Thursday, February 11, 2010

Philosopher Kings

Last Tuesday, I finally got around to attending a lecture with the Metaphysical Society (The Metafizz).  I don’t know quite what I was expecting, having been in Dublin too long to expect anything stodgy, but it turned out to be quite the drunken socratic dialogue.

The professor giving the talk is the newly appointed head of the School of Philosophy and Sociology at University College Cork.  He had just moved back to Europe after 40 years teaching in the US, and was more than excited to tell us what he experienced. Actually, I think the verb he used was “weathered”.  I believe that was the first time in my stay in Ireland that I was actually slightly offended by somebody’s views of America. Almost everyone else I have talked to about the US has been quick to seperate their views of our government and their views of Americans, or at least emphasize how much they love Chicago. But this man was relentless in his generalizations of the American public.  Apparently we are ignorant by choice because we can’t handle reality. And I get it. 60% of the American public still believe that Sadaam Hussein was linked to the Taliban. But, sweeping generalizations about millons peoples motivations for being undereducated is just slightly offensive to me. Breathe!

So, the great thing about the Metafizz is, usually the person presenting is using the Society as a means for a dry-run of some material they plan to use elsewhere, be it in their thesis, or in this case the inaugural lecture of his post in Cork - So, he read from some notes, paused to ask us whether this bit or that bit would be better here or there.  And the topic was interesting enough - “How Philosophy Can Save the Earth”.  It was not so much a lecture for us as a workshop for him.

So, to get on with it, the moment this professor walked into the room, he was offered a glass of wine, which he gladly accepted. I characterized this later as a sort of “verbal handshake” in Ireland - the offering and accepting of a drink. The drinking did not let up for a good five and half hours later when we were all at the pub down the street having a laugh about tonic wine made by Benedictine Monks (  

The scene in that pub was probably what many people fantasize about when they come to study at Trinity, or really any big University in Europe - sitting around with a group of classmates and professors, letting your true opinions about democracy come to the fore after your third pint of Guinness (let it be noted that the Professor in question was pacing us kids).  It reminded me of Sarah Lawrence, in that your professors don’t treat you so much as a student, but rather a kind of co-pilot on this academic adventure.  There is a real joy when a professor forty years your senior gets into an argument with you about the nature of democracy, and he actually puts an effort into the discussion.  It's a sign that they believe you to be a worthy adversary.

Now that we were at the pub, as the professor noted, he could reveal his true opinions in this more congenial setting (I think what he meant was if it backfired or offended, he could maintain it was all for a laugh). In lieu of democracy, he advocates the crowning of a Philosopher King, and by the way he nominates himself. Now, it could be assumed (although riskily) that he was joking about the second part, but let it be know that this well-respected Professor of Philsophy advocates a mandatory test for all people who wish to vote.

This is a prime example of the ego of academia, and one of the main reasons, besides not having the brain for it, that I will, at some point, jump the ship from this philosophical undergraduate journey and get a real job.

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Thinking About a Guinness?

Thinking About a Guinness?