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This Ambiguous Life: Act 2

May 10, 2009

Act 2: A philosopher, ambiguously and ambivalently

I have a very difficult time identifying myself as a philosopher.  Graduate student in philosophy, yes.  Philosophy instructor, yes.  Ponderer of things philosophical, yes.  (And doula, YES!)  But rarely (if ever) have I referred to myself as a philosopher.

I suppose that this is in part because it seems somewhat pretentious for me to claim, boldly and unassumingly, “I am a philosopher.”  Really, it’s not the sort of response you want to give when someone asks you what your occupation is.  Unless, of course, you have the requisite unkempt beard and pipe.

But I’m also a bit reluctant to identify myself as “one of them” (i.e. as a member of the set ‘philosophers’).

This is not to say that there aren’t many friends, colleagues, mentors, and theorists out there with whom I am proud to share a profession.  But there are others who (seemingly proudly) carry on a veritable tradition of sexual harassment.  Those who fetishize logical purity.  And those who succumb to what I call  “roadrunner and coyote effect,” where, in their theorizing, they speed right off of a cliff and churn their little legs frantically in mid-air without realizing that their feet are hundreds of feet about solid ground–and above reality.

The person who perhaps best captures the perpetual roadrunner and coyote effect–one that many philosophers employ in their everyday lives–is a nine-year-old boy named Atticus Bolyard, whose father submitted the following (hilarious) letter to the American Philosophical Association’s newsletter in 2007:

Dear Editor,

I recently received my 9-year-old son’s yearly schoolwork portfolio from his fourth-grade teacher, and I was pleasantly surprised to find included an account of his impressions of the Eastern Division Meeting in Washington, D.C. this past winter. In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that my family chose to accompany me to the meeting despite my warnings!

In any case, here’s what Atticus had to say.

[see attached document]

Charles Bolyard

“2 days after Christmas I went to a philosophy confrence [sic]. It was horrible. There were 200 philosophers. They all did weird things. They couldn’t make jokes, many had beards.

In the elevator it was worse. Once a philosopher got off on the wrong floor, so said, “wait for me.” “We’ll take you to the 27th,” said another. Nobody laughed. “Get it there are only 10 floors,” said some random old guy in a country accent. You get the point it was creepy.

A few days later there was a fire. Only one person was hurt, but everyone did weird things. Like people were standing in the roads, so nonphilosophers had to lead them out. Some people went back into the hotel. Firefighters had to lead them away. Still one guy stayed and had his bags blocking the door. Firefighters told him to move his bags, so he did, but when they left he put them back. I’ll never go to a philosophy confrence [sic] again.”

I’ve had the same thoughts myself, young Atticus.

One Comment leave one →
  1. renbeth permalink
    May 11, 2009 2:11 pm

    I laughed right out loud at “You get the point it was creepy.” Academia does have its own peculiar – and occasionally creepy! – culture.

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