Sunday, May 29, 2011

Unlucky in the Force, Or, How Authority is Abused

When I was in high school, I was fond of wearing a long, black coat, and I only did this after checking the handbook and finding no rule against it. The only restriction on jackets and the like was that they were not to be worn between classes.

Eventually, the principal took me aside and asked me to stop wearing it, explaining that there was, in fact, a rule, but it was not in the handbook. This might have been a lie, but it doesn't really matter.

In high school, the time when we learn (or are told) how to think, we are taught that we are responsible for our actions by people who have a vested interest in keeping us from acting as if we were in the "real world," which leads to our skewed sense of how authority is supposed to work. The existence of the phrase "too big to fail" bears this out: a person with power can't fail, but he'll still foreclose on you. This, of course, is hypocrisy, but that's power for you.

What brought this to mind for me today was an article on about two students who were not only suspended, but barred from their graduation ceremony, for staging a lightsaber duel in their high school cafeteria.

I'm callin' you out!

The principal, despite all the people on Facebook who are supporting the students (because Facebook=moral rightness), is sticking to his guns. He says that since someone could have gotten hurt, they should be punished to such a severe degree.

At first glance, that makes sense. These two boys hadn't really considered that their lightsaber toys, approved for children eight and up, might so egregiously hurt a 17 year-old that that victim would have to sit out graduation. Well, fine. That works, since we are all punished equally for what might happen, but doesn't.

Oh. No. Wait, that would mean the principal isn't full of crap, but I can prove he is.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that, since most drivers disobey speed limits, so, too, has this principal. That doesn't, at first, seem like a big deal. You speed. I speed.

A reason for us all to speed.

Going a little over the limit isn't a big deal, but thanks to moral luck, it's actually a pretty dicey issue.

You've probably never run over a child while speeding. I haven't (and gotten caught). But if we were speeding and ran over a child, that would be a contributing factor. So, by the principal's logic, we should go to jail for manslaughter whenever we speed, because it could happen.

If you read the wiki article on moral luck, you will see the philosophical contention that a person who doesn't run over a child is just as blameworthy as the person who does, but the kid-killer should feel worse. This is the plot of the indie mope-fest Bella.

There is no argument for depression beards

The principal isn't going to ask to go to jail because he's sped, but since he's a person with power, he gets to take other people's freedom away for trivialities.

The rub is that this is how everything is run in our society: the wealthy and powerful can manipulate, steal and kill, but as long as it's done through "contracts, foreclosure and war" it's ok. I think it's about time we point out that children are being taught this is how the world is supposed to work.

By the way, that coat of mine? I guess the reason the teachers were so nervous about it is because they were afraid I'd bring a gun to school. I think they would only have worried if they gave me a reason, but that's neither here nor there. The point is, there was another student who violated the rule in the book and wore a windbreaker all day, every day.

He brought a gun to school.

Maybe if high schoolers were treated like thoughtful adults, we'd have more thoughtful adults.

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