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Actual Wisdom: Sam Moyn

Sam Moyn

Sam Moyn, a professor of intellectual history, does not like smart phones, and is not down to chat about cheese. He claims to be neither famous, special, nor wise, but we beg to differ. Here is his Actual Wisdom

Justify your existence in 30 words or fewer: I teach existentialism in my classes, so I find it hard to see the argument that anyone’s existence is justifiable. These days, I mostly live for the sake of my children–including sparing them for as long as possible from the truth that there may be no meaning in life. Is that depressing? Sorry.

Your claim to fame: I’m neither famous nor special. See above.

What’s your most valuable or unexpected college experience? Where I went. I wasn’t permitted by my parents to take out the loans it would have took to enroll at Harvard College, which admitted me. I’ve had a completely different—and I hope far better—life because of it.

What’s the craziest student excuse/extension story you’ve heard? I’m a softie, so I’ve never demanded that students come up with whoppers as part of the time-honored ritual of getting an extension. I do like the look of surprise I sometimes get when a sick grandmother is enough to do the trick. (PS: If your grandmother really was sick, I hope she’s better now.)

Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? N/A

Back in my day… Unlike when I started, it’s routine today for students to spend lecture classes on their smart phones multitasking (or simply ignoring the teacher altogether). I still find it amazing that students seem to think their teachers are oblivious. But what else could people be doing—at least without breaking the law—when they stare for long periods at something they’re using their hands to manipulate in their laps out of sight?

Three things you learned at Columbia. I learned that from some perspectives there is not much difference between the academic scene and everywhere else, but from others there is all the difference in the world. I was unbelievably lucky to avoid a real job and to have the opportunity to teach college instead. The Core Curriculum is a privilege for its professors, and lecturing to the few students still listening in the age of smart phones is a thrill.

What’s your advice to students/academics/the human race in general? I don’t give advice, mainly because I don’t have any wisdom. At least none that isn’t pretty obvious. Of the goals that people pursue to provide meaning (or distract from meaninglessness), justice is underrated alongside the more usual strategies of God, pleasure, and love. Best of luck in your choices!

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  • CC '12 says:

    @CC '12 yikes- Historical Origins of Human Rights exam is tomorrow morning

    1. anon says:

      @anon sam moyn is actually a prick… actually.

  • hmmm says:

    @hmmm This is sorta underwhelming and the whole Harvard thing seemed like he just had a bone to pick. I’m sure he’s an excellent teacher–I’ve heard great things. But cmoooonn

    Also N/A ? poop

  • He mad says:

    @He mad “Havard College, which admitted me”

  • Best answer so far. says:

    @Best answer so far. “These days, I mostly live for the sake of my children–including sparing them for as long as possible from the truth that there may be no meaning in life.”

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous that was the most depressing wisdom ive read yet. im gonna go kill myself now

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous please don’t.

    2. i agree says:

      @i agree this “wisdom” is depressing as shit. he sounds like a bitter old man trapped in the body of a middle-aged intellectual who has yet to find any real meaning in his own life. i’m an existential nihilist too…but that’s why i embrace hedonism and love, so that i can will some meaning into my life. also, what’s the deal with the hangups about technology? he needs to get over it — it sounds more like he hasn’t been able to adapt his teaching style to the more fast-paced and shorter-attention-spanned classes of today, and is choosing to gripe about it instead of trying to do something to actively engage his classes. a nihilist he may claim to be, but his attitudes towards technology sound a bit moralistic to me.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous but what if the pace is too fast and the attention span too short to actually take the material seroiusly?

      2. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous sounds like you got finals in your vajayjay. possibly sand

    3. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous if this is a joke: too soon and not funny.

      if not: don’t do it. please don’t. suicide never makes anything better; it just makes it harder for the people you leave behind. consider scheduling a counseling appt (, or just reach out to the people you care about and who care about you. it makes all the difference.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous oh my god. i need to be his best friend.

  • Two existentialists says:

    @Two existentialists were sitting on a bench in Riverside Park. What did they say to each other?


    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous i want to like this twice.

    2. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous That awkward moment when you can’t tell if something is really funny or if you’re just stupidly tired…

  • moyn fan says:

    @moyn fan samuel moyn is one of the greatest professors at this university.

  • maybe says:

    @maybe I’m just so sleep deprived that I think everything’s hysterical, but I found this pretty funny

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous three times

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous This is the best one so far –really funny.

  • WUT says:

    @WUT > I wasn’t permitted by my parents to take out the loans it would have took to enroll at Harvard College
    > the loans it would have took to enroll at Harvard College
    > it would have took

    You sure you don’t regret missing out on that Harvard education?

    1. taken? says:

      @taken? grammar fail

  • ... says:

    @... why did you have children in the first place, then?

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous he sounds like a wonderful, wonderful person

  • he is... says:

    @he is... such a nihilist, but i love him to bits…i wanna kiss him on the lips

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous good god i hope he’s gotten a bj before…tha fuck you mean N/A?

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous BWOG please get rid of the oral sex question. Its not funny anymore and it takes the interview down.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous But seriously OP, oral sex or cheese?

  • All these "Actual Wisdom's have done says:

    @All these "Actual Wisdom's have done is make me HATE every single professor here. It’s like, we get it, you’re smarter than us, must you be such a douchenozzle for a STUDENT-RUN BLOG INTERVIEW??? (no hate on Bwog, just sayin’)

    1. one of them says:

      @one of them didn’t actually answer the questions

  • Shockingly says:

    @Shockingly Columbia appears not to have any women professors

    1. Julie says:

      @Julie Crawford?

  • hmm says:

    @hmm This is the second “looking down thoughtfully” picture heading one of these posts. We get it.

  • off campus! says:

    @off campus! this was the best one of the series. there should be a smart phone ban in every fucking classroom. and wifi shut down!

  • ahem says:

    @ahem You realize Prof. Moyn graduated from Harvard Law…

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous This is actually just so depressing, though.

  • I can't tell says:

    @I can't tell if he’s hot or not..

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Lots of humility from Sam Moyn. Suddenly I want to take a class in whatever postmodernist mess he teaches.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous That Hist. Origins of Hum Rights exam was. just. so. fucking. difficult.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I don’t know. He was a good teacher overall, but the one time I went to his office hour he was passive aggressive and basically told me not to come back.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous thirty words or less….?

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