Philosophy gives a new Haven to LMC

“Edward, what do you think happens after you die?”

That was the question a seventh-grade history teacher asked Edward Haven, Los Medanos College’s newest Philosophy professor, to demonstrate Socratic questioning as part of a unit on classical Greece and Rome.

“I gave him my answer, and he said ‘why do you think that?’,” Haven remembers. “I gave him another answer, and he said ‘why do you think that?’”

This pattern of Socratic questioning continued unrelentingly until “eventually it came to the point where I realized, really the only reason I thought what I thought, was because that’s what my parents had told me,” explained Haven.

The experience sent him into a short, but deep period of introspection and self-reflection. This early brush with philosophical thought foreshadowed events later in life that would lead Haven to teach Philosophy at LMC.

“It was this sudden realization of ‘that’s not a very good answer’ that stuck with me,” he said. “But it wasn’t until college that I realized this is a discipline you can study.”

Even in college however, he didn’t start down the path of philosophy right away. Maybe it was a loss of interest over time, or maybe it was the seventh-grade interrogation that scared him away, but it took time for him to re-engage with the discipline. He started his studies at Sierra College in the Sacramento area as an engineering major.

“I took calculus,” he said, laughing as he explained what prompted the change to Philosophy. “I saw calculus and said ‘no thank you.’ I bombed that class so hard. Luckily the teacher dropped me anyways so I didn’t have to retake calculus.”

“But that put me in a crisis,” he recalled, growing somber. “I tried architecture, but that still requires quite a bit of math. Then I did history and political science.”

Disillusioned with college and still unsure about his major, Haven found himself randomly wandering through the library one day after class, “not knowing what to do, and asking some questions about what I wanted to do with my life.”

“I went to college because it was the thing you were supposed to do,” said Haven in his LMC office, sitting leisurely on a chair, surrounded by deskwork.

Then he transported himself back to that day in the Sierra College library, wandering through the shelves, until he stumbled randomly onto the philosophy section.

“I’m doing it because I’m supposed to, but I don’t know to what end, or why,” he said.

“I saw this book,” he began. “It had a leaf on the cover, and it was called Being and Time.

Immediately, something about the book struck the young Haven as “familiar,” and he began to read it.

“What does it mean to be?”

That was the question the book’s first line asked Edward Haven, a freshman in college unsure of what his life meant or where it was going.

“I was like, ‘Damn, that’s the question I’m trying to ask,’” he recollected. “I checked it out and started reading it… it just spoke to me. I was like, ‘Yes, this is the problem I have and these are the answers that make sense to me.’”

The book gave him some much-needed guidance – but beyond cosmic coincidence, Haven still has no idea what exactly it was about the book that called to him, that seemed so familiar that day in the library.

“I tried to figure out where I had seen that book before – my mom and my father had never heard of the book,” he said. “But something about that book just kind of said, ‘this is the time and here is the place.’ I’m not someone who believes in, like, crazy mysticism or something like that. But there seemed to be some… who knows how to describe it?”

Whatever that hidden factor was, the book not only called out to Haven, it drew Haven in to the world of academic philosophy. Being and Time is the main text of Martin Heidegger and Haven quickly sought out more of his works, reading volumes of his essays over summer.

“I said to myself, this is something I want to do,” Haven remembered with a smile.

Knowing what major he would pursue for the rest of his college career was a great source of both relief and motivation. But there was still work to be done if he was to be able to pursue it – it wasn’t just calculus he had flunked in his academic restlessness.

“I had a 1.7 GPA,” he recalled none too proudly. “I got my act together… retook all my F’s and D’s and ended up with a 3.3 and transferred to University of California, Riverside.”

One of his professors recommended it, he said, adding, “I wanted to go to Berkeley but I didn’t make it in, so I went ‘OK, I’ll go to UCR.’”

Haven’s second choice ended up being “one of the best decisions” he ever made, however. At Riverside, he met Professor Mark Rathall, one of the nation’s top Heidegger scholars. Haven’s studies with Rathall and other faculty members led to Heidegger being his main philosophical focus in undergraduate school —“my main bread and butter, if you will,” he said. “At least at the beginning it was Heidegger, which is a phenomenology, kind of a methodology, existentialism. But then my interests started to move much more to postmodernism, and the critique of things like phenomenology, and the modernism of Hegel.”

Even after getting his bachelor’s degree, Haven knew he still wasn’t anywhere near done, academically.

“If you’re familiar with philosophy, there aren’t lots of jobs,” he said laughing. “What you do if you study philosophy is, you teach it. I liked the idea of teaching, so I did that – part of my background is that I tutored in college.”

He applied to graduate school, to earn a degree required for teaching on the college level and “decided to go to the University of Chicago, site unseen.”

It takes courage to attend a college without having ever set foot on campus. For Haven, it was the outstanding faculty members that drew him in – at least at first.

“So, I wanted to go there because … Mark Rathall and a number of other people are all students of a professor who was at Berkeley, Hubert Dreyfus he’s kind of the guy who is responsible for bringing Heidegger into the mainstream,” Haven began.

“[Dreyfus] had all students who had kind of spread out. At University of Chicago they had John Hogland, who one of his students. I had been working with Mark Rathhall, and he knew John Hogland, and he put in a word for me, and I was all ready to go.”

But every story has a twist, and Haven described this story as “unfortunate.”

“John Hogland died of a heart attack that summer, before I showed up, which was very unfortunate, both for him, but also for me because I showed up and there was no one for me to work with,” he said. “It ended up being kind of a mess. I didn’t have anyone to be my mentor and work with, and I got paired with someone who I kind of found myself disagreeing with a lot.”

So, how did Haven manage to make the dire situation work?

“I kind of just forced my way through it,” he laughed. “It was a very brutal space anyways, so I just kind of put my head down and focused. I got through, but I did not get through well.

“The University of Chicago, what’s it’s known for is working people like dogs,” he continued. ““It was a condensed Masters’ program, so I did it in a year,” As a result, graduates students take three classes at a time “and for each you’re reading 700 pages a week, and you have to write a 30-page paper. And they don’t have semesters, they have quarters, so every 10 weeks you have to turn out three 30 page papers.”

Students in the program had to devote every waking moment just to get it all done. “You’d just pull all-nighters and stay locked up in the library. It’s snowy in Chicago, so you don’t need to go outside,” he added on with a smile.

One way or another, Haven made it through, graduating in 2010. He stayed in Chicago for a while, working with a foreclosure law firm, but never forgot his desire to teach. With a Master’s degree from a school like The University of Chicago, he probably could have taught anywhere, but decided to come back to his roots, and took a part-time position in the Sacramento area, working not only at his own alma mater Sierra College but also at several others within the area. Three years later, he was hired, at LMC. But why LMC?

“They had a job,” Haven said nonchalantly.

A moment passed, and Haven chuckled before continuing his explanation.

“No, it’s more than that. I really liked the culture here. I think the students here are a much more close-knit group, I think the students are much more interested in just learning and doing what they need to do.”

“The University of Chicago, at that level, and I think this is true of the Ivy League schools, are kind of disconnected from everyday life,” Haven elaborates.

“It was a lot of name dropping and who do you know, look at this fancy thing I can show off rather than any sort of practical enjoyment of philosophy. That’s what drew me to community college. There’s no airs and fancy frills to it, it’s just people interested in learning. I like that.”

Haven commutes everyday from Sacramento, his hometown, a city where he loves the “vibrant” yet “laid back and mellow” culture and flow of life. Outside of philosophy, he loves watching soccer and playing video games – he’s spent an “embarrassing” amount of time playing Football Manager among other titles.

At the end of the day, philosophy is still something he absolutely loves doing – but whether he is a scholar or a philosopher is up in the air.

“There’s always been a big debate in myself as to whether I get to call myself a philosopher. I think every philosopher has that debate,” he said. “Philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom, so I would think a philosopher is someone who pursues wisdom. But that doesn’t really answer the question, it just changes it to what is the definition of wisdom.”

And what is wisdom in his opinion?

“Wisdom isn’t intelligence. If I get a phone book and I memorize every single name in that phone book, I have a lot of information, and I have a certain intelligence. But was that wise of me to do? I would say no, because anyone can look that up on their phone. So wisdom seems to be a different thing than just intelligence, and it seems to me to be a deeper understanding of the meaning of things.”

“Socrates says the kind of knowledge that goes into wisdom, is the knowledge to identify the one thing that makes something unique. That one piece that makes it meaningful and significant. The one thing that makes a desk fundamentally different from a chair.”

“That’s what I see as a philosopher, someone who is hunting out that kind of knowledge. Something like that, I don’t know if I’d give the same answer twice in a row.”

“The other thing I would say is that a philosopher is someone who can no longer speak plain English,” Haven added as an afterthought, completely straight-faced. “Once you go down the path of philosophy, you know you gotta give up your friends,” he said.

Quite a few seconds passed before he laughed that off.