Imperial, Colonial, Memorial

Oxford comma, people of the world.

Looking for the return of these days:

IMG_0025

This started as a Facebook post, but then I remembered that I like to write, and the only thing less credible these days than a blog is Facebook.  There was a time when I told myself that, in order to get back to regular writing, I should note the times that I am about to post to FB, and come to the blog instead. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to resist that vanity of mass exposure and ‘likes,’ and instead face the burden of saying something substantive in a relatively unviewed forum.  But of course, if you have the wit for it, you can say some pretty substantive things in a short FB post, too.  The only problem with that is that you might be the only person who gets it.  What I found out, ultimately, was that the best way to get back to writing regularly is to go take a college English class.  The audience tends to be pretty small, but I’m wearing out my keyboard these last two months. And my brain feels so much more efficient and useful. It’s a whole new world.

Meanwhile, Americans ate a red, white, and blue cupcake for every dead civilian. I gave them the Rape of Nanking.

School.  First quarter in two decades. I think we’re on the verge of week 9 here. 4 weeks to go. Here’s an update:

First, week 4 (maybe 5):

ENGL102: 98.33%
HIST128: 97.5%
PHIL120: 91.07%

Comparison with now:

ENGL102: 98.15%
HIST128: 97.78%
PHIL120: 92.38% (JUST got grades from last week’s homework, and a little bump: 92.49%)

Looks like I got high and stayed high, which I believe is the point of college. Success! I’ll have that Philosophy grade up a point or two before this thing is over. English is fun, the kind of teacher you want to have – lots of work due pretty much all the time, well structured, and pretty uncompromising. I heard a few students, in a concerned but friendly group, asking her the other day: “Does ANYONE get an A in your class?” Those are nice moments. She did give me more credit than I thought I deserved for an outline that I turned in unfinished, but I also proactively followed up with her about it in office hours, and asked for her help.  Also, it wasn’t exactly a tiny little effort, sparsely populated with detail and info.  It was two pages of deep research that contrasted favorably against the other submissions from the class. I just kind of hit a wall with it and didn’t know where to go. And frankly, I panicked.  It was the first point of confusion for me in that class.  I had been so driven, so directed, and then I just got flippin’ sick of voter ID laws and couldn’t find a single way to add interest to the topic. She helped pry me loose and get me going, and while I’m not really using any of her ideas, it was the process that did it. I’ve considered seeing if she really meant to give me full credit, make sure I get the grade I deserve.  But a couple of points on that lightly-weighted assignment, against a 98% overall grade, won’t be much of a difference. Makes as much sense as doing extra credit at this point – posturing more than anything.

My History class may be getting a little tired of me doing things like obliquely defending the Imperialist perspective in Burma. I said that by shooting that damn elephant, Orwell demonstrated the chasm of philosophical sophistication that existed between the British and the Burmans. Kind of takes the guesswork out of colonial relationships. Everyone else did the usual:  white man bad, noble brown people, etc.  Of course imperialism sucked, by and by, but national borders were spreading like peanut shells in a honky-tonk, and imperialism needed time to prove itself a nearly irredeemable hell of impossible harmony. It was not, in my estimation (and in most cases), preemptively evil.  It was opportunistic and optimistic, but as our hindsight tells us, doomed to fail from the outset (after a boatload of initial success, of course).

Then President Obama talked about the bomb, and we were asked to talk about Truman and how, AS EVERYONE KNOWS, the Japanese were begging to surrender, but Truman simply sniggered and nuked them anyway. Meanwhile, Americans ate a red, white, and blue cupcake for every dead civilian. I gave them the Rape of Nanking, “decisive battle,” Japanese civilian militias, all that.  That an American official mentioned that “We had 100,000 people killed in Tokyo in one night, and it had seemingly no effect whatsoever.” That the consensus among the scientists who made the bomb, not the military, was that a low-casualty demonstration over Tokyo Bay would not prove to be a deterrent, and we’d have to just drop one on a city anyway.  Still and ever, America is/was SOEVIL that Truman wasted no thought on murdering 200,000 Japanese civilian and military to show off for Stalin. So much more plausible.

Symbolic logic continues to confound (not an accidental segue).  I’ve had a few video conferences with my instructor, one Anthony Ferucci.  Young, Italian as cannoli, affable and sharp.  That Roman nose, which I think you can say without being accused of racism because Italians are ersatz white people. He’s crammed in a tiny office at the University of Washington, trying to scribble rules of replacement, conditional proofs, indirect proofs, and all manner of other hieroglyphs on a white board in the corner behind him, while I wonder at the bags under my eyes that my image on the laptop shows me. Nothing exhausts my mind like these proofs. Intellectual weight training.

It rains here today, or at least threatens to, as we completely expect on Memorial Day weekend.  The going joke in Seattle is that the sun comes out on July 5th.  As a rule, I don’t like “the going joke” in any given situation. Recycled cleverness is about as true to its source as leftover pasta. However, this one I find myself making when the chance arrives. It tends to fit, and a fella has to fit where he can, too.

 

The Social Justice CSI

The author’s crime is that she perfectly understands her subject.

Years ago, when I was in my writing heyday, my posts were family-forward.  Often, they were poetic and fluid and flirting with sentimentality to a degree that I think I stayed fair of.  I so very badly wanted to be nice, always thinking I could say something important and be rightly understood while still invoking an artistic pathos that could, hopefully, pardon me for the crime of trying to make a point.  I remain committed to being understood, though I am losing some of my interest in being pardoned.

I’ve been reading articles about the heavy ideological orthodoxy in American colleges for a couple of years now.  It has been easy to read the articles and shake my head, all concerned, tell myself that I can teach my kids to see through it, and generally wish it weren’t so.  But when I realized that I was more likely to talk my teeth out of bed than convince anyone around me that it mattered, I decided to go back to school.  Of course, it would be absurd for that to be the only reason.  It would be absurd and far too egomaniacal to go to college just because nobody was listening.  Unless that’s simply another deflection, built in a world unwilling to be told anything.  Unless getting people to listen was exactly the best reason to go to college.

There’s really only two occasions for not listening to something.  One is that you are distracted. The other is that you know you are wrong.  I think the majority of our social tension stems from the fact that fundamentally and frighteningly, an awful lot of people are backing away from their realizations that they are about a cell wall away from being proven inexorably wrong.  Liberal America is a society quivering at the recognition that it’s being found out, and with black lives matter and transgender bathrooms and safe zones and disinvitations, it is littering the sky with chaff as it retreats.

I have no idea what role I am playing in this retreat.  Some cynical cossack, maybe, hoping to cut off and isolate the fleeing ideologues wherever I can.  Whatever the case, I’m in it now, having not so much jumped in feet first as broken the surface from below.  An apologetic periscope.  Today, after a few weeks of chasing light skirmishes, I spied the armada.

This submission was the flagship, and it is what I saw in class.  If you are a liberal, you know what’s wrong with it before you’ve even read it. If you are conservative, you probably don’t know what’s wrong with it at all (aside from being a bad read).  If, however, you are a conservative who pays attention and has a healthy instinct for precognitive bullshit, you are looking forward to this conversation like a lion in the veldt.  It all came from one paragraph of a three-paragraph introduction that we were asked to analyze for:

Language elements
Thesis statement
Set up for follow-on paper structure

First, the paragraph:

“Learning more about the differences in communication styles between men and women will aid in the more successful sending and receiving of messages, both verbal and nonverbal. For example, a woman may communicate in a way that has meaning to her. However, the man receiving the message may interpret it differently than she intended due to their differences in communication style. This can cause conflict and lead to further problems in the relationship. However, if the man decoding the message were familiar with his wife’s style of communication, he may have interpreted it properly therefore avoiding a conflict situation. The reverse, when men are communicating to women, is also true. Husbands and wives are interdependent, and their level of commitment and desire to maintain a healthy relationship often depends on the other person (Weigel & Ballard-Reisch, 2008). ”

The glaring atrocity in that paragraph is not, as you might have guessed, the terribly incompetent citation at the end.  The atrocity, as any liberal – and my English class, but I repeat myself – would have noticed right away, is that this paragraph is a detailed manifesto of anti-gay bigotry and hatred.  To say “husband and wife” is to say that there can be no other arrangement. It is, in a word, offensive.  It’s a paper about the ways that communication can affect a marriage, and all it took was one mention in one paragraph on one page of an example wherein a man is married to a woman, to make this an offensive piece worthy of discussing in English class from that perspective. Communication and marriage health, which were the aim of the paper, are now off the table. The paper is meaningless as written, and suddenly only has value as a minutiae-laden narrative in the marriage debate.

Imagine, by those standards, if I say “this guy was driving his Chevy Suburban down the road when he ran a red light because he was texting on his iPhone.” We would have to conclude that:

  1. Only men drive.
  2. Only Chevy Suburbans can be driven.
  3. All traffic lights are red.
  4. All cell phone use is texting.
  5. All cell phones are iPhones.
  6. I hate every human who suggests a condition other than those above.

What a way to view the world.

 

It takes work to actually eradicate the usefulness of reality altogether.

Can you get your mind around the guided ideological acrobatics it takes to turn that paragraph into culture crime?  To be able to read that paragraph and scream “REPUBLICAN CHRISTIAN BIGOT?” It could be kind of laughable, except that it’s damaging.  And it’s intentional.  You have to be taught to do that, to read it as my class did – to read it through the eyes of a Social Justice CSI – and to abandon intellectual rigor and intellectual honesty.  You have to be taught to do that, because we are not, by nature, that cognitively antagonistic.  We want and look for things to make sense, and it takes work to make us stop doing that.  It takes work to make us actively ignore the good sense of our ordered reality, and choose instead a substitute that is painful and destructive.  It takes work to actually eradicate the usefulness of reality altogether. It takes work to choose a path that is antithetical to our instincts to survive.  It has to be approached, considered, planned, and carried out.  And it’s being done, on purpose, supposedly because our instincts are wrong.  What hamartia. What incredibly proud miasma.

Once that work has been done, the only possible outcome is to create more angry people who are not on topic anymore.  This poor girl’s paper has a topic, but it has been rendered meaningless. All the more impressive, if only speculative, is that as she is a college student, there is a better than 90% likelihood that she is the ideological twin of my classmates (Heterodox Academy is an amazing place to learn more about this).  If she is liberal like they are, you can bank on the fact that she did not, accidentally or otherwise, write a paper denouncing gay marriage.  But that information is a layer or two beneath the surface, swimming around with things like attention, evidence, and context.  Who she is and what the paper actually says are instantly rendered second-tier details, because the first words build a path to social commentary. This reaction, this interpretation of a slice of a thing independent of the actual content and theme which it accompanies illustrates the disproportionate importance placed on conscience over merit.

We did manage to spend about 5 minutes on the thesis statement, but the rest was lost in a little quagmire of unsupportable accusations.  I can usually see these things coming, but my radar must have been jammed today, because I was shaken when this discussion actually became about the author’s offensive exclusion of same-sex marriage. Not her refutation or criticism of it (which would not have happened because it wasn’t her topic), but simply about how offensive it was that she didn’t mention it. I’m not kidding you.  Classmates were, by verbal declaration, offended by it.  The teacher even asked – you know how people do when they’re asking while nodding their heads up and down for pre-affirmation – “is anyone offended by this?” The simple omission of a mention of same sex marriage becomes synonymous with condemnation of same sex marriage. And it’s grounds for personal offense.  Omission is all it takes.  I’ve written about this before, years ago, and I’m not alone.  It’s been said time and again that in today’s violently accusatory world, the only way to be innocent of a crime is to protest it, actively and loudly.  You are racist, for instance, if you are just hanging around and being not racist.  You only stop being racist when you are marching in a parade against it. And even then, check your privilege.

I hope you’re still reading, because here is the spotlight moment.  Here is the dye in the vein, the mass on the scan:  This paper was written in 2014.  A year or so before Obergefell, and therefore a year or so before there was any way to characterize marriage other than as a heterosexual union.  For this author to have written her paper with a nod to same sex marriage would have been like writing a paper on football by saying it is played on horseback in a baseball stadium.  But there’s your ordered reality, eschewed and forgotten for the cause.  Which means what, exactly?  It means that in this case, according to the retreating culture, the author’s crime is that she perfectly understands her subject.

I’ll drive on.  I have to.  I’m too good not to.  But this was certainly an eye-opener, only four weeks into a community college associate’s program.  There are rough seas ahead. The necessity to maintain generosity and virtue is not lost me, so I think a lot and pray a little on my consequent behavior, knowing that I can do good, even with these people. Especially with these people.  My team is whoever is around me.