Archive: Feb 2014

That tongue-in-cheek quip came from a TV reporter who had spotted me at a legislative hearing a couple of years ago. On my 65th birthday—February 17, 2010—I got a call informing me that I had a rare, terminal cancer. The median survival rate from diagnosis is 14 months. That was four years ago this week. By year five, the mortality rate is 95 percent. I hope to beat the dealer again.

Some claim that “Monte Bute” is a stage name. That is one of the few things I have not concocted. Having been stigmatized as an incorrigible juvenile delinquent, I’ve spent a lifetime giving my spoiled identity a do-over. Truth is that each of us has an existential freedom to script ourselves and our storyline—or to haphazardly allow others to do it for us.

Charles Lemert writes of the “mysterious power of social structures.” Far more than most of us care to admit, those powers define who we are and shape the contours of our lives. Too many of us live in a simulated reality analogous to the movie “The Matrix.”

Much of the time, this socially constructed reality seems immutable. It assigns us, for good or ill, identities and social roles. All too often, we accept without question those identities and play the roles we are dealt. A sociological aphorism to keep in mind: Either we “take” roles or we “make” roles. In other words, we have a fate or we have a destiny.

“Monte Bute,” a character I conjured up back in the day, seldom follows the screenplay. Whether it is the scripts of prisons and mental hospitals or political organizations and universities, he insists on improvising his lines and actions. This does not mean he does not run amok; he does so routinely, sometimes paying a god-awful price. Occasionally he even tilts at windmills. Nevertheless, he remains resolutely resilient and as stubbornly swashbuckling as a naive Don Quixote, ever looking for the next adventure.

I approach death and dying just like all other movies I’ve been in—ignore the script and improvise like hell! If there is any such a thing, I will be eternally grateful to family, friends, students, and colleagues for having shared the stage. Your nurturing presence during the past four years has empowered me to play my most challenging and fulfilling role. We are nearing the end of this film, but I am sure I’ll fashion a denouement that will surprise even Monte . . .


In tomorrow’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof’s column takes academics to the woodshed for failing to communicate with the general public. He refuses to accept the common ivory tower rationalization that the great unwashed masses are just too stupid to grasp our “arcane” and “turgid” prose in peer-reviewed publications. Kristof suggests an alternative explanation: Much of our writing is “gobbledygook.”

“SOME of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates.

“The most stinging dismissal of a point is to say: ‘That’s academic.’ In other words, to be a scholar is, often, to be irrelevant.

“One reason is the anti-intellectualism in American life, the kind that led Rick Santorum to scold President Obama as “a snob” for wanting more kids to go to college, or that led congressional Republicans to denounce spending on social science research. Yet it’s not just that America has marginalized some of its sharpest minds. They have also marginalized themselves. . . .

I write this in sorrow, for I considered an academic career and deeply admire the wisdom found on university campuses. So, professors, don’t cloister yourselves like medieval monks — we need you!”

Facebook streams a variety of questionnaires that purport to pinpoint our personalities. They are goofy and fun, particularly when friends also take the test. Of course, the results should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism.  However, occasionally we experience that old shock of recognition—perhaps only because the designation flatters us!

I took the iPersonic Personality Test and I am a Groundbreaking Thinker. What is your type?

The Groundbreaking Thinker

In their work, Groundbreaking Thinkers highly rate challenges and diversified tasks. They cannot stand routine and too detailed work. They love to astound others with bold ideas for an original, new project and  then leave it up to the others to implement them. Hierarchies, rules and regulations arouse their opposition and they love outsmarting the system. It is vital to them that they enjoy their work; if this is the case, they quickly become pure workaholics. Their creativity best takes effect when they work independently; but they are very good at motivating others and infecting them with their optimistic nature. Conceptual or advisory activities appeal especially to Groundbreaking Thinkers. It can happen that some people feel somewhat duped by their flexible, spontaneous nature.

Their sociability and enterprise ensure that Groundbreaking Thinkers always have a large circle of friends and acquaintances in which activity plays an important role. As they are mostly in a good mood, they are popular and very welcome guests. Grumbling and peevishness are unknown to them. However, they do tend to be a little erratic and unstable when it comes to obligations and this makes them appear to be unreliable to some.

Groundbreaking Thinkers are very critical and demanding when it comes to picking a partner because they look for the ideal relationship and have a very concrete picture of this ideal relationship. Mutual aims in life are very important to them. They do not like compromising and would rather remain alone. For the partner, it is often a challenge to have a long-term relationship with a Groundbreaking Thinker. Groundbreaking Thinkers need a lot of space and diversity or otherwise they become bored and feel cramped.

Types who are rather more traditionalistic often have problems with the willingness of Groundbreaking Thinkers to take risks and their often crazy, spontaneous actions. However, if one can summon up sufficient flexibility and tolerance for them, one will never be bored in their presence and will always have a loyal and faithful partner.

As a Groundbreaking Thinker, you are one of the extroverted personality types. Dealing with others, communication, discussions, and a little action are your life’s blood – and some of your strengths. You are very articulate and love variety personally as well professionally. New tasks, new projects, new people, fascinate you because you are always interested to increase your wealth of experience.

Consequently, you have no problem run with the hare and hunt with the hounds; juggling parallel tasks to be accomplished electrifies you, and you are an accomplished improviser. Your enthusiasm carries others along and enables you to create positive impulses in your team. Mountains of paperwork, endless e-mail correspondences, and solitary work tire you quickly, and bore and frustrate you. The appreciation of your work by others is more important for you than for the introverted Thinker types. You measure your own professional value by the admiring glances of your colleagues and superiors.

The psychologist Keirsey once described the Groundbreaking Thinker as the “soul of the company,” and that can be just as easily applied to an employee position, as to an independent chief of a company. Since risk represents less of a threat than excitement, freelance or self-employment are well suited to you.

However, you must take care to have collaborating staff around you, or that you are able to work closely with other teams in order to satisfy your contact and communication needs. You are naturally suited for leadership positions because there you have the ultimate freedom making your decisions and choosing your tasks.As a Groundbreaking Thinker, you are one of the extroverted personality types. Dealing with others, communication, discussions, and a little action are your life’s blood – and some of your strengths. You are very articulate and love variety personally as well professionally. New tasks, new projects, new people, fascinate you because you are always interested to increase your wealth of experience.

Hello Monte,

The stairwell leading up to the Soc. Dept. at Augsburg is lined with posters from our annual Torstenson Lecture.  I have attached one such poster from a few years back.  We invite local soc-celebrities to give a talk and then have dinner with our Sr. soc. majors.

This year, we would be honored if you would give the 2014 Torstenson Lecture in Sociology.  If you are willing and able, we are hoping to schedule the talk for April 1st or 2nd, but we can discuss other dates.  The lecture is typically around 5:30 and we go to dinner somewhere in the neighborhood.  We will also provide you with a stipend for your time.
Please let me know if you would consider speaking at Augsburg.  We would love to have you!


Dear Tim,

When I read the first paragraph, I assumed you were inviting me to attend the “2014 Torstenson Lecture on Sociology.” I eagerly read on to see who you had selected as this year’s “soc-celebrity.” Honestly, I was somewhat stunned when I discovered that you were inviting me to give the lecture!

Rather than a soc-celebrity, I think of myself more as sociology’s most infamous “confidence man,” one-step away from being exposed for the “professor” Ponzi scheme that I’ve been running for the past 40 years.

As long as you, in good conscience, can ask your students and faculty to foolishly invest what Click and Clack called “a perfectly good hour” for dubious return, I am eager to bamboozle any “marks” you are able to gather for this investment seminar on sociology stocks and bonds.


P.S. April Fools’ Day seems a most appropriate date for my lecture.