Sunday, February 04, 2007

Comfortably Chained to the Wall in the Cave

This past week, I was teaching about Plato's cave in one of my classes (see Plato's Republic, Book VII), and for the first time ever (and I've been teaching about this for years), my students quite seriously said, "if you're chained to the wall watching the shadows, and you are comfortable there, and you'd rather not be unchained and have your whole world disrupted, then there's nothing wrong with just staying there."

I was stunned.

It's not that it has never occurred to me that people might think this.

It's that my students have never argued for and held this position like this group did this time.

And yet, in a way I can understand that they might simply be overwhelmed now. Is this a new stage we are moving into? Bush's power starts to falter. Disagreement is okay again. The situation in Iraq is unquestionably dire. A new report about global climate change comes out, and even the Bush administration starts to acknowledge that it's really happening.

There are no longer any viable fantasies to believe in.

Time to get overwhelmed.

It's as if my students are saying, "We don't want sore muscles, eyes blinded and hurting from bright light, or the mental strain of trying to grasp the confusing complexity of color and three-dimensionality!" If only reality could be understood by staying in one place, simply studying the motions of two-dimensional, black-and-white shadows on a wall...

Now I'm trying to discern how to take the next step with this class.

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