A Classroom in Lost Angeles
By Lucas J. Mather, Ph.D.
From Facebook , Monday March 14, 2014 at 5:41 pm PST
“Feel free to twit this lecture out on your Tweeter accounts,” I said, making a combination of bird-chirp noises with gastro-intestinal/sheep bleating sounds. [Which if i may say so myself, I do perfectly after years of practice sitting in traffic on the 405. My bird chirps, in particular, are so realistic, they STUN the 20-something.]
I lean casually on the podium, “or whatever the social media Breaking Bad blue stuff is these days–snapple-chat, Linked-In, etc.”
[They giggle, exhaustedly.] You guys look like hell, I say. You look hung-over.
We’re tired, they say.
[Compassion floods my face. I take my glasses off, cross my eyes, and emit a faint fart sound.]
Can I give you some encouragement ? You look like you need some.
[They wake up a little at this. Hope dawns across a sea of pillow-lined faces. A few are still exhaustedly giggling in whispers to each other (“twit your Tweeter accounts”; “Linked-In”–this is them tiredly LOLing with their tired smirks).]
I’m serious, I say. I want to encourage you. We’re about to talk about “personal identity” the question of what you are, really. And the exam is going to be very hard, you’re going to frankly barely pass it, I say with uncrossed eyes.
[I put my glasses back on.]
But you will pass it, and you’ll get credit for the class, I tell them.
[I smile really big].
And then , I continue, I say you’re gonna use that credit to get your degree. [I smile really big.] And then you’re gonna use that degree to get a job. [I smile once more. But then I stop smiling.]
A job, I continue, which has nothing to do with your degree. [Their faces say, I thought you were going to encourage us.]
And then, you’re gonna die.
[At this point, someone giggles. Then others. And I smile.]
That’s too long for a Tweeter twit, so let me shorten it to fit: Ready? [They smile, nodding.]
I get copyright, I insist. [I make them promise. They do.]
“You’re going to take Mather’s class…and then you’re gonna die.”
[They laugh, it’s so ridiculous.]
It’s true, right? [They acknowledge it’s true.] Don’t ever say that in the security line at LAX, just saying –I’ve been arrested 4 times–it’s not fun. [I actually have been arrested, and spent time in jail –once by a foreign government –when I was their age. They beg me to tell the story.] Another time, I say. Let’s focus on death. Your death. My death . The wonderful thing about philosophy is that this may be the only class you take here that looks that reality square in the face . No bullshit. I’m trying to help you prepare for life, not just a job–although philosophy helps with that, too.
[They’re awake. They’re smiling . All of them. (I check for outliers, aware some could use referral to counseling on campus). Good to go. Whew . I cross my eyes again, to signal humorous affection.]
I’ve been a grad student since Bill Clinton was president, I say. I know what you’re going through .
OMG, a girl gasped . I was 4.
Yes I know I’m old, I continue. [I’m relieved she knows who Bill Clinton is.]
The last thing you’ll probably think before you die will probably be : I’m so glad I did well on those exams. Right? [Their looks say: wrong. I’m glad.]
The point of your life is to be as cool as possible , to wear the correct jeans, and stay in sync with the times , and hence to be frozen in them when you die, immediately outdated by “the later.” To be mocked by later generations whose only virtue is to have been born in “the future” relative to you. Right? [They furrow their brows. One kid slips into a coma.]
Let’s keep everything in perspective, I say to the sleeping kid, 7 inches from his nose . [He wakes up.]
Ok, we’re going to compare John Locke’s view with contemporary physicalism, I say, diving into the lecture . And who can tell me what Locke said again? [A hand goes up, and a tired, but hopeful student gives a mostly correct answer. And I sigh , content , and continue into the day.]
Copyright 2014 Lucas J. Mather
All Rights Reserved