"As*holes" Lecture Fails to Provoke
It’s rare for a Skidmore event to be at full capacity, particularly a lecture, and especially one that is run by a student. Abude Alasaad ‘17 and Psychology Professor Sheldon Solomon’s lecture on Monday, September 29, in Filene, was absolutely packed; every chair was full, every step of the aisles was occupied, and students stood, sat, or crouched in the upper levels of the room. The provocative title of the event was “Why are people assholes?,” which Professor Solomon said he had no part in choosing. In fact, Solomon opened the lecture by telling his audience that Alasaad had not even informed him of the subject matter of the night’s lecture, nor when and where it was occurring, until the Monday morning of the event. Unfortunately, this lack of forethought and planning became clear throughout the remaining hour.
Solomon arrived about ten minutes late, so the event began with a six minute clip of comedian Louis C.K. doing a stand-up bit on selfishness, to keep the crowd occupied and entertained. Then, Alasaad proposed a conjecture about our perception of morality, based upon how we’d all save a child’s life if they were drowning in a pond near us, even at the expense of losing a $30 rack of beer we’d just purchased, but we do not regularly donate $30 to save children’s lives across the world. He claimed that thus, we are all selfish assholes. Solomon arrived in his typical mountain-man/gym-wear attire, noisily adjusted the chairs and table on stage, and then there was an awkward few minutes during which a man walked on stage to attach microphones to Alassad and Solomon, after they’d already begun talking. One of the mics then did not work, so Solomon and Alasaad clumsily traded one clip-on mic throughout the lecture; all of this could have been easily avoided with a little more planning.
Solomon then gave a quasi-intellectual lecture on why we are not assholes, but have a tendency to act “assholically.” He talked about evolutionary psychology and our habit of caring more about the people around us than those who are distanced from us or seen as ‘other.’ Interesting, sure, but certainly not groundbreaking information. He went on to speak about how our society has become one concerned with individualism, rather than collectivism, along with numerous other revelations we all learned in freshman year or earlier. The redundant subject matter benefitted from Solomon’s wit, honesty, intellect, and the fact that the man is an on-campus celebrity.
Alasaad then took the mic and stated that he disagrees with Solomon, that he believes we are all assholes. The two of them referred to a book called The Life You Can Save, a modern philosophy book by Peter Singer on the importance of altruism. Sheldon used the author’s beliefs as a means to dodge some of Alasaad’s broad and cumbersome questions about whether not donating to charities makes us murderers--still trying to weave the $30 of beer metaphor in as a desperate attempt to appeal and relate to students. The two of them engaged in very little genuine dialogue.
An event that was supposed to broaden student’s minds and facilitate dialogue both during and after the event ended, turned into a disjointed two-person lecture. Alasaad, visibly frustrated, struggled to advance his ideology on why people are assholes. This left audience members wondering whether there was any truth to his repeated claim that he was just trying to stimulate discussion, not persuade us in any direction. There was little time for questions at the end, and the questions that Alasaad posed at the beginning were barely answered.
Alasaad’s mission is important. Encouraging and facilitating intellectual conversations outside of the classroom and dismantling our community’s alleged apathy is a great endeavor. I’m glad he’s put together this series of events with Solomon in order to try and achieve that. That being said, Monday night’s poor planning made for a disappointing lecture, despite being one of the most well-attended student events in recent memory.