demographic weight of graduate students and postdocs in the OAC's formation and organization is or was a factor. As Danny Miller says in the latest issue of Social Anthropology, young scholars are in the grip of a tyrannical machine, while established scholars have the latitude to be freer and more open in their commitments. Another factor is naive adoption of "democracy" as a political principle. The OAC Press issued an open invitation to join what became an unwieldy talking shop. Three of us established a de facto oligarchy without ever seeking wider legitimacy for it.
You are surely right that games need rules. I spent my childhood playing cards. Now I try to teach my young French daughter and after 10 minutes, she says "OK those are your rules, now we will play with my rules", except that they don't work and we never play cards any more. So the issue of free play, as you say, must be framed by some kind of shared commitment to do something in particular. The social conditions for that have been persistently hard to find.
Mott, I could rephrase a good part of your contribution as an attempt to break out of the old/new pair altogether. I am a classicist by temperament and so I imagine that I take part in a long conversation about making a better world that is at least 5,000 years old. I read the people who made a big difference to the way we think because it is easier to be selective in retrospect than to figure out what is meaningful in the contemporary deluge. This lends itself to an attitude that Stephen Toulin called "radical conservativism". A radical conservative is disgusted with the world s/he lives in and would reform it in the name of a past value. He mixes lines from poems by John Donne and W B Yeats to show that they are in fact the same poem: the one would change the corruption of James I's court in the name of an aristocratic kinship order, the other the Gilded Age in the name of fairies and the peasantry. I suppose I would reform our world in the name of Enlightenement liberalism as practised by Rousseau, Jefferson and Kant (all of whom were republicans, not democrats). T S Eliot is supposed to be a conservative, but I like his formulation of culture and the tradition: the great poet, he says, immerses himself in his tradition and then writes the next poem that is necessary to move it along. Your suggestion that we should identify what we like in anthropology, paying particular attention to how it is done, is consistent with this line of thinking, but you are perhaps less concerned with the tradition.
John, there is a lot in your last post and I will come back to it. If I believe anything about constructive change, it is that negation is a double edged sword you can easily cut yourself with. I agree with Mott that we should concentrate on building from what we like and with you that we should try to share that. I never lecture on something I don't like. Life is too short. I also find that responding to criticism of what I have written is futile, since the text is dead and I am not, so I am caught between answering from the place where I originally wrote and from the place that I have moved to since. Most of the time, polemics fail because they entail far too much of what they want to dismiss. This is why I believe that the OAC was compromised by a logic of negation from the beginning. The idea of critique as saying negative things is one sign of the decadence of our academic culture. Critique is about the exercise of judgment and is most fruitfully applied to what we want to emulate rather than reject. A friend once told me about his graduate education in anthropology at Chicago. They were given a paper to rip to pieces. That was the exercise. At the end of the seminar, he said, it lay on the table between them like a bloody scrap of game meat after the hounds have mauled it.
The idea of critique as saying negative things is one sign of the decadence of our academic culture. Critique is about the exercise of judgment and is most fruitfully applied to what we want to emulate rather than reject.
Where have I seen a similar thought before? Ah, yes, in a book titled Koukoku mo kawatta ne (Advertising, too, has changed) by Amano Yukichi. Amano is, perhaps, Japan's foremost advertising critic. Here are a few notes taken while reading the book.
The title essay of Amano Yukichi's Advertising has also changed is an autobiographical reflection on his half-century of involvement as editor and critic with Japan's advertising industry. He begins by noting that he has heard people saying, "Advertising has changed," several times during this period. The first time was around 1960, when Japan was racing pell-mell into a new world. The wheels of mass production and mass advertising were accelerating, and advertising oiled their gears.
かわるものとかわらないもの Things that change and things that don't
Another reason for the third turning point was the appearance of the Web. In the early 90s, PC ownership had only reached 10%. By the end of the decade it has passed 50%. The use of the Internet as an advertising medium was growing at a sharply accelerating rate. It was starting to shake up the once stable world of the four mass media. Forecasts suggested that Internet advertising would overtake newspaper advertising in 2010.
More than a quantitative issue was at stake. The Web would also change the form taken by advertising, by allowing individualized instead of mass communication. Amano had announced the end of the era in which mass media were almighty a decade earlier. Now he was seeing that prediction come true. That was one of the reasons for shutting down Kokokuhihyo.
Still, he argues, the role of advertising remains unchanged. The aim is to enhance a company or product's reputation, to build trust and excitement. That was true during the Edo period. It remains true in the world of the Internet and the Web.
Scanning over these notes as I reproduce them here, I am struck by parallels with the history of anthropology. The paradigms forged in the sixties, their overthrow in the 1980s, the rise of new paradigms with the growth of the Net in the 1990s. Also, how all three paradigms continue to exist. Print advertising and classical British social or American four-fields anthropology continue to have their advocates, but these are increasingly marginalized. The TV-influenced exponents of feeling over rational argument and the interpretive turn in anthropology, the whole postmodern thing. Still live in some leading figures but destined to fade as they retire and die. The new paradigms spawned by Net-mediated multimedia and the Worldwide Web. Where will they lead us? No one knows. And both advertising and academia are facing similar economic challenges. Once seen as expensive but necessary, both are now increasingly regarded as ineffective and likely to be displaced by Big Data, MOOCs, one-to-one targeting, etc.
These musings remind me of Hedrick Smith's The Power Game (1996). Smith traces a two-stage progression in US political life from politics dominated by local bosses meeting in smoke-filled rooms to TV-driven marketing campaigns shaped by pollsters and strategists operating in boardrooms, which transformed the U.S. political scene. It allowed those with sufficient money to broadcast their messages over the heads of local bosses, eroding their power but, at the same time, trapped elected officials in an endless fund-raising cycle.
The Howard Dean campaign, in which I was directly involved, pointed to a new possibility, a guerrilla campaign funded by small donations gathered via the Internet — but, as my friend Jerry Bowles pointed out, it only succeeding in demonstrating that the netizens were still only around 13% of the electorate. The campaign went down in flames in Iowa, crushed by an alliance of local (mainly union) bosses backing Dick Gephardt and the TV-driven campaign put together by John Kerry's people.
That all of these examples deploy three-stage narratives suggest the superficiality that often accompanies theories couched in terms of archetypes. Still, I can't help wondering if, just maybe, the convergence of issues and technologies that all invoke in one way or another doesn't say something important about the current straits in which OAC and academic life more generally now find themselves.
I admired the OAC effort when it was young and I admire those who have sustained in over time. I wish that I had had (and that I had now) time/energy/attention (or in the metaphor of the period, bandwidth) to participate in its work. I am, it seems, only able to dip in to the discussion occasionally and then it is to attend to the meta-discussions like this one. I value these tremendously because of the concern for reflexivity that they demonstrate. OAC is and remains, I think, an experiment and, whatever happens, it offers lessons that extend beyond its case. I look forward to Fran and Kieth's paper for what it also will offer in this regard.
While time and attention are key limiting factors in our ability to engage in networked work, I think another one well known from world ethnography and (probably many people's experience) is the responsibility to others that being connected requires. While we more often say we are over-committed (suggesting "to do" lists), I think many of us are also over-connected in that we feel a regular sense of inadequacy in our sustaining of ties to others in our networks. After a while, this over-connected feeling motivates new found caution about further extension of one's network. I do not know enough of its work week to week to suggest that I know the relevance (or if there is any) of my train of thought (for OAC), but I know that being open at the individual level means, for instance, answering questions from those who ask them and listening to the concerns of those who express them and that this is challenging work that becomes impossible when the number of people involved grows to an unmanageable place.
This is a half-formed reflection to an old thread. Sorry if it does not make much sense. I should probably have just left a thank you no Kieth and the commentators.
Thanks for these sincere thoughts, Jason. I have a few scattered responses of my own. Nothing systematic.
The first is that this is a democratic medium and Tocqueville claimed democracy weakens society because its individualism reduces resistance to despotism. I can't sleep tonight and I get up when no-one else is awake. I am free to do what I like online and that hardly encourages responsibility. Also we have seen plenty of despotism of late.
The second concerns academics. I know of few other classes who complain so much about having so little time, money or whatever. Is it because we take our work home? I would go further, we think our work is civilization, so we tend to neglect the arts of civilization in private life. Why read at all when you have all those essays to mark? I think your complaint is about a lack of civilization and obviously academics are not the only ones to blame.
Third, Tocqueville asserted that all we have to resist atomisation is our ability to make free associations. The OAC is one example. Maybe we expect too much. Certainly we did in the beginning and made lots of mistakes. Here is an early version of our essay.