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{A rant from February 2004, titled “Discussion At A Party …”}

I went to the “Hoe Down” at the Ritchie’s farm with Merry on Sunday. I met a lot of interesting people, all of which, according to my wife, were hippies.

I met a gentleman named Heron who has a masters in Pholosophy and teaches at UB while working on a dissertation regarding racial identity. After making me evaluate my own use of the term “a priori”, I could only say “I loveyou, man.”

Anyway, Heron being a liberal Bush-hater or not, we were ready for the serious discussion about to ensue. We were joined by a young lady who did undergratuate work in socio-economics. When she went on about something called “the empire”, I asked her what empire she was talking about, she was surprised I did not automatically assume she meant the United States. It was my uneager suspicion, but I had to confirm it.

When I asked why she would think America was an Empire (other than figuratively), she became agitated and asked me if I lived in the same world as she did, as if it was as obvious conclusion as birds flying. SERIOUSLY. I refused to take offense and stayed calm, as my training had taught me. After her considering the facts that Iraqi citizens do not pay taxes to our governemnt and having a military base in Germany did not constitute any bit of imposing soveriegnty on our part, she decided the definition of “empire” was different now. Thanks for telling us.

Now Heron and I, both trained to slip into rational, objective discussion at will, expected an explanation of her position. She was not prepared at all for this, except to go on with more (unsupported?) conclusions to somehow convice us of something. The sad part (I hope she does not take offense if she ever reads this, but really needs to be taken aside and told this) — in spite of implying she was in grad school, she did not seem to be able to perform critical analysis step #1 – separating fact from opinion, conclusions from arguments. I was shocked and appauled, but bit my tongue again. Heron and I would have gladly accepted her position as legitamate, but she used meanings of terms like “empire” so convolutedly that the discussion turned into utter confusion, and it seemed her conclusions were her premises.

More talk about how the government is transferring its power to the “corporation” which exploits the masses of the world through the support of international agencies, theoretically founded and controlled by the American rich. Again, worthy of discussion if you can actually discuss it instead of take it for granted.

Merry says we “ganged up on her” (not wrongfully necessarily), and she went to get something more to eat and never came back. I suppose the two factions parted each feeling sorry for the other, but for different reasons. We are pitaible because she thinks we don’t see the world her way (which we may or may not). She is pitiable because she had a highly entrenched view that supposed an awful lot of things most people would not agree on as simple facts, and could not discuss it on what we would consider a mature scholastic level.

I kept thinking about my own experience with political economics in college, and how it took years of thinking and reading for myself to recover. Are campuses little more than hives of conspiricy theories and bumper-sticker politics, where students of the 60s can relive (and justify) their puerile protestations as teachers? How many “experts” in the field waste their years as armchair professors passing on nothing more than huge axes to grind?

(NOTE: I am NOT referring to the esteemed Dr. Kelly at D’Youville College, whom I respect regardless of his views, which I would be interested to hear on these things.)

Forgive any appearance of condescendence, but Thank GOD HERSELF for Philosophy — the great evaluator by which all other disciplines can be weighed, where arguments are not judged by their conclusions, but by the arguments themselves. I suspect that without philosophy, it may be all too common in any field of study, to spend our time developing arguments to reach conclusions and not the other way around.

If you are one of those people, forget everything you think you have learned and start over. It will set you free.