freedom, justice, labyrinth, Phaedra, Procrustes, relativity, theory, Theseus
In a version of this blog, now erased, I said that once some of my first-year students said to me that, since they were now adults, i. e. away from parental guidance, they were free to scream at the top of their lungs, during initiation. My response was that their freedom ended where mine began. And I also said that, henceforth, I would treat them as adults. When they were in a drunken stupor and screaming as loudly as they could, I would not phone Campus Security, but the local detachment of the Canadian Royal Mounted Police (RCMP).
However, in my next blog, I stated that many of these same students had matured and that, as adults, they had not ceased to amaze me. For instance, they had learned that, although they were individuals, they lived in a collectivity and that, under acceptable circumstances, they had to respect members of that collectivity.
Occasionally, those students would ask for my opinion on various topics. I did not like giving my opinion. They had to adopt their own values. As a result, the only comment ever offered when we discussed thorny issues, was that, in my view, morality ended where inhumanity began. This, I would add, had often been my beacon when making decisions. There are so many murky areas and shades of grey galore.
I also told my students that there were times when a rule had to be broken in the interest of justice or some higher value. Justice, I would explain, can be a Procrustean bed as is also the case with bureaucracy. Greek mythology’s Procrustes, had an iron bed. If a person he laid on his bed did not fit it from end to end, he would stretch that person. Conversely, if the person was too tall, Procrustes resorted to an amputation.
In other words, I would tell them that one cannot rearrange reality to fit a theory. Certain things change, others remain. Certain things are right and others, wrong, but what about the rest? The meaning of a word can change if the word is used in a different context: denotation vs connotation i.e, “mistress” and “to record” vs “to throw away old records.”
Similarly, the notion of freedom has fluctuations. It is relative. However, I would add there are times when a crime is a crime is a crime.
Life can be a labyrinth. I hope my students got an education that is useful to them. I loved them and I miss them.