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

If you pay attention and have a healthy instinct for precognitive bullshit, you’re looking forward to this conversation like a lion in the veldt.

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.

 

 

Uncontroversial, and Generally Unconsidered

The presumption of ideological ubiquity is very pacifying.

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

It’s the unsecret handshake of the accepted classes.

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.