By Moa Golster
It is Wednesday during common hour at LIU Post. In a noisy common room in Hillwood Commons, Professor Alexander Najman
of the Philosophy department has occupied one of the tables, casually smoking an electronic cigarette. He blends in well with the students; considering his age, he could have been one. But the tattoos and visible scars that cover his body hint to a man with a long journey. At the age of 27, Najman has already done more things than most people experience in a lifetime.
“This is my office, by the way,” Najman said, explaining that he despises the “hole in the wall” with no windows that the university originally provided him.
Only seconds of conversation reveals that Najman is a colorful person, full of opinions, and with an expressive way of speaking. He gladly does the interview, but laughs at the fact that he could probably use some public relations people to censor him.
The current semester is Najman’s third at LIU Post, and his personality has already made him a known name among many students. So far, he has taught undergraduate students in varied Philosophy courses, including Intro, Ancient, Modern, Ethics, Social and Political, Logic, Epistemology and Metaphysics.
Born in Brooklyn to an Israeli father and an American-Polish mother; Najman developed a curiosity of learning that has followed him into adulthood. “There was always this pressure and persistence to understand the totality of everything that I was doing, rather than just doing it for the sake of doing it.”
Growing up, Najman started to question contemporary society. He still thinks that it is doing much more injustice than justice, and that government or authority is unnecessary. He rejects the notion that a society without authority would cause chaos, and that people could not be able to handle the ultimate freedom. “Do I think that we have to take up arms and go and destroy the state? I don’t know. Do I think that we have to sit back and let the state crumble on its own? I don’t know. Do I think that the Marxists got it right? Absolutely not. It’s not that I want to replace what we have with something else, it’s just that I know what we have isn’t good,” he said.
In an attempt to escape all the things he does not like about America, Najman has lived in countries all over the world. However,
his experiences turned out to be disappointing. “It’s not like capitalism
is this bubble that is in the United States — it’s a worldwide power,” he said. Maybe that is why South and Central America have become his favorite places on earth. “There’s a special place in my heart for Belize and Costa Rica. I could spend the rest of my life [there]… Just sitting and reading. And getting really drunk.”
In his early 20s, Najman realized that the only life possible for him to lead was the life of studying. His real interest in teaching did
not form until the first year of his Doctoral program at Stony Brook University, when his advisor asked him to teach one of her classes. “I was horrified, and had no idea what I was supposed to do,” he said. But as the class on Ancient Philosophy got started, Najman’s insecurity cleared out. “It was something about just standing in front of people and talking for an hour and a half about what I love. It just clicked.”
Having taught Physics and Political Science in the past, his greatest passion is still philosophy. “I never got the same experience teaching anything else, as I did with philosophy,” he said. He explained that there is no real dynamic with the teachings of physics. “There’s no ‘oh my god, I now understand fundamental concepts of human intelligence.’”
He’s currently studying Psychology at National Psychologists Association for Psychoanalysis (NPAP) on a non-matriculating basis, mostly because it goes hand in hand with philosophy and human consciousness studies; how we understand concepts ideas and formulate opinions.
Najman teaches students to appreciate the fact that “you’re more than just some product whose object is to produce.” He said that we are born into a society that immediately tells us how to treat ourselves and the people around us. “Perhaps a philosophy class or two can give you
a chance to question your own life, the upbringing you had and where you come from. ‘Are the thoughts I’m having from me or from someone else?’”
There is no doubt Najman loves what he is doing. “I get to wake up in the morning every day, talk to people about what I love the entire day, go home and do what I love, and then go to sleep.”
However, despite being part of it, Najman expresses great criticism towards the educational system in general. He thinks that the idea that students need to learn a little bit of everything is naïve and outdated. He said it forces him to reduce the pace and the intensity of his lectures, in order for everyone to understand. “[This] puts a drain on me as a professor, and puts a drain on the students who are actually interested in the material. Because suddenly, they’re being brought down by students who just don’t give a [expletive],” he said. He explained that it’s perfectly fine not to care about philosophy, but states that if you don’t, you shouldn’t take a philosophy class.
“The Europeans are doing a slightly better job since they offer vocational education,” he said. “I have people who know that they’re going to be a mechanic, sitting in a philosophy class, that don’t know how to read, don’t know how to write… Am I supposed to teach them Kant’s first critique [“Critique of Pure Reason” by Immanuel Kant]?” he said. “I have students in my classes that don’t understand English… Something isn’t right here.”
Najman has always done what he felt like, and is what could be called a real thrill-seeker. Except from rock climbing and free diving,
he has practiced Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) , which is known to be one of the most brutal combat sports there are. In addition, he developed
an early fascination with cars, which eventually ended with him getting a racecar driver’s license. “You get in a car that is a metal cage that can travel at unreasonably fast speeds, and you push it as hard as you can. You’re doing 180 miles an hour on it. I mean, when was the last time you had a real thrill? People don’t experience these things anymore,” he said.
However, Najman’s thrill seeking has not come without a price. While putting his hands on the table to demonstrate ten swollen and wounded knuckles, he explained that he has been disqualified from MMA fighting for eight months now. His shoulders are in no better shape than his hands, and “a few crashes” with the racecar has added some injured body parts to the list. “The last time, I took it into a tree. I was fine – the car was not.” Since then, he reluctantly replaced his BMW M3 racecar with a Saturn, a car “so bad they don’t even make them anymore.” Fortunately, he still has a motorcycle to fulfill his need for speed. At one point, he hopes to be able to competitively race that, as well.
It is clear that Najman does not regret any of his experiences, despite the sometimes-perilous outcomes. “I guess I have done a lot of stuff. But I have always been under the impression like ‘why do nothing, when you could be doing something?’ Whether that’s just reading a book, or putting on a backpack and flying to Southern Mexico,” he said.
As for now, it seems like Najman is not going anywhere. Happy with teaching and maintaining his passion for philosophy, he might just be perfectly stimulated as it is.
Then again, he might not. As he starts sharing yet another unbelievable life story with apparent restlessness, and with expressions probably not suitable for a student newspaper, I realize that he might just never be.
“Why do nothing, when you could be doing something?” The words are still echoing.