“Adhering to opinion. One man adheres to an opinion because he prides himself on having come upon it by himself; another because he has learned it with effort, and is proud of having grasped it: thus both out of vanity.”
– Nietzsche, Man Alone With Himself
“Therefore the increasing specialization of needs and the consciousness of their objects, which itself grows clearer and cleare, more and more refined, develop only as a function of learning and education. However unreflective this consciousness may be, it is the consciousness of objects; it places our being under the tutelage of what is outside of us.”
– Emmanuel Levinas, On Escape
“No man treats a motor-car as foolishly as he treats another human being. When the car will not go, he does not attribute its annoying behaviour to sin; he does not say: ‘You are a wicked motor-car, and I shall not give you any more petrol until you go.’ He attempts to find out what is wrong, and to set it right. An analogous way of treating human beings is, however, considered to be contrary to the truths of our holy religion. And this applies even in the treatment of little children. Many children have had habits which are perpetuated by punishment, but will probably pass away of themselves if left unnoticed. Nevertheless, nurses with very few exceptions consider it right to inflict punishment, although by so doing they run the risk of causing insanity.”
– Bertrand Russell, Has religion made useful contributions to civilisation?
“The technique for dealing with men whose opinions are disliked by certain groups of powerful individuals has been well perfected, and is a great danger to ordered progress. If the man concerned is still young and comparatively obscure, his official superiors may be induced to accuse him of professional incompetence, and he may be quietly dropped. With older men who are too well known for this method to be successful, public hostility is stirred up by means of misrepresentation. The majority of teachers naturally do not care to expose themselves to these risks, and avoid giving public expression of their less orthodox opinions. This is a dangerous state of affairs, by which disinterested intelligence is partially muzzled, and the forces of conservatism and obscurantism persuade themselves that they can remain triumphant.”
– Bertrand Russell, Freedom and the Colleges
For sometime last year I considered enrolling for a second BA degree in Communication Design (Graphic Design) at the University of Johannesburg. To be considered, an applicant has to submit a portfolio consisting of certain items. One of the required briefs specified a comic strip consisting of five frames, without captions, that illustrates the day in your life you are most proud of.
The photo above, is my unfinished representation of the day I gave my first tutorial in philosophy. It remains unfinished because I abandoned the entire portfolio project when the political situation at UJ disrupted their administrative process and they botched my application. (In retrospect I’m glad it didn’t work out.) The first frame shows me having a cigarette outside the Humanities building, the second shows me nervously biting my lip and the third is me preparing myself in the lady’s room in front of the mirror. The fourth would have been another close-up of my face with my glasses after I had tamed my wild hair into a business-bun (my general work-look) and the last would have been me in front of a smiling class from my back perspective (mirroring the lady’s room frame).
I chose this day because it represented the fruits of all my years of studying something no one knew what to do with. The most popular question people ask me when they hear I study philosophy is, “What do you aim to get hired for with that?”. And I never knew what to say. I still detest this question, people still feel compelled to ask me even though by now I actually have two jobs. In truth I hope to encourage and facilitate the process that taught me to think critically. My first year philosophy classes changed my life, they actually literally redirected the course of my life forever. It was epic man. I idolized my first lecturer, he made bold statements and parked his motorbike right in front of the building. He introduced me to Socrates, Epicures, Kant, Nietzsche, Frankl, Camus and most important of all he introduced me to Schopenhauer. Sparking a life-long academic love affair.
My first tutorial class represented my first chance to do the same for other students. I was incredibly nervous, and in actuality I couldn’t stand up from my chair because I didn’t want the students to see how violently I was shaking. But although my body was failing me, in my heart I felt like a superhero. I still speak to some of the students from that very first class, and maintain a close friendship with two especially bright girls who are already changing the world (I swear to Spaghetti Monster). I still work as a tutor, but in another division of the department; Business Ethics. Which is an entirely different post of challenges and rewards all together.
“For my part, I think it better to do a little good than do much harm. The world that I should wish to see would be one freed from the virulence of group hostilities and capable of realising that happiness for all is to be derived rather from co-operation than from strife. I should wish to see a world in which education aimed at mental freedom rather than at imprisoning the minds of the young in a rigid armour of dogma calculated to protect them through life against the shafts of impartial evidence. The world needs open hearts and open minds, and it is not through rigid systems, whether old or new, that these can be derived.”
– Bertrand Russel, Why I am not a Christian
“The racist/fundamentalist parents of our students say that in a truly democratic society students should not be forced to read books by such people – black people, Jewish people, homosexual people. They will protest that these books are being jammed down their children’s throats. I cannot see how to reply to this charge without saying something like: ‘There are credentials for admission to our democratic society, credentials which we liberals have been making more stringent by doing our best to excommunicate racists, male chauvinists, homophobes and the like. You have to be educated in order to be a citizen in our society, a participant in our conversation, someone with whom we can envisage merging our horizons. So we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable. We are not so inclusivist as to tolerate intolerance such as yours.”
– Richard Rorty
A colleague of mine presented a paper on Rorty and Habermas at our post-grad colloquium, and this quote caught my attention. The papers that were presented were all excellent, I spoke on Schopenhauer’s Metaphysics of Morals which was a bit abstract in comparison. But one paper blew us all away, a friend of mine spoke on Nietzsche, Marx and the development of the Blues. I actually managed to listen to the entire presentation (I struggle to concentrate if people just read their papers) the title was: “I asked her for water, but she gave me gasoline.”…What a rock star! He’s gonna do a lot for philosophy someday, I’m sure of it!