Autonomy

gustave dore, the body of elaine from tennyson's idylls of the king

I had a dream last night that my principal called me in and told me that I couldn’t do my own thing in classes, but had to do as everyone was being told to do. We would all teach the same things at the same time. In response, I told her that she would have to come up with the curriculum for all four of my classes then, and went on to waking up.

Yet, here I am this morning, worrying about what I will teach next fall, how I will survive planning for four preps. I contemplated how I would get the writing in, and the reading. Half dressed, I’ve been looking through anthologies of short stories and essays. And I realize that I can connect the writing to the readings by pairing the genre – read persuasion; write persuasion, and I have a lot of short pieces I already know about and have used, so I can do this. I need to relax and plan it out by objectives and goals, plug in the texts, and recycle plans and Power Points and I can do this.

So why do I feel so intimidated by a dreamed threat? Why do I see following a curriculum scripted from above as a script. Because it threatens my autonomy, and my autonomy is now, and has always been of great importance to me. In high school, Marty Lunquist and I branded ourselves Rebels, we listed to popular music, AND jazz and folk music. We didn’t hang out with the popular set, much as we might have wanted to. Like them, we rolled our Gant shirt sleeves up, but we rolled ours to the inside. We stood apart, but only enough apart to make clear that we were not less in status or other qualities than the group, but apart enough to show that did not gain those things from membership in the Group. We could travel with the Group. We could be recognized as valid participants in the Group. We could even attain a level of leadership within the Group. But we were Autonomous. We were most completely us apart from the group. We were who we were because of who we were, not because of our membership.

I have carried and cherished that sense of autonomy in so many ways ever since. That I could determine for myself what was fair, right and equitiable became a sort of doxastic that could be construed to entitle a range of disrespect, defiance and debauchery. I could use moral and ethical logic, as did the laws and mores of society, to place myself outside of but no less than those laws and mores. Indeed, I rose above the social code; I was not a blind, mindless adherrent. That I had arrived at this Code Civil independently of, though of coursed based in, 3,000 years of thought made my code better. A horrendously arrogant display of self-entitlement? Well, maybe not horrendous.

Of course, it was only better or even acceptable in a local sort of logic. In a more, literally global sort of logic, one would ask what right had I to step outside the regimentation of society for no other purpose but to serve myself.

   “What if everybody threw paper out of the car? What kind of a world would this be?” Mom asked in the lilting semi-whine of maternal chastisement.
   “Everywhere would look like Arkansas,” I replied, but pulled my hand back into the car.

So, is my cherished autonomy really civil or moral litter?

Still, when someone tells me what I will think or what I will feel if they…, I am indignant. By what right or power can someone rob me of the opportunity to think and feel for myself? Does it suggest that I am ignorant of my own mind? That I cannot properly control my thoughts and feelings? That I am mentally or morally defective? What possible mental condition on my part could account for someone else knowing my thoughts and feelings before they can even happen? What pathetic mental state must I be in to have someone not only feel the power to predict my feelings, no matter the accuracy of that prediction, and then respond to my possibly, even probably, erroneously predicted feelings?

Wait. I may have abused my autonomy, even reached beyonds its legitimate limits, but it is still mine. It may be weakly founded and falsely elevated, but I have a full right to my own autonomy. Even if I choice to follow the dictates of a completely benighted state, and even if that choosing is flawed or unsound, it is within my power to choose, and anyone may challenge my choice, not never my right to make it. My autonomy is absolutley mine alone.

Of course to remain autonomous, I must survive.

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About Jay C Ritterson
If I say nothing, it might be that I have nothing to say.

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