Jester's Republic: Nearly Ten Minutes of Philosophical Training

#Philosophy

Mon, Feb 8th, 1999 03:00 by Jester ARTICLE

The very first philosophy course I ever took was on modern ethics and issues. I don't remember the exact course name or code (hardly surprising for reasons that shall be clear in a moment), but the course description was very promising. It covered very hot issues like abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, and so on. Doesn't that sound interesting? I thought if nothing else, I should go for the screaming fights. I remember some rip-roaring good-ones in high school on such issues. In University, a person's cultural or political leanings get extra support from meeting like-minded people on campus. If you were a hardcore socialist in high school, than University clubs made you so hardcore your centre mass was so dense you actually gave off a gravitational pull, sucking in less powerful socialists. With people like that around, I was prepared for some verbal exchanges like gunfights.

The reality was extremely disheartening. Our teacher could have made anything boring. Send her into regions of the world with bitter religious and ethnic conflicts to lecture both sides, and they'd lose interest in killing each other. She sure killed all potential conflict in our class. She probably could have said, "Gay people are evil" to the Gay and Lesbian campus group, and instead of outrage, they probably just would have yawned and turned over. The woman could weaken the impact and fallout damage from a nuclear warhead by boring it into submission.

Her first sin was her tendency to stretch out material much longer than necessary. One day one we learned about "The Slippery Slope Theorem." This is basically the idea that once you permit one morally questionable act, it becomes easier to take a step closer to the next morally questionable act, and so on, until you're doing things that are just plain wrong, or something you wanted to avoid doing in the first place. For example, (WARNING: SIMPLISTIC EXAMPLE AHEAD BUT WITH SENSITIVE ISSUE AHEAD. DOES NOT REFLECT THE OPINIONS OF THIS AUTHOR OR CAPNASTY. IF YOU WRITE AN ANGRY LETTER, IT MEANS YOU MISINTERPRETED THIS AND WE GET TO MAKE FUN OF YOU), you could argue that if you legalize abortion within the first trimester, it becomes easier to legalize it for the second. And the third. And early childhood. And finally the adolescent years, when quite frankly, abortion becomes extremely tempting for parents putting up with surly and smelly teens.

Ok, do we understand the slippery slope thingy? Good. Now imagine my teacher spreading this out for another 20 minutes.

But that's not all! You've got to add her speech pattern, which did nothing to reduce the running time: "And so, and so.if we consider.if we.consider, the slippery.and so, the slippery slope, if we consider.the slope.and."

Her lectures were two hours long. During the hour-long "classroom" portions, she took attendance too. This is sacrilege. Skipping classes isn't a privilege; it's a right. I paid tuition, and if I chose not to be in the spot I paid for, my loss. And in fact, her gain. One less pratt to worry about. Of course, keeping attendance is an easy and cheap way of giving marks to people (it accounted for a percentage of our grade).

I skipped those classes anyway. Then, one day, I got to thinking about the midterm. I reflected that I'd better start catching up on the work I was missing, and find out when then midterm was. So I opened up my student planner, and determined that the philosophy midterm was six hours ago.

Oops.

I dropped the course before she could flunk me.

***

The only other course in philosophy I took (and I completed this one), was an Existentialist class. The teacher of that one I gathered felt rather above his assignment. It was in his mannerisms. During his first class, he sat there jotting notes in a book before saying a damn word. We sat there, not knowing what to do. I suspect he was running some kind of "test" on us, as humanities teachers are wont to do. The worst offenders are Psychology teachers, who feel that the world is theirs to experiment on, but are unprepared for the consequences of doing so (i.e., the people experimented on get pissed and kick the shit out of the teacher).

As he jotted, my room-mate from Saskatoon, Zaphod (she was and is a strange girl, but damn I miss her), passed me a note that said "This guy has 30 second to say something useful or I'm out of here." Mysteriously, our teacher consulted his watch, said "Five minutes," and then began his lecture. No one ever asked what he was doing. No one, I suspect, really cared all that much.

The thing I carried away most from this class was a stark trembling fear. Around essay time we got out the usual shovel and hoisted our fair share of bullshit, but then I learned that he had given a 0 on two essays from the previous class. Why? "Because they weren't about philosophy." Uh, okay, but ZERO? Come on, you'd think just writing your name on a sheet of paper would be worth a percent. It was then that we realized our teacher was certifiable insane and should not be provoked so long as he could give us a mark.

Because of this, the class was hard to enjoy. In particular, we seemed to go over the same sort of ground again and again because some students couldn't get with it. I think this is because there were a lot of Journalism students, who are notoriously bad at absorbing information. No, I'm serious. I remember one girl, a promising future columnist for the Toronto Sun I'm sure, who couldn't hack the fact that a certain region of the world was once controlled by Greece, but is now currently in Turkish possession. I remember wasting twenty minutes on these simple Before and After conundrums.

Still, it was worth it. The information I absorbed from that class allowed me to write a short story several years later. I even copied the personality of our teacher, and also a part where someone corrects the tech about the real circumstances surrounding Lord Byron's death. In real life, that was me. He claimed that he knew Lord Byron had not been killed in battle, but had been bled to death by leeching. I wonder why he passed the inaccurate information on to our class though.

So, while my education doesn't allow me to understand the nature or absurdity of the cosmos, I did get to write a good story, with an excellent title, too.

Too bad all my classes weren't as helpful.

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