Ren and Miles are having a coffee at the cafeteria when a haughty-looking man with a beaked face, who looks to be in his mid-to-late thirties, sits down next to them.
‘Hello Miles,’ he says.
‘Hello Lucius. Lucius, this is Ren, who is a new lecturer in Philosophy. He’s doing the TITE with me.’
‘Hello Ren,’ says Lucius, without much interest.
‘Ren, this is Lucius Birch, a senior lecturer in my department.’
‘Pleased to meet you, Dr Birch,’ says Ren. ‘Miles has been telling me about you. You’ve been doing very well, I hear.’
‘Fighting the good fight. As we all must do,’ says Lucius in an abstracted way. ‘But don’t tell me you’re some sort of metaphysician?’
‘That’s me, I’m afraid. Boring old non-political metaphysics.’
‘Such a waste of argumentative talent. Don’t you ever want to turn your attention to something that matters? Like the minimum wage?’
‘Well,’ begins Miles, ‘Ren’s not…’
Ren kicks Miles under the table.
‘Perhaps I should,’ says Ren. ‘What other pressing topics should be grabbing me?’
‘Well, there’s the decline of income equality. There’s global warming. The much-needed championing of Hugo Chavez and Venezuela. The great Satan. Racism. There’s no end to the list, is there?’
‘It would seem not.’
‘Why don’t philosophers lecture on the need for more union power, for example?’
‘I’m not sure my Metaphysics students would feel that that was an appropriate topic for a Metaphysics class.’
‘You’re the lecturer. Persuade them that it is. These are the real cosmic issues.’
‘Union power is a cosmic issue?’
‘In a manner of speaking, it is. Which one is a universal issue of our time, a matter of extreme gravity, of interest to the entire human race? The decline of union power, or Descartes saying we can’t know the external world?’
‘That’s epistemology. And Descartes thought we could know the external world.’
‘You need to shift these perceptions. If you teach the same old stuff you just entrench the existing power structures. How is that freeing students’ minds?’
‘Thinking about the basic structure of the world seems pretty cosmic to me.’
‘Imagine if any aliens came to earth. What would they be interested in? The power structures on our planet, or what Aristotle thought about teeth? There’s your cosmic importance right there. And if you really want to stick to metaphysics, why not teach Venezuelan metaphysics?’
‘Is there such a thing?’
‘How do you know if you haven’t looked? Why haven’t you looked? Venezuela is flowering under Chavez. I bet you amazing things are being done in their schools of metaphysics. I’m going in a couple of months to the annual Venezuelan Conference of Psychology. It’s going to be an eye-opener. A pity Miles couldn’t come.’
‘Goodness me Miles, you’re not really going to miss an opportunity like that, are you?’
‘Well, I don’t really have the research funds at this stage in my career…’
‘Put in an application to the Faculty,’ says Lucius. ‘See if they’ll support you. Which I think they will, if I have a word in the right ear.’
‘But I have to be giving a talk at the conference to be eligible for overseas travel funds. And it’s way too late for that.’
‘I’m sure I can use my influence to get you a speaking slot even at this late stage,’ says Lucius.
‘Chance of a lifetime, Miles,’ says Ren.
‘I’m really not sure I have the time,’ says Miles. ‘There is this TITE course which requires a lot of work. Doesn’t it, Ren?
‘Oh, yes, I suppose it does. Pity though. You might have even got to shake Chavez’s hand.’
‘But then I’d never be able to wash it again, would I?’
‘Do I sense a little political scepticism, Miles?’ says Lucius.
‘Ah, well, just a little joke. I do admit to being a bit uninformed about all the latest global political developments.’
‘Perhaps you should spend more time talking politics with your friend Ren.’
‘I find Ren’s political judgements can be, shall we say… off-piste?’
‘But it’s not about repeating the textbook, is it Miles?’ says Lucius. ‘As we always say to our students. You have to make up your own mind.’
‘You mean, make up your own mind about what type of socialism is best?’ says Ren.
‘Exactly. Be a free thinker.’
‘Within reason,’ says Ren.
‘Yes, within reason,’ smiles Lucius.
‘So,’ says Ren. ‘If you had to choose one, would it be Lenin or Trotsky?’
‘Lenin,’ says Lucius. ‘Trotsky was great, but ultimately it was Lenin who got the job done.’
‘Yes,’ says Ren. ‘Trotsky was ruthless, but Lenin even more so. What about Fidel or Che?’
‘Well, that’s a hard one. Fidel stayed the course and kept Cuba Communist for a very long time. But then Che was more of an intellectual, like me. So maybe Che.’
‘Do you have Che pictures on your door?’
‘No, I took them down a few years ago. Didn’t want students to get the wrong idea about my research.’
‘Very prudent. Ho Chi Minh or Mao?’
‘Ho Chi Minh. He really gave it to the Yanks.’
‘So you really think academics should be more pro-active in their leftism?’
‘Definitely. You don’t have to be that open about it if you don’t want to. In fact, that might often be the best policy. But we all have a duty to further the struggle, in whatever way we can. Including undermining our enemies, and always making it difficult for them.’ Lucius drains the last of his coffee. ‘I have to go get ready for a class. Nice meeting you, Ren.’
After Lucius has left, Ren says, ‘So, you still think he’s totally objective in his research? In his research which coincidentally always comes up supporting progressive conclusions?’
‘Uh… that was a bit worrying, I admit. I didn’t realise at first that he was quite so political. I have been trying to extricate myself from his circle, but they keep trying to draw me in.’
‘Just tell him he’s an evil Commie, that should do the trick.’
‘You’re happy to isolate yourself, and be identified as right-wing. I don’t want to be isolated. And I don’t want to be called right-wing, because I’m not. Psychology’s much more collaborative than Philosophy. If you get frozen out at an early stage then you’re finished.’
‘Jesus, he’s the one who should be isolated. He likes mass-murderers.’
‘There are members of my department who are openly members of the Communist Party. And we’re not just talking people from an older generation. There are two younger members of the department in it as well. That’s the reality of modern academia. You can’t be a Nazi, thank God, but you can still openly be a Communist.’
‘You certainly can, like those office doors you pass that have pictures of Che, or Lenin, or the hammer-and-sickle, on them. Some mass-murderers are all right, apparently. Anyway, I’d better go. I’ll see you this afternoon at TITE.’