It’s not every day that you get to hear a professor muse about whatever topic is most dear to them. Usually, they must stick to the syllabus and course material. However, the sorority Tri Delta put together an event last week which allowed Southwestern Professor of History, Erik Loomis, to discuss his deepest and most integral philosophy.
Tri Delta calls the event their “Last Lecture”. According to Tri Delta’s Academic Development Chair Jessica Bolton, Last Lecture attempts to “honor a professor by giving them the opportunity to give a lecture that can be truly meaningful to them and everyone that hears it.” Bolton explained that the spirit of the event came from Randy Pausch’s book Last Lecture. Pausch had terminal cancer, and wrote the book over his last and very inspirational lecture on achieving your childhood dreams.
After being voted this year’s speaker, Loomis explained that “it was a great honor to be asked” and was very excited for the opportunity to “make the lecture whatever I wanted it to be, using themes that were central to my philosophy, research, and career”. The honor Loomis felt came through in his lecture. Anyone at the lecture could tell how prepared he was and how serious of a topic this was for him.
The lecture itself covered topics on environmentalism and was provocative, foreboding, funny and inspirational. Loomis began his lecture with a series of criticisms against modernity. He claimed that “some people just want to leave the world with more stuff” while wrongly asserting that “technology and the free market will solve all our problems.” Perhaps, Loomis stated, we must be “willing to reject modern life and the comforts of it” in order to combat the growing problem of environmental scarcity.
Throughout the lecture, Loomis left few stones unturned. Loomis articulated that thoughtful people need to “think about the world in a complex manner” and “try not to be satisfied with easy answers.” Indeed, complex issues deserve complex answers. There may not be one “-ism” that solves our problems. Loomis argued this by stating that “communism and capitalism are two sides of the same coin” because throughout history the environment has been exploited at the hands of both systems. In like manner, Loomis argued that we must reject capitalism’s message of insatiable profit and growth, but be weary of environmental movements not concerned with the needs of working class people.
Loomis’ complex viewpoint may be more understandable when we look at his background story. The Loomis we know, the intellectual with thought provoking lectures, comes from a working class, close to the earth community. Loomis told me that his dad worked at a plywood mill, in “a logging town that enjoyed nature in a different way than the environmental community.” After further discussion, he explained that many environmentalists of the 1980s and 1990s possessed a view point that was far too “black and white.” The loggers of his town loved the land, and Loomis gained an “interest in nature and hiking” through his childhood community. Most probably don’t imagine an environmental historian to be the son of a working class logger, but perhaps that background has assisted Loomis in finding a middle ground, which allows room for opposing interests and viewpoints to be combined and improved upon.
Loomis ended his lecture with themes of hope and optimism. He marveled at how lucky humans are because of “the beautiful world we live in.” Loomis urged us to appreciate the beauty of the world, which can be found in our own backyards. According to Loomis, what we need to be concerned with is living “the good life.” We must “live with great joy, exploring art and the world.” And of course, we must “try to leave the world a better place.”
Shortly after Loomis closed, a burst of applause erupted from the McComb’s Ballroom audience. Tri Delta’s event was a huge success, and I think speak for everyone when I say that I’m glad Loomis will have many more lectures to come.