The trees are changing color on the beautiful Northeast college campus. A professor strolls with a student tagging along. The professor wears dark, thick tweed and has almost angry dignity.
“The trees are red and orange and brown,” the professor says, painting with his fingertips in the air. “I really like that about them because often times I find green to be…boring? I don’t want to be controversial here, but a lot of times I find green to be a little… pedestrian?”
“Yes!” says the eager student. “Often times I’ll be walking through a glen or a shady, mossy, oak-y, wood. And I’ll find myself thinking, ‘Darn, these colors are a little…boring?’”
“Yes, that is exactly true. I find that if I’m ever with, I don’t know, my daughter, and we’re driving along, and she says, ‘dad-de,’ That’s how she talks, she says, ‘dad-de, I saw a bird.’ I would say, ‘What color was it, and was it pedestrian?’ I find that she just doesn’t have the capacity to really understand my depth of taste. In fact, I find that most people cannot interest me in a conversation, I hate to say it. I think that it is important to train children to not be so…pedestrian?”
“Yes, Professor Malgoth, you’re right to do so! I find that a lot of children will say, ‘Oo, look at that balloon, it’s so shiny.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Shiny? What a seriously one dimensional thing to appreciate about a balloon. What about its shape? What about its buoyancy? Fascinating enough that helium is lighter than air, what a marvel of physics and engineering, if I were to be so bold?” He laughs at his own incredulity.
Professor Malgoth looks at the student, as if he had not checked who was walking with him until this moment. A smile appears on the professor’s face which previously looked incapable of a smile. The student can’t bear to look back. “That’s exactly true, Donald, I find that I’m often bored to death by children’s babble. My daughter, although I am trying to teach her, is a little lacking. Perhaps I should send her to a Sam Harris retreat, just to wake her up a little. I feel that she’s under the spell of Sesame Street or whatever it is she watches.” The professor looks up, hands behind his back. “All of this ennui has given me, often times, a serious existential panic,” he says in exactly the same tone of voice. “I am often thinking, what is the meaning? Does my life matter? Should I commit suicide? That sort of thing. And I find that much deeper than a lot of the conversations I hear students having, which are usually, ‘Where do I park,’ or, ‘What kind of Chipotle burrito do you want?’ And there is nothing wrong with that, but I find it shallow, and frankly, it hastens my death by my own hand.”
Donald’s eyes widen as the professor speaks, but he also stands a little taller. “Yes, Professor, I totally agree! I’m often thinking, as a thought experiment, ‘I don’t have any real friends, I’m totally alone, and I’d like to end my life.’”
“Well, that is an interesting thought experiment. If we were to take it to its logical conclusion, we would see that, if all students like you ended your own lives, we would have no good students left.”
Donald smiles. “Thank you, professor. It appears that, logically, neither of us can end our own lives without negatively impacting the other. I love an elegant solution.”
“Exactly true, Donald,” the Professor says.
They walk along, pointing at things that they agree are pedestrian.
Originally published at https://www.tumblr.com on January 18, 2020.