what can i do?

There was always some time left over. When I was a political science major, I always had time left over. You know, time when you could only fit in one or two classes in your major in your schedule, so the vacancy had to be filled with something. I chose philosophy. I decided that, since I was a poly sci major, and had no need for that philosophy crap, that I would take the easiest classes — which meant restricting any philsophy class that i would take to the 190 level. Easy lifting. No biggie. But then, as what commonly happens, I realized that I had a knack for the stuff. Now, to this day, I wouldn’t be able to tell you if I had a true knack for problems philosophical, or if I had a knack for bullshitting, but either way, I managed to do well. I managed to convince people that I was not only good at this philosophy, but that I actually liked it. I hadn’t considered taking it on as a major until a couple of professors asked me if I was interested in becoming a philosophy major. I had always said that I was ploy sci through and through and that I was just doing philosophy as something of a hobby. That dodge worked — for a while. I was in my last quarter when the recruitment happened. I had slugged my way through two and a half years of political science. I had a wild and raging love affair with the political process. I loved reading the Bill of Rights, I wanted to follow the path of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. At least at that time I wanted to…. I was taking a class, which, because we had fallen so dreadfully behind, that ended up centering on David Hume. I hadn’t really thought about the problem of induction, (as it was never a proble for me or anyone else I knew), but I enjoyed reading and thinking about something that some philosopher found so dreadfully important that was ultimately useless. I enjoyed the class less for it’s philosophic importance, than more for the fact that it made me giggle at the fact that people actually got paid to study and teach all of this stuff that they had convinced themselves was of vital importance. (Reading this stuff was supposed to change my life, I think I had one heard). But, as I had a knack, I was recruited by a professor — who suggested that I should become a philosophy major. I would be glad that I did, he said. Wrong. As of this date, I haven’t really made any use of that damned philosophy degree, other than to get a couple of the obilgatory philosophy questions on Jeopardy!. Sure, I can tell you all about Hume’s Fork or Xeno’s Paradox, or muddle my way through a half explanation of Kant’s Transcendental Idealism, but what use does that serve? Can it help me to fix a tire? Can it hurry the Minnesota recount and declare Al Franken the winner? Can it get me a job with a fair wage and a decent health plan? (The answer to that question is no). A couple of nights ago, my neighborhood had a blackout. I was sitting on the sofa with my dog, eating my dinner, and suddenly, all darkness. Luckily my nephew was just outside, and as he is a smoker, he supplied me with a lighter that I used to find my way to some candles. But for a moment, right after the lights went out, I was helpless. I sat peering into the darkness hoping that I would be able to feel my way to the stove where I could turn on one of the burners but suddenly realizing that the ignition is electric. I thought to myself, what if my nephew wasn’t outside? what would I have done then? I would have sat in that dark room panicking until the power was restored. (which would have been a good 40 minutes). That’s what I would have done. Last night, I was listening to “Coast to Coast”. The guest was talking about what we would have to do to survive if technology failed us. We’d have to grow our own food, make our own shoes, even. I thought: my god, I can’t do any of that. I can’t do anything! I have so much education but absolutely no skills to show for it. If tomorrow it all hit the fan, I’d starve to death. Probably while clutching a copy of The Critique of Pure Reason. If my degree of usefulness determined whether I ended up someone’s dinner in a raging blizzard, I’d be the first person eaten in the Donner Party. At least that way I’d been useful. Not too long ago, I was listening to former MTV vj Kennedy on her local radio show. Like myself, she is also a holder of a philosophy degree. She and her co-host were talking about what they would do if civilization as we know it collapsed and mankind was left to fend for itself. She asked, “What can I do?”. She said that at that point she realized that having a degree in philosophy isn’t exactly …. well…. impressive. It doesn’t prepare or even instruct someone as to how to grow seeds or tan leather. Nada. If I recall correctly, Descartes was busy hiding from war while he was busy realizing that he existed. Now, this may be biting the hand that feeds, but I think that we could have all gotten along fairly well if Good Old Rene had actually gone off to fight instead of hiding in his nightgown staring at a piece of wax. I’ll be the first to admit that if I were in a life raft adrift on the ocean I’d likely hike the philosopher overboard in favor of saving the botanist or the EMT. Sure, I could say that it’s the philosophers who build civilizations, and I could point to Plato or Aristotle to show for it. Ok, that excuses them. But how do I excuse myself? Except to claim that my utilitarian value to society is dinner.

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