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Deep thought missing from philosophy dept

by Liam Thomas March 31, 2015
Deep thought missing from philosophy dept

Striking SoPhiA students lack the introspection to bring about true revolutionary change

“We have a surprising number of defectives in the Party. Either it is because of the circumstances under which we work—or the movement itself promotes a selection of defectives.”

“You bring us truth, and in your mouths it sounds a lie. You bring us freedom, and it looks in your hands like a whip. You bring us the living life, and where your voice is heard the trees wither and there is a rustling of dry leaves. You bring us the promise of the future, but your tongue stammers and barks.”

Many of us may be inclined to suppose that the study of philosophy would furnish one with the ability to construct and produce cerebral, well-articulated arguments. However, as I pushed passed a thin but intimidating line of picketers outside of my Intro to Metaphysics classroom on March 26, I was met with little physical resistance, but much of the intellectual kind. “Are you aware of the strike?” one of the protesters asked me. “Yeah, I’m aware,” I responded. A chorus of snickers and scoffs was relayed down the picket line until I was hectored with the following statement: “Oh! So you’d prefer to be a scab!?”

SoPhiA is protesting government cuts to education by cutting into my education time. Apparently, the study of philosophy doesn’t necessarily yield an ability to apprehend irony, nor does it require a need to properly learn the definitions of certain words, and when it is appropriate to use them. It also doesn’t seem to preclude arrogance, and a hypocritical belief system in which the protesters end up embodying some of the very things they claim to be rebelling against—that is, conformity, an abnegation of individual liberty, and a refusal to tolerate behavior that detracts from their schismatic status quo. The great American author Jack London is believed to have defined a scab in the following way:

“A scab is a two-legged animal with a cork-screw soul, a water-logged brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles. When a scab comes down the street, men turn their backs and angels weep in heaven, and the Devil shuts the gates of Hell to keep him out. No man has a right to scab so long as there is a pool of water to drown his carcass in, or a rope long enough to hang his body with. Judas Iscariot was a gentleman compared with a scab. For betraying his master, he had character enough to hang himself. A scab has not. Esau sold his birthright for a mass of pottage. Judas Iscariot sold his Savior for thirty pieces of silver. Benedict Arnold sold his country for a promise of a commission in the British Army. The modern strikebreaker sells his birthright, his country, his wife, his children and his fellow men for an unfulfilled promise from his employer, trust or corporation. Esau was a traitor to himself; Judas Iscariot was a traitor to God; Benedict Arnold was a traitor to his country; a strikebreaker is a traitor to his God, his country, his wife, his family and his class.”

In wanting to enter my classroom with the intent of forming a study group to further my understanding of metaphysical arguments (for which no professor would be present), am I guilty of any of these things? We were informed—prior to the strike taking effect—that we would be allowed to do this. We were not informed that we would be bullied and alienated in the process. I am an independent student who had eyes on either majoring or minoring in philosophy, but recent events have caused me to seriously doubt my predilections. The censoring of student journalists and a closed session in which 36 yes votes constitutes a democratic decision is something that is redolent of the Harper government, and of Straussian political tactics, generally—or of the Inner Party in Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon: The Students of Philosophy Association knows what’s best for all of us, and the people ought not to know what transpires within their hallowed walls, lest the feeble minded commoners misunderstand the lofty undertakings of the philosophical elite.

While I am in complete opposition to the Liberal government’s austerity measures, hurling insults and patronizing those of us who express ambivalence on the problem of striking is no way to get other students to take you seriously. The movement is clearly in dire need of more eloquent speakers: for instance, students who don’t replace words with hand gestures, or who speak perfunctorily and with a tone of condescension which is wholly unfounded. Allowing thoughtful criticism—without dismissing it outright and reverting to a cabal that will only serve to fortify one’s established patterns of thinking—might help the movement to achieve this end. (I did have a congenial discussion with the student liaison, a guy named Michael, with whom I shared many concerns regarding the problems of making education a commodity, and other Marxist-fragranced assertions.)

Historically, it is true that the kindling of many revolutions has been ignited under the edifices of institutions of higher education (one thinks of the French, Haitian, and, more recently, Egyptian revolutions, as well as the university reforms of Argentina in 1918), but if something similar is going to happen here in Quebec, SoPhiA needs seriously to reconsider its tactics if it truly wishes to follow in the foot marches of other great revolutionary movements.

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