I’m telling you, they might just as well be stoned.
So, I’m in my philosophy class last night and we’re talking about Epicurus. And my instructor does the worst thing imaginable: he breaks us into groups. I hate breaking into groups. Do you want me to learn or join a committee? Honestly, I haven’t the time. Breaking into groups means actually having to rely on other college students for how I might be assessed by The Great One Who Provides The Life-Giving Grade… and, really, I’d be better off with rocks.
The topic, as I mentioned is Epicurus. Instructor Man passes out several points and we’re to discuss out take on them.
One such point, for instance, is “We are in general ignorant about the actual reasons for our unhappiness.” Okay, slam dunk. All this means is that, in general, we don’t know what makes us happy or unhappy. Not only does Epi set this off with a modifier, “in general”, but the assertion is fine, pretty clear.
This is when the group gets interesting. One girl, we’ll call her Liked One Class But Has Been Loathing Philosophy Ever Since (you run into a lot of these people, hoping philosophy will get as good as that first class one day), says, “Well, this is dumb. It’s obviously dumb. It’s so dumb.”
“Why?” I ask, guessing that her triple repetition must signify some thought behind the assertion.
“Because it’s… it just is… it’s dumb.”
The girl beside her took over. She is Mrs. Take Notes. She’s pushing a short 300 pounds and learned a long time ago she’ll only be liked if she’s useful. (Harsh? Probably… but, oh so true.) She asks, “Why would we be ignorant?”
I ask, “Why would we be ignorant?” aware that I’m repeating her but hoping it hits her coming back as hard as it hit me the first time. “Ignorance doesn’t require a reason; it just is.”
“So,” Liked One Class assumes, “you agree with him?”
“Yes, I do.”
“How could you agree with him?” asks the last of our group, a young man so wired you have to watch out for his retinas, which seem to positively scream out of his skull.
“All you have to do is look around you and you can see that people don’t know what it takes to be happy or not to be unhappy. Look at global warming. If people knew how much that’ll make them unhappy, they’d stop it.” Look at the obesity epidemic, I thought but didn’t say in deference to Mrs. Takes Notes. “Look at our rampant materialism. Would people keep buying every new gadget, thinking it will fill some need inside of them and make them happy if they really knew what made them happy?”
“But you can’t know that,” the young man countered. “You can’t enter their minds and know their thoughts. And, anyway, it’s empirically impossible to know what we are or are not ignorant about. Ignorance requires truth and truth is subjective and if there is no truth be blabbity blah blah blah…” Actually, he didn’t say “be blabbity blah blah blah”… but he might as well have. Once upon a time a time, I was asked the difference between philosophy and bullshit and answered that it depended upon the end result. This was bullshit.
Still, I had to admire his intensity. “Did someone pull a string in your back before you came in?”
He really, really didn’t get it.
Liked One Class insists, “What do I care about Global Warming, anyway? If it’s true, it won’t happen in my lifetime.”
If it’s true??? “When do you think this will happen?” I ask.
“What? Like in 50 years or something.” This from a student of philosophy.
I slowly try to wish myself dead… or, at least, not human.
So now the Instructor comes around. He asks us, “How do we even know there’s a reason for our unhappiness?” I don’t know; you ever hear of cause and effect… fucking Einstein.
So, I say the obvious. “Not knowing if there is a reason is the same thing as being ignorant of the reason.”
Not only does that shut him up but he’s suddenly grown tired of the class being in groups. “Okay, back in your seats,” he says.
Then, he calls on everyone to present their answers. I’ll spare you most of them but they pretty much went in the vain of, “Just thinking about this makes me unhappy.” and “You could be high and think you were happy but really not be.” and “What about if I was raping someone? Then, I’d be happy and they wouldn’t be.” That last one really worried me.
Someone in the back said, “I read an article once that said that the smartest people are the least happy.”
“Of course,” Intructicon agrees. “They’re smarter so they’re more aware of what makes them unhappy.”
Okay, not only does this not makes sense but, “Wait a minute. You don’t have to be a genius to know what makes you happy. You just have to get to know yourself.”
He looks at me and I immediately realize… you know, for the hundredth time… just what a sham this guy is. He might as well be teaching woodshop. He gets that quizzical look and then looks away. “So, yeah, you can’t be smart and happy.” Then, he moves on.
And I am left, as I so often am, realizing that nobody gets it. This simple idea, that if you just pay attention to your own self you’ll know better what works for you and makes you happy, is beyond them. So often, that’s my problem, that something seems so simple to me but nobody seems to really get it.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Takes Notes has proven to shy to actually read all the notes she took and our group comes out innefectual... as well it should.
It’s going to be a very long semester.