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Burning Man - The Ex-Communicator

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February 17th, 2009


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05:07 pm - Burning Man

Burning man

He said that you should rule the nation
As you would cook a little fish
(I do not think he meant you batter it)
He said the wise are ruthless and they treat
The people as straw dogs -
Did he mean (as wood would)
Burn
Inside a wicker man?

John Rawls of Baltimore
In his Theory of Justice said
Choose, as from behind a veil of ignorance,
Not knowing whether
You are boy or girl
Young or old
Not knowing what
You love, or like, or hate,

Choose what is best for all
Indifferently
From the purity of ignorance
Not knowing whether you are in
The Summer Isles
or trapped inside a burning cage:
Would you still choose this sacrifice?
Still choose to sing?

They said it was impossible
To be free of particularity
Behind such rinsing veil
As behind a white waterfall
Of that river of forgetfulness
That rings the borders of hell.

But I think his ecstatic grasp
Includes the unity of self and selves
In ignorance:
Console me that I do not know
(or rather, that I do not understand)
That I am girl or boy
That I am old
That I do not know what I like
Or what I am like
That I am generous only from ignorance
That I may hope one day to forget myself entirely
To become like a small fish in a hot pan
Who sings 'Alas, alack'
Closes her eyes and sinks
(all battered)
Back.

(7 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:sjkasabi
Date:February 19th, 2009 12:32 pm (UTC)
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I have never read a poem about Rawls before this. I like this one. And becuase I'm a geek, I like the sly Edward Woodward reference too.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:February 19th, 2009 02:02 pm (UTC)
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I think that some of the criticism of Rawls is wrong-headed - because he is recommending 'try to put yourselves in other people's shoes' (or you might even say, love your neighbour) while his critics are saying 'such a stance is logically impossible'. And I think it may be logically impossible to try to be fair to everyone, to care for everyone equally, but it's a good ideal to aspire to.
[User Picture]
From:sjkasabi
Date:February 20th, 2009 10:22 am (UTC)
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Yes, exactly. What I liked about Rawls was the idea that being fair is an act of imagination. I think it usually is, in practice, at an individual level; I suspect that even if it's logically impossible to make the veil of ignorance idea work in pure form at a societal level, undertaking the thought experiment of othering yourself still an approach that'll get you a long way in practical terms.
[User Picture]
From:altariel
Date:February 19th, 2009 12:36 pm (UTC)
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I think this is extremely good and I want to think about it more. It reminds me of The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. (And I like the pun in line 6).
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:February 19th, 2009 02:05 pm (UTC)
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Thanks. I was also thinking of this poem by Walter De La Mare (that's a youtube animation of the poem).
[User Picture]
From:sjkasabi
Date:February 20th, 2009 10:12 am (UTC)
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I went to a professional development policyfest thingy once which was sort of designed to zoom people through an old fashioned arts education in five days whilst making them think about social policy issues; we had to read both Rawls and that Le Guin story. It was certainly the best professional development thingy I've ever been to, though it was a bit weird to find myself having the discussions around a number of readings I'd had in third-year tutes all over again in a work context. And definitely the most frustrating bit was that no one, inluding the session leaders, had read anything else of Le Guin, so I couldn't have most of what seemed to me the obviously interesting discussions about how else she deals with the the central question of that story, in The Dispossessed for example, and how that might tie in with other philosphical traditions.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:February 20th, 2009 10:42 am (UTC)
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That sounds completely fascinating. I wish we had seminars like that. Come to think of it, I just said to happytune, who is sitting next to me this minute - 'we could have one'.

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