A lifetime looking out to sea. It's time to look behind you, Liberty.
Hello and good day, reader.|
It has been awhile since I've darkened this page. In the meantime, I've been up to more literary nonsense than I can shake a stick at. I can't say that it feels good to be back (mostly because writing takes time, and time is something I haven't got in great surplus.)
But what I do have is a great itch to speak my mind, and itches need to be scratched.
The literary nonsense spoken of above, has to do with emptying out libraries of more stuff than I can readily read. The reason for that is boundless curiosity. Curiosity about many things that are boggling many minds - especially critical minds that don't 'mind' stretching now and then. Sort of like old cardigan sweaters, which after 10 or so years of hard wearing, kind of change shape to adapt and adjust to the wearer.
The main topic that I'm going to start with, in launching this experiment - is the issue of freedom of speech. Freedom of expression.
What does that freedom mean, to a writer? Is its opposite merely censorship?
A socially conscientious writer would no doubt have at least some concerns about appropriate evaluation of ethical choice. Thankfully, our world is still chock full of endless examples of this. Journalism, good literature (and even much of what isn't such good literature.)
My apologies if it takes me a little while to really get up a head of steam and get going. The driving wheels have gathered a bit of rust.
But there's still a lot of fuel in the tank, and I believe the fun is in the journey.
I can sort of deliver beforehand, a mission statement, of sorts. I have a head full of issues, outrage, astonishment and quandary. I mean to sort through it in print and see if I can make some sense out of it. If it suits you, you're welcome along on the ride. Otherwise, I'll be talking to myself (and I'm fast approaching the age where I can do that and get away with it, without some fool or other concluding that I'm off my meds.)
I was never on meds, in the first place. But that's only a very small part of the story. Hold tight - I'll be back in a bit.
|I'm imagining a school reading list......a book list for real bright high schoolers. Or a book list for really, really bright middle schoolers.
Would Voltaire be on that list? Or Oscar Wilde? Or Tolstoy? Steinbeck? Dickens? Twain? Or how about Joyce Carol Oates? Or how about Vonnegut? Or, for that matter - a James Baldwin. A Richard Wright? A Langston Hughes?
The reason that I'm pondering this, is that I'm well aware that educationalistas everywhere, in cahoots with publishers - are re-writing everything. Or just imitating whatever they thought was good in the first place, but sanitizing it, or to put it more bluntly, processing it - like processed cheese, which doesn't really have anything in it, resembling real cheese, anymore. The cheese has been taken out, extracted, and replaced with a fake imitation.
The purpose of this airbrushing of literature is to make sure that the writing not offend.
Let that one roll around your brain for a bit. Savor it like imagined and supposed fine wine, only to discover that it's really sour vinegar.
It cannot offend. It cannot make a reader uncomfortable. It cannot do anything to kick, bite, scratch nudge or otherwise threaten any real or imagined "triggering" of a bad memory of a bad happening - defined as anything of the remotest description that could allude to the creation of an incident that renders a human as a 'victim' - in any way, for any reason, at any time.
I can recall the most vulnerable times of my life - occasionally pretty messed up. It never occurred to me that something I might read would be bad for me. Literature was static. It just lay there on the page. It was up to me, what I wanted to do with it. In the most extreme cases, I'd just close the book. Once I threw a Henry Miller across the room, disgusted.
But what this all brings back home now, the general theme on my mind - is the act of attempting to make the real world adjust to a subjective need. Which reduces any objectivity down to validation based on subjectivity. Is reality a good thing? Is it a threatening thing? A thing that is bad for one's health?
Why that matters to me now, has much to do with my memories as a kid. (And from the age of 9 onward I was a dedicated bookworm of the first order.) But every particle of training I received as a child, was based on one most important thing: learning how to adapt to reality, the real world. Because the real world would not, could not (and should not!) adapt to me. The real world was an objective thing - outside of my subjectivity. In other words, my fixation or focus on myself could not allow the 'selfishness' and self-centered-ness to override the nature of reality.
Otherwise what happens? You wind up living in a world of your own creation. An illusionary world. A world that you will definitely be at odds with.
And so, thinking of freedom....if one were to attempt to alter the definition of reality in order to suit themselves, in order to create their own comfort zone, ease their troubled mind....and in so doing - feel free.....well, would they actually really be free? Or would that freedom only be a false echo of their own design?
I've noticed a trend lately. One in which fiction is misconstrued as real life (or non fiction, as the case may be.)
Conversely, an awful lot of non-fiction is also taken to be fiction. (or simply, not true.)
Personally, I have always considered censorship to be a direct attack on the freedom of the press. And by that, I mean the printing press. Not just newsprint. But the publishing of any reading material in any form.
To bring it back - I shudder to think of what literature would have meant to me as a boy, had it been sanitized and re-written in a "correct" form. The wrong sanitizer can re-write almost anything into something else completely unrecognizable from the original. They might even be under the delusion that they are making it better writing. They are decidedly not!
But why would they do it? To protect the reader, apparently. From what?
And that question right there - is what leads to all kinds of interesting possibilities.
My first wild guess. To protect from exposure to ideas deemed unworthy, anti-social.....that long, long litany of anti-everything. Racist, Sexist. Phobic....and onward.
And finally we get to the meat on the bone. Who gets to decide? Well, whomever it is doing the deciding, it is decidedly a political act. Always. A political wolf hiding in sheep's red ink.
So who wins? And who loses?
How many inquiring young minds get shortchanged, and in what ways?
There is freedom of speech. There is freedom of expression. And there is freedom of thought.
And if those three things are all connected, then it is a dangerous game to disconnect and short circuit that holy trinity.
I remember as a kid, reading so many books whose front covers proclaimed the "complete and unabridged" edition.
It never occurred to me to want to read the "abridged" edition.
There are billions of books out there in the world, that contain dangerous ideas. Ideas that I don't agree with. They don't bother me a bit. Why? Because every single one of them has a counterpart. A rebuttal. A counter argument. I've always believed that this is the way it should be.
Because the thing is: if you censor and silence a point of view - believing that this defeats it, you are under an illusion that this is so. Because you can't see it or hear it or read it anymore.
But where does it really go?
Any person can take an oath. Swear on whatever holy or sacred book or document fits the picture. And be completely free to think whatever they damned well please in the privacy of their own mind. And you would never know.
Silent smiles often hold secrets.
Just let me laugh when it's funny
and when it's sad, let me cry
|We now live in an age where words and actions have become equal. I recall as a boy, as most boys did - loving action verbs. Not so infatuated with adjectives, although adverbs were cool. Violent language. Used to describe (you guessed it) actions.
To act, was to exist. It was all about action. Riding a bike, climbing a tree, jumping off a dock, rolling down a hill, and in particular, any action that any sport required. Hand eye coordination.
That which is alive, moves.
That which doesn't move...?
When I was growing up, I recall learning about what was referred to as 'bad' language. Language that was frowned upon by our elders and betters. This seemed fair enough game, at the time. Swear words, put-down expressions, nasty body-part descriptions...the long list of racialised and sexualized language. At first, in the interest of staying out of trouble with those elders and betters - language deferred. Until gradually, as time went by, language dismissed.
This was a byproduct of the natural process of growing into a moral and ethical human being. Learning as I went, that an action was far more powerful than a word. By then the 'sticks and stones' chant was long left behind in the dust. But along the way, new lessons learnt - such as how and why truth could sometimes hurt.
So where am I now? Where are we now? Wrestling with language, I'd say. Fighting back (as I sure am) against those who wish to take our language away. That precious language - that we use to talk with, communicate with, write with, express our deepest thoughts and feelings, desires and every other damned thing that makes us human beings. Think about it. If language is the absolute core of our cultural identity, then that identity is vulnerable to one thing: the removal of our ability to use our language to understand ourselves (and share those understandings with each other.)
I have to say something about identity here. In relation to this new invention, this post-modern construct - that says identity is all about whichever group you consider yourself to be aligned with. And especially in terms of dividing groups along the paradigms of power. Which is to say, oppressors and oppressed. Rich and poor. Add to that gender. Add to that race. Add to that any other socio-economic category that fits the description. And then you wind up with oppositional groups all over the place. So much for collective peace, equality, egalitarianism, or any other manifestation of human understanding that leads to social agreements that get us anywhere.
Well, that was my rant. Back to words and actions. Words, compared to actions. When words of any sort are equated with actions, then they can be dealt with as if they were actions. What a concept. I'm sure we can all agree that words can be uttered or written as hateful and destructive. And yet even then, if those words are never acted upon, what kind of power do they really have? Sound waves take them to ear drums. Print brings them to the eyes. In no other way is anyone ever physically touched by them. You cannot strike anyone with a word. True, a judge can sentence a convicted person to death. But the sentence itself does not commit the act of execution. Something else does that. And so it goes.
What happens to people when they are afraid to utter what they think, believe? They have learned perhaps, that to do so has become more trouble than it's worth. Our self-protective mechanisms swing into place and we instinctively do what is only in our self-interest. When words are defined as actions, then words become active participants in the struggle between belief systems. Words become evidence of incorrectness.
You know, this makes me think of all the times people say things, and are misunderstood. It happens all the time. The problem with that, is that this often is not the fault of the speaker, or the writer, as case may be. The problem lies with the listener (or reader) in interpreting the meaning of those words. The ability to interpret correctly often entails a multitude of things: linguistic aptitude, critical thinking, intelligence in general, wisdom, knowledge in general, tolerance, understanding, an innate kindness, forgiveness, acceptance...just to name a few. If all or most of these things are absent, than the listener (or reader) can just decide that the words mean whatever the hell they damned well decide they mean. This of course, can be such a complete and utter departure from truth as to make a travesty out of the whole idea of communication, and why we bother to do it.
Because of course we use words to argue and debate. We use them to fight and joust and exercise our egos, to make claims and express disagreements, in other words, to engage in this thing that humans naturally do. We've been doing it for a very long time.
Sometimes I look at it this way. To engage in a metaphoric physicality, such as exercise. One may start as a child, to learn how to do things physically - it could be ice skating, or running races, or playing a sport. Suppose that child shows a particular aptitude, and wishes to progress, even excel to higher dreams, greater things. All this activity of exercising and practice, honing a talent that blossoms as the sum total of all that activity.
Could the same thing not be applied to the use of language? Of course, and as one learns to apply the use of language, learning the meanings of words, building a vocabulary, and as one goes, exercising their growing intellect by exploring the intellects of others - who write, speak, think. And altogether through this ongoing process, not only becomes what we would call an educated person, but also one who is comfortable with the free exchange of written and spoken language.
But not only that.
One who is also comfortable with their own ability to exchange language and ideas, without fear. No threat.
And how could that be? And here's the rub: that language, words, expressions - are not actions. They are not acts of violence. That requires the physicality of action. Words represent what we think.
And think of someone like Stephen Hawking, for instance. What he was capable of with that marvelous mind of his.
There was no physicality connected to his thoughts, ideas, words, expressions, whatsoever.
So to equate a word with an action, and to consider that action to be an act of violence, is to make words into something they're not. Which is of course, a convenient way to attack words, and ultimately to shut someone up.
Many things are said and written within a free society, which will make someone somewhere uncomfortable. Comfort and disagreement are not the same thing. Is it important to learn how to hear or read things that make us uncomfortable, or that we disagree with? Most rational people would say so. Many of them would say that this is what a good education should be designed to do.
How far should we go with comfort and freedom from 'nasty' ideas? And who gets to decide what a nasty idea is? The listener, I suppose.
But then, is the expressed idea really nasty at all, or is it just something disagreed with. And if someone doesn't learn how to live with an expressed idea disagreed with, what then? And how exactly will somebody always know and be aware that an idea they're going to express in words, will make someone else uncomfortable?
You can see where this is going. A bedlam of eggshell walking. Or, to make things infinitely easier, just not expressing ideas at all. So then you have the great silence. Except not exactly. Anyone who doesn't have to care whether or not their expressed ideas make somebody uncomfortable, can just express away, with impunity. And who would that be?
The ones who demand freedom from being made uncomfortable by ideas they don't agree with.
I know this is starting to sound like a Monty Python skit, and I sure wish it was. Only it isn't, and it isn't designed or crafted to be funny.
This is what's going on across the nation, on university campuses. And the reason that it's going on is that words are now equated with actions. Words now have the power of violence. Only they don't. You can incite all kinds of action, with words. Only the leap from words to action is a mighty big one, and easily deferred, if that is your intent.
So how did words and actions get married, anyway?
Just let me laugh when it's funny
and when it's sad, let me cry
|You know, lately, I've been finding a lot of books in my university library system. Books that were published anywhere from 1994 to 1998. That's 20 to 24 years ago. Books by authors who were paying attention back then. And the strange thing is that no-one was listening. I know I wasn't.
But then again, back in those days the internet was in its infancy - hardly the beast it is now. I don't recall any of this stuff ever showing up on my tv (but then, I didn't watch tv much then, and still don't.) I have made a concerted effort to ignore mainstream media for the most part. The reason why is simple enough. Mediums are created to be manipulated. Hell, I manipulate the crap out of sound recordings, because it makes things sound better.
I never so much minded print media. Often enough, that at least came across my consciousness in a far less shrill kind of way. And the history of journalism always felt like something that earned a bit more respect, in our social evolution.
So these books (which of course, are ancient to anyone born after 1980) are to me a kind of historical record - of the evolution of forces that shape the world as we know it now. How and why we got that way.
I find it interesting, comparing the evolution of 'political correctness' with the evolution of American culture in a broader sense.
I recall the first time I ever really came in contact with 2nd wave feminism. I had been out of school for two years, and then at the age of 18, returned to high school to finish my senior year. What I found then, hardly existed and did not resemble what I left behind 2 years earlier. Now high school girls were exploring their newly acquired agency. They were no longer people who had things done to them. They were now doing things, instead. It was fascinating.
And that year was the year that I discovered that boys and girls could become friends, and engage in mutual respect. Share ideas, strive for understanding, learn things about each other. Decamp from the stereotypes and meet somewhere in the middle. It was all good - very little of it confrontational, or conflict-based. It was a gentle time - a good time. A time also for exploring cultural roots, learning a little bit about the processes of cultural fusion and cross-influences. Much more of that would come later, in my early 20's.
I wonder at times, about this new mad mania and obsession with cultural appropriation. This thing that seems to want to shove people back into their appropriate little boxes. I recall that phrase - imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Is it?
Or is it all just about money.
I know that after the British rockers showed up and after earning some measure of their fame and fortune, bestowed their allegiance and thanks to the roots of the music they had come to know and love as teenagers, in a land far away from America.
And then what happened? A veritable flood of older American musicians came out of the woodwork, rose up from the obscurity that they had been languishing in and a lot of new fans discovered them. And I suppose that we could argue forever, who deserved to be the superstar and who didn't - but the point here is that, without that pop machine doing what it did, those musicians might have stayed obscure forever.
And really - cultural appropriation 'appropriates' far less wealth in the world, than the corporate financialistas who suck up trillions of dollars from the global underclass. That is surely something worth getting upset about. Frankenseeds, owned by the same merchants who dream of one day owning the DNA identity of every growing thing (worth turning a profit) do so at the expense of hundreds of millions of people whose only hope in the world was their ability to provide agricultural subsistence for themselves and their families.
Back to the prophets - those writers who stepped up and spoke out first. I wonder why it is that our history is one of ignorance - that being the tendency to ignore warnings. We call them cassandras (after some Greek mythological story, I think) or some other species of fear-mongering, killjoy party-pooping and otherwise causing disturbance in the universal quest for good times, fun and entertainment. Contemplation is not high on that list.
Yet this is what we do when we read a provocative book.
I heard a quote on public radio a few weeks ago. Something along the lines of the decline and fall of reading in our time.
The speaker was mentioning that some portion of all those who, once completing some form of degree from an institution of higher education - will never again pick up a book. I found that astonishing. Especially when one ponders why this would be? An obvious conclusion would be that books simply become unimportant. Perhaps it depends on what you consider a book to be...its usefulness.
I still think of books as being the building blocks of an education. Not necessarily dry, thick, cumbersome and excrutiatingly boring textbooks....but better ones, written by better writers. That matters.
Language police have been attacking academic and educational books for quite some time now - especially the books that youngsters will encounter in elementary grades. Right at the most critical moments in their lives, in which an actual reading attitude and habit is normally established. This causes me to ponder on a few things. Many households have precious little in the way of private book collections - and this is not always a socio-economic consequence.
So if a child is not exposed to real books, unaltered in their content...then where will that exposure come from? If not from formal educational facilities. Well, there are always libraries. And why do I get the feeling that this in itself doesn't wash...like the predominant attitude that people just pull themselves up by their bootstraps. That seems to work for the small minority who always seem capable. While the rest flounder. And we drag out our conventional wisdom that declares in solemn assurance that we know exactly why. Every human has their own demons to wrestle with, after all.
So back to the general theme: freedom. Of language, living and languishing as it does. Perhaps the real issue here is, who gets to own it? It is a powerful beast, after all. In our visually-obsessed society, we think that pictures and graphics steal the show. While buried in the deep, deep heart of us, are the words we use to make sense of ourselves. The words that define us, explain us, reveal us - tell it like it is, as best we can.
Prophets come, and prophets go. And life goes on. We pay attention, or we don't.
I recall Cat Stevens singing one time a line that said "pick up, pick up a good book now"
I recall that he said in an interview - that was not THE good book (as in bible) but just - a good book.
(This was in the song, On the Road to Find Out)
I believe a book can be a conversation between an author and a reader. To some, that may seem like a pretty one-sided conversation. It requires a little imagination to make that go both ways. Sure, I talk to authors. All the time.
Those conversations happen in such ways and according to such conveniences as to allow oneself room, time and opportunity to think. Without being distracted by the babble and the glitter. Reading challenging non-fiction can be and often is a discipline of focus. The only and best reason to do it at all, is for the purpose of understanding. These authors are heroes to me. If they weren't willing to put in all that hard work and effort - I'd have nothing to read. And that would be hell, wouldn't it?
Just let me laugh when it's funny
and when it's sad, let me cry
|We now live in a world of campus correct speech. This has nothing to do really, with any real academic or intellectual growth, in the conventional sense. If you add the word "political" in front of the word "correct" then it becomes much more clear, yet far more confusing, at the same time. I'm of a mind that this does not happen so much out there in the "real" world. Not yet. Most people still go about the business of their day, in the usual way, unaffected by these changes. Not so on campuses.
Because they are still places of intellectual debate and discourse, new ideas are constantly springing up within the university environment, all the time. The big bright shiny thing that seems to be grabbing attention right now is the debate over the use of gender pronouns. This is actually something that has been written into law, in Canada. Something along the lines that it could conceivably be categorized as a form of hate speech to not call someone by their "preferred" gender pronoun. (Replacing the customary and historical 'he' and 'she' with whatever pronoun the person being addressed (or spoken about) chooses.
The uproar over this is of course, because of all the people (some percentage rising upward of 90-95% of the population) who still identify in the conventional sense as one gender or the other. Many, if not most of these people, may not care a whit about someone else's personal identity, whatever they choose that to be. What they refuse to accept is the dictate of compelled speech. This has nothing to do with restraints on abusive, hateful, confrontational speech - the kind of speech you often hear when people are fighting. No, this is supposed to govern the rules of polite discourse. I say bollocks to that.
For almost 5 decades I have been old enough to understand the culture of my country. I cannot remember a time before now, of such divisive uproar in my society. It has become compartmentalized to the point of chaos. Most citizens of course, are distinct packages of all sorts of biases. This is the human condition. We have not attained utopia (and have learned from history that utopia was probably never a good idea anyway.) Many live in echo chambers, surrounded by what sustains their particular world view, and core beliefs. Some of us are more open minded and laid back than others. The social mix carries on in the usual way. But this normality is now under attack. We can scoff at it, ridicule it, dismiss it...but there it is, visiting upon us these deconstructions of accepted truths that have been handed down to us by intelligent thinkers throughout the history and evolution of humankind.
What are we to make of these deconstructions? The thing I always look for is the evidence of power struggle. If I occupy what I think of as a rightful place in a dominant culture (and here the word dominant is important. There is a great difference between dominant, and dominating.) My place in this culture is a product of my personal evolution within this society. And a critical part of that cultural identification has to do with language. Which is why I believe it is such a crime to deny others their own language. An example of this is, of course, the history of the residential schools set up to deal with the "Indian problem" in North America in the 19th century. The plan was to assimilate aboriginal people, and one of that plan's essential mandates was to eliminate the languages of those people.
So what makes our dominant culture so dominant? It happens to be the cultural form that the majority of the population conforms to.
Any political imperative of a democratic nature will automatically arrive at such a state. It happens in democracies all over the world. My particular democracy is no different. Like most of my fellow citizens, I am the descendant of an immigrant. The fact that he did not attempt to remake my country in the image of the one he left, (yet added to it many customs and "cultures" from his homeland) I was born and allowed to assume my rightful place - in my homeland, not his. And to me that is a crucial point. My homeland culture exists only here, in my home land. It does not exist anywhere else on the planet. For that reason, I wish to preserve it.
You know, the main reason why I can never be an immigrant basher is that I am the grandson of an immigrant. My wife is also an immigrant, as well as a woman of color, and whose homeland is a third world country. I say this not to attempt to prove that I'm open-minded, and bully for me. I say it because perspective is a very important and valuable thing.
I'm a big believer in mixtures, fusions, intermarriage, and all kinds of ways of adding interesting flavors to the pot. I believe it makes us stronger and better. I believe that we have a lot to learn from other societies.
So what does all this have to do with compelled speech? Compelled speech instructs a citizen in what to say, and how to say it. To some, this is one small step away from what to think and how to think it. Totalitarian regimes have done this. The fools who come up with this stuff are in great favor of institutionalizing the concept of unconscious bias (or implicit bias) which claims that negative biases toward people are harmful and must be de-programmed out. The betrayal of a person's "bias" shows up of course, in their speech.
Personally, I can have an unconscious bias towards anything. A book cover, a pop song, a particular sub sandwich, a new car design, a political speech, or a particular species of bug. That is just my makeup as a social being - and there is no-one on the planet who is not constructed the same way. So what is the issue? This becomes the claim of anyone anywhere who identifies themselves as an oppressed victim. Unconscious bias then becomes a weapon used in the fight against oppression. No self-identified victim of oppression is biased, apparently - and if they are, it doesn't matter.
Now I have to repeat here one more time: there was a time in my life in which I was oppressed. When I became old enough to leave that oppression behind, that is what I did. The day after I left it, the concept of oppression and victimhood went out of my life. From that point onward, there was no-one and nothing to blame for the further evolution in my life. That was of course, a byproduct of my freedom. I would have thought of it back then as the very definition of what freedom is for.
I have always had a live and let live attitude. I have enjoyed living a life in which overt sexist, racist or any other form of anti-social beliefs do not get in the way of respectful discourse between myself and most others. The only "biases" I have ever experienced were directed toward those who wished to do me harm. And those were precious few.
So when these attributes be not enough to exist without meddlesome re-education in someone's idea of a new and improved society - then I suspect that something is running off the rails.
Speech - is our cultural identifier, more than any other single thing. The uncountable examples of the most subtle nuances of our culture are all wrapped up in our speech. I cannot stress how important this is (though many just seem to take it for granted.) Words have power. In countless ways. They form constitutions. They instruct lessons. They tell stories and teach in books. They let other people know how you're thinking. They are the tools we use, more than any other thing - to communicate.
When somebody decides to "own" language - there is only one response to that. It is not up for ownership, sale, trade or barter. Free speech must remain exactly that. Free.
Just let me laugh when it's funny
and when it's sad, let me cry
|When I was a kid, I dreamed of freedom. I grew up in a moderately dysfunctional household. The oppression I experienced was somewhat more than moderate. Now, this is not going to be a true confession. By the time I'm done, I aim to prove a point.
Because of the time and place in which I grew up, there was a certain kind of freedom that I had in spades. That was the freedom to be away from my tormentors, on a regular basis. What I mean by that, is the freedom to be out in the world at large with no adult supervision.
And out there is where I relaxed. On my own, or sometimes with friends. On Main Street, on the beach, out in the wilderness, down at the ballpark, or the hockey rink, the schoolyard, and any number of other haunts. As well as a million miles put on my bike, which was built for exactly that. This started when I was 4 years old, and continued until I left home, one month and two days after my 16th birthday.
These days, this would all sound like ancient history. As if I had grown up in my grandfather's or father's time. The world had not changed so much during those three generations. But it has now. The world I grew up in is gone. Replaced by something that is downright kid-unfriendly. And yet, the built environment that I grew up in was not intentionally built for me at all. It was just built the way that it was. And that just happened to provide a lot of kid-friendly space. Which I utilized for my own ends.
A kid growing up in a dysfunctional house feels the tension. The natural thing that a kid knows that he needs to do in response to that feeling - is get out. I remember the way my shoulders used to drop and relax by the time I reached the end of the driveway. So to cut to the chase, as a kid I had the freedom to take a break. I was granted the freedom to be alone. Starting at the age of 4. That's right. (I lived in a small town, then.) And this freedom increased incrementally as I grew older, in a natural way. It came with conditions. I had to prove that I had earned it. By of course - staying out of trouble. Which I didn't always do. But nothing ever bad enough to lose my freedom for any real length of time.
So as the years went by I learned that freedom came with a price tag that I was more than willing to pay. Those were good lessons. And what has changed, from then until now? Well, back then I lived a 20 minute walk from Main Street (or a 5 minute bike ride.) My community was walkable. That's the built environment I'm talking about. Today in North America, almost 70% of the population lives in suburbia. That is our built environment. And any quick glance at it though a car window informs the observer that it is decidedly kid unfriendly. Very car friendly. But kids don't drive cars.
And at this point, before I go any further, I have to provide a disclaimer. In no way am I advocating anything to suggest that the health and well being, the happiness and safety of children - is not first and foremost, on my mind. But that is entirely the point of this exercise. Kids are not free. To think that they are, is a delusion. They do not participate in our society as free citizens. They are chauffeured around like inmates. They are watched constantly. Their movements are restricted. They are supervised to death. In short, all the things we do to criminals. Yet they have committed no crimes. So why do we do this? The stock answer is obvious. For their protection. Real, or imagined. That is exactly how dangerous we believe that their world now is. And the result? They get no freedom. We adults do. They don't.
And why exactly does that matter? Because it is away from the constant surveillance that they get to relax, be themselves, and learn how to exist in the public domain. Otherwise, they spend their childhoods learning how to navigate the system of being over-watched, supervised, instructed, scolded, hounded and controlled. Until they think that this is a normal existence. In short, they are being conditioned to the monitoring process. As if there is never any other natural way to be. It will never happen in their young lives...the opportunity to watch a family of beavers build a dam, watch the tide come in, walk a woodland trail, or have any sense of participation in the public domain in a way that makes them feel like a valued member of the community. A community deemed so dangerous that they are not allowed out in it. On their own.
And we have come to think of this as normal. A generation or two ago, my parents and grandparents would have been outraged. They would have had the sense that this is not a healthy thing for children, at all. And they would have been right.
The consequences? A creeping rate of childhood obesity that is one of the great shames of the nation. Fat-respecting be damned all to hell. Yes, they eat the wrong foods, but they also get no exercise. Kids are naturally energy dynamos. They'll go all day long, if you let them. But we don't let them. We are pickled in enough stupidity to ban recess. Apparently it's either too dangerous, or not productive enough. But there are other consequences, too. If a kid cannot disconnect from dysfunction, tension, or whatever else feels negative in a home, and he can't just slip out the kitchen door and over a few blocks to a friend's house - what does he do? He slips into a screen. Of whatever size and for whatever purpose.
You know, in my town I see people crossing busy streets full of traffic all the time - looking down at the palm of their hand, not paying attention at all. Amazing. This is where it comes from. And you can call me a Luddite any time. I call it common sense. I learned how to cross a street the year before kindergarden. Mighty proud of myself too, because what I wanted in life was on the other side, and getting there was important.
Now, let's fast forward for a moment. If a freshman student, brand new to campus life and just getting their land legs working...demands, not freedom of speech - but freedom from speech (deemed to be too dangerous to them apparently) then we must examine where this comes from. Because you see, they're not demanding freedom at all. They are instead demanding protection. Well, demanding protection can sometimes be an intelligent response - to clear and present dangers. But lets have a look at how freedom works here. Lets see if we can "unpack" it. Sounds to me like this: "I demand the right to freedom from speech. From words and ideas. Not just any speech, words and ideas. But these particular words and ideas. The reason is that I disagree with them."
Bear with me a moment. What often follows is a long litany that goes something like this:
Why disagree? Because they are bad. Why bad? Because they are hateful. Why hateful? Because they are the speech of racist, supremist, sexist oppression. But what makes them that way?
And here the answers often get much more vague. Because of course, the issue gets infinitely more complicated.
Now, I must admit, I have watched intelligent speakers shut down protesters in question and answer sessions, after lectures. It is often not a pretty sight. At times, it almost feels like a mild form of intellectual bullying. Yet I can side with the lecturers because of course, they tend to get irritated by what is often enough, the childishness of the questions.
But I want to get back to the theme of this. Freedom of speech doesn't matter. As long as my speech is protected, sanctified, and allowed, and as long as I am free to shout down or shut down speech I don't agree with, I'm happy. This is why free speech is protected constitutionally. And this is why it matters. There are academics out there who would attack that constitution, if they could. Thankfully, they don't have that kind of power - yet. We must pray that they never do.
To briefly summarize - The colloquial expression often used on campus to describe these freedom deniers - is snowflakes.
They are fragile enough to melt in any warmth or heat.
Once encountered, any reasonable and rational person will ask, where do they come from? I believe they come from above. No - I don't mean from heaven, I mean from all that stuff about kids and freedom. If they were never raised with any real freedom (and the ability to learn from its consequences, responsibilities and accountabilities).....that's a lot of bilities...then how exactly do they learn its usefulness?
And how and why, at this glorious stage of their young lives, when it is time to open up to infinite possibilities and opportunities to expand awareness and consciousness, are they so intent on avoiding any idea that they don't agree with, that challenges their personal point of view, whatever that is?
I have a lot more to say about that, another time.
Just let me laugh when it's funny
and when it's sad, let me cry
|On campuses across the nation, there can be found scattered about the academy, a new breed of activist. What caused them to grab my attention was just this. People who I read from time to time, people whose ideas intrigue me, people who tour campuses to speak, debate, participate on panel discussions and otherwise are there to engage in democratic discourse - bring out these activists like fish guts attract sharks.
And out they come, to march, chant, wave signs and placards, shout slogans, scream, yell, block doorways, bang on windows, pull fire alarms - and otherwise cause any form of disruption they can get away with. They confront the people trying to get into the lecture halls to listen, they scream profanities, accost any and all with menacing attitudes, and otherwise behave as righteous demons, certain they are right and everyone else is wrong.
I have to say it. They look exactly like what I remember watching on tv during the civil rights movement in the deep south in the early 1960's. When the followers of Martin Luther King Jr engaged in peaceful protests - and white racists spewed hatred openly. It looks like the same damned thing. It seems stranger to me, this time around. I was just a kid back then, and hardly understood what I was watching. I understand it better now, and it is not the same thing, at all. Although it is often professed to be. These people call themselves social justice warriors. They are not warriors by any stretch of the imagination. And their brand of justice...sounds a whole lot more like "just us" to me.
Why? Because their brand of justice is designed to be self serving. It is not universal, in the least. They proclaim themselves to be victims of injustice and oppression, and yet they are more privileged than more than half the population of this earth. They visit injustice and oppression on people who have done absolutely nothing wrong to them. They exercise the most incredible forms of hypocrisy upon others, in the name of their righteous cause, and operate in such a way as to exhibit their fervent belief that they are above sanction, and literally untouchable.
They do all this and more, because they have been handed power by the state to do what they do. They wage their war utilizing such ridiculous ideologies as the 'oppression lottery.' Much of that comes from whatever they may happen to have learned about historical oppression. They believe in this way they can right certain wrongs from the past. And they leave many victims in their wake (though will never call them that.) Those are just casualties to the cause...a means to an end, and justifiable. For the record, I want to state right here, that the term "justifiable cruelty" has been an oxymoron of the first order for most of my life. Much mischief has been done in the name of that term. And that is being incredibly polite about it.
One of the most astonishing things about watching them in action - is how single-minded and righteous they are. They are beyond debate, argument, intellectual discourse, and most any other famously historic utilization of intelligent wit, oratory and rhetoric. The things that America has bred into the fabric of its society for several centuries. They will not debate. They will only shout down - like storm-trooping thugs.
Of course, they will not debate, because they cannot. They don't possess the proof of their own arguments. This requires, logic, rationale, science, and rigorous research. They don't have any of this. What they have is propaganda.
And that's the thing right there - that fascinates me the most. They will shout down free speech...screaming that it is hate speech, that it offends them, that it oppresses them, that it is some vile form of racist or sexist or homophobic or otherwise anti-human expression...
But they cannot meet it head on, engage in any civilized forum of rousing debate, and win the day with intelligent verbal brilliance. Almost as if they are devoid of any knowledge of how to do this. And they are university students. They are apparently educated. Educated...to be what? There are some I know who don't call this education at all. They call it indoctrination. Those are two very different things.
Well, they never would have accomplished all this mischief on their own. That is not where their power comes from. It comes from legislation passed for their protection. A campus must be a safe place. Safe - from ideas.
And that is such an odd thing to me. I read books, written by women and minorities (who are of course not minorities at all in the land of their birth) who describe in brutal detail - real dangers. Dangers that we will most of us never experience in this land in our lifetime. Dangers that are commonplace, in places where life is cheap. Life is hardly respected. Life is to be exploited like a lamb is lunch for a lion. I would think that most of these authors would have thought they had lived in heaven to grow up and attend places of higher learning where the most dangerous thing they might confront - is spoken words. Spoken words representing ideas.
And now I'm going to do something I don't plan on doing a lot. Mention an author and her books.
The author is Anchee Min, a celebrated Chinese American author. And two of her books in particular: The Cooked Seed, and The Red Azalea. Both of these books are autobiographical memoirs, that talk about her coming of age in the time of Mao, during the Cultural Revolution. She was a young Red Guard, and participated in the horrible persecutions of teachers, thinkers, intellectuals...some of China's best and most brilliant minds. And why did this happen? The ruling party could not stand the thought that more intelligent citizens than them might one day convince many others that there was a better way to conduct their society. So they were shut down.
There are many passages in these books that describe how this was done. I have read extensively about this particular revolution, because dystopian social experiments have always fascinated me. The "just us" gang really do believe that they're fighting for a better world, after all. I wonder what a half hour discussion with Ms Min would bring. It might open their eyes to a few things. That revolution ripped China apart. Many died. Many more survivors had their lives destroyed.
I could be tempted to say here that the parallels are too outrageous a thing to suggest - but who ever reads warning signs perfectly?...perfectly enough to deflect disaster. Because there are of course, already victims of this just us war. Many of them don't buy into the victimology paradigm. It is no red badge of courage to proudly wear. It is just a ruined life.
But that is a topic for the next chapter.
Just let me laugh when it's funny
and when it's sad, let me cry
|There is a lot of fightin' and fussin' going on at campuses currently over the issue of speech. In particular, hate speech. The first and most interesting question often asked is, who gets to define it? One of the tools often used now is that good old intent vs impact model. Also, unconscious bias. (I'll get to that later.)
Hatred is a fascinating thing to write about. It requires a deep self understanding, to write about it comfortably. Almost anything can be construed as hate speech, depending on the circumstances. If one is hated anyway, for nothing more than what they are, then it follows that anything they utter can be hateful...to someone. That someone being the hater. As a lover of free speech, I find this astonishing. I"m finding that this is why classrooms are becoming silent. A question is asked, and no-one answers. Fear of offending. Self-protection. This is the administrative power unleashed and let loose across the land.
Now, let's suppose, just for the sake of argument, that you know in your own heart, as much as you can know anything, that you don't hate. You don't necessarily love - but you know you don't hate, at least. And you wish to speak an opinion, state an idea, elaborate on a controversial thought. But you don't, because you have learned that the risk of offending someone, even just one person in a group, is too great. This reminds me of kindergarden days. "Now children, no fighting, we are all friends here."
Can the imposition of controlled and compelled speech infantilze people? I suppose it might. Can speech...words - become the equivalent of actions, violence? Again, perhaps, in extreme circumstances. When opinions and ideas clash, we have one of the most sacred and foundational ingredients of democracy in action. Imagine that all being shut down, just to avoid punishment for inciting hatred? When no hatred is felt. By the speaker. Who may feel anger, frustration, and a whole host of other lovely intellectual and even intelligent responses. Whose depth of mind and sharpness of wit needs to explore the open road and yet remains parked in the garage.
I used to scoff all right - that all this was just a whole lot of nit picking hocus pocus (back in the days when I hadn't a clue what post modernism actually was.) The short list. Burn the history books. It is supposedly the end of history. Burn the biology books too. Apparently biology is now a 'social construct.' More like a mental destruct, I'd say. But I digress. Let's go back and visit that word 'impact.' If I "feel" that there is hatred in your words - well then, there is. But only when the occasion calls for it. Only when it suits my agenda.
This is life lived in a "felt" paradigm. You know....felt. Like those weird high top black fuzzy hats seen on the heads of guards being changed at Buckingham Palace. Felt. Only that felt is just rehashed beaver fur or something resembling such. But now, all this felt is apparently called upon to be a stand in for good brains. Absent good brains, at least the ability to think somewhat - critically. One can criticize anything they wish, really. Again, depending on circumstances. If one were to openly criticize a courtroom judge, one might be held in contempt - and there are repercussions to that. The heart of critical thought is disagreement. Yet even there....I can disagree with (what I feel is) a bad law all I want - yet if I break it, again...there are consequences.
Can there be speech classified as hate speech when there is no "felt" hatred? How exactly does one prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they do not hate? Can hatred even be constitutionally protected? Well it would depend, wouldn't it? When a loved one turns to you and exclaims, "I HATE it when you do that!" Like farting in bed, or something....You might surmise that yes indeed, they really DO hate it. How can you blame them. Ah....but they hate the fart. Not necessarily the fartee, if you catch my.......drift. Sorry, I just couldn't help it. A brief moment of levity seemed called for.
Once upon a time, I used to believe that something classified as 'hate speech' would have been obvious to all. Agreed upon in polite society. Now it's become as fuzzy as that felt hat. When intent does not matter, and only impact does - then any discussion, dialogue, debate or discourse about the mental thought processes that cause any action or spoken words - goes out the window. This can also mean that the impacted victim of the offense gets credit for understanding your words - apparently perfectly. Or on the other hand, they don't need to understand a damned thing. All they need to do is feel.
We let babies get away with this all the time. Even terrible two year-olds can often get a free pass. Climbing up the ladder of personal evolution, by the time pre-school is arrived at, the bets are off, kiddo. This is what I call the infantilization of our current college academic community. Ideas have become dangerous. Especially ideas that we disagree with. So it therefor follows that they are needed 'protection' from. And there are now young people, apparently being higher educated, who will demand that protection. By trading away their right to freedom of speech, and expression. I think good old Sinclair Lewis, bless him, is spinning in his grave.
Unconscious bias. This one gives me a case of royal heebie jeebies. Like strolling through a garden of hanging black widow spiders. Yikes. This term reflects a new groupthink that declares bias as not necessarily a thing consciously thought out and decided upon after concerted effort of thought. It is instead, a creeping bias that has grown inside much like a creeping black heart disease, the product of social construction. It follows that it must be de-constructed...apparently by 'experts.' Mommy, I wanna be a bias deconstructer when I grow up. It will be so much fun, and I'll be performing such a wonderful service to society.
So this deconstructer wants to get inside your head, poke around a bit, and convince you of the error of your ways. Unfortunately, the greatest error is probably having been born the race, color, creed, gender and even social class that you are. Nothing of which you can do a damned thing about. But pay it no mind, the deconstructer will spare no effort to save your hallowed soul. In a pig's eye.
Now there's a thing I hate. But why? Because it's invasive, that's why. In this day and age, our thinking process is the last privacy we've got.
There used to be a time when someone would say a dumb thing, piss someone off, receive a righteous rebuke, and that would be the end of it. Now that's just the start. And that - that right there - is the birth of controlled and owned speech. But who gets to own speech? It strikes me that there are those who would wish to privatize speech, just as much as they would wish to privatize anything else, for profit. There's money in it. That money often hides away safely out of sight, but it is currently rolling around campuses in great waves. Doesn't anyone ever wonder how and why a year's tuition fees have climbed north of a hundred thousand bucks? That's a good mortgage in Iowa.
When I ask myself this question - do I have the right to construct or deconstruct my own biases? I can easily ponder any other alternative. I could even ponder the idea that a free society offers the right to form these opinions and attitudes with no meddling by the state. You are therefor free to get into all sorts of hot water with other people who disagree - but there are not necessarily any laws broken, leading to any litigation, penalties, or punishments of any other formal kind. Hell, people disagree all the time and often fall out of favor, over it. That is often enough an exercise of free will.
You will find soon enough, that I will talk a lot about freedom, in here. And wrestle with strange concepts. Like for instance, does my freedom have to infringe on yours? Or conversely, the opposite? I'm looking forward to "unpacking" mythologies, propagandas, power plays and various other social disharmonies. Especially the ones that feel like the sound of a high school marching band on the first week of school.
Just let me laugh when it's funny
and when it's sad, let me cry
|I have recently discovered a strange thing. Freedom has become a thing to bargain and trade. When I was much younger than today, I came to realize that many people would trade freedom for security. This made sense enough. You work hard, make tough choices, shoulder a load, slug along, save wisely, and one day you can relax. While you're doing all those things toward that end, you understand that you're not 'free' to do just exactly what you want, or what you'd rather be doing. These acts of sacrifice on one's own behalf, or for others, is a wise enough endeavor.
But this form of bargaining and trading is something quite different. It is the exchange of freedom - for safety.
The first thing I want to challenge in that equation is the notion of safety. Safety can be an incredibly relative thing, and it can also be an outright illusion. Or perhaps, what is thought of as safety, is something else entirely.
I'll get right down to it. On campuses all over America (and elsewhere) are now many young people who need safety from ideas. You read that right. Ideas. Whose shapes, forms and meanings are identified by spoken (or occasionally) written - words. Okay...the written words are legion, within an average campus.
Now it would seem to me, that if an idea by itself is so dangerous as to need protection from, it would follow that this idea is perceived to have the power of a weapon. That's one hell of an idea.
Either what we have is weaponized words...or we have a fragile inability to withstand their power.
Personally, I'm not a big believer in that kind of fragility - although it is entirely possible.
In America today, it is actually quite possible to be punished for telling the truth. Not necessarily a uniquely personal truth. But a truth that is universally, socially and scientifically taken to be a truth. A truth that exists as a cornerstone in the foundation that is fundamental to a language common to our understanding. It follows that without that understanding, we become prey to no end of chaotic mischief. This is a common enough thing to come across when examining the clash of ideologies. That has been part of human history since history became a matter of record.
But why does this happen? I believe that struggle for power is behind much of it. Human nature is by design, attracted to it. The power to tear down, for instance. The bigger the prize, the greater the fall.
I'll provide one example here, to start with.
Some folks are now heard to say that someone else's intent (in their words or actions) is entirely immaterial, compared to the impact of those words or actions. Now let's say that the words were in the nature of a promise reneged upon. I'd say they had a case. Or the actions were in the nature of driving under the influence of alcohol (causing a collision.) That's a case, too. Easy enough to understand.
But now, let us suppose that the words or actions are infinitely more subtle. Nothing seemingly untoward, except that whatever those words or actions are, someone takes offence. And claims the same results - in other words, an impact. By the way, when I was growing up, the word impact was almost always a noun. Increasingly, it has become a verb. And a very active verb, at that.
So here is what I've been trying to wrap my head around.
Your intent - matters not at all. Only my impact does. You can probably guess where I'm going with this.
If an "impactee" has fashioned a particular agenda...then ANY word or action can fashion any impact they so choose.
Rational people scoff at this. It can't happen here. That's what Sinclair Lewis thought too, until he was inspired to write the novel of the same name.
But to return to the hallowed halls of the American campus. What does this have to do with education.
All over the land, people are shutting up. You better believe it. And why?
The fear of offending. Rabbits wondering where the foxes are.
And dear reader, if you promise to come back, I promise to attempt an explanation. That is my intent. Your impact rests.
Just let me laugh when it's funny
and when it's sad, let me cry
Just let me laugh when it's funny
and when it's sad, let me cry