It is well-known that academics have ruined legal education. Law schools routinely hire professors who have never or barely practiced law, and who write about topics of no value to any practicing lawyer. See here for an example. (In so doing, the law profs perpetuate a false dichotomy between theory and practice, essentially claiming they are better at theory simply because they have never practiced.) A better kept secret, however, is that law schools are increasingly hiring Ph.D.s in economics and similar disciplines who don’t even have a law degree, let alone any legal practice experience, let alone even a license to practice law. See here and here for more details on this absolutely pathetic state of affairs in legal education.
Similarly, professors at the college level have ruined the study of philosophy. Back in the day of Socrates and the Hellenistic schools of philosophy that followed in his footsteps, philosophy was focused on how to live a good life. Today, however, academics have turned philosophy into pure semantics. The Stoic philosopher Seneca saw this coming about 2,000 years ago, and explained it, in Letters from a Stoic, this way:
[L]ook at the amount of useless and superfluous matter to be found in the philosophers. Even they have descended to the level of drawing distinctions between the uses of different syllables and discussing the proper meanings of prepositions and conjunctions. . . . Listen and let me show you the sorry consequences to which subtlety carried too far can lead . . . Protagoras declares that it is possible to argue either side of any question with equal force, even the question whether or not one can equally argue either side of any question! . . . Well, all these theories you should just toss on top of that heap of superfluous liberal studies.
When I read this, I couldn’t help but think of this academic, philosophical puzzle: When does “a heap of salt” cease to be “a heap”? Philosophy professors love to tease their young, impressionable, high-school-educated students with this question, much like a sadistic dog-owner hides the toy behind his back. Are 2,500 grains of salt a heap? Yes? Well, what if I take away 100 grains of the salt? Still a heap? What if I take away 1,000 grains? Or 2,000 grains?
Of course, this gamesmanship thrives on the lack of specificity in our word choice. If I had the time and patience to count the grains of salt, I would simply call the object of our attention “2,500 grains of salt,” or “500 grains of salt,” as the case may be. But because this is at best impracticable, I rely on terms like “heap” or “pile” or “a few” — all of which are imprecise and open to debate.
Seneca and his Stoic-philosopher compatriots would, of course, condemn this type of debate (along with this blog post, I’m sure). Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but ponder a comparable question: When does my White Russian fail to be a White Russian? For those who don’t know, the White Russian is one or two parts vodka, one part Kahluha, and one part heavy cream. (Here is a fun a video; drink responsibly, and only if you are of legal age.) But if you substitute milk for the heavy cream — a sensible choice, to be sure — the drink becomes known as the “Anna Kournikova.” Anna is pictured above and is a white, Russian tennis star and supermodel.
But what if I go half way? What if I substitute half-and-half, instead of milk, for the heavy cream? Based on the opening scene of The Big Lebowski, half-and-half appeared to be The Dude’s choice as well. If I go this route, do I still have a White Russian? Or is it now an "Anna Kournikova"?
I love Anna, so my preference, of course, is to name it after her. However, I must admit that I also like the idea of using “white” and “Russian,” as it would no doubt agitate today’s hypersensitive millennials. Again, for those who don’t know, anything referencing “white” creates turmoil on many college campuses, and anything referencing “Russian” invokes thoughts of meddling in the 2016 election which some believe contributed to the Trump victory. (For those who care to know, I'm largely apolitical and, much like the Cynics of ancient Greece, put little faith in any politician or political party.)
I’m torn. But putting my personal preferences aside, I think the more accurate name for the drink — taking into account the imprecision of our language including such terms as “heap of salt” — would be the “Maria Sharapova.”
Maria is a taller, more successful Russian tennis player but a less successful supermodel. Well, objectively speaking, she is taller and more successful on the court; however, her relative success as a supermodel is just speculation on my part. In any case, the name seems to fit. That’s what I’m calling it: the “Maria Sharapova.”
I’m now going to take my “Maria Sharapova” and get back to reading my Seneca, while ignoring everything written by modern, academic philosophers of all races and national origins.