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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Learning from Literature


My wife is also a high school language arts teacher. This semester she is teaching sophomore English. The literature text includes William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar. She described to me her discussion of Brutus' soliloquy in Act II sc i of the play where Brutus, speaking his thoughts aloud, says these lines:

BRUTUS.
It must be by his death: and, for my part,
I know no personal cause to spurn at him,
But for the general. He would be crown'd:
How that might change his nature, there's the question:
It is the bright day that brings forth the adder;
And that craves wary walking. . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And therefore think him as a serpent's egg
Which hatch'd, would, as his kind grow mischievous;
And kill him in the shell.


In other words, Brutus says that he must kill Caesar, not for anything that Caesar has done, but for what Caesar may do.

"So it's like a preemptive strike?" one student asked.

"Exactly," my wife responded, "and what was the result of Caesar's assasination by Brutus' and the conspirators?"

"Civil war," another student said.

"So, Brutus kills Caesar in a preemptive strike not for what Caesar has done, but for what he could do. The result is chaos and civil war. What can we conclude from this?" my wife asked.

"George W. Bush didn't study Julius Caesar when he was in high school?"

7 comments:

unhyphenatedconservative said...

"he Rubicon (Rubico, in Italian Rubicone) is an ancient Latin name for a small river in northern Italy. In Roman times it flowed into the Adriatic Sea between Ariminum and Caesena. The actual modern identity of the water-course is uncertain, it is usually identified as the Pisciatello in its upper reaches and then the Fiumicino to the sea.

The river is notable as Roman law forbade any general from crossing it with a standing army. The river was considered to mark the boundary between the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul to the north and Italy proper to the south; the law thus protected the republic from internal military threat.

When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC, supposedly on January 10 of the Roman calendar to make his way to Rome he broke that law and made armed conflict inevitable. According to Suetonius he uttered the famous phrase alea iacta est ("the die is cast").1 Suetonius also described how Caesar was apparently still undecided as he approached the river, and the author gave credit for the actual moment of crossing to a supernatural apparition." Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubicon

If Bush was not up on his Julius Caesa, I suppose it must have been because he was too busy in history class learning pesky facts like these :)

Lynn Green said...

The chances of W learning any facts from history or any of the pesky little life lessons such as, "Think before you act." Are pretty much nil.

The point of Julius Caesar the play is that one should be very, very careful before acting on supposition and impluse. The consequences are always unforeseen and usually dire.

As Bush has demonstrated to us once again. He acts. We are stuck with cleaning up the mess he leaves behind.

unhyphenatedconservative said...

Are you advocating a precautionary principle in which no action is taken without perfect information?

Lynn Green said...

If that means think before you act, well, yes.

unhyphenatedconservative said...

"The precautionary principle, a phrase first used in English circa 1988, is the idea that if the consequences of an action are unknown, but are judged to have some potential for major or irreversible negative consequences, then it is better to avoid that action. The principle can alternately be applied in an active sense, through the concept of "preventative anticipation" [1], or a willingness to take action in advance of scientific proof of evidence of the need for the proposed action on the grounds that further delay will prove ultimately most costly to society and nature, and, in the longer term, selfish and unfair to future generations. In practice the principle is most often applied in the context of the impact of human civilization or new technology on the environment, as the environment is a complex system where the consequences of some kinds of actions are often unpredictable.

The formal concept evolved out of the German socio-legal tradition that was created in the zenith of German Democratic Socialism in the 1930s, centering on the concept of good household management. [2] In German the concept is Vorsorgeprinzip, which translates into English as precaution principle. The concept includes risk prevention, cost effectiveness, ethical responsibilities towards maintaining the integrity of natural systems, and the fallibility of human understanding. It can also be interpreted as the transfer of more generally applied precaution in daily life (e.g. buying insurance, using seat belts or consulting experts before decisions) to larger political arenas. Operating a large military apparatus for example also is the practical application of precaution against hypothetical threats."
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precautionary_Principle

Given that any major action will have unpredicted, major consequences, the precautionary principle is a recipe for paralysis. And this causes a bit of a paradox, as taking no action has its own potential for major and irreversible consequences.

Lynn Green said...

So that's sorta like the way the Bush administration claims that we shouldn't do anything about global warming because a handful of "scientists" don't agree that's its a problem.

The problem is that if you go to war, you will be killing thousands, maiming thousands more. If you do so because you have cherry picked intelligence, you have simply smashed a lot of innocent lives for a lie.

Lynn Green said...

...and by the way, think before you shoot works well in hunting as it does in foreign policy.