A post by Brian Polashuk (italicized additions by Kelly Lake)

Gross Indecency a photo from the original production, hopefully to be replaced by one from Rider University’s!

The play Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, performed at Rider University’s Yvonne Theater this past weekend, puts the choices and moral preferences of Oscar Wilde on the line. While sitting there, I could not help but relate several themes of this play to themes we have discussed in class.

The first theme that struck my mind was hate. (Think: Andrew Sullivan’s essay, What’s so Bad about Hate.) In past blogs, I think a majority of us agreed that the strength of the word was immeasurable and often over used; although, a few of us believed that there were different kinds of hate that differed in meaning. In the play there were several situations that some may refer to as “hate” related. You had the conflicts between Lord Alfred Douglas and his father and also the conflicts between society and Oscar Wilde. How do these conflicts differ? Are these signs of hate?

While watching the play I could not help, but feel uncomfortable watching two men show such affection towards one another. I do not consider myself homophobic, nor do I go out of my way to show signs of disapproval or crack jokes. However, I do not feel it is right. Does this qualify as hate? I do not think so. I think morals, culture, and time has constantly changed our view on things. How do your morals and culture shape the way you feel on matters? Culture changes over time. Trials like this would no longer take place. How can one thing be so negatively viewed at one time and accepted years later?

The second theme that struck my mind was heroism. (Or Goodall’s example of altruistic reciprocity) Heroism is so often looked at as a good thing, something that brings on glory and prestige. However, Oscar Wilde by standing up for his love, Lord Alfred Douglas, starts a series of court hearings that eventually leads to his sentence. Do you feel Oscar Wilde was naturally born with that hero instinct, or was he influenced by outside factors? Why do you think heroism is so widely promoted in our community? (Community of truth? People relying on each other?)

Like Goodall’s aforementioned idea of altruistic reciprocity, Gould explains how animals relate and are connected to humans in some ways. What Gould is concerned by is that humans impose their morals on a world that is not instructed in or operating from a “human moral base;” animals do not have a moral view. Some behaviors are frowned upon in life, sometimes referred to as “animal like” or “not human like”. Homosexuality is often referred to as un-human-like. Why do we make these distinctions? Why are only “unacceptable” behaviors looked upon as “animal like”?

I’d like to piggyback on what Brian has begun here. I think that if we look specifically at the essays that we have read this semester, and apply the challenges that those authors have given us to ponder, we have an excellent basis to discuss this topic.

Some people have responded to the idea of the source of Wilde’s tragedy “was that he tried to turn morality into art during an age that preferred art to be an extension of morality. That his real crime wasn’t the love he had for a man BUT his writing” (Robert Brustein, The New Republic). Others feel that, “the perversion pumping through Gross Indecency is not homosexuality, but Wilde’s refusal to save himself. Kaufman contemplates the lengths people think they have to go to get love, love that feels like a devotion to the other but gets played out more like devotion to devotion–or frustration” (Laurie Stone, The Nation). Do you feel these ideas fit into your experience of the material of the play? How?

I am further reminded of Sulllivan’s statement, “A free country will always mean a hateful country… Tolerance is the eradication of hate; toleration is co-existence despite it. We might do better as a culture and as a polity if we concentrated more on achieving the latter rather than the former.”

— refer to specific examples from the production
— relate the ideas you respond to to at least one of the essays we have read. BE SPECIFIC!
— If you use personal example, please provide a context to both the issues of the play and the essays.
— I will delete any post that is offensive in nature and not in keeping with the above mentioned “rules.”


Gary Larson Evolution

Today we began discussing Jane Goodall’s essay Love and Compassion. The first concept that was brought to our attention was the idea of altruism. In her case: how a chimpanzee may have an unselfish concern for another chimpanzee who is not of their immediate family or gene pool, or in our case: how a human might exhibit that same quality towards a stranger and in some cases behave heroically. Jane has chosen to illuminate an aspect of humanity through her observations of chimpanzees.

What is it that make humans and animals share this quality? Is it a form of love? Or is it a form of social evolution? If it is a product of our evolution (remember, Ms. Goodall points out that, “humans are capable of performing acts of self-sacrifice with full knowledge of the costs we may have to bear, not only at the time, but at some future date.”) What makes this issue resonate is the fact that we live in societies where we are required to do smaller acts of self-sacrifice on a daily basis to ensure smooth functioning.

We often take the successful functioning of our “society“– the fact that we as humans are living in cities, towns, and communities– for granted. We tend to ignore the oddity that humans have organized in massive cooperative groups of unrelated individuals (a.k.a. societies!) Very few organisms create or function in societies, in fact if memory serves, I believe only insects do this with any amount of success… which may be why Stephen Jay Gould, in his essay Nonmoral Nature focused on the ichneumon wasps, beyond his use of them as an example of what the 19th century theologians were struggling with: “If God is benevolent and the Creation displays his “power, wisdom and goodness,” then why are we surrounded with pain, suffering, and apparently senseless cruelty.”

Gould cautions us to not measure the animal world by our moral yard stick. That we anthropomorphize the behavior of animals when we see them in terms of our values of good and evil. That, “Morality is a subject for philosophers, theologians, students of the humanities, indeed for all thinking people,” but not to be applied to the world of animals.

What is by far the most bizarre footnote to add to this discussion is that we, at various points in a not too distant history, put animals on trial (animal trials) — Yes, we dressed them in clothing, trotted or paced them into a court of law, and with a jury not of their peers in a species sense, we judged and convicted them of crimes! The list includes pigs, donkeys, and termites. So we have tried animals in the courts: various species, in various countries, and for various crimes.

How do you feel about how we relate to animals? Is there merit to observing their behavior and applying it to observations of human behavior as Goodall does? How about the observations that Darwin makes in The Evidence of the Descent of Man from Some Lower Form?

Perhaps we should approach our understanding of animal relationships with the following quote in mind?

“Objectivity cannot be equated with mental blankness; rather, objectivity resides in recognizing your preferences and then subjecting them to especially harsh scrutiny — and also in a willingness to revise or abandon your theories when the tests fail (as they usually do).” — Stephen Jay Gould

Why do we study history? Why do we spend so much time going over past events? I believe we do this as humans because we look for the meaning of those events, or we try to understand why, how, or what caused things to happen. Sometimes we do this so that we can relive pleasurable moments, we reminisce.

OK, this blog is an asynchronous dialogue between us. It doesn’t happen immediately. It needs to be revisited and re-evaluated, which means you don’t comment and run like a drive by!

I would like you to go back to the blogs and read through them again; respond to what has been commented on. See what others have said, read what I’ve said, see where the dialogue has gone, and comment again. Respond to the other writers– bring new insight to the thread! See if your ideas are the same, if as you’ve read if they’ve changed. Feel free to make connections, as chrislynn did early in the first blog, to other class experiences!

I look forward to your thinking!


1. (transitive) To dislike intensely; to feel strong hostility towards.

* abhor
* despise
* detest
* loathe

* love


2. A.) hatred
B.) an object of hatred”

(from wikidictionary.org)

The above definition doesn’t do hate justice. What is impressive about hate is that as a verb it is transitive– it is always tied to something (a direct object).

You hear it and probably say it, even when you really do not mean it. You can surf the web for it and against it. You can dish with friends about it. It appears in the tabloids, the newspapers, our courtrooms, our classrooms, the boardrooms, bedrooms and everywhere else in between.

One person’s statement inclusive of it entitles another’s reflection of it. We’ve aggrandized it. We’ve diminished it.

Five year olds use it. Teenagers hurl it. We toss it at strangers, acquaintances, and loved ones. Genocide occurs because of it. We go to war over it; we justify for it.

We fight against it; we teach to stop it.

Hate. Little word, big impact.

How can an emotion have so much power for humanity?

We create words just to encompass groups of hates and haters: sexism, racism, antisemitism, homophobia. Sometimes we hate because we are ignorant; sometimes we hate because we know all too well. But why hate?

What does hate mean to you? How do we justify hate? How do morals or personal truths relate to your idea of hate?


“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”
Joseph Chilton Pearce

“No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination.”
Edward Hopper

“The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.”
Jean- Jacques Rousseau

“I haven’t failed, I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work”
Thomas Alva Edison

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
Albert Einstein, What Life Means to Einstein: An Interview by George Sylvester Viereck, for the October 26, 1929 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.

So this week we are integrating into our conversation how science approaches the idea of establishing “truth.” Hopefully you have read Stephen Jay Gould’s essay Sex, Drugs, Disaster, and the Extinction of the Dinosaurs and Craig E. Nelson’s Skewered on the Unicorn’s Horn: The Illusion of Tragic Tradeoff Between Content and Critical Thinking in the Teaching of Science.

Gould introduces us to the process of how science develops their claims, and through example he shows us what criteria has more value in establishing a viable scientific theory. His essay illuminates the challenges that Nelson describes in his essay.

Nelson discusses the challenge science professors have in assisting college students develop critical thinking skills while learning science, and that part of this challenge is addressing how scientists process their relationship to the subject. His answer is that students don’t need to necessarily think harder– but they need to learn to think differently. They need to understand scientific reasoning as applied to content, or how to think critically about information, or how to think more complexly about the subject. The development of these effective critical thinking skills is one of the primary goals of a liberal arts education.

To begin our thinking on this subject, what are your thoughts about the following:

What do you think the essence of science is? As a discipline what is science’s motive?
How is establishing truth in science different than in other disciplines? What role does imagination and creativity play in the process of the scientist in establishing truth? Is there an absolute truth in science?


How does science use these terms to evaluate the strength of an argument? Are they used differently than other disciplines?

Rubin Vase

What has been tickling me is the figure/ ground illusion that was in chapter seven in The Thompson Handbook (the above is a similar one) and Plato’s discussion about trusting our senses in the Allegory of the Cave. What do you see in the following pictures?

pipe woman

Perhaps you see the cartoon man with a horn/pipe and/or the woman’s face?


what’s not there

This one challenges us to admit that we see what is not there.


We are dealing with perception. Our eyes see, and our brains decipher what we see into some form of truth. But what happens when there are two possibilities of truth? What thoughts does Plato’s Allegory of the Cave bring to our discussion of “truth”? His prisoners of the cave are defining their reality through shadows. In his allegory he uses this story to illuminate a number of objectives: the pursuit of knowledge, the shortcomings of relying on our sense perceptions for a source of truth, and as a discussion of justice and the ideal government. How does one make the decision of what is true when we know that our sensory perception can be illusory?

moving circles

What you are experiencing is not really moving. It is a static picture, the movement is purely manufactured by an optical trick.

Often we rely on our perceptions of an event or what we perceive about information to distinguish its “truth.” Plato’s ideas and the optical illusions on this page challenge the validity of our sensory perceptions. Can we trust what we see as true? Can we believe what we see to be true when there are alternate possibilities there to see? How do we define what is true when perception is seemingly so unreliable? In what way are we like the prisoners in the cave looking at shadows?

Angels and Demons
angels and devils

Palmer’s Community of Truth

Communion: N
1.) An action or situation involving sharing: (a): possession in common: joint ownership: the state of possessions thus held. (b): a function performed jointly: an interrelation in activity: an interdependent working together or cooperation.

2.) usually capitalized (a): the Eucharist: the Lord’s Supper (b): the celebration of the Eucharist as either as a separate service or part of a larger service

3.) (a): the fellowship of members of the same church (b): general fellowship: a state marked by fellowship, sympathetic companionship, communication, and understanding: COMMUNICATION, CONVERSE, EXCHANGE (c): intimate, sympathetic, reverential, or mystic interchange of ideas and feeling esp. dealing with matters innermost and spiritual in order to inspire, strengthen, or solace often as if between man and nature or the supernatural (d): COMMUNICATION
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary unabridged

The past few days I have been wrestling with what we should discuss next here. We have read Andrew Sullivan’s essay The Pursuit of Happiness: Four Revolutionary Words, Thomas Jefferson’s and the founding fathers’ The Declaration of Independence, Adrienne Rich’s Claiming an Education, and this week: Parker J. Palmer’s The Community of Truth, and Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave.

The Declaration of Independence introduced both the format for an argument and this document’s role in establishing the country’s foundation for civic responsibility and action. We linked this work to the importance of developing our own writing and communication skills to contribute as a responsible member of a democracy. And then Andrew Sullivan’s essay pointed out the radical idea that the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” imparts to the contextual understanding of The Declaration when it was initially written and the way those same words may be interpreted today. His essay furthered the idea that context and motive play roles in shaping the meaning and understanding of a piece of writing. Leading us to ask: What was the context of the piece when it was written? What is the context now? What was the author’s motive for writing the piece? These questions should be asked each time you encounter a piece of writing: its context and motive.

But moving forward in our development of the class, what has stood out to me in this week’s readings are two main subjects: 1. the idea of a learning community, especially in light of Adrienne Rich’s speech and Parker J. Palmer’s essay; and 2. our perceptions about what is true as challenged by Plato’s allegory.

In this first blog of the week I’d like to focus on the former: the idea of a learning community, and to consider the aspects of communion and truth within that community. In the second blog for this week we’ll address Plato and perception– look for that one on Wednesday.

I’ve included the Webster definition above because I think that communion is a word that holds many connotations. But for our purpose, I believe the first and possibly the third definitions are ones that have relevance for us as a class, as members of the Rider community, and as a community of learners.

How do we as a community choose to engage in this communion of ideas? How do we engage about the subject of writing?

Adrienne Rich says in Claiming an Education,

“If university education means anything beyond the processing of human beings into expected roles, through credit hours, tests, and grades … it implies an ethical and intellectual contract between teacher and student.”

Do we engage in a “claiming” of our education as Ms. Rich entreats us? Are you willing to “take as a rightful owner and assert in the face of possible contradiction” an education that you have been a willing participant in claiming? Are you in agreement with her definition of what taking responsibility for yourself asks?

Is Parker J. Palmer in The Community Of Truth asking for a different commitment to the community when he says:

“I understand truth as the passionate and disciplined process of inquiry and dialogue itself, as the dynamic conversation of a community that keeps testing old conclusions and coming into new ones.

We need to know the current conclusions in order to get in on the conversation. But it is not our knowledge of conclusions that keeps us in the truth. It is our commitment to the conversation itself, our willingness to put forward our observations and interpretations for testing by the community and to return the favor to others. To be in the truth, we must know how to observe and reflect and speak and listen, with passion and with discipline, in the circle gathering around a given subject.”
Parker J. Palmer The Community of Truth from The Courage to Teach

Or is Mr. Palmer elaborating on what Ms. Rich is suggesting? Are the two authors’ ideas of relationship in a learning community compatible?

Looking at these two texts in particular and the definition of communion, what commitments to our classroom community do you feel we need to embrace? What “contractual” agreement should we make to ensure that your university education means more? How do we need to apply these ideas to include our conversations about writing?

Of course if there are any other observations/ concerns/ confusions you would like to share about this topic or these essays, please introduce it to the blog– If need be, I will set up another page for this topic.