I feel sorry for my four work colleagues. All they really want to do is get along and have as pleasant a time as possible during the three months we are working together. The only fly in the ointment is me. I can’t stop talking about issues that I know will spark a heated discussion.
My colleagues are willing to have discussions about race, immigration and intelligence when we are out having a beer but that’s not enough for me. I want to have these discussions during breaks and over lunch. I am the bore who manages to shoehorn his manias into every discussion. For me these topics are like a loose tooth which I know I should leave alone but can’t; I want to poke and prod them.
The other teachers didn’t ask for any of this but have generally taken it all in good part, for which I am grateful. So let me describe how a typical argument might unfold. A couple of days ago it was a beautiful sunny day and three of us were walking to the station. J said that our university had a program whereby foreign students studying International Development Studies could come together to discuss the causes of world poverty. This was an opportunity for different people to explore different views. I wondered whether my own view, namely that a low-average national IQ often explains a country’s poverty, would have been welcomed. Stupidly I didn’t just think this but actually said it. D said that as long as I could back up my view with evidence it would be welcome at a university. She has just finished a Master’s degree and her daughter is now in her first year at college so she knows a little about contemporary campus life. I said that her view was how things should be but not how things actually are. Some views, no matter how well supported by evidence, are just not welcome. She wondered how I could possibly know this since I hadn’t been to university for several decades. I said I knew it from the internet, which even to my ears sounded a bit lame but hey, there was now no going back. I said that Charles Murray, despite having evidence to support his views, was not allowed to speak at Middlebury College. D had never heard of Charles Murray, nor his book The Bell Curve, but patiently explained to me that what I had just uttered was, in academic-speak, ‘anecdotal evidence’. I think by this she meant that my one isolated case didn’t constitute a rebuttal of her general point that free speech was alive and well on campus. I asked her why my fact was an ‘anecdote’ while other people’s facts were ‘evidence’. So I started to give another example of an academic not being allowed to speak on campus in the hope that enough anecdotes would finally constitute evidence but before I could get very far with this second anecdote D exploded: I DON’T NEED THIS AT THIS TIME OF THE MORNING! IT’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY. LOOK AT THE GRASS AND THE FLOWERS! CAN’T WE JUST ENJOY THEM?
Reader, you won’t be surprised to learn that silence ensued and I felt suitably contrite for having mounted my hobby horse so early on a sunny day. Even so, I doubt that my views would have been much more welcome on a rainy afternoon.