Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Changing reactions to Shirley Jackson's The Lottery

Are we losing the battle against student relativism? This report, by Lydia McGrew, isn't very encouraging.

13 comments:

shiningwhiffle said...

Yet another way the postmodernists confused justification and truth.

The members of such a society, having done this terrible thing for time out of mind, would have presumptive justification for continuing to do it. It's all they know, and they're doing it in good faith.

But that wouldn't make it right. In fact, it's a horrible thing, and for a society to have such a tradition is a tragedy. Hopefully some reformer would come along and set them straight.

In other words, judge the sin, don't judge the sinner.

J said...

The Lottery's a rather cheesy twilight-zone like parable, and any reasonable person would say, well, that doesn't happen in real life, so the analogy doesn't hold. There's no real payoff as it's presented.

Now, were it some real world crisis where a Lottery situation resulted in some tangible good--ie, say a small isolated town has to ration out food and water, say, and must decide who gets what--there might be a lottery, which seems nearly utilitarian (rule, looks like) in a sense--ie if some person (or persons) had to be sacrificed (or say...exiled) to let the rest survive then the lottery might be better than just a brawl.... or...a Lifeboat situation might involve similar issues.


What would a Rorty like PoMo say? Given his own pragmatic code, there isn't really any objective Good anyway, but...well maybe some of the pro-philosophasters might clarify, but at times prag. seems rather utilitarian. Wouldn't it better for the villagers to randomly decide via a draw out of a hat than let the Captain or thugs with the guns decide?

shiningwhiffle said...

Now, were it some real world crisis where a Lottery situation resulted in some tangible good--ie, say a small isolated town has to ration out food and water, say, and must decide who gets what

Part of the point of The Lottery, it seems (I haven't read it yet) is that there was no point to it beyond sheer tradition. There was no tangible good beyond perhaps calming the nerves of the traditionalists (and it would take a peculiarly vulgar utilitarian to give that a higher weight than someone's life).

As a eudaimonist, I see even less value in it: even if it does calm said individual's nerves, it does so by further vulgarizing them. It's ultimately detrimental to their happiness, as well as the victim and the victim's family.

What would a Rorty like PoMo say? Given his own pragmatic code, there isn't really any objective Good anyway, but...well maybe some of the pro-philosophasters might clarify, but at times prag. seems rather utilitarian.

Actually, Rorty always insisted on morality being objective, even in PMN (I could cite it, but I don't have my own copy and I honestly never want to open a book that boring again). He just also insisted there was no point trying to codify it. Though overall he strikes me as a utilitarian in most moods.

Gregory said...

Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" is, itself, an intellectual "stoning" of traditionalists and traditionalism. I haven't read it since High School, but I find little value in it, philosophically. On the other hand, I do think that it's a well written and narrated story....and has merit for those reasons.

I think a more poignant and relevant story for today's Media saturated and youthfulness obsessed public is Oscar Wilde's "The Painting of Dorian Grey".

J said...

I read The Lottery years ago, and actually took time away from Arbeiten to re-read it. It's not quite as bad as I remembered it: sort of ...Hawthornian in a sense (as with the reference to Miss Hutchinson, a religious reformer with a few feminist ideas hated by the Puritans of early America). Yes, an attack on traditionalism, not so philosophical: now, if there were proof that the stoning did actually result in better harvests...perhaps it would somewhat acceptable. The story has certain psychological connotations as well: a scapegoating like this occurs .

Shackleman said...

What a weird set of comments here.

The Lottery is not anti-traditionalist. It's anti moral-relativism.

How could anyone have missed this?? It couldn't be more obvious.

I guess, given this strange set of posts, the answer to your question Dr. Reppert is, "Yes".

J said...

No, it's actually an attack on small-town morality, aka puritan-populists (could be re-set... say in Utah)--the Lottery helps them get a better harvest, and please God by implication, by sacrificing someone. You misread it if you think its merely against relativism--more like anti-democracy in a sense.

Shackleman said...

J,

I'd laugh if it weren't for the fact that you're actually being serious.

Tragic.

J said...

Tragic is that you simply can't read.

Indeed, having re-read it--and noting the Hawthornian aspects (and while perhaps not a Hume, Nate was no biblethumper)--I suspect Miss Jackson was sort of gently poking fun at small-town christian moralists -- tea baggers, circa late 40s. That said, it's merely a literary analogy, hardly an argument for anything.

Shackleman said...

J,

Was the story shocking because the townsfolk were following silly traditions?

Or was the story shocking because those traditions lead to morally outrageous, absurd and horrific behavior?

This is so obvious to me that it seems ridiculous to even have to type this out.

Imagine if the silly traditions they were following were as benign as doing a rain-dance. If you're *awake* you'll realize that without the morally outrageous ending, then there would be no story worth writing here.

All snark aside, I'm really amazed that there are those who can't see this obvious point.

Is there a warning in the story about the dangers of blindly following traditions? Absolutely. But *why* should that be a warning worth heeding in the first place if it weren't for the fact that doing so could lead to morally outrageous behavior? Come on people, this is not difficult.

J said...

If you had ever read the Scarlet Letter, or even some early American history, you might have understood The Lottery. Or maybe not.


Miss Jackson was no moralist (probably a liberal--and I doubt...even a sunday schooler). She was a horror writer, primarily. Think Stephen King, Shackster (also not a religious conservative). It's a story about the sadism inherent in small town America, not biblical morality. What you mistake for "cultural relativism" is just a point that "ordinary" Americans could be sadistic monsters as well (or so the analogy suggests).

Shackleman said...

Right,

So the story is not about morality.

It's only about how small-town Christians are not moral.

Got it.

*facepalm

J said...

That's right. Not about sunday school, except indirectly--like, the sunday schoolers of a small town still haunted by superstitious ideas, who think they will bring about a better harvest by a lottery. The Lottery concerns the madness of religious superstitions--at least of a populist sort--as much as anything.



*septum day for S-man