A fence is an uncomfortable place to sit

image: jeanneheiseartist.com

There’s a scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent and Jules are travelling in a car with a guy called Marvin in the back. If you’ve seen it, you probably remember that Vincent accidentally shoots Marvin in the face, and the rear window of the car ends up covered in blood. Marvin doesn’t get many lines, but for me, he’s a pretty interesting character, because Marvin gets punished for sitting on the fence in response to an RE question.

VINCENT: Marvin, what do you make of all this?

MARVIN: I don’t even have an opinion.

VINCENT: C’mon, Marvin.  Do you think God came down from Heaven and stopped the bullets?

Vincent’s .45 goes BANG!

Marvin is hit in the upper chest, below the throat. He GURGLES blood and SHAKES.

Four years ago, I went on holiday to Ireland with a group of friends. Sometimes we camped in the woods, and sometimes we camped in a campsite. It was a compromise, because some of us wanted to save money and rough it, and some of us wanted flat ground to sleep on and a shower in the morning. About a week into the holiday, there came a night when we couldn’t agree on where to camp. We had to make a decision, it was going to be dark soon, and people asked my opinion. To be honest, I wasn’t bothered, because I had money for a campsite, but I quite like roughing it as well. I thought by expressing this apathy, I would be simplifying the decision making process. I figured it would mean one less opinion to worry about.

I was wrong. The camping wild group and the campsite group each wanted my support. By abstaining, I was pissing everyone off. People wanted me to have an opinion. If I’d been in the back seat of a car, you can bet my brains would have been splattered all over the windows sooner or later.

The bump in the road that makes Vincent’s gun go off expresses a common desire for humans to have opinions. We like to know where other people stand. Is having an opinion like picking a team? You can’t participate in sport if you don’t pick a team. Can you participate in philosophical discussion if you don’t have an opinion?

In the classroom, I’m constantly asking students to express opinions and give reasons for why they hold them. The next step is looking at whether the reasons are good or not. One day, I’ll get a chance to discuss what counts as a good reason. But maybe we should give the students a chance to be like Marvin and say “I don’t have an opinion yet”. Maybe we should see how they defend that, and then look at the consequences of not having opinions in the outside world. Does your opinion about life after death affect what actually happens when you die? That could be an interesting question, and it comes from my own ambivalence towards holding opinions.

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