What a former college instructor really thinks…

Semi-Philosophical Stuff

“Inappropriate” Places to Pee

The next time you visit a college campus, listen to how many of the professors and graduate students discuss differences between men and women.  Because you can get in trouble for saying that men and women are different, I will not make that claim.  As we all know from camping trips (and other activities where a toilet is not nearby), men and women can do exactly the same things.  It is acceptable for men and women to turn their backs to their friends, face a tree, and relieve themselves.  Suggest that to your female friends the next time you’re out and let me know how that works for you.

Professors of some subjects would also criticize the “unacceptable” social norms that are behind the idea of an “inappropriate” place to pee.   Calling something inappropriate reeks of too much power, and power is a bad thing.  Society constructed the idea that some places are “appropriate” to pee in and some are not… and there is no good reason why society couldn’t have constructed the idea differently.  We must open our minds to the liberating potential of uninhibited urination!

One “inappropriate” place to pee would be in your professor’s coffee cup.  If you try it (and I don’t recommend it), you will be liberated from the class and perhaps from your university.  (Faculty only like these “constructions” when they’re astute enough to see the legitimate reasons behind them.  It doesn’t happen very often, but it usually happens when the construction supports their political views.)  Don’t expect the faculty member to still care about power as you are thrown into jail; to them, power is only evil when it doesn’t serve their purposes.

If you’re really unfortunate, your professors won’t be able to understand why peeing in their coffee cups is inappropriate.   Although you’d probably escape without being formally disciplined, you’d probably be opening yourself up to more punishing expectations from the professor.  But that’s a post for another day…

The Difference Between Independent Thinking and Arrogance

In my last post, I inferred that college students are sometimes not open to the professors’ ideas they pay big bucks to listen to.  We sometimes see an attitude of “I already know better and I don’t have to read or listen to any of this garbage.  The professor should be agreeing with my ideas!”  If an education were nothing more than a diploma at the end, I might be able to let this attitude pass.  But it’s not, so I can’t.   If you’re a student, grow up and get over it.

The conservative movement (in particular) likes to make a lot of noise about how universities have been infiltrated by liberals who are subverting the pursuit of knowledge.  All too often, they hold up research that does not agree with their political views and declare academe to be more in touch with Marxism than reality.  They often do this without reading much of the research they target and sometimes the attacks reveal an incomprehension of what research is.  Sorry, it is not the job of biologists to find evidence for your Creationist religious beliefs.  However, if you ask really nicely, the professor will find other ways to stroke your self-esteem.  If not, maybe you can get yourself a cookie.  I recommend chocolate chip.

If conservative critics were to spend the time to move past the outlandish book titles and read the less provocative-sounding research, they would realize just how right they are.  There’s some pretty explicit politics buried underneath the arcane language of a lot of humanities and social science research.   The most popular philosophies and theories explicitly tell scholars to guide their research towards conclusions that support liberal views; you never get sound bites from this because the writing contains more contorted language than anything in the legal profession.   The only difference between a lot of professors and the anti-evolution Creationists is that the professors demand support for their pre-existing liberal beliefs instead of religious ones.  (I suppose the professors are also distinguished by their nifty clothing, but that’s a topic for another day.)  Neither group is particularly fond of engaging with an opposing viewpoint.  To see the consequences of this, check out FIRE’s blog; it is included on my blog roll.

It is arrogant to believe that you have all the answers without first gaining a substantial knowledge base and exposing yourself to conflicting opinions.  You are thinking independently when you gain knowledge, examine ideas you might initially find incorrect, and come to your own conclusion.  Don’t be like an arrogant professor.  Do you really want to spend decades of your life in pursuit of things you “already know?”  It’s kind of like an old movie called The Neverending Story, except no horses are killed.  If you check out FIRE’s website, you will find that some activist college administrators bear a striking resemblance to the statues that shoot lasers at anything that comes between them.  Drugs aren’t the only way people get fried in college, and there’s a great big Nothing coming after everyone.

It is also independent thinking to recognize that your professor has not gone through the necessary steps for independent thinking.  Just remember that the professor has no professional obligation to teach views that cannot be supported intellectually.  Sometimes, the opinion you enter class with does not merit the attention.  Also remember that many professors have read numerous books that promote liberal politics without offering much unbiased evidence, and therefore professors are qualified to promote liberal politics without offering much unbiased evidence.  Students need to learn their place.

And sometimes, the professor’s definition of what “can be supported intellectually” is “conforms to liberal politics.”  I’ll have to write about that another day.

The Arachnid Theory of Mind

Among those without an extensive academic background in psychology or philosophy, a popular question concerns what kind of mind animals possess.   Usually, the question is posed in reference to the beloved family pet: is Fido happy?  At a slightly deeper level, one reaches what is known as “Theory of Mind,” which is an individual’s understanding that others around them have minds of their own and are capable of having thoughts and desires that differ from from one’s own.  It is often assumed that this capacity is necessary for a person to be fully conscious; although that characterization falls a little short (such as among autistic people), I would like to do a little thought experiment to see if we can discover anything new.  As a baseline, I will use the arachnid mind.  As we all know, spider brains are comparatively small and it seems difficult to imagine that such a small organ could produce something as complex as the awareness of others’ minds.  But I’d like to know about spiders and not just the big cute animals, so maybe I can come up with something similar to spiders.

So let’s talk about college students.  (Caveat emptor: I am a former college instructor.)   One of the most notable aspects of the college student mind is that it is regularly focused on sex, not unlike many animal species.  And speaking from personal observation, it amazes me how many students imagine that the teacher is hot for them.  Seriously.  (Yes, yes, I know.  There are some pervs out there in front of a classroom.  But not that many…)  These kids possess no theory of mind, only a consciousness of themselves.  They’re horny, so the teacher must also be horny.  And the object of the teacher’s affection must obviously be “me” and not any of the others in the classroom.  The teacher, who sees these kids only a couple hours per week, is somehow supposed to be infatuated with the student.  It’s almost kind of funny.

From the teacher’s perspective, things look a little different.  In my experience, I often wished I could teach as though I were leading an old-fashioned Latin Mass.  It would have been great to teach without having to look at the students.  Facing towards the class, the woman on my left would be sitting with her legs in a most immodest position and the woman in front of me (in the loose fitting shirt) has forgotten that she is entering a professional venue where someone will be standing right over her looking down to maintain eye contact with the class.   But at least she’s wearing a bra.  It sure beats looking to my right (which isn’t saying much) because the guy in the blue shirt is going commando and he’s hanging out of his shorts.   I think the Catholics had it right all along by having their priests face the altar instead of the congregation.

But I digress.  We’ve established that college students, at least in this one respect, lack any recognition that the people around them have (literally) a different perspective.  And as anyone who has ever observed a college classroom knows, college students very often lack consciousness.   And much like the spider with a tiny brain, they often lack the intellectual heft you would expect of a creature that can spin such an elaborate and beautiful web.

From all of this, we can conclude that animals may not have the same mental capacities we often ascribe to them.   If you are a professional psychologist or a philosopher, you probably knew that already.