It all starts with a dot. A black pool so tiny you wouldn’t notice it unless you were looking. A pause. Another dot and then another pause.
Is this the right thing to do? It isn’t too late to stop. Right up to the moment after something is done, it isn’t too late to stop but the professor forgets that quite a lot. He buffers his impulsive decisions with “Well, by that point, I couldn’t very well turn around and change my mind!” as if he has conveniently forgotten his many rants against determinism, extolling the virtues of free will. It is very irritating.
Once, he had flown to Spain on a whim, leaving his ten undergraduate students alone and puzzled in what was, quite frankly, a not very comfortable study room. His response when he returned was a sorrowful, “Oh chaps,” (he called everyone chap) “I am sorry to leave you in the lurch. I simply had to speak to that Spanish professor if we were ever going to get anywhere with our debate. And by the time I’d phoned and arranged a coffee, I couldn’t very well turn around and change my mind, now could I?”
There was only one member of the class brave enough to point out that he could have just asked the Spaniard over the phone. He was silenced with nothing but a sad shake of the head that told the boy he knew nothing of philosophy, debates or social conduct.
And so, with this impulsive determination, the professor put his pen to paper once more, just missing the dots he’d already made and therefore creating a splodge.
“I have to go”
He stopped, looking at the sentence in distaste. “No you don’t,” he muttered to himself. He heard his mother’s voice ringing in his ears, ” When will you take some responsibility!”
He had laughed at that. He was a Red Brick professor teaching impressionable students modern philosophy. Who was more responsible than he?
He crossed out the sentence and started again on the next line. “I don’t have to go. I want to. Knowing I have complete free will and therefore complete responsibility is too much. I have been driven mad by stepping on a line of ants. I cry at night because I heard the woman next door beating her husband and I did nothing to stop it. I am throwing myself into the unknown and if I am forced to take responsibility for this final act, so be it. If I am not, then I can finally lead a peaceful life. To my students: my most irresponsible act was teaching you the philosophy of free will. I hope it isn’t too late for you. I’m sorry.”
He puts down his pen, knowing that the outspoken student would cry the hardest, and moves to his bathroom, shutting the door gently as he goes. So I suppose, in a way, it all ended with a dot as well.
~ Michaela Carroll 2015