‘The Yamaluta symbolises the illusory nature of experience. How we should not trust what we see or are told. It enjoins us to look behind the apparent.’
‘Good advice,’ says Ren. ‘I’m glad you wore that, otherwise I might have fallen for what you were telling us. You’re wearing your own personal self-underminer.’
‘I’m wearing it in solidarity with the Heshka-skian,’ says Balderstone. ‘Their wisdom, along with many other non-Western traditions, has been marginalised.’ Balderstone looks at Ren. ‘Especially by analytic philosophers.’
‘Guilty as charged,’ says Ren. ‘There’s no arguing with a necklace, is there?’
‘Dr Balderstone, you need to get control of this class,’ says Lenora, looking at Ren. ‘Dr Christopher is constantly making a mockery of it, and you’re letting him get away with it. It’s impeding our progress.’
‘Old-fashioned discipline. Hear hear!’ says Ren.
‘Dr Helminth, if I may,’ says Miles politely, ‘both you and Dr Balderstone have been arguing in this class that we need to get away from old-style lectures where it’s all about the lecturer telling the students what’s what. Let the students speak, you’ve been saying. It’s all about a conversation. Don’t silence dissent, and so on. Now you’re saying that Ren needs to be silenced, and the great man be allowed to speak unchallenged.’
‘I’m not saying he can’t be challenged. Just not by…’
‘Not by Ren, you mean? Because he doesn’t have the right views?’
‘That’s not what I’m saying. Ren is not entering into the spirit of this class.’
‘So he needs to have the right political views to pass the course?’ says Lily. ‘Is that what it comes down to?’
‘I’m not saying that,’ says Lenora. ‘Anyway, that’s not my decision.’
‘He does need have to have the right political views,’ says Malcom Ascaris, awake again. ‘We wouldn’t let a Nazi pass the course if he’s spouting Nazism. So politics is relevant. Political truth is relevant. If Dr Christopher rejects the political truths that are being revealed in this course then he has failed.’
‘Truth?’ says Lily. ‘You’re talking about truth now, when last week you were telling us that truth is a social construct?’
‘Political truths are different than the grand narratives that pass for truth in science and economics,’ says Malcom.
‘So there are truths, but only in politics?’ says Douglas.
‘The truth can be a matter of social pragmatism. Seen from the viewpoint of absolute historicism.’
‘That isn’t helping.’
‘Put it this way,’ says Malcom. ‘The social construct that underpins this course demands certain responses.’
‘So that social construct can’t be challenged?’ asks Lily.
‘It can be challenged, but only from within its own terms,’ says Malcom.
‘Isn’t that just another way of saying that you have to have the right politics or philosophical beliefs to pass?’ says Lily.
‘And why can’t you challenge this social construct?’ says Douglas. ‘Isn’t challenging social constructs a good thing? I still don’t get what a social construct really is.’
‘No, you don’t,’ says Malcom. ‘But whatever you think of this social construction, it forms the basis of this course. So you have to operate within its terms to pass.’
‘I’ve got the message Malcom, thanks,’ says Ren. ‘I have to have the right politics to pass. Thanks for clearing that up.’
‘Malcom is not in charge of this course,’ says Balderstone, ‘and it is not about having the right politics. But it is about having the right spirit of enquiry.’
‘The spirit that Derrida possesses, rather than John Searle?’
‘I don’t know John Searle, but as I have previously said, Derrida’s questing intellect would be a good model, yes.’
‘Or George Monbiot?’
‘I suppose so.’
‘All right then. Here’s some enquiry in the required spirit. It’s not what I think, but it’s the sort of thing I’d imagine you lot might. Isn’t wearing that native symbol an appropriation of someone else’s culture? Like you get some of their supposed wisdom just by the shallow surface action of wearing an item of clothing? Isn’t it the same as wearing a Native American headdress and claiming you share the Navaho spirit?’
Balderstone looks unsettled by this, but shakes his head.
‘I’m not claiming to possess the wisdom of the Heshka-skian. I’m just drawing attention to their views.’
‘It might be said that you’re trivialising their views, and bigging yourself up by a pretend solidarity. Isn’t that the sort of thing you’d say, Lenora?’
‘No,’ says Lenora uneasily. ‘It seems reasonable to me to draw attention to alternative ways of thinking. It’s the sort of thing we should be doing in class.’
‘So in your next class you’ll wear a gimp suit and a Navaho headdress?’
‘You’re the ones trivialising things,’ says Balderstone. ‘You show a continued hostility to alternative ways of thinking.’
‘I didn’t say anything about those ways of thinking. It’s your behaviour I’m challenging. It’s glib, and surface, and patronising. And some of your comrades might say that what you’re doing is appropriating other cultures. Raping them like any other Western imperialist.’
‘A better effort, Dr Christopher, but I don’t think that idea is going to fly.’
‘On what basis do you decide such things?’
‘Well, let’s see what people think. Anyone like this idea?’
A couple of hands go up from the Wetlanders, and then go back down.
‘So you’re running it up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes? Or if the right people salute? How is that a serious basis to decide on things? This is a University course. A course for University lecturers no less. And that’s all you have as a basis for deciding on an idea?’
‘That’s just a straw poll to see if it’s worth debating. That’s not how we decide.’
‘So how do you decide anything? You’re not too keen on logic and argument and empirical evidence.’
‘Not on your ideas of those things. But I will give you credit for that idea. Although it’s rather a weak idea, it is in the right spirit.’
‘Give it time. You’ll all adopt it eventually. You try on new ideas like hats, discarding the ones that go out of fashion every few years, and you’ll grab whatever bad ideas are lying around.’
‘Drawing attention and identifying with suppressed cultures is never going to be a bad thing,’ says Lenora.
‘When you run out of other things to complain about you won’t be so fussy. You lot draw on increasingly ridiculous ideas, and in ten years times it’s only going to get worse. God knows what you’ll all be spouting then.’
Balderstone calls a break. During the break he beckons Ren over.
‘Dr Christopher, I do have to object strongly to your continued disrespectful interjections. You’re on your way to failing this class, and you know what that means for your position at this University.’
‘And I object strongly to what you are teaching. You’re supposed to be improving our professional performance, not trying to turn us into postmodernists and political activists. You completely disregard the relevant empirical evidence in this field.’
‘I should let you know that I will be making a formal complaint to your department about your behaviour.’
‘Complain away. I’ve already complained about what you are up to.’
‘My course has the support of the University.’
‘You’d better hope that’s really true. But I’ll tell you what. Next week I shall come embodying the spirit of your teaching. I hope you’ll be pleased.’