Philosophy grads look to careers outside academia
“Thesis: toast. Antithesis: nothingness. Synthesis: bagel. This is what I call the ‘bread dialectic.’ Name of shop: Hegel’s Bagels.”
I’m sitting in Jorge Frazier’s Brooklyn apartment, listening to him pitch his new business idea. Frazier graduated last year from the University of Northern Marianas, specializing in 18th and 19th century German philosophy. On the wall behind him is a sign that reads, “Don’t be a Kant. Buss your own table.” He sees me looking. “Oh, that’s from my last place, an all-you-can-eat pizza joint called ‘Perpetual Pizza.’ For some reason it didn’t catch on.”
Frazier thinks his new business will be more successful than the last. He’s planning to set up shop right across the street from Berkeley’s Bakery, the newest philosophy-themed small business to hit New York. “I expect to give them a run for their money,” Frazier says confidently. “Berkeley’s mincemeat pie is a thing of beauty, but their bagels are quite insubstantial.”
Facing a dismal job market, an increasing number of recently minted PhDs are turning to careers outside of academia. Certainly the most entertaining aspect of this otherwise gloomy situation is the spate of philosophy-themed small businesses that have opened in the nation’s academic hubs.
After speaking with Frazier, I drive across town to Aristotle’s Bottle, arriving just in time for the Eudaimonia Hour specials. I speak with the owner, Janet May. She opened the bar after several frustrating years of visiting assistant professorships. “I just couldn’t find a place to settle down,” she says. “Teaching an intro course on ancient philosophy here, a seminar on pleonexia there — I knew I could do better than that.”
And, by all accounts, May has done better than that. Only three years after its opening, Aristotle’s Bottle is turning a nice profit and has served as inspiration to many of the newer philosophy-themed businesses in the area. May has even helped philosopher friends come up with the ideas for Achilles and the Hair (“haircuts that don’t take forever”) and Locke Smith (locksmithing provided by your choice of a John Locke or Adam Smith impersonator).
“I don’t know what I would have done without Janet’s help,” says Jason Greer, the man behind Locke Smith and a frequent patron of Aristotle’s Bottle. “I’d probably still be stuck in the Humean Resources Department at Empirical Solutions.”
[Notes: With his permission, the “Hegel’s Bagels” line at the start of this article has been taken from Keith Spencer’s Bad Business Puns. And if you’re familiar with Crimethinc.’s Gender Subversion poster, you might like the parody Keith made for Drivel Magazine.]