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.