The Curious Case of the Famous Violinist

First, the bad news: found out after my mandatory reorientation session earlier this week that the fingerprints I’d had done at the prison looooong ago had somehow never been processed, all the stranger because I was listed as “inactive” when the entire point of getting them done was to get final clearance to get active status, an official volunteer ID, permission to run the group alone, etc., all of which had indeed gone through. Though the actual finger printing act of course took minutes, the procedure of getting in and out took hours. And now I have to do it again.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think they don’t want us volunteers in there…

And now the best news (for those of you who won’t get to the end of the post below): during the course of our opening discussion of news events one of the men, working on his high school GED, and not a particularly confident speaker, remarked that the popular response to Trump’s treatment of the “gold star” family was ORWELLIAN. Reader, you may remember that we read Orwell’s 1984 last summer, also some of Orwell’s famous essays on language, and we’d discussed the novel’s lasting effects, and the deep ways that what he had to say about the politics and metaphysics of language still resonated. And good lord that was well before Trump time. Hearing that expression trip off his tongue was simply thrilling, illuminating a shift in worldview, a novel conceptual framework, a whole new way of thinking and talking about things. And about himself as an epistemic agent. Powerful and empowering.

And luckily the missing fingerprints news was followed quickly (a day later) by a fantastic discussion in house of Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “A Defense of Abortion,” as we closed out a section of the critical thinking text with seven examples from ordinary sources in which arguments from analogy were pivotal: from some short and sweet commercials and letters to the editor, to an appeal to precedent in a cool piece by the head of the ACLU *advocating* that Obama pardon the black site torturers (after the release of the CIA torture papers in late 2014), to, finally last night, the JJT article. Their first response, like that of most first readers, was something like an outraged stammering protest: But but but pregnancy is nothing like this example! But then we backed right up to the (logical) beginning: well, what exactly is the conclusion she is after? And what is her main line of argument? What ways is this new case *supposed* to be like the violinist case? What differences are relevant, and why? We always have trouble in these meetings staying on track, particularly when feeling about the topic runs high, as certainly was the case on this one, but once we got going last night, not a problem at all.

I could not love working on the logic of a position on the ground, with a group with so much at stake, more.

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