Sloppy Thinking

You’ll get this in a minute.  Or two:

“I’ve never understood it, and it speaks so poorly of you.”

It’s important first to understand why that quote matters.  Why it matters to have something speak poorly of you.  Seriously.  We’re in a world where wrong is relative.  I want to scream just typing that.  Wrong is relative.  Wrong is not always the same.  Wrong depends on circumstance.  To depend upon something means to be determined or influenced by it.  In a world where wrong depends on circumstance, there can be no honesty.  Because honesty needs – honesty depends upon – consistency.  Honesty is determined and influenced by consistency.  But to a relativist, right and wrong depend upon circumstance.  Every time a circumstance changes, a thing that is wrong has the capacity to become un-wrong.  Everything that is wrong has the capacity, depending upon circumstance, to become right.  This cannot be considered consistent, and therefore cannot be considered honest. And so we’re back to the quote:

“I’ve never understood it, and it speaks so poorly of you.”

In a relativist world, whether something speaks poorly of you depends on circumstance.  Which, as I’ve established, means that it can’t ever matter.  What does that mean, anyway to have something speak poorly of you?  It means that through your actions, you’ve created a sort of signpost that you hold in front of yourself that says “liar,” or “jerk” or “hypocrite.”  It means that you carry indignity before you wherever you go.  If you’ve been told that something speaks poorly of you, you can bank on the fact that you’ve done something wrong. However, we’re still in this world where wrong can be right, humiliation can be dignity, and shame can be pride. You can be told that something speaks poorly of you, but you don’t have to care.  All you have to do is say so.

In nearly every educational facility in America, they are saying so.

I know, I’m the conservative you haven’t unfriended on Facebook yet. The conservative who doesn’t “constantly post that Republican crap.” I’m posting that Republican crap right now.  Please understand, when someone has a lot of posts that are not in agreement with you, that does not constitute hostility. It is exactly what you are doing, so please be a little more generous.  Do you have any idea, any idea at all, how many slaps in the face I endure every day from your untethered “likes” of Huffpo and NYT and (oh God, save me) John Oliver links?  Do you get that?  And by untethered, I mean that you don’t do anything except click the “like” button.  You never explain yourself, never lay claim to any sort of thinking you have done on the subject.  You’ve just clicked ‘like’ in the social media equivalent of “so there.”  Please explain yourself, because guess what?  Most of the time, I click on those articles and read them.  I do you that favor.  But it’s not a favor, at all.  A favor is defined as “an act of kindness beyond what is due or usual.”  For me to read the articles you like is not beyond what is due or usual.  It is exactly what is due and usual. I owe you that as a matter of course.  We owe each other that as a matter of course.  But if you don’t care what’s right and wrong, that doesn’t matter much.

Having said all that…

There’s not much to this post, but watch the two minutes (less, actually!) of video. It’s video! YOU DON’T HAVE TO READ ANYTHING!

Steven Crowder has gotten plenty of play for his rant at UMass during this presentation about political correctness gone mad, because it has that “epic smackdown” kind of feel to it.  But after watching this, I think it’s more important to give less than two minutes to Milo Yiannopoulos, the Catholic Greek Conservative who also happens to be queer as a three dollar bill, while he gives a very level-headed summary of the campus virus.  The video should start right up at 44:16.  Give it a listen from there until 46:10.

 

 

Morning Breath

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This morning I watched while a coyote asked some innocent questions of four recalcitrant deer.  The coyote was alone, and one of the young ladies was kind enough to step closer, probably to be sure she would be heard over the sound of melting snow and exhaling sage.

“Excuse me,” the little dog began.

The group of deer looked plainly put out already, so they gathered and drew mental straws to appoint a spokesdoe. She turned half to him – a lesser show of respect could hardly have been arranged – and said “indeed.”

Coy-dog lifted a paw and twitched a tall ear.  His mien was all apprehension. “No, I just, I don’t know… Why did you say ‘indeed?'”

The deer turned back, half-lidded eyes under the shade of the foothills.  She nibbled a columbine flower and said “why wouldn’t I?”

“Right.  That’s fair.”

Little happened for a moment or two, save the scratching of a squirrel at the cold bark of a pine.  An aspen branch jumped up, relieved of its heavy load of wet Spring snow.  The plump little rabbit under the creosote bush did as next to nothing as possible.  The coyote put his paw down, twitched his other ear in a way that looked like he didn’t mean to, and started:

“I was just -” the deer turned in no hurry and stepped twice towards the coyote.  He loaded his haunches and glanced behind him, then back at the deer, and continued “-just wanting to wish you a good morning.”

“Indeed.”

The coyote turned back and carried his heavy tail down through the buffalo grass, away from the cresting sun.  The deer, for some reason, waited a few minutes and then followed.

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Who Made the Summer

This is one of my all-time favorites, and something I think about every time it gets hot for the first time.  My parents had sent me a picture a few years back of a roughly 3 year-old me, drinking from the hose, limbs all exposed to the sun. It’s around here somewhere, that picture, complete with a big, tacky, inflatable pool wrecking the grass underneath. We do our best to give our kids the kind of summers that we hope we can keep remembering. They try to legislate it all away, but they have no power against the family.

It’s around here somewhere, that summer.

 

“Papa, can I have a drink?”
“Of course you can, sweetie.”

In 1978 the water from the hose tasted like metal, and it didn’t scare anybody. Now it tastes like water, but he’s told that there’s something dangerous in the hose – don’t give it to your children. Lead, they say. We’ve been 35 years filtering and cleaning and protecting and irradiating the water for you, so now it isn’t safe because nobody thought about the hose.

“One day, someone will tell you that you can’t. Someone will always tell you that you can’t.”

“Will he be right?”

“In a way – in his way he will think he is right. In his way he will know he is right and he’ll have numbers and articles and so-called facts to make sure he keeps knowing how right he is. But his way is only really there for making you scared of something, and you can be as sure as the grass going brown that if he has children, they drink from the hose when he is out here telling you not to.”

“What does he think is wrong with the water?”

“That it is full of things that you can’t handle without getting sick, and that he can make those things disappear by making you feel lousy about them. He thinks this because he doesn’t know that you come from the same place as the water, or that you both come from the same place as the summer.”

“And my brother, too. Where’s that place, Papa?”

“That’s a tough one to answer, sweetie. I only know it’s all the same, and that even if I never know it all the way, I come closest when I’m closest to your Ma.”

In 1978, Mother clipped a shirt to the line and didn’t hear the conversation, because in 1978 the conversation didn’t happen. She just held open the patio door, and put the boy out there to find the summer in the business end of a garden hose.

He Had To!

 

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I read this one to the kids this morning.  It’s always tempting to add, to describe, to explain.  But God knows when, once you start, it ever stops.  Accusers never explain, do they?  Only the accused explain.

 

Still ran Dingo—Tired-Dog Dingo—hungrier and hungrier, very much bewildered, and wondering when in the world or out of it would Old Man Kangaroo stop.

Then came Nqong from his bath in the salt-pans, and said, ‘It’s five o’clock.’

Down sat Dingo—Poor Dog Dingo—always hungry, dusky in the sunshine; hung out his tongue and howled.

Down sat Kangaroo—Old Man Kangaroo—stuck out his tail like a milking-stool behind him, and said, ‘Thank goodness that’s finished!’

Then said Nqong, who is always a gentleman, ‘Why aren’t you grateful to Yellow-Dog Dingo? Why don’t you thank him for all he has done for you?’

Then said Kangaroo—Tired Old Kangaroo—He’s chased me out of the homes of my childhood; he’s chased me out of my regular meal-times; he’s altered my shape so I’ll never get it back; and he’s played Old Scratch with my legs.’

Then said Nqong, ‘Perhaps I’m mistaken, but didn’t you ask me to make you different from all other animals, as well as to make you very truly sought after? And now it is five o’clock.’

Well, it’s almost always five o’clock, and my legs are nubs.  The hummingbirds are hiding from the woodpeckers, the jasmine is running from the shade of the cherry tree, the pea-vines are running from their roots.  Excuse me for a moment while I go and feed Yellow-Dog Dingo.

Uncontroversial, and Generally Unconsidered

It’s so amazing when the mundane is revelatory.

I got to be a social justice warrior. Teacher said:

“And Bernie Sanders is incredibly popular among people your age.”

A loaded pause. Her eyes dart to me and then away as she realizes. I smirk:

“I should report you for that ageism.”

We moved on, into typically unpleasant territory.  But it’s only unpleasant because I notice things.  More on that later.  Now, though, it really is largely pleasant.  The class isn’t terribly active, not many people have much to say , and many of the teacher’s prompts get met with the dreaded silence.  But there are still real discussions and exchanges of ideas, and the general intellectual exercise is invigorating.  For the first time in my life, I am genuinely bummed every time class is over.

Also, I’m old and prepared enough to be able to take the passively hostile environment in stride.  The fact is, they don’t know they’re being hostile.  Having one side to every story is all they’ve ever known, and the presumption of ideological ubiquity is very pacifying. Knowing this, I am patient and generous.  Being generous in disagreement is a character virtue that is needed long before you earn the right to be confident in agreement. If I teach anyone anything, I hope it is that.

I sit in my chair in there, usually pretty wound up because I’m still in the honeymoon phase of college and I just love to be there, and I keep having reasons to say little things that are fun and enlightening.  Maybe I’ll start cataloguing these things, the things I can’t believe I have to say out loud. What was Monday? Oh yeah: “I care what happens to white males.” Uncontroversial, and generally unconsidered. There should be a word for that sort of thing.  All by itself, it isn’t a very interesting sentence.  But imagine what that sounds like, in today’s quivering social climate, to the generation of kids who have completely shuffled the concept of whiteness into the File of Immediate Offense.  Imagine how racist it must sound to have a white male say “I care what happens to white males.”

“WHY IS HE MICRO-AGGRESSING ME?”

“Are you sure it’s a micro-aggression?  He said ‘white male.’  That’s like a, I don’t know, really big aggression.”

But anyway, I said it.  And it was very quiet after, save for a refreshingly sincere-sounding chuckle from a big – I think Italian – fellow named Carlo.  I don’t think angels have wasted their time blowing their trumpets towards a college campus in a long time, but they could have used that moment for a warm-up. It’s so amazing when the mundane is revelatory.  I’ll just call them that, if there’s any more:  Mundane Revelations.

There has been one more.  Wednesday we found out, when the teacher asked, that I am the only person in the room who has served in the military. This surprised me, because an anonymous student had included in her thesis a very succinct definition of what the military teaches its members to think about the enemy. So specific that you’d expect it to require firsthand knowledge. “In the room” kind of stuff.  Granted, based on what she wrote, it was the wrong room to be in. But we’ll get to that.

Keep in mind, as I’ve said, I’m very generous.  I’m not just sitting in there waiting for my chance to poke people in the eye.  I’m not antagonistic by nature. Then again, I wouldn’t have to be.  In academia, the antagonism is prevenient to anything I could bring to the table. I just walk into the classroom and sit down amidst it three times a week.  In this case, it was written on the board and staring at me for a good ten minutes, and being read aloud. I measured it as being worth leaving alone, until the teacher said to me “And what does the military teach you about the enemy?”

It’s too bad that this was an aside, and not the whole topic.  I wanted two hours in a room with these kids.  I wanted to do more, more, more.  I gave them what I could in one sentence:

“I know Hollywood pretty much only tells the truth, but the military actually does not teach us (as I pointed at the thesis and read it word for word from the board) ‘that the enemy is subhuman and does not deserve our empathy.'”

I mean, I know you hate Ted Cruz and all, but managing to crowbar that tidbit into the analysis is really something. I got a little wet from the bubbles bursting and had to wipe myself off. It turns out that those bubbles are made mostly of drool and tears.

As noted, that was Wednesday.  On Friday we quite literally spent the entire hour using the word “extremist” interchangeably with “Republican.” For realz. While talking about John friggin Kasich, people.  And it was casual as hell.  Nobody was laughing, it wasn’t an accusation.  It wasn’t even thought about.  It was as if they were just saying Coke and Pepsi to mean the same thing.  Just to avoid repetition or something. “You can’t just say Republican in every other sentence.  Replace it with extremist from time to time.  Same-same.” Alas, this class is about writing papers, and I’m there to re-learn how to do that, so I didn’t take the time to interject. I’ll have my chance to have these discussions in the years to come, though I do feel a bit of a responsibility to help broaden the perspectives of these youngsters.

It’s a fun dualism, to learn and to teach.  I wonder if being a parent is anything like that.

Defensiveness, Analysis, and the Most Begged Question

I have not yet openly defied liberalism, but I have been objective and fair, so by now the whole room knows there’s something wrong with me.

Oy.  The kids are on Spring Break, but am I?  Nooooo.  They’re young, so I don’t expect them to fully grasp the concept of respecting my need to get some schoolwork done.  Still, I have only myself to blame for letting them talk me into picking up the keg.

It is an interesting time at school, as things develop in my sole on-campus class.  The two online classes are largely a matter of reading things and doing assignments, dismembered and ethereal, with a very small amount of chat-room type discussion.  “Interesting take on Robespierre’s justification for terror.”  “The American Revolution was successful because it’s goals were relatively simple, the colonies were already practiced in self-governance, and Donald Trump is a racist asshole.” 

Hang on…

The virtue signaling is intense.  Very few people – and I speak primarily of my on-campus English class – very few people pass up the opportunity for announcing their Trump hate.  It’s the unsecret handshake of the accepted classes. We were given a series of campaign speech videos to watch and analyze in terms of nationalism.  Trump was one of them, and I had a hard time deciding whether I should choose it.  It’s a near guarantee that I would be the only voice in the room capable of assessing his speech with any honesty and clarity of judgment, but in the end I foresaw myself growing weary of saying “it’s not a defense, it’s an analysis.”  There are 3 or 4 people who chose his speech, and I can’t wait to read all the hate-that-is-not-hate-because-I-can’t-hate that comes from it.  Diversity.

I have not yet openly defied liberalism, but I have been objective and fair, so by now the whole room knows there’s something wrong with me.  I have pointed out where the merit exists in a Trump statement, and also where racism does not exist in a Trump statement.  But what gets missed is what I said above:  to this audience there is no such thing as analysis, there is only support or condemnation.  So I’m sure many of them have me pegged as a Trump vote.  But if somehow they’ve maintained intellectual honesty to this point, yesterday may have been all the confirmation they need to throw it away. Because as a Bernie-worship session tailed off, I actually had to say out loud, and without humor:

“I do.  I care very much what happens to white males.”  There were a couple of chuckles, but mostly the room felt like a passel of quivering electrons stacked up behind an open switch.  “The old white guy in front is gonna flip that switch, isn’t he?”  I am, and it’s gonna get bright in there.  It is without a single jot of facetiousness that I say that I don’t think many of the people in the room had ever had that thought occur to them. 

Q: “What about the white males?”
A: “Black Lives Matter.”

Q: “What about the white males?”
A: “Not all Muslims are terrorists.”

Q: “What about the white males?”
A: “Seventy cents for every dollar.”

Q: “What about the white males?”
A: “Voter ID laws.”

Q: “What about the white males?”
A: “Clump of cells.”

Q: “What about the white males?”
A: “Police brutality.”

I digress, but validly.  No matter what evil you can identify or fabricate in today’s culture and society, the only guilty party is the white male.  The insignificance of the fate of any number of white males, from one to all of us, is a simple given.  The most begged question there ever was, the answer decided upon and tucked away, never to be fussed over again: It. Doesn’t. Matter. 

Well, change doesn’t happen overnight, as they say, so I’m not rolling into class every day loaded for bear.  That’s not a helpful strategy.  I work the slow propaganda of virtue and reason, and will be doing a small bit of gauntlet throwing when I turn in today’s discussion post with this level-headed analysis:

Bernie Sanders does considerable work reinforcing the imaginary, immaterial, and paradoxical nature of Anderson’s nationalism.  Most notably its “political power” vs its “philosophical poverty.”  His speech is an exercising of the imaginary bonds between a selected and differentiated portion of the nation, a stirring of their emotional motivations in order to increase their sovereignty over the unreconciled bourgeoisie.  Connections will be made, votes will be had, and politics will have their power, but all in the philosophical vacuum left behind by almost exclusively divisive rhetoric.

I have a fair read on my teacher, I think, so I’m pretty sure there is no danger of me being kicked out of class just yet.

These Long Days

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These Long Days

I’ve introduced myself to these long days
By calling an encore on the night.
With careful work at setting the lights,
A midday search
For the artefacts of worth
Has led me through that curtained little backstage place.
My small audience sees the fluttered drape.
And now
I’ve walked out into these full days
By pushing on an unmarked door.
It was swollen stuck against the floor,
It’s damp age
Beholden to the craze
Of the movements and exhaustions of too many fronts.
The sound of its shutting behind me is blunt.