by Con Chapman
ST. LOUIS, Mo. As the American Philosophical Association’s annual convention wound down following yesterday’s plenary session, professors from around the country took time off from the presentation of academic papers to focus their analytical skills on less weighty matters.
“The bus is leaving for midget wrestling in five minutes, people!” Beth Turley, a coordinator at the convention shouts at a group of epistemologists, or specialists in how we know we know what we think we know. “I tell you,” she says as the philosophers mill about, questioning whether the bus is real, “It’s like herding cats, except cats are cute.”
The APA, the largest membership organization of professional philosophers, has traditionally negotiated steep group discounts that fit its members’ impecunious lifestyles based on the premise that deep thinkers were quiet, introspective types unlikely to damage hotel rooms. That image is fading, however, and now hoteliers say philosophers are no better than proctologists or pipefitters in terms of wear and tear they inflict on hotel staff, property and other guests.
“I had to warn a couple of phenomenologists last year not to throw water balloons off their deck,” says Hyatt Regency manager Ted Lindemann. “They said they wouldn’t stop unless I could prove by symbolic logic that it was them that hit the family with the two toddlers.”
Competition between major cities for conventions is fierce, a fact that the philosophers use to force concessions from exhibition hall operators who need a steady stream of business to turn a profit. “We added pole dancing last year at the request of the aesthetic philosophers,” says Reed Morton, manager of Cleveland’s Lake Erie Pavilion. “They kept the place open ’til two in the morning debating whether the presence of the pole caused the work of ‘Chakita’ to be less ‘real’ than that of a regular stripper.”
The only group in a position to curb philosophical excesses, according to Convention and Trade Show Monthly, is one nowhere to be found when the seekers after the true, the good and the beautiful are getting their crankcases oiled–their spouses. “I’ve put up with it for about as long as I can stand,” says Muriel Hill, whose husband is a tenured professor at the University of Chicago.
“Every year he comes back with a monstrous hangover and some cock-and-bull story about how he left his manuscript in the overhead compartment on the plane,” she notes. “Then he tries to buy me off with a fleece pullover from the host city and a paperback edition of Descartes.”