Month: February 2018

Kant Stop, Won’t Stop

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Philosophy is weird.

Allow me to clarify. When I say that, I’m not referring to the broad topic of philosophy as a whole. I’m referring specifically to the college course of that name, Philosophy.

…Also, the broad topic of philosophy as a whole is weird but, well, that’s a whole other issue that I don’t have time to get into right now.

It’s been about ten years since I graduated. And since that time, I’ve discovered an odd little quirk about college. I can remember a number of things that were said word for word but almost none of what I was taught during class.

I realize that probably comes as a bit of a shock to anyone still attending college. After all, your ability to pass or fail hinges almost entirely on whether or not you retain all that information. Based on bad dreams alone, it seems to be the number one fear of any college student come exam day.

Well, that and the “not wearing any clothes” thing.

I also expect it’s considerably less of a shock to anyone who’s been a college graduate for more than fifteen minutes. As any Psychology major will tell you (if you ask before they graduate and prove my point), memory strength is based heavily on access. Things you thought of only once or twice are bound to be lost forever. Things you think of again and again tend to stick in your mind forever – whether you want them there or not.

There are only two things I remember with any real clarity from my college courses. The first was the theory of how the first peoples migrated to the Americas – largely by virtue of hearing it several thousand times during my Anthropology coursework. There’s a bit of grim irony there, mostly because it’s since been proven almost entirely wrong by dozens of peer-reviewed studies.

As to that, I assure you, it will come up at some point during the story. For now, though, I want to focus on the second thing I remember clearly. That being things said by my professors that were so bizarre, confusing or shocking (and in at least one case, borderline racist) that it permanently burned the quote into my brain.

In this case, “You can use philosophy to prove pretty much anything.

Taken at face value, this isn’t unusual. In fact, it hints one of the more interesting axioms of philosophy. There are so many different viewpoints and schools of thought that you can make a fairly convincing argument for almost anything. And if the teacher hadn’t said this in the middle of discussing how exams were graded, that’s exactly what I’d have assumed he was implying.

But he wasn’t.

“I mean, it’s all essays. No multiple choice or anything,” he added. “If you say anything that you can back up with any philosopher, I’ll give you credit. Hell, if you say something that sounds philosophically convincing, who am I to argue?”

His point was even more valid, considering that, through some administrative fluke, he was teaching the class without even having a Master’s Degree, but I’ll assume that wasn’t what he meant.

The class made sounds of confusion and disbelief until a brave soul raised their hand to ask a question. “So…anything we say that sounds right…is right?” the student asked.

“Pretty much,” the teacher said.

If the rest of the class was anything like me, their next thought was likely why we should even bother coming to lecture at all if that was the case. And apparently at least one other student was, because they asked, “Then…why come to lecture at all?”

“Well, I’ll be teaching you the specific areas of philosophy that will let you answer the exam questions best. You can use the ideas of other philosophers, but you may as well show up, since I’ll pretty much be giving you the answers,” the not-quite-professor explained.

The students didn’t seem convinced. Grumbling continued. “Couldn’t we just copy notes from someone who does show up?”

“You could,” the teacher admitted slowly. He quickly added, “Though, to be fair, ten percent of your final grade is based on attendance, so you should show up.”

 

Still a bit confused, someone asked for an example.

The teacher considered before brightening when he thought of one. “Okay. So let’s say there’s a question about whether or not it’s morally okay to steal bread for your family. I’ll be teaching you what Kant and Mill think of that question, so you can give either answer. Or, you could just use nihilism to say that everything is meaningless. So in the end, any codified system of how we ought to behave is irrelevant. Understand?”

A number of heads bobbed up and down. Then, another student raised a hand. “That seems like an easy answer to anything. Can we just say nihilism means all your exam questions are meaningless?”

“No,” the teacher said, starting to sweat a little. “No using nihilism on exams.”

“Why not?”

“Because you wouldn’t learn anything. It’d be meaningless for you to even be taking the course at all,” he said, exasperated.

“Isn’t that the point of nihilism?”

The teacher grudgingly conceded the point. “Yes. But it’s not the point of formalized education. If you don’t learn anything then I’m doing a bad job.”

A chorus of other questions erupted from the class.

“Are you going to argue this hard against our exam answers?”
“Isn’t closing loopholes just squashing critical thinking?”
“So…only easy answers are wrong?”
“I zoned out. Is this going to be on the midterm?”
How is it that you’re teaching this class when you don’t even have a degree again?”

The teacher cut off all discussion by rapping a book against his desk. “Okay. Just…don’t worry about it, okay? Just listen to lectures and you’ll do fine.” He shot me a dirty look then, because I was the one who asked the last question. “And don’t worry about my degree. It’s just…held up. I’ll have it soon.”

To his credit, things made a lot more sense when we reached the midterm exam. His questions were incredibly random, one of them arguing whether or not animals might be held to human standards of morality, or where the fault fell if they were trained by a human who needed them to steal for him and they committed other crimes. In short, I highly doubt he used the example questions from the teacher’s manual.

I still can’t remember anything I learned in that class. I barely remember which side Mill or Kant took in the debate on morality. But I’ll give that teacher credit. I won’t soon forget being asked whether or not it was immoral for a monkey to stab another monkey and steal his food.

Though, I really wish I’d remembered his name, because I’m actually really curious as to whether or not he ever got that degree.

 

 

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Hook up and Shook up – pt. 2

Tennis
Pictured: Something pertinent to this topic and not an innuendo.

As you may have gathered from my previous writing, largely because I said it almost word for word and am now trying to hastily summarize to tie this back to it, sex wasn’t hard to come by at my college.

Was everyone having it? No. And they weren’t for the reason most people weren’t eating at Arby’s. They didn’t want to be.

Your personal college environment may have varied, though I at least know from secondhand experience that even (or especially) some of the most religious schools were basically poorly-organized orgies that sometimes broke out into learning. I can’t speak to your personal experiences. But at my school, I remind you that I once knew of someone who bungled buying frozen pizza and it somehow resulted in intercourse.

I absolutely don’t say this to insult those who have never had sex. There is nothing inherently better or worse about you as a person when it comes to having or not having sex. The point I’m trying to make is that if people are dedicating their entire lives to it, you’d at least think they’d be good at it.

As an example, consider this second scenario from my second weekend at college.

I was doing some writing on my then-still-functioning computer, likely trying to decide whether or not repeatedly hyphenated compound words were proper grammar. Whatever the case, I was startled when something hit the screen of my window and fell out of sight before I got a good look at it. I gazed out into the night, deciding that at that hour it must’ve been a bat.

“Are you a hot girl?” a voice called from below.

For a moment I wondered if maybe Dracula’s charm had been heavily overrated in the movies. But I looked down to see a group of three boys retrieving a tennis ball. “No!” I called back down.

“No to being hot? Or…no to being a girl?”

I’d never been asked for demographic information through a window before, but I assumed honesty was the best policy – at least insofar as it ended the conversation as quickly as possible. “No to being a girl,” I answered, contemplating how many girls spoke in a low, pleasant baritone like mine. After waiting a beat, I noted, “I’m about a six, hotness-wise. Seven if it’s dark.”

As it was dark at the time, it seemed like an important distinction.

One of them loudly cursed me out for some reason. It likely had to do with some breach of etiquette in responding to being hit on through a window. In my defense, it wasn’t a situation that had come up before. Or, luckily, since.

But the tennis ball continued to bounce off the wall and random windows over the course of the next few hours. (I would later learn they’d been doing this the past week, obviously finding neither success nor a hot girl, apparently.) I paid attention with half an ear while various conversations played out almost exactly as expected. Shockingly, no one wanted to meet their future husband by having a tennis ball thrown at them.

Least of all when they couldn’t seem to grasp that we alternated genders by floor, and had probably spoken to more guys than girls by that point.

“Hey! Are you a hot girl?” the chorus sang again.

“Okay,” a stern voice called from at least two floors above me. “Guys, I know you’re just having fun and all. And I know this seems like a really great idea in your head, but this isn’t going to get you anywhere with girls or anyone else. So knock it off. People are trying to work and you’re being pests.”

“What are you? The lawn RA?” one of the boys outside asked. He and his cohorts slapped hearty high fives.

“Seriously, dude?” the voice called back, not nearly as amused. “I’m your RA. We talked right before you went outside to play your little tennis ball asshole games.” He noted that the conversation had specifically advised not doing so.

Some giggling below suggested the RA’s warning was being taken about as seriously as RAs usually are.

“Yeah, yeah. Ha ha,” the RA grumbled. “I actually have a lot of paperwork to do up here, so I don’t really have time for this. So knock it off. Find some other way to meet hot girls and then scare them off.” He suggested turning around and looking in literally any random direction until they found one outside.

Naturally, the three boys realized the error of their ways and considered the feelings of others. And while I didn’t see it personally, I have it on good authority that they went on a walk that night that ended with all three meeting the women they would eventually marry some years later. As endings to stories go, it’s probably one of the happier ones from my college days.

It’s also a total lie.

No. As pretty much anyone could have predicted, they continued tossing the tennis ball at random windows. I’m not sure if they even wanted to find girls by that point. More likely, they’d given up and were just being pricks. And in that RA’s defense, he actually gave them another ten minutes to get bored and find something else to do before he completely snapped.

At least until they hit his window again, this time hard enough to actually knock his screen out.

I’m sometimes sad that I’m not always privy to the fates of the side characters in my stories once they leave my field of view. It’s a failing inherent to any first-person storytelling and one, I assure you, that often leaves me just as curious as the people reading it. Suffice to say, though, those three were taken into police custody. Whether or not they got their act together later, I can’t say. But I can say with some certainty that none of them found the hot girl they were looking for that night.

Or, if I’m being realistic, any other night either.

That’s sort of the point I’m making here. One of the things that amused me to the very end of my college days was how dead set some students seemed to be on frightening away any sort of sexual intimacy they happened to come across. And that they were, almost without exception, the ones so transfixed on getting laid that they abandoned almost everything else to go looking for it.

I’m not sure there’s a moral to this story. In fact, I would generally view any story about trying to hook up with random girls via tennis ball as not necessarily worthy of a deeper lesson.

Though, if I had to tack one on so this could be published as a children’s book down the road, it would probably be that if you’re trying to find love with tennis balls, try to at least develop a basic understanding of floor plans.