Not Really Applicable

There are too many books today for one bag, and I had to use my little laptop case for the overflow. It fell, I picked it up, and on arriving at school realized that my headphones and the book I wanted were on the floor at home, casualties of the fall. I have everything I need for class, but not for the classy way I meant to spend my time before it starts. Best laid plans.

A year ago I laid plans to go back to school. So far, so good. I read, I researched, I learned all that I could about College Today(tm). The news and social media told me I was in big trouble. That I was on the cusp of war. The great Machine of State was twisting the teacher’s pulpit into a Hitlerian platform for social engineering, and because I am generally conservative, I was public school enemy number one. They would find out about me, and then they would come after me. Gird thyself.

I girded. I tried on an optimistic defensiveness, hoping that I could not only handle the abuse, but that I could also slow the socialist march with sober, reasoned, civilly presented opposition. I could be the “good conservative” that would give them pause in their reflexive excoriations of the sneered at Midwesterners that had somehow escaped the churchfarmcult and wandered dumbly into the big city.

I thought all of that and I was wrong. Not about my end, though. I can be good, and I am being good. I was wrong about their end. At first, in class I told myself I was impressed by the restraint I saw. Or at least that I imagined I saw.  I’ll admit to having been a little keyed up going in, the public and the media assuring me that every fiber of the university is woven with the intent to guarantee my ideological destruction. That if I wear a red hat I’ll be seen for a sweating Trump supporter and have the bigotry beaten out of me by the wooden handles of BLM signs. And also fail all my classes. Because they know, man. And when it simply didn’t hit that hard right off the bat I told myself: “refreshing, but don’t let your guard down.”

I did not, and my vigilance was rewarded. Last fall our creative writing class went to a presentation given by a Title IX officer with just a spectacularly non-white name. And he gave me everything I wanted. Building his sentences up to wild, screaming, sermon-like shrieks of admonition, demanding simultaneously that his unique identity be respected, but also never, ever noticed. I was doing EVERYTHING wrong. I damn near hated myself after walking out of there. “I don’t quite hate myself,” I thought, “but they were right. College hates me.”

And then when class met again, my teacher apologized for taking us. He wasn’t sure that it was the right thing to do.  I was crushed. College liked me again. WTF?

In a new class now we ask about what is really good and really true and really right, and really beautiful. That word – ‘really’ – really means something. The inclination is always to apply this questioning to current politics. Because just about everyone – even people who would recoil at the thought of something like permanent, objective truth – everyone likes to find something really, really old and widely revered that can be used to prove some evil in modern times. Using Aristotle against Obama, that sort of thing. Indeed, people who believe that morality is relative and changes from person to person and day to day, will still reach back to a passage from the 4th century BC and go “see? SEE (the irony)?”  But I don’t want to do that. Too ugly. After all, you can’t say the word “Trump” anymore without laws being spontaneously drafted that reopen the slave trade, the wage gap widening, and women being beaten out of abortion clinics. You can’t say “Clinton” without American soldiers immediately dying by the dozens somewhere, and top secret emails being Instagrammed to Beyonce via a jailbroken Blackberry. I don’t want to dirty up Socrates by lending him to the White House Press Secretary for a fight with CNN. Something has to be sacred, somewhere.

So, unlike my philosophy classmate, who for our assignment of a written response to Book IX of Plato’s Republic, simply turned in a picture of a smiling Donald Trump, I will keep it out of the classroom. Sven(!) has done as much so far, and so have the other students. Mostly. Certainly nothing at all has happened in the classroom to rival the lunacy that I’ve seen in the news. We seem to have a relatively sober and focused campus. No great proliferation of flyers for this cause and that, no constant calls for rallies, no aggressive gatherings in the quad. Sure, I’m only 3 or 4 weeks in, but its been the 3 or 4 weeks surrounding the Obama/Trump transition. Including the inauguration. I expected madness. Instead, I barely so much as heard the word “election” spoken in the parking garage.

I suppose that as with most things, the political discombobulation over campus culture in the news is amplified by small sample size. Nothing quite so dire is tearing universities apart as we would guess from the isolated incidents around the country. Which is not to say the bias isn’t there, real, and obvious. It is. The Fake News seminar I attended for extra credit was a parade of examples of conservative news sites doing stupid things (which of course they actually did, remember) without a single similar example showing a liberal error. BUT! There were no cheap jabs, no snooty jokes or snark. Just one overconfident tenured fellow in the back looking silly by citing John Oliver “when you want real, in-depth coverage.”  So far it is all like that seminar. One-sided, sure, but without malice and theater. My British Literature professor is a sure feminist, but she doesn’t act like it. My Philosophy professor is anyone’s guess. And people, I’m in a Natural Hazards class – BIG WEATHER EVENTS. MOAR HURRYCAINZ – and so far there has been not one. single. mention. of climate change or global warming. I will recommend that Breitbart not bother with Seattle University if they’re looking for their next bucket of grist.

We move on. Everyone seems to be saying that (if not doing that) “since the election.” I scare quote that phrase because I can’t think of any word or words that have been uttered more frequently since the word Jesus on the first Easter Sunday. “Since the election” is always the start of a conversation you don’t want to have. It is the telemarketer’s call at dinner time, and it’s just as hard to beg your way out of without abandoning courtesy.

We move on. I move on. Mostly because it is remarkably difficult to take it all seriously by now. It is hard to find much gravity in the idea of this great liberal brainwashing, this relentless indoctrination that is said to be going on. The supposed ubiquity of a pernicious system of Democrat programming in American Universities loses a coat of paint or two in light of the fact that Donald Trump just won the Presidential election. The system either doesn’t exist, or isn’t working. Either way, I’m over it.

 

(for cream)

Now, I don’t know what’s normal here, but when I make the rare mistake of saying yes to “would you like room (for cream)?” (I always visualize the parentheticals in real life), they seem to think “here’s a guy who wants to come back and ask me to top off his cup.” I am not such a guy. Maybe that’s just the protocol: give waaay too much room (for cream) in case the customer is a freak for the white stuff, and we can always top off in the event that the customer is not off his meds. But I don’t want to top off. I don’t want to go back. The customer should never have to go back. I think that was the whole point of Jesus. “Imma do this thing twice, ya’ll, to make sure you can get it in one go.” One of his less celebrated miracles, oh by the way, was the Great Topping Off. It was a full day at the Nazarene Barista Academy when everyone got exactly as much room (for cream) as he wanted. Not a single customer had to go back.

And a poem seed is planted.

I had that moment yesterday at the dentist, during the 6-month update and life-story refresher, wherein the hygienist asked what it is that I plan to do with my schooling. I am not an idealist. I am not unrealistic. I know that this is the natural thing to ask, so I’m not going to rail against it like some hippy (I’m wearing a J Crew sweater over a collared shirt from Nordstrom, so I wouldn’t really be able to pull off the hippy thing, anyway). But here: I’m not really planning on doing anything with it. What comes, comes. I like to write, so I imagine there will be tsunamis of that sort of thing going on. Maybe I wind up teaching. Best case, I can earn respectable scratch by sitting at home writing poems and books. That’s the dream, in a manner of speaking. A way to visualize a thing that would be good for me and my family. How pleasant, right? So if you want to know what I plan on doing – or rather expect to be doing – with my education, I guess that’s got it.

I really don’t know what else to say. A deeper discussion would be a turn off – existential platitudes about being vs doing vs seeming. Real human value, permanence, faith, etc. That, by the way, is the discussion I am having. It’s the discussion in my head and in my actions. But it certainly isn’t the discussion in my dentist’s chair. It isn’t the discussion where the coarse sophistry of Facebook’s trending topics is so ubiquitous. It kind of just isn’t the discussion anywhere, is it? I would have been a terrible Socrates.

Ugh, now I really do need to write a poem.

It’s Friday, anyway, which is another thing that I have been given back by school. Since last April, weekends matter again. Weekends are a deep breath, again. A little extra room (for cream, even). I had lost something to look forward to, and then I got it back. Now there’s justice.

Reaching for Mysteries

It is all wet.
The trees burdened groundward.
Cedar boughs exhausted
from reaching skyward to nothing.
I look forward to late spring.
The marginal brightening.
A shuttered window at midnight where
there’s dancing inside
and the light trips out just around the edges.
In summer the house burns down again.

That’s not for nothing. Not for something. Shower thoughts that might have a little life in them.

I’ve got a week – ooh, lemme get a little Euro here: I’ve a week at uni behind me. It was just the lubrication I needed. I’m not fully comfortable and confident there, but my NEW GUY NEW GUY NEW GUY neon has dimmed. The hardest thing to do in a foreign land is kill time with grace and dignity. My schedule with the kids, combined with the uncertainty of traffic, means I leave for school as soon as I can and generally get to campus well before class starts. Have to kill time. I’m getting better at it.

Colleges are the sort of places that cling to the idea of being a good place to be. I suppose that to call a collection of buildings “good” is to misuse the term a bit, but the architecture and the landscaping and the livable area in general just always seems to have been designed in an effort to rise above the mundane. And I think that is good, in a very old fashioned, rigorous sense of the word. A century ago I would have been able to say that it “reaches toward the divine” without losing readers. Today I can say vaguely and without offense (to anything but the truth) that it aspires to something greater. The architecture can be grand, the open spaces are comforting. College campuses are not strictly functional places. They are transformative places. And this is not simply because of the classes or by accident or by dint of tuition and private funding. It is because it has always been known that to be at our best requires help. To achieve at our highest levels is not a droll and mechanical undertaking. The human status quo is truncated by inherent limitations, and we surpass them only by reaching beyond ourselves. Historically, that was the purpose and intent of art and architecture and music. College campuses are one of those places where a little bit of the human reach is still directed upwards.

Which is not to say that Seattle University is a gem of architectural wonder. It has some of those spaces where commercialism and efficiency have muscled their way in and a shy austerity is created by too much lighting, too much space, and too much smoothness. I like the rooms in the administration building instead. Paint flaking off the frames of the wafer-thin windows, old brown chalkboards, doors that close with a heavy ‘thunk.’ Everything is so sturdy above the thick carpet that sounds are naturally muffled.

At the top of the 2nd floor stairs is the always shut door of the small Immaculate Conception Chapel. I want to go in, but I adore the mystery that the closed entrance creates, emerging over the horizon of the top step as you ascend, and I’m afraid that to open it will solve that mystery and make life too normal again. The proverbial door that, once opened, can never be closed again.It’s like Christmas: the problem with presents is that it’s no longer Christmas after you open them.

Week 2 starts tomorrow. I get the feeling this one’s going to move fast and set the tone for what’s coming. Killing time should become much less of a concern.

Business as Usual

Have to get this dished out before my third day of school.

My second day of school has worn me out like a first-time kindergardner. It’s the 90-minute classes, I think. And this conversation I had with a classmate:

“I noticed that every single one of our readings is from a male author.”
“Does that make them bad?”
“Of course it makes me mad.”
“No, no. Bad. Does their maleness make them bad? Is their educational value diminished because of it?”
“Well no, but…”

At which point the professor started talking and our chat was over.Eventually, the subject was brought up by another student, and the professor gave a good and obvious response – that given the questions we’re asking in this class, these are the philosophers who cover them the best. He said “I could do a survey course, where everyone gets a fair shake, but in one academic quarter you wouldn’t learn anything about any of them.”

Business as usual. And this is all just so entertaining to me so far. “Real College,” where the things I read in the news are actually happening. During introductions yesterday, a student said “My name is Jordan, and I prefer he/she pronouns.” I rejoiced! A pronoun preference announcement! I HAVE ARRIVED. Refreshingly, the teachers that I have had so far seem to be only paying lip service to the mad PC maelstrom whirling in the campus atmosphere. In British Lit, my professor kept reminding us that Wordsworth didn’t like women, or at least thought they were second class citizens or something. But she seemed only to be saying it to preempt the eight or so kids in the room whom she knew would object if she didn’t say something.

The students are trained and on high alert, to be sure. There’s a (cough, cough) stiffening sensation in the air whenever the word “he” or “man” or “his” is used, especially in the neutral cases like “to each his own.” Or when Wordsworth, in My Heart Leaps Up writes “The child is father of the man,” it does not simply  mean that Wordsworth is himself a man, and therefore writing from that perspective. It is determined to mean that Wordsworth is displaying his lack of respect for women, and saying that women do not deserve to be included in this celebration of natural piety.

Some of you reading this may scoff a bit and think that I am overstating the case. Exaggerating. Or at least misinterpreting the situation so that it will fit the narrative that I have gone in search of. Others of you will know that I am more likely understating the case than overstating it. The fact is that for many in academia – students, faculty and administration alike – every masculine noun and pronoun is a signpost on the road to oppression. In simpler, more street-ready terms, masculine pronouns are their little bell, their cue to sit up and start some shit. It’s downright Pavlovian.

If I can take a moment to exercise some naiveté: As far as I can tell, in my boundless optimism and hope, this mess is more fad than fundament. It’ll pass. You can almost see the teachers fighting to hold back a weary and bored sigh every time someone says “white male.” It has whipped up to the point of job loss in places like Yale and Claremont, but I’m starting to think that maybe it has peaked. Chicago wrote the letter to its students and faculty all but telling them to grow up or eff off. Other colleges have done the same. And the Trump thing has waned, big time. Though with the inauguration looming, brace for more hoax crimes and weirdness. Peeps gotsta get clicks and likes and paychecks, and all that. But by March, everyone will be mostly back to business as usual. It’ll be nice.

It’s 8:15 am, and I have to get back to business as usual, too. The kids are playing Pokemon in the basement and confusing Alexa by shouting conflicting commands the moment she begins to execute the previous one. They pause in their play periodically to punch each other and cry, but then get back to touting the powers of the evolved form of Pikachu or something. In other words, for them, for us, it’s business as usual.

 

 

Amateur Secret Handshake Hour

So that’s day one at Seattle University. I had one class today, which was held in a classroom in the oldest building on campus. There was a real chalkboard. Built-in, robust wood trim like an old fireplace mantel. And then, joy of joys, miracle of miracles, the professor wrote on it. With chalk. No snark here, I honestly thought that I would never see a chalkboard in a classroom again. Wondering if getting in trouble will still mean I have to stay after and clean the erasers.

I still have the trepidation of a tourist there, walking around with the feeling that there is a neon sign over my head flashing NEW GUY NEW GUY NEW GUY. This is how it is with me every time I go somewhere new. Places like colleges, cities, bars, coffee shops, you name it, make me feel very clumsy initially, because I assume them all to have an unspoken code of conduct that can only be learned by being there. “Check out the new guy. Doesn’t know yet that nobody takes those stairs.” But I parked far away on purpose, and took a lot of roundabout ways to get to class as I try to imprint the map on my mind. I’ll worry about shortcuts and efficiency later. For now I need immersive familiarity to overcome my tendency to be overwhelmed. I used to get overwhelmed when I jumped out of airplanes. That feeling only stopped after I stopped jumping out of airplanes.

It’s a Jesuit school, and this building where I am taking my Lit class has a chapel in it. Our obnoxious teenage orientation guide said “I, like, seriously had no idea that it was, like, there.” I’m shocked. The whole building carries the church in its architecture, and is old in that nice and comfortable kind of way. Solid. Heavy wood doors. It’s not an 80’s supermarket with 3 inches of Johnson’s paste wax on the floors. Or my barracks at Ft. Bragg. Good God. The little churchy recesses in the halls, (there’s probably a better name for those. Probably.) kind of like the one below, hold fire extinguishers:

windowthing

I am a lightly religious person. I regained an understanding of the purpose and truth of faith sometime around child #1. But I am terrified of the social repercussions of doing something as simple as going to church. Of saying “Thank God for that” instead of “Thank goodness for that.” Of being looked down upon and having another reason to weep for this heart-wrenchingly cynical community. When I am settled in and comfortable at Seattle U, I will probably find my way into either of the chapels from time to time. A moment’s peace. An amateur’s prayer. And boy howdy, talk about feeling like you’re in a place with a secret handshake. A place where things are done a certain way, and you can’t know if you don’t know. I mean, I honestly don’t know if it’s ok for me to just walk up to a church outside of service hours, open the door, and go in. Seriously, no idea. Imma give it a shot soon, at St. Ignatius.

I don’t have any writing classes, so I’ll have to prod myself on to poems and blogging. This month will see me gathering the poems I wrote last quarter, along with a few others, and submitting them to a contest or two. And hopefully I can take enough notice of my little interstices between life and living to keep on producing.

Moar Poetree

Civilised (I spelled that with an English s instead of a z, and Word took the piss) civilized people, smart people, don’t make resolutions. Do we? Remember Keyser Soze? “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he wasn’t real.” Well, the greatest trick that people ever pull is convincing themselves that nothing has to be hard. Resolutions are hard. If you don’t make a resolution you can’t fail at it. Last September 1st I resolved to quit drinking. Done. I can’t really resolve to keep not drinking, because to not drink implies that, in different circumstances, I would be drinking. It implies a battle against impulses and urges. I don’t have those. Can’t fight an impulse that I don’t have.

What do I resolve?

I’m sitting in Starbucks, where the interior designers give zero shits about the concept of personal space. The guy next to me is so close that if I lose focus I might start typing on his keyboard. This is not a good arrangement for me. I resolve that by the end of 2017, this will be a perfectly acceptable arrangement for me.

What else do I resolve? Moar Poetree. I took that Creative Writing class last quarter, which turned out (to everyone’s surprise I eventually learned) to be a poetry class. I’ve written some poems over my life. I’ve read some. I’ve railed against free verse because it is the written version of every modern art installation going. It is the manifestation of the mantra that “art can be anything, and anyone can be an artist.” Neither of those things are true, and neither is it true that hammering out a 15 line free-written run-on sentence of f-bombs and sex, then breaking it up into random lines, is always poetic. Or even artistic. Sometimes – often times – it’s just bad and inaccessibly personal. What would be the point of something like golf if it had literally no rules save requiring a club and a ball? When poetry has no rules save requiring words, there’s nothing left to be good at. There’s nowhere to put the beauty. And I’m afraid I will not back down on this one. Whatever the paint-splatterers and fecal-smudgers may pretend about art existing for shock and discomfort, they are wrong. Art is for beauty and intellectual improvement. Art can, of course, be beautiful and uncomfortable. The two are not mutually exclusive. Look at how many people are made uncomfortable by Christmas plays. Imagine the furor if something as incredible as The Assumption of Mary showed up in a courthouse.

the-assumption-of-mary

So yes, beauty can be uncomfortable, but not because it’s beautiful. Rather, because we’re not. The arrangement is supposed to be that the beauty in art can show the viewer his ugliness and help motivate him to aspire to greater things. Not that the ugliness in art can show the viewer just how ugly art can be and help motivate him to be miserable. Cans of Shit  (It’s Wiki, no pictures) come to mind, but the list is long.

I digress. I prefer (preferred) rhyme because it requires discipline where free verse eschews it. It’s harder to be good when you have limitations, and so it is better to be good when you have limitations. But I have come around. That someone simply insists his free verse is good does not make it so. I certainly don’t have to believe that it is. Also, that there are no – or fewer – rules, does not mean that free verse cannot be good. I proved that several times last quarter. Free verse can be spectacular.

So…

Moar Poetree. I carry prejudices. So do you. Saying “Welcome, refugees!” does not mean that you approach the world with harmonious magnanimity. I do not deny my prejudices. How does my prejudice work? I write a little formula in my head. It’s poetry – it’s art – so in this day and age it’s likely to be very preachy. The saying goes that all art is political. All art is politics. So, the first number in my formula is “art” and its attendant political meanings. Next we have the first poet we examined in my Creative Writing class: Naomi Shihab Nye.  “Naomi. Shihab. Nye.” Can you imagine a more wildly identity-packed name than that? She’s from somewhere that isn’t Nebraska, that’s for damn sure. So in today’s political and artistic climate, that name wields a heavy ethnic aggressiveness. When you are named like that, you are armed. You are weapons hot in the Western culture. So my equation looks like this right now:

“Art” + “Weaponized ethnicity”

This, by my calculations, can only result in one outcome:

Art + Weaponized Ethnicity = White People Suck

Unlimited license to rail against whiteness and privilege and all the dull usuals that populate places like art, where mediocrity bullies its way to power. It’s a title IX officer’s wet dream.

And so we dove into the poetry of Naomi. Shihab. Nye. I was doubtful and skeptical and preparing my defense. And we read “The Art of Disappearing.” And it was beautiful. It is beautiful. Nye is Palestinian, she is Texan, she is American, she lived in the West Bank, she went to Trinity University. She could be killing us with political accusations. But she does not. Politics exist wherever they are sought, and her poems are no exception. But she is a child in an adult’s body, writing with an informed innocence that I think is impossible if you have never been loved. I mentioned that the beauty of art can exist to show us where we are not beautiful, and to inspire us to improve. Nye’s poetry ups the ante, making me not so much aware of my ugliness, but making me feel more beautiful than before I started. Oscar Wilde said “Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend’s success.” Her poetry, I think, does that. It makes me sympathise with her success. It makes me happy for her. That’s really something. She wrote this one about time:

Burning the Old Year

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.

I am happy for her that she wrote that. Last night, friends and I scribbled wishes on wispy sheets of paper. Gossamer parchments. We lit them and they rose up as they burned, the ash falling slowly back down so it could be caught, carefully, and the wish could be made real. The first stanza of “Burning the Old Year” seems to have been written for that moment. What a nice way to wake up on New Year’s Day – sober and poetic.

So my other resolution: More Poetry.

Freedom to Donut

I do love my donut mornings. They’re getting to know me, and when I slapped down my full punch card like it was the winning domino – ameriCANO, mutha fucka! – they gave me the coffee I asked for, and gave me the donut free, too. Thanks, friends.

But first, in my car, I rounded a turn up high on a hill before descending to the beach for my goodies, and was greeted with a view of an aircraft carrier lumbering through Elliot Bay. Probably the Stennis from Bremerton – that’s the one we usually get around here. A quick check reveals that no, it’s actually the Nimitz heading back after sea trials and flight certifications. Another tool in the fight to maintain rights like our freedom of speech.

Having seen the Nimitz out there, I figured it would be worth it to give you a peek into what I am working on at school. This is my Social ethics class. As you can see, the questions are framed to discourage disagreement with the prevailing ideology. It doesn’t mean that the questions can’t be answered in the negative, but most young students aren’t geared for that. They’re just going to read the question and answer it, and store that tacit agreement away in their consciousness. It’s soft, oblique conditioning, and the teachers know full well what they are doing.

This week we did sexual and racial discrimination. People have lost jobs and have had their right to free speech completely revoked for saying some of the things I say below. Innocuous things that nonetheless are not allowed to stand against the dominant narrative on campus. Which is relevant to last week’s topic of free speech and speech codes. Campus speech codes claim to target and limit hate speech, but their target is, in every instance, free speech. My current college has a seemingly reasonable speech code, but it uses words like “harm” and “harassment” without making any effort to define them. When those definitions are left up to the accusers, good people get hurt.

The questions are in italics, and come from the teacher. Answers are where you’d expect them to be:

1. Can you think of other instances or phenomena that are indicative of, or might contribute to, the so-called “rape culture”? What, if anything, can men do to fight against “rape culture” and stereotypes that promote overt male dominance?

I find, first of all, May and Strikwerda’s statement that “rape is a crime perpetrated by men as a group, and not just the individual rapist” to be wildly irresponsible. It’s a moralistic assignment of blame without due process, and a sort of high command to all men to stop everything now and do everything differently. To imply that there is no such thing as a man who is innocent of rape is so absurd that it alone is enough to refute any claim of a rape culture.

If there is a stereotype of overt male dominance, I don’t know it. It’s a trope that’s been “fought against” for so long, and opposition to it has been the dominant narrative for so long, that it seems unlikely that if the stereotype does exist, it holds any sway in society. I just don’t see how socialization can still be blamed for “rape culture” when for decades now the overwhelming social momentum has been against it.

2. In regards to racism and sexism, to what extent [if at all] do you think that being “tolerant” involves tolerating others who are intolerant? In other words, if we are to truly respect others as autonomous agents, how ought we respond to those who do not respect others? Explain your reasoning thoroughly.

This takes us back to the free speech discussion in some ways. It seems more right to tolerate an intolerant person, if his intolerance doesn’t come in the form of speech or expression that causes harm, however we might define that. So yes, in terms of an obligation to respect the autonomy of others, we should tolerate the intolerant up until the point that his intolerance is an infringement on the rights of someone else, does someone else harm (which we must clearly define first), or otherwise restricts the autonomy of another. Still, to show too much respect may cross into the territory of the self-deprecating person (or Uncle Tom or Deferential Wife) in that we may forfeit our own rights and demonstrate a lack of respect for morality in general by doing so. All of which makes my answer remain a firm “yes.” Tolerate the intolerant, but do not tolerate her infringement on your own rights.

3. While we may reserve the right to socially exile or pressure others to be respectful to all, to what degree do you think such pressure should be exerted legally? For example, the fact that former Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, was banned for life from the NBA for his racist comments. Or the President of Harvard University, Lawrence Summers, who publicly spoke about men being better suited for the sciences and engineering because of their innate aptitude for such demanding fields, while women have more natural “family desires”. Should either, or both, of these individuals be legally or professionally punished for such statements? Why or why not, and to what extent?

I’m all for people like this being professionally punished. The court of public opinion matters, and is a helpful check against unwanted behaviors. Legally speaking, however, no. They may have made poor comments, but they did not cross any boundaries of free speech protections that would warrant legal ramifications. Certainly nothing in our readings would support legal action, even the broadest of speech codes. There was no incitement to violence, and no issues of time and place that would have bestowed their comments with anything resembling a promotion of physical harm.

4. Choose one of the media items from this week’s module that you found the most interesting and summarize its content. Why did you find it interesting? What, if anything, do you think could be done to promote equality between the sexes, races, or both?

I think that to help equalize society, the primary focus needs to be on honesty. For instance, the article “Debunking the Mythical Gender Pay Gap” does not debunk what it claims to. The gender pay gap, the “77 cents on the dollar figure” makes no effort to control for any variables at all. It is the average of all women’s earnings in the US subtracted from the average of all men’s earnings in the US. That is literally all of the data that goes into that number. No data about the types of jobs, hours worked, education of employees, tenure, or even how many women vs men are in the workforce. Therefore, to start a conversation about equality with the 77 cents premise is to start the conversation dishonestly, and push for change from there.

And so much of the rest of our conversations about equality go the same way. The data concerning police brutality does not remotely support the claim that minorities are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement. An honest conversation would start by acknowledging that fact, but that never happens.
We cannot work to promote equality between anything if we are not willing to be honest about it.

Everything was Exactly the Way It Was

Last night I turned in my final paper for English, and my finger was hovering above that decisive mouse-click – ‘SUBMIT’ – as if hand and mousepad were like-charged electrons, just trying to keep the hell away from each other. It’s hard to be sure that you’re finished. And that’s the end of English 102. I have final exams left in History and Symbolic Logic, then a summer Biology class. Big wheel keep on turnin’.Big Wheel

You’re all well past this. You’ve been in the classrooms, done the cramming, fretted over the bibliographies, cursed the MLA/APA/Chicago tango, and had your futures in front of you. So it may strike you as a little droll, but how incredible this all is. Doing the work.  Doing well. Being one of the good students. Heck, not even that, but merely being one of the students at all. In high school I was a non-student. A class-skipping idiot with no forward movement, embarrassed to show my face in class, afraid to go home. Every assignment intimidated me, because I already knew I wouldn’t try to do it.  I know what it is like to be lazy, and I don’t think that I was that. It was worse. I was perniciously unproductive. Pointedly, actively opposed to doing what I knew was right. After missing my graduation because I didn’t have enough credits, I hacked through summer school and correspondence courses so that I could get my diploma mailed to me. I swear even the mailman was ashamed of me. I took a few sheepish runs at community college in two different cities, failing or withdrawing from nearly every course I took. And throughout those years I essentially cooked my way around a few different restaurants in Littleton and Ft. Collins, being the roommate that nobody wanted. I’m sure a therapist could suss out the actual underlying reasons: a spoiled boy given to believe that the world would see his talents and come to him without asking anything in return. Or a kid subconsciously so tired of hearing about his potential that he chose to prove everyone wrong. Still, too myopic to realize that not achieving your potential is different from not having potential. Whatever. It’s all shredded cheese now, never to be made into a wheel again.

One day I rode my bike to the Army recruiter.

And now, since April 4th, I’ve written two 5-page papers and one 10-page paper, along with all the attendant outlines and intermediate work. I’ve done over 30 writing assignments and 4 tests for a History class. Burned through two spiral notebooks formulating proofs and taken 8 tests for Symbolic Logic. And, God help me, it was easy. Did I mention that I’m an at-home Dad with nearly 100% of the domestic and landscaping duties, and a dog that’s more work than the furnace in A Christmas Story? This is not complaining. This is not me saying “look at all the shit I have to do.” These things are my duties.  Life is service, and I am honored to do mine. If I had this attitude while I was in the Army, I’d be almost 20 years in right now, and thinking “retire now, or go for Sergeant Major?” But I also wouldn’t be sitting at this table, writing this post, worrying about my children, and doing the planning I should have been doing 20 years ago. I suppose those things could be happening in some form, but it wouldn’t be this one.  And this is the only one I want.

Everything would have been different if none of it was the same. But, as it turns out, everything was exactly the way it was.

It’s a little embarrassing to be doing at 41 what I should have been doing at 21, but I’ll do this until the GI Bill runs out in a few years, and then find a way to a Master’s with any luck. I can live with that.

 

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.

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.