Tuesday, May 2, 2017

"Transatlantic Belligerence"

Do you know this one?  It’s worth repeating even if you do.

A defendant is pleading his case in front of a judge:

“Your Honor, I admit that I am indeed guilty of committing this crime.  But I beg you that, before ruling, to consider the determining context that led me to my misdeeds.  I was born desperately poor, my friends and neighbors were all felons, and my meager education decreed that my only way out was through the available avenue of crime.  Because I am an inescapable product of my environment, I ask Your Honor to free me, as I had no choice but to do exactly what I did.”

To which the judge replies,

“I concur with your argument, being in total agreement with its conclusion.  But, since I too am the inescapable product of my environment I consequently have no choice but to do exactly what I must do – sentence you to thirty years in prison.”

Not bad right?  Everyone’s an inescapable product of their environment.  What are you gonna do?

Well, first.  It is an insult to observable reality – i.e., the people who courageously triumph over their seemingly determining environments – not to mention an affront to “Free Will” itself, to believe that your personal destiny is inevitably preordained.

However… seeking a benign but educational example…

Say you had a dad who was a compulsive tickler of his children.  He believed tickling was endlessly enjoyable, even to those screaming, “Stop!” which he felt was a  enhancing contributor to the festivities.

How then do his offspring turn out?  (Saying there are, conveniently, two of them, both male?)

One, a product of his childhood conditioning, becomes a compulsive tickler of his own children.

The other, having undergone identical conditioning, develops an intense aversion to tickling, adamantly refusing to tickle, even when entreated urgently to do so, proving that, whatever you experience, there is no single “unavoidable consequence.”

Still, continuing the example, no matter how things specifically shake out, this writer suggests,

You are unlikely indifferent to “The Wonderful World of Tickling.”

You conditioned behavior being impossible to ignore.

Your mother habitually wore a brown belt with black shoes?

You habitually wear a brown belt with black shoes.

Your mother wore a brown belt with black shoes?

“If there is no compatible alternative, I am not leaving this house!”


Whatever your reaction – including the overdramatized shrug – you are never at home around brown belts and black shoes.

What brought this less than “front-and-center” issue to mind?

I have been pondering attending an advertised weeklong summer class at Oxford University.  Aside from my natural lethargy, I have certain troubling reservations about this otherwise tempting opportunity.

The course I am interested in, Introduction to Political Philosophy, is taught by a professor whose accompanying biography includes mention of his active opposition to hyper-regulation in everyday life and a campaign supporting Oxford’s animal experimentation.

Sounds kind of conservative to me.  And I’m kind of, on aggregate, in the other direction.  Leading me to wonder, with the professor’s pre-programmed mindset being the opposite to my pre-programmed own,

Would we then not inevitably, so to speak, be hopelessly burping in opposite directions?

Well, so what, you might say, with me being not far behind you.  It’s always interesting to hear alterative positions.  I did just that at UCLA, enrolling in a class called “History of American Conservatism.” 

You can learn a lot from people unlike yourself.  (More than from people who are like yourself, because then, you are just hearing a repetition of “yourself” emerging from somebody else’s mouth.) 

But then, there is this other conditioned arrangement that I am consciously aware of:

My programmed propensity to be easily led. 

Or, more concerningly, easily misled.

(My older brother could convince me of anything, including things that were demonstrably incorrect, triggering a lifelong discomfort around external persuasion.)

It sounds like my intellectual guard would be reflexively up against this guy on both counts – because I disagree with his premising perspective and because I am defensively resistant to his discombolulating my own.

Which got me thinking…

Why travel five thousand miles to be skeptically combative…

When I can do that comfortably from right here?

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I don't have an answer for you, but if you *do* attend the summer course in Oxford, may I suggest you nominate a date, time, and location (say, a coffee shop or pub) at which readers of this blog can come meet you and buy you a drink to say thanks?