Beating Back the Trolls

Walking back from my 1:00 class just now, I ran across a colleague from the philosophy department who asked, "Well, did you dispel ignorance today?"   I can't say that I did.  We were going over book I of Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics,  and more than one student was displaying an "I just carbo-loaded" somnolence.

Maybe it was the way my colleague phrased it, but I couldn't help recalling something one of my former professors told me in a class long ago.  He recounted the Norse myth of how the gods built a small citadel of light, order and reason in a dark, savage and utterly chaotic universe.

Unfortunately that universe wasn't empty.  It was populated by vicious trolls who were forever trying to overrun and destroy the home of the gods.  Every day Thor, Wotan and the rest of the gods had to be out on the parapets hurling back the endless onslaught of invading trolls.  And every year the circle of light and reason grew smaller and smaller.  It didn't matter how many trolls the gods dispatched or defeated; they just kept coming. 

So one day the chief  god, Wotan, manages to catch one of the troll kings.  "What's it going to take to beat you guys?" he asks, exasperated.

The troll king says, "Pull out your eye, give it to me and I'll tell you."  Without hesitating, Wotan plucks out his left eye, hands it over and says, "Okay, now tell me."

The troll king laughs and replies, "The secret is you must watch with both eyes!"

Well, the battle continues.  The only difference is that now the gods know they are screwed.  They still get up every morning, still man the parapets and do their best to hang on, but the end is clear.  The trolls are destined to win. 

A lot of the time you don't dispel any ignorance in this job.  On your best days you only manage to keep the trolls at bay for a little while longer.


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