A Tribute to Doug Washer
As most of you know, I never got to get a formal education. I didn’t graduate from high school (I do have my GED, though) and I never went to university. However, when I was 27 and 28, I did take some classes at Longview Community College. The story goes like this: I had been studying philosophy on average for 8 hours per day since I turned 21. However, I was functionally illiterate when I started this undertaking. Yes, I could read good enough to function in my everyday activities, but I couldn’t open up a newspaper or a novel and truly understand what I was reading. So, studying philosophy was simultaneously the way I learned to properly read. Learning philosophy is how I learned how to learn. Needless to say, the first 3 years of this process were filled with immense frustration. I just had to pick Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Kierkegaard, Hegel, Nietzsche, Sartre, etc., to be the first writers I truly ever attempted to read. It sounds so bizarre to say that I learned to read by reading Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, but it’s true. Half of the time was spent simply looking up words in the dictionary. Anyway, this is what I did with the vast majority of my time from 21 to 27. I never had any intention on going to college or pursuing philosophy in any academic sense. Hell, I had no idea what academia/university even was outside of its depictions in the pop culture I grew up consuming, e.g., Good Will Hunting, Dead Poet’s Society, Higher Learning, Back to School, Teen Wolf Too, Real Genius, Private School, Animal House, Scream 2, Revenge of the Nerds, House Party 2, Saved By the Bell: The College Years, etc. This, to me, meant that college is the place one goes to either binge drink and get laid or to nerd out on science and math. I did not associate philosophy with academia (it turns out that I was wise beyond my years).
Ok, so, when I was 26, one of my best friends, Ronnie AKA ‘Noke’, started bugging me to go take an intro to philosophy class at Longview taught by a guy named Doug Washer. Noke had taken Doug’s class the year prior and really loved it. Noke just kept on bugging me about it and I just kept on ignoring him. However, Noke didn’t let up. His stubborn insistence got so bad that I finally caved (thank you, Noke). However, I was so intimidated by the thought of taking an actual philosophy class that I forced myself to take a reading course before I’d allow myself to sign up to take philosophy with Doug. I did well in the reading class, so I finally enrolled in Doug’s class the following semester. I remember the first time I walked into his classroom, Room 209, in the Liberal Arts building. I felt so terribly out of place and in over my head (little did I know that I already knew more about philosophy than all of the other students combined). I immediately liked Doug. He was so welcoming, personable, and funny. One of Doug’s greatest attributes as a teacher was his ability to find the lively humor in the most abstract of philosophical ideas. Anyway, by the very end of that first class, Doug and I were basically having our own spirited discussion about Hegelian dialectics — I now feel bad for the other students, since none of them had any idea of what was being discussed. As the weeks past, Doug and I started to stay after class and converse about philosophy for an extra hour or two. I was just so happy to have finally found someone I could talk philosophy with at such a high level. Remember, there were no easily accessible online philosophy groups scattered about on social media for me to participate in back in those days. Up until then, the only people I could have philosophical discussions with were the two artists I’d become friends with at Borders, but they were really only interested in existentialism — Doug, however, could actually teach me about what Kant was talking about!
During that first philosophy course, Doug introduced me to the works and concepts of the Presocratics, the Stoics, Aquinas, Peirce, James, Dewey, Whitehead, Husserl, Bachelard, Mill, Wittgenstein, Schopenhauer, Locke, McLuhan, Saussure, Beauvoir, Marx, Freud, Cassirer, Leibniz, Weiner, Spinoza, etc., while also clarifying and refining my understanding of Kant, Sartre, Nietzsche, Plato, Aristotle, and so on. I would go on to take all of the other courses Doug also taught, which included introduction to logic, introduction to ethics and introduction to psychology. These four courses, which I took across the span of two years, have had more of a long-lasting impact on me as a thinker than Doug will ever know. Not to mention that during this period, Doug was so overly generous with his time. Not only would he stay late after class just so I could bombard him with questions, but he even set aside time during his week to read through entire books and essays with me. Together, we read through Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Aristotle’s Categories, Leibniz’s Monadology, Sartre’s Existentialism is a Humanism, just to name a few. And after those first couple of years, Doug would even let me sit in on any of his classes whenever I wanted to. I know that I sat in on his into to philosophy course at least 4 times and sat in on the other courses 2 or 3 times. But it didn’t stop there, Doug set it up where I got to tutor his students in philosophy whenever they needed help. From there, he helped me get the first real essay I ever wrote accepted by the philosophy and religion conference hosted by Truman State University (I did go and present the essay at the conference). Doug even let me come in and guest lecture in his classes on Kierkegaard whenever he was teaching his students about existentialism. Best of all, however, is that Doug became one of my best friends. He simply is one of my favorite human beings. And if it wasn’t for Doug letting me guest lecture on Kierkegaard, I would have never met Christian Pointer, who is now one of my closest friends (Christian was a student in Doug’s class at the time).
But all good things must come to an end. Not long after this, Doug decided to retire and spend more of his time travelling with his amazing wife Dee. But those four years I spent with him at Longview will stay with me the rest of my life (they are some of the best memories I have). What motivated me to finally write this long overdue tribute to Doug was my trip back to Longview. I just had the urge to go there and walk through those halls. I, of course, stopped by Room 209 and even took a couple of photos. Here they are:
Simply put, all of the books and blog posts I’m writing, all of the work I’m doing now that centers around Žižek, Lacan, Baudrillard, McGowan, Zupančič, Deleuze, Hegel, Heidegger, etc., was made possible by what I learned from the great Doug Washer. Long story short, Doug Washer forever changed my life and played an essential role in making me the thinker that I am today. I am forever indebted to him, and not primarily for teaching me about various philosophers, but, more profoundly, for teaching me how to philosophize as such. It’s not just what Doug taught me, but how he taught it. You taught me how to wrestle with the dangerous maybe. Doug, I love you and thank you for all you have done for me. Thank you for your time, attention, insight, humor, love, and patience (I also want to thank Dee for being so supportive of me). You helped turn a dumb kid from Raytown into a thinker. If the world was filled with teachers like you, then it would be a far, far better place to live and think. If anyone could make me a Platonist, then it would be you, Doug Washer, since you truly are the Platonic Form of the Teacher.