Friday, February 25, 2011

So much for the Commonwealth

So, there I was, teaching Thomas More's Utopia today in my BritLit Survey--probably the longest work of the semester and a pretty tough sell to college students, unfortunately. But it's really a fascinating book in a lot of ways.

But anyhow, there I am wrapping up class, asking them all to think about how More claims that there can be no justice as long as there is private property, and how Utopia takes literally the notion that the best path to a true commonwealth is to make all the wealth common.

And I tie it all together by saying something like this: "More wants us to ask ourselves whether our self interest, our desire to own our own things, comes at the cost of impoverishing our fellow men, and at the cost of justice. He wants us to think about what we do for our own gain, and what we do for the good of us all. And I find that kind of philanthropic thought really wonderful--but I still like the things I own, and I don't want to have to switch houses every ten years by lottery. So I work for a salary--but I work cheap, and I try to do good work for the world by being a teacher."

I told them to go, packed up my bag, and headed for the door. In front of the door to the very next classroom, I saw a dollar lying on the ground. I picked it up, waved it around for a few seconds to see if anyone would claim it, and no one did. So I looked around one more time, shrugged my shoulders, and stuffed it in my pocket.

So much for the commonwealth.


Christy said...

Your lesson to those students is worth *far* more than a dollar -- but clearly karma is sending its rewards. Buy yourself a couple stamps or a candy bar and feel good about it.

Sort of begs the question, though: What's the best use of a found dollar? I think for me, it'd be a coconut bar from our local paletas vendor.

Jane Kokernak said...

Recently at dinner my kids were debating the question about whether it's okay to own property, that is, the very ground that a house is built on. Their conclusion: one person (or one family or one corpus) should not be able to "own a piece of the planet! That doesn't even make sense!" In their view, the planet is shared and not even 'ownable'.

Regarding your dollar, it must be circulated, as someone -- an economist maybe? -- once told me. Exchange it for something. A coconut bar, or at least an Almond Joy, sounds good to me.