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Don't ask, don't tell.

One interesting aspect of my current semester at University which has popped-up, and which I wouldn't have expected, is being confronted with - what was to my mind - a rather bizarre question during a political-science lecture: "What ideology do you subscribe to?"

I found this a bit odd and discomforting for a number of reasons, not the least of which being the tacit assumption of the professor that one must invariably have an ideological world-view in much the same way that one must have invariably possess a liver or spleen. It was a further bit disturbing to find that the professor, and seemingly every student present, equated "philosophy" and "ideology" as synonymous. From thence onward began my trip down a crooked and unpleasant lane.



Firstly, we were asked/instructed by the professor to introduce ourselves to our nearest neighbour, and describe our ideological background and position to them in a succinct manner. Thus began the first half of a jaunt past the borders of Wonderland, as I sought to explain to my partner the difference between an ideological and philosophical outlook. If you, dearest reader, don't exactly have clear knowledge of the distinction yourself, don't feel embarrassed - you stand in good stead beside the former vice-president of the Concordia Student Union (my partner, and former holder of a political position), and the Doctor of Philosophy providing us with the lecture; they were thoroughly convinced that I was either an idiot, a moral coward, or mentally deranged. To quote the former VP, "...seems to me to be cop-out."

The Doctor of Philosophy formed a similar opinion regarding my psychological status when he made (what I see as) the mistake of following his initial question by asking each student in the lecture to name their ideological outlook for the class. Predictably for a University classroom, the most common answers were "I'm a Liberal!", "Leftist!", or the ever-sophisticated "Liberal Social-Democrat"; the last category was paticularly popular among second-year poli-sci majors.

When the question was invariably posed in the direction of my 'group', my partner quite haughtily provided the rote second-year poli-sci major response - a badge he seemed quite proud of. As to his partner, "[figuative rolling of the eyes] I'll let him explain, 'cause I don't know that I get it."

So, when the question was reposed to myself directly, I was stuck in the quandary of finding a label for folks to wrap their heads around. Having nothing better to go with, I mentally shrugged and replied "A classical Platonist.".

Having heard this reply, the Doctor of Philosophy repeated the words carefully to make certain he'd heard right, and to presumably make certain that his grasp of reality hadn't been compromised by someone had slipping a dose of LSD into his coffee; I feel I might have gotten the same reaction if I'd said that I'd come from the Church of Reformed Oompa-Loompas. "Alright" he asked, "and can you explain to the class what a classical Platonist is?".

Unfortunately, this again was the wrong question to ask. Rather than being asked to describe how such a viewpoint influenced my assessment of the correctness of the political system of Canada, I was asked to summarize an entire philosophical school (and not a very popular one mind you) in one sentence or less. I replied with the answer that I was most capable of reasoning out in ten-seconds or fewer: "Classical Platonists essentially hold a belief in absolute Truth, though the human grasp of Truth is tenuous at best."

My abuse of the word 'belief' was highly incorrect and misleading, but my description didn't manage to make anyone vomit - though there were a few knowing snorts from the backbenches. "Un-huh" started the professor, "and can you describe what truth is?"

For a brief few instances then, I had the opportunity to look at the good Doctor, head cocked to the side, and with a slackjawed expression that I would normally reserve for any hypothetical someone who'd demand me to pull a live monkey out of my ear. If I'd been asked to describe the Theory of Relativity in a single line, the boundaries of the challenge would have made it no less obviously impossible. Fortunately perhaps, the professor's question had been rhetorical device to give him the chance to declare, "[AHAH!] Not so easy, is it?"

Well, duh. Only an ideological thinker would be mistaken enough to claim to be able to contain the Truth in a sentence; that's rather the point. Nevertheless, the professor completed his prodigious tackle of the proverbial straw-man by introducing a short antecdote meant to prove that the concept of truth is a social construct that belies the underlying reality of rational choice; and thus he seemingly packaged the fundamentals of reality with a few words. 'An amazing feat really...



At any rate, it's a bit heartening to know that I still have the knack for pissing-off entire rooms full of people without actually having any intent to. ^_^


Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
notebuyer
Jul. 14th, 2006 11:03 pm (UTC)
What is truth?
A friend of mine would have seized on the professor's question in a different way (I've watched him deliberately cause confusion in several groups)

What is truth?

Jesus Christ. "I am the way, the truth and the life"

But that is a personal belief, not binding on the rest of us, so that is YOUR truth, right?

It is a feature of that particular truth that it is objective, sir, and applies to everyone. Perhaps you would care to sit down for a few years and explore it with (name of local parish priest here)? This is not a religious studies class after all. Or were you just after something you could ridicule and distort?

Or, of course, you could cite to Cratylus 385b2 or Sophist 263b, and suggest that the question would be the quality of correspondence between what he said and what he was attempting to describe. Could he tell us more about what he was attempting to describe? Is it a complex set of propositions which reliably indicates appropriate actoin in all situations, or is its purpose merely descriptive, leaving action to the quality of the knower?

But the point is much simpler here. He wanted people to attach themselves to viewpoints whose weaknesses and strengths he could then exploit to appear more knowledgeable than their possessors. You might as well have answered "Whig" for all the knowledge gained from such a discourse.


ccord
Jul. 15th, 2006 06:33 pm (UTC)
Re: What is truth?
But the point is much simpler here. He wanted people to attach themselves to viewpoints whose weaknesses and strengths he could then exploit to appear more knowledgeable than their possessors. You might as well have answered "Whig" for all the knowledge gained from such a discourse.

I think that the implications of the exchange were perhaps even a little more disturbing than that - our tenured professor genuinely seems to hold the learned opinion that philosophies and religions were the same order of creature as ideologies; it was certainly an opinion that was common to the classroom.

If that be the case, what does it imply about the social and political direction of a polity when differing political arguments are increasingly percieved as merely opposing contendors for dominance in a war of subjective ideas?
notebuyer
Jul. 16th, 2006 12:57 am (UTC)
Re: What is truth?
If that be the case, what does it imply about the social and political direction of a polity when differing political arguments are increasingly percieved as merely opposing contendors for dominance in a war of subjective ideas?


Then it becomes merely a matter of who holds the power, and there is no check on that power by reference to some other framework. In terms that fit my own thoghts, what it means is that the powerful are above the law, and brook no criticism, or allow none.

And if your professor believes that, you have the choice of either keeping a low profile and going for a grade unreflective of merit, or making his semester as miserable as possible in class by pointing out problems with his view. Socrates didn't become popular with technique 2.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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