Writing, Updates, a Link

A. Finished one story that’s been rattling about unfinished for years, about a musician who doesn’t know he’s an artist, and an artist who knows he is. In space. With cool tech. And bureaucratic intrigue. And with some literal cliff hanging

I still like it, 3 days later. This is an achievement of sorts, whether of growing confidence or self-delusion, I don’t know. Now need to find some place to submit it, but I think I’ll let it sit a few more days first.

The coolest, most encouraging part of all for me is that this is the first story I’ve *finished* finished in the grand SciFi world that has been rattling around in my head for a decade or two. Have draft-like objects of a couple more stories, some outlines of couple more, and an incomplete outline and many pages of notes to what is looking to be a multi-novel series. (I can’t write one novel, but I can *plan* a series. Pathetic.)

In my head I call this world ‘the Systems’, a lame but functional title. It centers around a trip made by a generational ship to a three star system, where two of the stars are stable little suns, each having nice inhabitable planets and moons. These two orbit each other, and together orbit a third, more distant star, which is not so stable, but somewhere along the path to being a red giant.

Cool made up tech

The underlying future tech stuff is nothing screamingly original, although I of course try to make it cool; the interest for me is in how one would maintain a sustainable, liveable culture under the mentally and emotionally harsh conditions of the original trip, how people would deal with decades-to-centuries long terraforming exercises after the trip, and how successfully people can transition from epic explorers/conquerors of new worlds to – what? So, you won! Hurrah! Now what? You farm, or just hang out while the bots take care of it for you?

I’m attempting to deal with the central problem Star Trek solves by its most egregious handwavium: in a super cool high tech socialist paradise, what do people *do*? Some tiny percent explore strange new worlds, etc., but most, it is implied, become Trobriand Islanders, only with better toys and manners. They have no hope to better themselves or the world in any objective sense, so they raise yams, figuratively, and screw, trade ‘art’ to reinforce social standing and improve self-esteem , and scheme for enhanced social position.

Talk about Hell. I want to look at this in more detail.

The main challenge for very amatuer and inexperienced me is setting up the overall arc of the stories. It’s fun to fill in once you know where you’re going, but, for me at least, I have to know the destination. I’ve started writing out character arcs for major characters, which can run thousands of words each, but does help me get clear. The plot itself has 4 major incidents, where character is revealed and Rubicons are crossed; I must know how each of about 8 characters deal with them….

One very cool thing: I had a major plot point for which a sympathetic mom had to do something pretty terrible. I’d gotten hung up on that for a long time – why did she do that? Then, months later, I figured out why. Weirdly gratifying.

Another thing: so far, all the most interesting characters are women. Plenty of men, and plenty of derring-do to go around, but so far, it’s the women (and girls – children figure prominently in this) who are most interesting. To me, at least. This will likely change as time goes on.

Anyway, fun and frustrating. At this rate, I’ll be almost done by 2035 or so…

Then made the mistake, maybe, of rereading the last story I finished, a couple months back, which story, in a fit of reckless enthusiasm, I even submitted for an anthology.

Well. I sure can write some trite, awkward stuff, I can. Sheesh. I’m embarrassed by it. Making it better would not have been too difficult, but I seem to have needed some space to see it.

We are assured that humility is a good thing – I’m going with that. And I’m working on cleaning up and finishing some other half-finished stories. See how it goes.

B. As obsessively dedicated readers with long memories here may recall, I lead a religious ed group down at the local parish called Feasts & Faith. Each week, I give a talk/slide show about the week’s feasts, including the saints days. We try to have appropriate snacks, such as foods and drinks from the countries the saints are from. Many big or locally important feast have foods and activities associated with them already, which makes it easy.

The point of all this is that the Church gives us the saints as models and leaders, and the liturgical year lays them out for us in convenient and persistent small doses. There’s really is nothing happening to us today on a personal, political or ecclesiastical level that some, usually large, number of saints have not already gone through. Temptations? Betrayal? Political oppression? Church corruption? Reading the lives of the saints tells us these things are nothing new, they happen in every age, and will be with us until the Second Coming. And, most important, that people did get through them faithfully. I also, you’ll be shocked to hear, digress into long discussions of history, in order to provide some context. Doing the research for these meetings has been very enlightening.

So I was pleased to read this post from David Warren. A sample:

Among the uses of the Catholic (and Orthodox) cult of saints, is the groundwork they provide for the student’s sense of historical time. The saints arrive in succession, some earlier than others. Yet each is a figure who comes from outside time, and leads us, as it were, back where he came from. There is no “progress” from one saint, or generation of saints, to another. Each is sui generis — one of a kind — and each is “perfect,” by which we don’t mean entirely free of sin but complete to a purpose.

In their immense numbers they provide a constellation of light to our dark world, invisible to most but visible to many. The liturgy brings one after another into view, to serve as searchlights of us: thousands or millions of “little Christ lanterns” spread as the stars from horizon to horizon.

The custom of assigning saints to functions, of naming “patron saints” for trades and activities, sufferings and conditions of life, should be self-explanatory. To the faithful, of course, it is more than just custom. The Christian faith was from its origin extremely practical. (“Do this, in memory of me.”) To say, as they teach in our schools today, if they teach anything besides juvenile delinquency and despair, that the cults within our religion are “pagan survivals,” or “old superstitions,” is all very well; so long as we realize that this misses the point entirely, as all acts of malice tend to do.

C. The Endless Front Yard Brick Project is slowly progressing. Did have one of those moments that is both encouraging and discouraging at the same time: Leading down from the front porch, which is already complete as far as brick paving goes, will be a gate and two steps down into the front yard orchard. For some reason, I have been wildly overthinking this. Curved footers on weird radii, lots of holes, steel and concrete, hard-to-stake out forms – every time I thought about it, it got more complicated. Been putting it off for like 2 years now.

The encouraging part: once I stopped making it into the Great Wall in my head, a good and very simple solution presented itself. Just not that complicated. So, on the encouraging side, I think I can knock it off in a couple days with a minimum of digging and concrete pouring; on the discouraging side – why do I work myself up into knots trying to make things hard? If only this were a rare event…

Further updates and pictures as events warrant.

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Subtle Poison

Yes, we’re talking about schooling.

The late John Taylor Gatto said that the greatest achievement of modern schooling is that people can’t even imagine doing it any other way. That state controlled age-segregated graded compulsory schooling is poison is a major point of this blog. But it’s not enough to make sure your kids never see the inside of a state school classroom by homeschooling them or otherwise keeping them out of the clutches of state education machine. We – including myself, here – must comes to grips with the damage, the subtle ways being immersed in a state-schooled culture has poisoned us. That this damage often shows itself particularly in those who actively reject state schooling, and even those who have themselves been spared from the age-segregated classroom. shows how deep the poison runs.

Consider:

To recap: Pestalozzi, back at the end of the 18th century, set up the first in a series of his experimental schools in Switzerland. He came up with the idea that the proper way to educate a child was to have experts (e.g., Pestalozzi) predigest subjects, reduce them to well-defined tactile steps, and to insist the child master step 1 before being allowed to attempt step 2. He had this fear that a child left to learn anything on his own or in some way not shaped by a teacher would be end up morally and intellectually crippled, prematurely proud of his achievements and dismissive of things he could not learn readily on his own, and, in general, unmanageable.

His method required a detailed curriculum with very specific goals. But most importantly, Pestalozzian education requires frequent and intimate guidance of the student by his teacher. (1) Fichte, when he delivered himself of a series of lectures on how the German Nation could resume its manifest destiny to become the ruler of planet (for our own unenlightened good, of course), latched on to the Pestalozzian method as THE key step. (no, really.) Not because it was particularly suited to teaching the child math or reading or other such trivia, but because by it the loyalty of the child could be removed from family, village and church and be fixed entirely on the teacher – a teacher trained and certified by the state!

See how that works? A child is only praised, only succeeds in school, when he does exactly what the teacher demands. The teacher is a certified product of a state education bureaucracy, expected to follow carefully prescribed paths and deliver kids ‘performing to grade level’. What the teacher then necessarily demands of the student is compliance with a detailed curriculum, with an arbitrary set of goals and timelines. A ‘good student’ – and what parent doesn’t want his child identified as a good student? – is thus one who does exactly what the teacher says. Nothing the kid does outside the classroom matters; success is defined as pleasing the teacher by passing tests and not making a fuss.(2)

A family might want its children to be nice to grandma, help out around the house, feed the chickens, learn the viola, make dinner, help dad plow the south 40, sing in the Sunday choir or a million other things. A kid in such an environment, as Fichte well knew, might not put the state’s interests first! School is meant to remedy that situation.

Yet you hear even homeschoolers talk about grade level, as if it is some sort of objective standard. What’s really happening: all those years of training in school, during which the parents learned that complying was the only measure of success, has lead them to seek the approval of the state even when rejecting state schooling! See? Our kids are performing to grade level! We are good parents! Just say no.

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Nice standardized kids in nice neat rows.
  • Age segregation is an unnatural horror. At no other time or place in our lives are we limited to interaction with only people of our own age, not a work, not in our families, not in church, not when just hanging out in public. At home, we share a life with people older and often younger than ourselves. The real, fundamental relationships we do not choose give meaning to our lives. Enforced arbitrary relationships do not.

Extra curricular activities – and notice how we call normal activities healthy people do ‘extra curricular’ – such as kiddie sports leagues and even musical and dance activities are almost always arranged by grade or age. Why? If you’re worried the older kids will make life harder on the little kids, remember that athletic and musical talents, just like academic talents, are not distributed fairly by age. Example: When I was in 8th grade, I was a mediocre basketball player; my two little brothers, in 6th and 4th grade, were comparative athletic freaks. When we played on the playground before or after school, all three Moore brothers played with the other 8th graders, because that was roughly their competence levels. During school, however, and on formal teams, they generally played with kids their own ages, and, from a competitive standpoint, dominated them. Point: in our free time, we did something fair, so that games were competitive and fun; in school, we competed with kids our age, which worked out fine for me, but not so good with the kids playing with my little brothers.

The same dynamics go on in the classroom, except the more precocious kids (and this classification changes from subject to subject and grade to grade!) get shipped out or ignored, or learn to make trouble to get some attention.

Yet, even outside school, parents tend to invest actual energy in getting their kids together with others their age, not recognizing that kids LEARN to play only with kids their own ages, both in informal and more formal settings. The stickball and touch football games in the street outside the house did not follow those rules. Great lessons in socializing are learned when older kids tone it down and little kids step it up in order to play together. Anybody with a big (happy) family sees this all the time.

  • You are not incompetent to teach your children. As Socrates said, anyone who charges money to teach children what any competent adult knows is committing fraud. Yet, somehow, we imagine some magic happens in educations schools, whereby the bottom 10% (generally) of college students get some superpower needed to teach our 6 year old that the ‘A’ in ‘ate’ says its name, or 3 times 7 is 21, or that June is abbreviated ‘Jun’.

Or do you think you need special training to understand what’s going on in Huckleberry Fin, oops, can’t read that racist stuff, um, Anne of Green Gables, no, too sexist, um, Chronicles of Narnia, nope, that whole God thing, um – well, what do you think they’re reading? Do you think they’re learning to think by regurgitating the one right answer found at the back of the teacher’s edition of whatever passes for reading materials these days?

Does the magic of state certification make a teacher better? How? It’s all part of the mythology of grade level: your kid, my kid, everybody’s kid needs to be in a group of 6 year olds when they’re 6 years old, and needs to have a state certified teacher to make sure they understand that only state certified teachers can teach them, to make sure that they perform at grade level like all the other 6 year olds. Because….

  • The management tricks of the classroom are not how we learn. OK, class, who can tell me what we discussed last week? How does the word micromanagement make you feel? OK, anybody else? I’m looking for another word. Don’t forget to raise your hand! Don’t speak out of turn. Wait to be called on. There will be a test.

Does it occur to you that nobody outside a classroom ever acts like this? If somebody were to come up to me and ask me what we talked about last week, and expected me to guess until I said what they wanted to hear – I’d put up with that?

Here’s another St. John’s College story: right off the bat, day one, we went to our first class, and found out that 20 people can sit around a table and talk about something without raising hands, with interruptions as long as they’re polite about it (you can be polite about interruptions, just check out the dinner table conversations in any happy family), that people will generally listen and take turns without any policing by the teacher.

Speaking for myself, I was not a particularly mature 18 year old, far from it, and neither were most of the other kids in my classes – and it took about 90 seconds to get the hang of it. You get better at it as you go along, but just wanting to hear what others think about something you’ve all studied, wanting to get your say said, and not wanting to be seen as a bore or a fool – these things go a long way toward cultivating civil discussion. Every Johnny I’ve ever talked about this with agrees that these civil, engaged conversations were what we all missed most about St. John’s.

Every time I go to a talk or participate in some sort of educational endeavor, I see people falling back into what are, essentially, crowd control techniques masquerading as teaching. Other lame schooling tricks no self-respecting adult should put up with include small group discussions on specified questions, on the assumption we can’t all just talk it over and need guidance to know what to think about; constant shifts from one thing to another, like changing topics or speaker or medium, on the assumption no one can pay attention for more than 5 minutes; attempts to take whole topics and predigest them down to itty bitty bits or just generally dumbing topics down in the dread fear that somebody might not get it, or, worse, get it in some non-approved way.

Without years of classroom training, no adult would put up with this treatment. Many, if not most, of us have been completely crippled by the whole participation trophy approach, where the class serves to create a group to which attendance is the only real achievement. But anyone who can actually do anything real will more or less consciously tune out these management tricks, just as they tuned them out for however much school they did.

These four things – there are others – are the poisonous residue of graded classroom education. They are tools of control, not tools of learning or teaching. If no competent adult would put up with it, no child should have to put up with it either. Yet, we really can’t imagine doing it any other way.

  1. Pestalozzi’s approach was seen by many – Einstein, for example, who attended a Pestalozzian school for part of his education – as a vast improvement over the rigidity, intimidation and physical discipline common in other schools. And who knows? Maybe young Albert lucked into great teachers. The point I’m making is, failing an outstanding and profoundly sympathetic teacher, this micromanagement of the child’s life will quickly become a bureaucratic nightmare – and such it has become.
  2. Fichte wanted all children physically removed from their families as soon as practical for the duration of their educations. Since this power grab by the state was too much even for obedient Prussians and Americans, or maybe too expensive, we’ve since settled on merely tying up virtually all of a child’s life with school, school activities, and homework, and reducing parents to mere enforcers of the school’s goals – you do help your kid with his homework every single night for as many hours as it takes, right?

Endless Brick Project Update: You Know You Want It!

It’s been almost 2 whole weeks! And I did a bunch of insufferable culture/politics/education posts. So we all need a break:

We we last left the endless brick project, I’d just run into a nasty root: (1)

Got that sucker out:

Next steps included putting in part of the forms for the footings under the planter walls, so that I could get the depth correct on the *other* little footings that go under the places where the brick path ends without the support of the planter or the curb. What I mean is, the brick walk is just bricks on sand and a little gravel with a little bit of mortar between them. Where the walk transitions directly to dirt, such as where it ends at the power pole and in front of the water meter, the bricks will likely soon work themselves loose just by people walking on them. So I’m putting in a little 3.5″ deep, 8″ wide strips of concrete with a little rebar in it, so I can mortar those transitional bricks down so they don’t readily come lose.

That make any sense? Here’s what it looks like in front of the water meter:

For most of its length, the brick walk butts up against the curb on one side and the planter on the other, helping keep the bricks in place. Here, the bricks would end at what will be loose dirt – people stepping on them would quickly work them loose. Thus, a bit of concrete to firm it up and on which to mortar the bricks.

It’s a little tricky, since the footers under the walk are at a lower level than the footers under the planter walls. I need to have the walk footers in, and maybe even the bricks mortared on to them, before pouring the concrete for the planter. At least, it seems like I should at the moment; I can imagine some workarounds.

Here’s is where it sits as of this morning:

Looking south from the finished portion. Brick walk will be on the right to within 2′ of the pole; planter with wrought iron style fence to the left.
Looking north. The 2 2x4s are set to the correct height and position, so that I can gauge depth and position on the curved bit around the pole that ends the walk and that I’ve yet to pour. Eventually, more forms will be added, leaving a 12″ wide strip of open dirt down the middle where the planter proper will sit, with walls on either side and towers to support the wrought iron style fence at either end – just like the existing planter/wall.
This little curved trench will have a 3-4″ deep slab poured into it, upon which will be affixed brick; at the top of the curve, in the center, a bit of the planter walls will sit atop the curve; bottom right, the planned south wall will begin where the curve ends.

Today or most likely tomorrow I will put in some rebar and pour the curve section. Youngest son will be back from a week of Boy Scout camping on Sunday – I’ll wait for his help and rent a mixer to do the planter footings, so next week, maybe?

Then I’ll be all set to while away many hours on my hands and knees laying bricks. Hope to be more or less done with it by the end of summer. This will satisfy my bricklaying Jones for many years to come, I should think.

Today (Wednesday) @ 3:00 PDT: Yard Sale of the Mind on Simple Facts of Life Radio

Since we had so much fun last time, the Chief, over on Simple Facts of Life, is having me over on his web radio show again today to continue our light-hearted discussion of the insanity that is modern ‘thought’: the epistemic closure of the Left, gender theory, the Marxist takeover of the schools – the usual. Wednesday, June 19th, at 3:00 P.M. PDT. Click here to go to the broadcast on his website.

So, if you’re free this afternoon, check it out. If not, it will be up on the Chief’s website shortly afterwards.

Orwellian Euphemisms, pt 3: Modern Education, etc.

Modern Scientific Education is not modern – the basic ideas trace back at least to the late 18th century – has no basis in science, and is most certainly not education. Old-school ideological indoctrination would be a better name for it. As readers of this blog know, good old Fichte kicked off the current compulsory state schooling craze back in 1811. He took ideas from Pestalozzi, most importantly that the child needs to be lead step by step through a pre-digested curriculum by a trained teacher, never allowed to proceed to the next step unless and until his teacher approves, never allowed to study what he found interesting. He blended those ideas with what would be startling notions of the superiority of the German race – startling, that is, if we’d never heard of the Third Reich. But as mentioned here often, the particular goal, whether it’s a Puritan utopia, rule by the Master Race, training up useful idiots for the glorious people’s revolution or some other End Time fantasy, is something that can be changed with relative ease, once the mechanism of control is in place.

Thus, you get graded classroom run by state-certified teachers with state-approved curricula. Kids are thrust into grades based on age, not on what they know or are interested in – what could be less important, or, indeed more harmful than allowing the kid any say? Then, you make sure only state-certified teachers can teach them, very specifically keeping the parents out (1) of the picture, except as enforcers (homework, anyone?) of what they, the teachers, teach. What the teachers teach, what education schools filter for, is doing what you’re told. Ever notice that among the most common complaints teachers make is that they have to spend so much time on discipline that they have little time to teach anything else? The poor dears! They haven’t figured out that the discipline IS the lesson. Conforming, just as the teachers themselves did to get certified, IS the goal.

Curriculum warrants its own section of euphemisms:

No Child Left Behind: All children forced to the same low level of mediocrity.

Common Core: Elite fringe. Seriously, in what sense is Bill Gates, whose foundation funded this mess, shooting for ‘common’? In what sense are painful explications of one way among many to solve basic math problems ‘core’? (2)

Side note: once you start getting into the history of public education in America, one pattern stands out: how much of the public education project is carried out out of sight by unelected people. Just as Common Core was foisted off on people who had never heard of it until it was enacted, the war against parental control as manifested in one-room schools tended to be waged by nameless bureaucrats enacting regulations far from the public eye. Throughout the second half of the 19th century up through the early 20th, state level education departments were set up with minimal public involvement. Only people who’d gotten degrees from Prussian universities, or, later, only grads from the education schools those Prussian (Fichte-style) educators had set up, got appointed or hired. A homogeneity of thought completely at odds with the then-current American educational practices dominated. For example. This played well into a time-tested propaganda technique: make a change, or merely assert a change has been made, and answer all objections with the equivalent of stare decisis: this is settled policy! The time for discussion has passed!

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“What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? For heaven’s sake mankind, it’s only four light years away you know. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs that’s your own lookout.”
  1. I’ve spoken to parents who volunteered to help in the classroom, and even some who did – I’ve not yet heard of an experience that wasn’t frustrating and trivializing to the parent, and uncomfortable for the teacher. This gets tried because simply baldly stated the truth – hand over your kids and get out of our way – is, as yet, a tough sell to a lot of parents. Progress on this front is being made.
  2. I get it that she’s explaining a method, but that’s one of a bunch of methods people with some feel for math might use, each rather idiosyncratic. Once you get the hang of math, you’ll come up with ways to solve the simple problems like this one in your head – but probably not that one. The mechanical version is straightforward – why not start there? What, if anything, is gained doing it this way?

Orwellian Euphemisms, pt 2: Critical Thinking

Not too long ago, perhaps when some god stirred in his sleep, the idea that America is usefully divided into front row and back row people seemed to have a brief moment of currency. Haven’t heard much of that noise lately, but then again I haven’t been listening for it. Or maybe the god fell back into deep sleep, who knows? At the time, it struck me as typical classist nonsense, looking for a way to separate the good, virtuous, and therefore justifiably successful from the bad, vicious, and therefore unsuccessful in a way most flattering to the presumed good people. I most likely reacted this way because I always sat in the back, and was always among the smarter and more ‘successful’ kids in my classes, so the distinction, such as it is, rang false.

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Those kids in the front there are obviously more intelligent and ambitious than those in the back, right?

Let’s back up: poking around, this idea seems to trace back to the work of one Chris Arnade. He’s an amatuer journalist/photographer who is a sort of secular saint by virtue of his leaving his job of 20 years as a Wall Street quant in order to hang with and photograph poor people. He was unhappy with the Wall Street culture; they also closed his area due to post Great Recession regulatory burdens, and he got a buyout and retired. (1) Starting around 2012, he began to publish his writings and photos, where he coined or at least popularized the idea of front and back row kids. He just recently published a book (disclosure: I have not read it).

The idea seems to be that the kids who sit in the front row of classrooms are the ambitious leaders who rise above such trivia as race, sex, religion and any brand of localism from nationalism on down, while the kids who sit in the back have no ambitions and are fettered by their failure to rise above race and sex, and cling to their Bibles and their loyalty to place. Kids who are ambitious and smart want to sit up front so that they don’t miss anything and get noticed; kids in the back just want to be left alone, and see no value in school. More or less.

The bastion of the first group is of course the Democratic party; the second group voted for Trump. This is evidently interpreted as a failure by Democrats to understand the less enlightened, and of Trump (diabolically?) capitalizing on that very lack of enlightenment. In other words, the smart, good people failed to understand the stupid, bad people, who then voted for Trump as one of their own – or something. It doesn’t quite make sense. In what sense are people who can’t understand people outside their tribe ‘smart’? In what sense are people who value home and God ‘stupid’? Makes a fellah wonder…

Today, however, I’m not here to criticize this particular flavor of bigotry. Rather, it just happens to illustrate today’s Orwellian euphemism: Critical Thinking. To be fully Orwellian, the euphemism must not only avoid saying what it really means, but must say the opposite of what it means. Thus, critical thinking as used today means mindless conformity, the kind of mindless conformity displayed by the kids who sit in the front rows and kiss teacher hindquarters for a decade and a half.

Just as our last Orwellian euphemism, Academic Freedom, might be expected to result in a wide variety of views being expressed without fear of repercussions, but instead results in a viciously-enforced uniformity of thought, Critical Thinking might be imagined as equipping the critical thinker with the tools to criticize, oh, schooling, say. Or his teacher’s political or social assumptions. Or the conclusions of his social class.

Nope. Critical thinkers don’t ever seem to get around to dredging up, let alone criticizing, their own deeply held assumptions, except when those assumptions – say, loyalty to God, family and village – contradict what their teachers think. Then, in the unlikely event the student were to push back (no chance those front row kids are pushing back – they have future careers and success to think of!) those core beliefs are not so much criticized as laughed off stage. The point of critical thinking, in practice, is to prevent any thoughts critical of the assumptions that underlie the attitudes and goals of the front row kids, while making rejection of those held (maybe – the case has not been made) by the back row kids a requirement for membership in the Kool Kids Klub.

If you were to ask any of Arnade’s current or former peers if they have good critical thinking skills, they would pronounce them excellent. And remain unable to understand those poor back seat kids, except through an analysis such as Arnade’s that runs no real risk of upsetting their own feelings of moral and intellectual superiority.

  1. According to Wikipedia, he’s also a socialist, of the ‘retire young from a mid-6-figure Wall Street job to pursue my hobbies’ style socialists. Wonder what those back row kids would think of that?

Paglia and Ugly Tactics of the Left

I am by no means a huge fan or anything, but over the years I’ve read a number of essays and articles by Camille Paglia, and imagined that, while we’d disagree on most things, and it might get loud, she’s the sort of person I could argue with over a cup of coffee. I might be kidding myself, but she always seemed fairly reasonable within her world of assumptions. If I ever got the chance, I’d take it.

I mention this only because, when I was surfing around looking for information on Gender Theory, I happened across this article in the Atlantic. While perhaps best known as an equal-opportunity gadfly, a feminist who challenges many popular feminist assumptions, a lesbian who doesn’t blame everything bad on men, and, most relevant here, a woman who identifies as a man (sort of) who thinks much of gender theory is weak-minded political nonsense, Paglia is a tenured professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She makes heads explode by saying stuff like this:

The idea that ‘self-esteem’ should be the purpose of education: this is social-welfare propaganda. Development of our intellect and of our abilities has to be the focus … You build identity. Maybe identity comes through conflict. For example, my struggles with gender, my struggles with sexual orientation, my anguish over so many decades produced my work … Sometimes conflict is creative …

If there’s no pressure on you, there’s no pressure to create.

So we have got to stop this idea that we must make life “easy” for people in school … No. Maybe the world is harsh and cruel, and maybe the world of intellect is challenging and confrontational and uncomfortable. Maybe we have to deal with people who hate us, directly, face-to-face. That’s important. You develop your sense of identity by dealing with the things which would obliterate your identity. It does not help you to develop your identity by putting a cushion between yourself and the hateful reality that’s out there.

So of course the kind, most enlightened and morally superior students at her school tried to destroy her: to get her fired and censored. If the school couldn’t legally fire her, they wanted the school to offer alternatives to any class she taught, to ban her from speaking on campus, and to refuse to sell her books.

The usual, in other words. But a very surprising thing happened. The administration, some of the faculty and even the school’s president defended Paglia, and refused to bow to pressure, did not censor her books, and refused to cancel an upcoming lecture she was scheduled to deliver.

As the lecture approached, some people gathered outside to protest. Extra guards vetted those who wanted to attend to keep disruptive people with protest posters out. “My students seemed to feel as though they were crossing something of a picket line just to be attending the event without the intent of shouting Camille down,” one teacher said. Another mentions “…the frustrations of some of the students in attendance, a number of them trans and queer identifying, who under unthinkable pressures from their peer group to conform to the political agenda du jour, showed up that night not to protest but to listen.”

The lecture got stopped after a little while by someone pulling a fire alarm, causing the evacuation not only of the lecture, but nearby classrooms. The people inside were forced out into a largely hostile protest crowd where they could be sworn at by a couple of the most sensitive, open-minded and caring people the world has ever known. So, mission accomplished: while stopping the lecture turned out not to be possible, an atmosphere of social intimidation made it clear what the price of disobeying your betters would be.

Note that this level of overt intimidation is rarely needed. Instead, the school has already filtered out kids who might disagree, unless such kids have been cowed into perpetual silence by years of school training (hint: if they’ve applied for college, they have). Paglia, as an old person with tenure and a history of feather-ruffling, and, most importantly, a woman checking nearly all the boxes – woman, lesbian, feminist, transgender, atheist – could risk speaking up. You think a random kid from the suburbs is going to do anything but comply? ALL the authority figures are going to smile if not outright gush upon any kid who bravely confesses his sexual confusion to the cheering crowds. Expressing the slightest doubt in public will get you crucified; administration support for free speech is irrelevant to the social pressure.

The author of the article asked the kid behind the petition to destroy Paglia for comments. Here’s what zhjee (or whatever) said:

Paglia’s comments have echoed the hateful language that pushes so many transgender people to contemplate suicide, and encourage transphobic people to react to transgender people violently. We have been experiencing an interesting phenomenon where Paglia’s supporters have been signing our petition in order to leave dissenting comments (this is especially odd considering they have a counter petition that they are welcome to sign). Some of these comments are extremely concerning and blatantly transphobic.

Just one example: “You are either born male, female, or deformed (physically or mentally). Trans people are mentally diseased and often violent. If they are not able to accept the reality of their disease and cope with it they must be removed from society by any means necessary. Some might argue that the high suicide rate among those suffering from this severe mental disease is nature correcting itself. Camille Paglia is a transgender person who was able to accept and overcome her mental disease. Be like Camille.”

Like it or not, Paglia’s philosophies empower people like this, who would have transgender people “removed from society by any means necessary” (this is a violent threat). This has a lasting, negative impact on the transgender community at UArts––whether it be through the psychological damage that comes with being told that you are deformed and diseased and deserve to die, or whether it be through people like Paglia’s supporters acting on their violent beliefs. To have her spouting these beliefs in the classroom and elsewhere makes life more difficult––and dangerous––for transgender students.

I personally know at least one person who, due to Paglia’s comments, has experienced suicidal thoughts and has considered leaving the University. The comments that many of us have been receiving online have caused public safety at our school to be told to up their security game, in case our (very queer) student body is targeted by angry supporters of hers. This is what we mean when we say that her views are not merely controversial, but dangerous.

To his deathless credit, the author shoots this down thus:

That argument—a speaker is responsible for harms that are theoretical, indirect, and so diffuse as to encompass actions of strangers who put themselves on the same side of a controversy —is untenable. Suppressing speech because it might indirectly cause danger depending on how people other than the speaker may react is an authoritarian move. And this approach to speech, applied consistently, would of course impede the actions of the anti-Paglia protesters as well.

After all, Paglia identifies as transgender, making her a member of the group at heightened risk of suicide. She was subjected to angry chants from perhaps 200 students, including two cisgender students who shouted curse words at her, not to mention an ongoing effort to take away her livelihood and force her from her longtime community. Social-media protests and the Change.org petition led to vitriol and threats, as in any major culture-war controversy. So treated, many people would suffer more psychological distress than if they saw a YouTube clip, however odious, that didn’t target them personally.

One particularly odious tactic is blaming Paglia for comments made anonymously that claim to be based on what she’s said, but which go much farther than Paglia’s words. In this case, the example given also reads suspiciously like a false flag operation to me, as it has long seemed the demand for the right kind of abuse outstrips the supply. Boils down to a rule: If anyone who speaks positively about somebody I don’t like says something mean, all blame can be assigned to the person I don’t like. (A corollary: and I get to interpret all words in the worst possible light.)

So, on the one hand, this is a story about the administration and faculty members, for the the most part, doing the right thing. Wow! Huzzah! But, on the other, a story about just exactly how it will make no difference unless kids, in the classroom and the common room, are free to disagree. They are not. The only way ‘academic freedom’ in the non-Orwellian sense will ever trickle down to the students is if *faculty* are able to disagree, in public, out loud, and support kids who agree with them. But as discussed in the last post, the culmination of decades of work by critical theorists and their useful idiots has made sure no dissenting voices will ever be heard.