Ideology is a lot like implicit bias. A smart person knows they have it, but they often struggle to see or describe it. One of the only ways to draw ideology into the light is to present it to students in unfamiliar ways. With this in mind I created the “Genie Scenario”.

Want to assign this to your students? Send them this link to an essay version of this complete with four assignable questions.

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Walking along the beach one bright morning you trip over a hidden piece of driftwood. On all fours, a bright metallic spark of light escapes from the sand below searing your eyes. Like a blinded archeologist you clench your eyelids together while sweeping away the warm sticky yellow grains until your hand settles on something hot and smooth.
         “Are you done rubbing my lamp or should I come back later?” You whip your head around. A lumpy blue cloud with arms and a smiling face stands above you.
         “My god you’re… you’re a…”
         “I’m a genie, yes. Now how about you stand up and let’s talk about what I can do for you.”
         “Do I get three wishes?”
         “Nope. Not that kind of genie. Get up. Brush yourself off and get ready to listen carefully.” Rising to your feet you subtly grab a a piece of you hip and pinch down hard. You don’t wake up. This is happening.
         “As the saying goes kid, time is money.” Genie says arms folded. He starts in while you brush yourself clean. “I have been to the future and I know how you will live your life and how it will come to an end- well for our purposes here, the more important point is that I know *when* it will end.”
         “Wait, how I die?” Genie raises his hand.
         “Can’t give you that. Plus, knowing your fate only imprisons the rest of your life; just ask Oedipus and Cronus. What I offer you is the opposite of that. I want to give you… freedom.”
         “I am prepared to give you all of the money you will earn over the rest of your life. Take this offer and you’ll never have to sell another hour of your life to your employer. I will return ten more times over the remainder of your life each time with 1/10 of the money you are set to earn over the remainder of your career.”
         “Accept my offer and you are free to do anything you like with your time on Earth. Keep working if you like. Volunteer, travel, paint, or binge watch Netflix, it’s up to you. You would finally be truly free to do what you want. However in return, every time you see me, before I give you your money, I’m going to painlessly remove one of your fingers.”
         “So, do we have a deal?”

Bringing Capitalist Ideologies Into Plain Sight

I follow the “Genie Scenario” with a quick think/pair/share. That is, I ask my students to write down whether or not they’d take the offer and why. Then they talk to their classmates briefly before we talk as a whole group.

I have asked nearly 2,000 students to consider this offer and almost all of them have said they’d turn it down. The most common theme running through all the reasons they have given me for saying no can roughly be summarized as, “I need my fingers to live a quality life and once they’re gone they can’t be replaced.”

I ask my students to raise their hands if their reason for saying no fit’s with this summary and almost the entire room lifts up their arm. Then I ask them, “But couldn’t we say the exact same thing for your time? And many of you sell that for almost nothing.”

The Genie Scenario makes it easier for students to see one of their ideologies (i.e. selling my labor is normal if not moral). From here it’s much easier for students to understand Marx’s economic determinism and false consciousness, Gramsci’s hegemony, and the Frankfurt School’s critical theory. After the Genie Scenario, Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism helps students see how culture and the economy are both created by ideology and both also play a role in creating ideology.