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Ivy Flessen presents her research for McGillicuddy Humanities Center fellowship

The political sphere in the United States has become an increasingly hostile environment over the last couple of years. With increased polarization, the environment for discourse becomes more and more skewed, turning many off of the topic of politics altogether. However, with COVID-19 heightening tensions and ideas even further, the pandemic calls into question the resistance to reason that we see in modern politics. Americans have seen the denial of scientific evidence and the denial of proof with  little apparent reason. The McGillicuddy Humanities Center fellow Ivy Flessen aimed to answer how this has come to be through the presentation of her research on March 12. Flessens’ presentation revolved around the resistance to reason as seen in contemporary American society, illustrated through the use of the Myth of Er, as seen at the end of Plato’s Republic. 

Flessens’ presentation gave a summary of the Myth of Er and its relevance for understanding the resistance to reason. 

“My inspiration for this comes from the same idea as the talk today. There is a stark resistance to scientific fact in American society. Plato was most helpful to run this, especially through the use of the Republic. It helped better pave the way to observe the intersection between morality and philosophy in politics,” Flessen stated. 

Her presentation then talked about the implications that the resistance to reason has on society, as well as the political sphere today. Flessen has found that no matter the insistence or strength of reason, it will be, at least in some way, resisted in the political world, just as it was in the myth. The resistance is something buried deep in society because the world is naturally irrational. This, along with other issues surrounding it, will continue to be a problem that needs adaptation in the future. 

The McGillicuddy Humanities Center Undergraduate Fellows program is a program for third and fourth-year students at UMaine who want to partake in independent research. Fellows attend meetings, collaborate and build relationships with their cohort, participate in interdisciplinary humanities programs and act as student representatives of the humanities on campus. After being inducted into the program, fellows spend two semesters doing their research, which culminates with their presentations. Fellows receive $8,000 from the program, which is distributed in two awards of $4000 per semester. Flessen recounted her experience getting involved in the Fellows program. 

“I heard about the fellowship partially because of the publication the center puts out every year,” Flessen said. “I was getting ready to transfer, but the center would give me the financial support I needed to stay. I had to write a proposal, and that process took about a month due to diligence. Even if students are pressed for time, they can put out a good proposal in less time.”

At the end of this spring semester, Flessen will be graduating and pursuing a Ph.D. program. 

“I am actually graduating this year and going to graduate school. Going into a Ph.D. program [I will be contemplating the] classical question of the noble, and the pursuit of power in the modern power sphere. The tensions between those two things, and how we solve that, is my interest going forward, and hopefully, an academic career can still come from that,” Flessen said.

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