Don’t try to make someone think.
The beauty of ideas are meant to be shared.
Don’t try to make someone think.
The beauty of ideas are meant to be shared.
Today’s class discussion, as scheduled on the syllabus, was shelved. We talked about the election results. A friend of mine said (somewhat incredulously) “You talk politics?”
“Yes,” I answered.
Allow me to explain. I do not lecture my particular view points, rather I offer a space for the students to voice their concerns. In all sincerity my heart broke a little for the students who felt as though a vote for Trump was a vote against their very existence. And, my students who favored Trump did not want to be thought of as hateful. They, on the other hand, cast their vote in the spirit of wanting economic change, something they believe will be better for the country as a whole.
I let the students know that my participation in the conversation was as a fellow citizen and not as their professor. I wanted my students to feel safe to dialogue and learn about each others’ views without risk or fear.
The problem we have, I believe, with considering discourse about politics as “rude” means we only chat about it with people who share our views. This makes any other understanding terribly distant and foreign. It is the exact opposite of how a democracy that prides itself on freedom and information ought to function. Unfortunately, throughout the campaign we saw offensive and hateful rhetoric which ultimately diminished opportunity for authentic discourse. No one wants to exchange ideas in such a climate.
For my students who are minorities and expressed a deep sense of fear and pain I offered them the following: choose to believe in the basic goodness of people. For my students who supported Trump I said: work to make this a successful and inclusive presidential term.
The essence of philosophy hinges on examining arguments and this cannot be done without exploring premises, the strong and the weak. So, yes, I shelved our lecture on Descartes to give the students a free space to voice their thoughts about political issues/arguments. But, most importantly I hope, I wanted to the students to also have a free space to listen.
Honestly, I want nothing more than for my students to be engaged and feel at peace with being part of the democratic process. Can this happen in a classroom? Is it right to do this? For anyone worried that I imposed a liberal agenda on my students, please do not fret. I treated this time as an invitation to talk, not as a soap box moment for myself. Besides, shouldn’t education be, in part, learning to formulate our thoughts? That’s more fun than power point, yes?
Two of my classes this term focus on the dynamics between technology and culture: Science, Technology, and Society and Ethical Considerations in Technology. The other day I spotted an opinion piece in the student paper discussing the dating app Tinder (Click here to read it). Now, the usual academic set up of the courses involves discussing case studies such as The Challenger Disaster, the New Orleans Levee failure, and Genetic Engineering. In light of the interesting shift in our behavior regarding phone usage, and specifically the piece from the student paper, I decided to shelve the topic on the syllabus for a moment and ask students what they thought of the influx of dating apps.
My intention was to simply spend a brief time on this, but it unraveled into a spirited class discussion lasting for nearly an hour. Everyone had something to say!
I asked students what the advantages are to using an app for dating and put the list on the board. It looked something like this:
Unlike reviewing case studies where students learn the information pertinent to the cases, memorize them, and then crank it back out on an exam, this discussion ignited their interest because they are smack in the middle of a cultural shift regarding personal interaction brought about by the fancy-gadget-does-everything-phone.
We then began to pick apart the list on the board. How much time is actually saved if one is on the phone for hours swiping away at photos of potential dates? Wouldn’t there be a similar amount of time spent on going out and being social in person?
For numbers 2-4 and 6 we talked about the very human element of being vulnerable in both friendships and relationships. Removing, or attempting to remove, that from the equation could rob one of an opportunity for growth. Stumbling, putting your foot in your mouth, blushing, awkwardness, and responding in real time with a facial expression are all elements of being human. Is efficiency meant to be applied in this realm? Would you ever want to date a person who had never experienced rejection or a heart break? Isn’t that what makes us humble, caring, and sensitive?
The ego boost is another intriguing aspect. In the normal course of a week, how many compliments does one receive? Without doubt, it feels nice to be on the receiving end of kind words. What the app has done (along with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) is create a potential for a deluge of “likes” within a brief time frame. No longer will a compliment from someone once a week suffice. It’s now needed within seconds of posting something and the desire to check has turned into something of an addiction.
With number 7, we discussed how the idea of “many fish in the sea” has radically changed to an infinite amount of fish in the ocean. Hmm…how has the idea that there could always be someone else impacted commitment? (Vanity Fair published an article on this over the summer much to the dismay of Tinder. Click here for the article.)
The conversation morphed into a more general dialogue about being on the phone. It’s a security blanket. One never needs to feel alone because one can always get online to see what people are up to. It is a companion.
In the spirit of bringing this dialogue into the subject of philosophy and specifically The Apology where Socrates gives his famous defense, I asked the students what Socrates would think of our addiction to the phone. Are we similar to Athens?
Socrates argued the soul inherently held more value than the body and other material goods. (If you do not subscribe to the idea of a soul then swap it out with the concept of character.) How, then, does one care for the soul? By asking questions, seeking knowledge, and developing virtues such as Justice, Courage, and Creativity to name a few. For Socrates, spending time on the soul through intellectual and moral pursuits allowed for the good life: “For I go around doing nothing but persuading both young and old among you not to care for your body or your wealth in preference to or as strongly as for the best possible state of your soul. Wealth does not bring about excellence, but excellence makes wealth and everything else good for men, both individually and collectively.”
Are we subverting excellence by tending to the phone? Are happiness spikes from internet activity an excess? Are we losing sight of what it means to develop our souls/character by diverting too much attention to the impersonal “likes” of others? Are deep conversations eclipsed by quick messages or updates?
I don’t mean to sound as though I’m anti-technology. (I’m a fan of indoor plumbing, modern dentistry, my kindle, and travel by air.) Nor do I mean to negate the door that has been opened with respect to information sharing. This reflection concerns the apparent restructuring of the building blocks of relationships. To be clear, I did not treat this classroom time as a dispenser of wisdom and instruction but as a person also swept up by the phone. And, not totally dissimilar to my students, I’m frustrated by how the phone gradually altered from a device of convenience to one tethering me to its intrusions. I have three email accounts, this blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, an author account, a log for my Crossfit WODS, LinkedIn, a step counter, a calculator, a GPS…the list goes on! In order to take time out to read and write I disconnect the internet from my computer and I put my phone in airplane mode to force myself to focus.
At the end of class I offered the students this challenge (and please feel free to do this and share your experience in the comments): go out for a meal alone and without your phone. What is it like? How does it feel? Does the prospect of it cause anxiety?
Reading Suggestions on this topic:
Thank you for sharing your talent, for being an inspiration, and for making the world more beautiful.
Forgive me for the title. I couldn’t resist. But seriously…
The way one approaches this latest NFL scandal carves out a nice little gem of an example for one studying Ethical Theory. Notice the particular questions and comments in the news to establish the degree of “wrongness” for deflating the balls below NFL standards. What makes this action “wrong” in the first place? Is it merely rule-breaking? Is it intention?
If you consider the character of sportsmanship to be paramount for determining the action then you might be harnessing Aristotle. Character and disposition matter. Are the players acting out of proper ambition and for excellence?
If you turn to the consequences of the action (was there an altered outcome?) then you lean towards a Utilitarian Ethic. The results of the action determine the rightness or wrongness. If the action did not cause any harm then the action was not “wrong.” Did the deflated ball cause the Patriots to win?
If you find that the principle governing action defines “right” (for example, one must follow regulations) then you most likely favor a Kantian position. The moral worth of an action hinges on a rational motive that can be universalized regardless of the consequences.
If you view football as a meaningless endeavor where grown men are paid astronomically to catch a ball and run to a set point while dodging other grown men in the process only to arrive at the other side of the field and then begin the process again but in the opposite direction until a certain time and then again at another date and then again for another season and then again the next year…well, you’re a Nietzschean.