I wanted to write this post on the subway and the bus however my mobile wireless was giving me problems. It wasn't until I got to about where I needed to go that it cut back on. I don't know if there was a tower issue with T-Mobile or if it's with my phone, but either way it was annoying. We'll see how it works today - headed to campus again and also to hit up the bank.
I bought some replacement furniture yesterday. Something about the summer means it's time to refresh everything. I think it's because most of my life, and all of my adult life, I've lived on the agrarian-haunted academic calendar. The new year starts in September, and the end of things is around May. So when the end of July hits, I start really thinking about what's new, what to change, and what to clean off.
To that end, public speaking is getting a whole new work up this term. It seems that creativity, or the act of making, inventing ideas for the sharing and consideration of others, is absent. We have social media as a creative outlet, but participation in the consumption of pieces written by others is not invention. We have cool sites like last.fm (which I love), goodreads, youtube histories, instagram (consume what I'm showing you that I am seeing), etc. They all work very well. But they don't stand in for creating one's own self, they are appetizers for that. Nobody wants to base a relationship with someone else, friendship or otherwise, on "Do you like X" where X is a director, a band, a movie series, etc. But this is our way of sizing people up.
In addition to that operation, we should consider how malleable and fungible our positions are. Currently students tend to think that people are in intransitive states - that expressing a politically disturbing or disgusting position means that you are irrevocably, ontologically that expression, and the best thing to do is ostracize you, or shout at you, or whatever the remedy might be. Conversion via persuasion is not on the list unless it's part of the performance and expression of truth. The understanding that our identity is by our positioning of the self within what we consume, and expressing what we consume or don't consume as "who we are," means that the attempt to change someone's mind, or that a mind is changeable even, fades to the background. Part of the culprit for this is the reliance on rules such as "reason" when we teach people what a good argument is. Argument is not a rules-based or rules-dependent operation. It's results-driven, which is a fallacy for a lot of thinkers right off the bat. To study it by positing boudaries, rules, illegal operations, borders, and the like is to offer up argumentation as just one more object one can consume and show it has been consumed in order to fashion identity.
So I'm teaching a Roman curriculum, more or less, this fall and we'll see how it goes. The focus is on having students engage in speeches on difficult questions, controversiae and suasiorae type speeches from the old republic. I've been thinking about how to generate these cases for consideration, and I think one of the best things might be for the students to have a strong hand in the crafting of these cases. So perhaps a formula for creating a good case could be:
1. Figure - the nature of the person or people involved that you are giving advice to. Why are they the decision maker?
2. clear expression as to what's at stake in the decision
3. all of the possible results from each decision should be clear and should carry equal weight but at best, equal weight in different spheres (economic vs. ethic is one that will most likely resonate with a lot of university students)
I'll think of some other guidelines today most likely. The goal is to create a number of cases that would be interesting and challenging to make arguments about. Those arguments are not based on what one has consumed, but what one feels normatively that society should be like. What changes should be made in our beliefs that will push us in that direction? Instead of reporting on something that should be consumed because it is good, ethical or right (for example, why we should support Bernie Sanders, why we should legalize marijunana, etc) we have a very specific, contextual moment that requires the creation of values tailored for that moment. What is it that we hold as valuable in situations like this that will inform action? What decision should be made? Who is right?
We'll see how the experiment goes. Students come to the university these days, through no fault of their own, willing to consume and regurgitate what faculty want to hear. They want to be tested on what they can produce when the sign of the demand is made clear. What happens if that demand is not made? What happens if the demand to produce is made but there's no container to fill? What if we have to determine whether it was good or not instead of accounting for the extant goodness that is supposedly already there in patterns of consumption?