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Skyping with Rousseau


Normally I try to keep in mind that one’s dreams are almost always boring to other people, but this one I think may be an exception. Not your average teaching stress/anxiety dream.

In my dream last night, the latest technological innovation was the capacity to skype with deceased persons from the afterlife. This valuable innovation comes at a very high cost; a single skype session costs a huge amount of money. Despite this cost, I petition and ultimately persuade my employer to cover the costs of a skype session with one of the canonical figures whose work I teach in my history of political theory class. I leave the choice up to students, using single transferable votes, but Rousseau is the clear winner. As I begin the process of the paperwork to arrange for the skype session, I learn from the Dean’s office that the funding has been pulled. There was evidently some concern that bring in a man who so willingly and callously discarded his own children, and spent his life prevaricating and offering various excuses and justifications, was perhaps not fully in line with our Catholic and Marianist values. I was mildly annoyed, but my students were well and truly outraged. In response to what they understood to be an affront to their academic freedom, they organized a series of in person and on-line protests, making “Dayton bans Rousseau” the viral outrage of the moment. At the moment that I woke up, I was preparing to be a guest on Morning Joe to discuss the controversy, a prospect I was really dreading. Once I was over the initial confusion of waking up mid-dream, I was mostly just relieved I wouldn’t have to go on Morning Joe.

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  • njorl

    Yeah but, pants or no pants?

    • redrob

      They only show you above the waist on Morning Joe, don’t they?

    • Steve

      Chat roulette with famous deceased persons in the afterlife! Which political philosopher would flash us?

      • keta

        I think that was prettily laid out in Plato’s, The Allegory of My Balls.

  • Thom

    Who has such detailed dreams? Professors of political theory, I guess.

    • Most of mine are at least that detailed; fewer, but still many, are just as coherent. None have ever had the bad taste to involve Morning Joe.

    • ThrottleJockey

      That was my exact same question too! Single transferable vote? Djw must be huffing mefloquine!

      • sonamib

        I’m betting Gregor Sansa implanted the idea in djw’s head, inception-style.

        • Gregor Sansa

          No way. Single-winner STV is IRV, which is subject to the center-squeeze problem. The good single-winner systems are Approval, Majority Judgment, SODA, and Score (for simplicity, strategy-resistance, double extra strategy-resistance in the special case where the candidates can act in their own interests, and honest voters, respectively.) For the case in djw’s dream, where the dead philosophers can’t assign votes proxied to them, you can’t use SODA; and students are probably sophisticated and potentially strategic; so that leaves Majority Judgment (or the minor variants thereof, such as Graduated Majority Jugment, ER-Bucklin, or Majority Choice Approval).

          IRV is clearly inferior to any of the above.

    • NonyNony

      You mean not everyone has dreams like that?

      Mine tend to involve more rogue AIs bent on killing me for reasons that are absolutely reasonable during the dream but make no sense when I write them down, but they get pretty detailed.

  • CaptainBringdown

    So Rousseau is Trump, the students his voters and the Dean’s office the Republican Party Establishment?

  • J. Otto Pohl

    Reminds me of PKD’s Ubik.

  • markregan

    When you woke up, had you decided whether to use the line,

    “Mock on, mock on, Voltaire! Rousseau!”


  • Hogan

    a man who so willingly and callously discarded his own children

    As we have recently been reminded, that’s nothing compared to what God did to His son.

    • Spare the rood and spoil the child!

      • CaptainBringdown


      • wjts

        This place needs more Middle English puns.

        • Gregor Sansa

          Just wait a day. When it’s April, that’s the sure result.

    • Merkw├╝rdigliebe

      A huge tangent nobody is interested in… but:

      Jesus realized he was God-incarnate. And got crucified for his trouble by “the Jews” (well, obviously, he was one of them but his theological position is what sets him apart), as their prevailing conception of God was one of a jealous celestial monarch to be defended from usurpers.

      But – had Jesus been born in e.g. India – the general reaction would have been “Good job, you’ve found out. Have a moksha.” since their view is that all people are but a mask Brahman puts on to get lost in the drama of the world. It’s really easy to view Jesus as a lonely self-made Hindu in a world of primitive theism, misunderstood and retconned into a unique anomaly.

  • burritoboy

    Perhaps we should not forget that Rousseau converted to Catholicism and attended a seminary for a time, but later rejoined his native Calvinism.

  • Gwen

    It seems that the Dean’s office is ignoring the General Will.

  • rea

    I dreamed of Rousseau a while back, but Henri, not Jean-Jacques (and actually, the dream was more about Joni Mitchell)

  • Sev

    Man is born free, but everywhere I look he is sitting in green rooms.

    • keta


  • rdennist

    Jesus. Reason #11,871 I am glad I left academia.

  • Bill Murray

    so your dream updated Steve Allen’s Meeting of Minds, although it does not appear that Rousseau was on that show. I still remember the Florence Nightingale, Plato, Martin Luther, Voltaire shows

  • efgoldman

    In the late 1950s, either Frederic Brown or William Tenn (I think) wrote a short story positing something very like this. The past artist in question was the composer Richard Strauss. That’s all I remember all these years later.

  • liberalrob

    You have just laid out the underpinnings for a modern re-imagining of Dante’s “Inferno.” Because surely political talk shows are a circle of Hell.

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