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:
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:
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.