I’m grading final exams this week, always a depressing experience.
Teaching is a Sisyphean experience at best: each semester, there we are at the bottom of the hill in the grim dark underworld, and we labor to shove that rock upwards. Each semester, that sucker careens back down again, despite all we can do. Camus says Sisyphus is a happy man, and mostly, you know, we are, we professors. It’s deeply engaging, deeply hopeless work, and we really love it.
Only not so much during exam week, when we see how badly we have failed.
I made the mistake of asking my American Lit students to define Worldview Conflict on their exams. I knew it was a mistake when I did it, too.
We all have worldview conflicts, as I’m sure you all know: these occur when we believe two mutually exclusive things. Which we all do.
American Christians, for instance, to take a fairly obvious example, believe both that they should not worship wealth (because it says so right there in the Bible: You cannot serve both God and Mammon; and a rich man cannot enter the kingdom of heaven; and so forth); and that they should be capitalists, who do worship wealth.
American Christians have no problem living with this worldview conflict – they have no trouble driving their Hummers to church on Sunday, as I have often observed.
Or – to use the example we noted in class – American Quakers, back in the early 19th century, had no problem both believing that slavery was wrong and that they should sell slaves. That was a worldview conflict, but one they had no trouble dealing with. Worldview one: slavery is wrong. Worldview two: It is right to make a profit, and slavery is profitable.
Anyway, I ask the students, on these exams, to define the terms and to give examples.
They absolutely refuse to define worldview conflict as “holding two conflicting worldviews at the same time.” No: they insist upon defining it as “when someone goes against what he believes.”
So it’s not the guy believes X and he believes Y at the same time and those things conflict; no, it’s the guy believes X but then he goes ahead and does Y.
Even though this is manifestly not the case in the examples we have studied, or in the examples they then go ahead and give me.
Why? Because that would be to admit that such a thing is possible – that people could think two ways at once. And these students, at least half of them, don’t want that to be true.
Why does this bother them?
I’ve been trying to figure that one out for a while now. I think it’s attached to their love of code ethics, and their desire for simplicity.
Which makes sense, when we look at the rhetoric of the Red-Staters. (And the students who refuse to define the term correctly are, in fact, the conservative students in the class.) They want this Simple Worldview. They adhere to the Nuance-is-for-Girls way of thinking. They love the code-ethic way of dealing with situations.
It doesn’t match reality, true – but that is, apparently, a price they are willing to live with.
Reality not being, after all, a commodity they are much interested in dealing with.
4 hours ago