More on the Death of the Spirit: Why English Majors Can’t Read Literature

I wrote last time about the truly spiritual life—a life of forcing one’s principles to engage a hostile world and one’s preferred order to negotiate inconvenient necessities. In opposition to this stands the spirit-stifling life of embedding oneself in fantasy and demanding that everything and everyone around one flatter the assembly of illusions.  As in all human truths, there’s great irony here.  People who stifle the spirit will insist that they are “engaged”. Yet manipulation, intimidation, distortion, suppression, and prevarication don’t get at the kind of engagement I have in mind.  I suppose they could work, for a verbal contortionist; I suppose plowing a house under and leaving a rubble with an entry point to crawl through could be called “redesign”.

Certainly the people who declare the mud hole where they nestle to be holy ground and then rail against passers-by might be said to expend a kind of energy in their endeavor.  They never seem to know a moment’s peace, for practically everyone is moving in relation to them and thus needs a good dressing down.  When you declare your entire life a safe space, denounce all that you see beyond your narrow borders as offensive, and charge every intruder who doesn’t utter the password with failing to give a trigger alert, you probably won’t get much rest.

But that’s perfectly okay; because, as I wrote earlier, the ultimate objective of the exercise is precisely to keep one busy denouncing morally inferior people—to prove over and over again, every day, that one belongs to a unique group of higher beings.

I know this subject well.  I’ve passed virtually my entire adult life in Academe, as a formal college student and a teacher employed in some capacity: six or seven years as the former, and about thirty-five as the latter.  From either side of the lectern, I have observed “professionals” mutilate classic literature by insisting that no such qualities as “the classic” or “the literary” ever existed, but that—instead—only some specific socio-political dialectic or other is for real: only the struggle of women, or Hispanics, or blacks, or gays, to rise above white male patriarchal oppression.  All else is smokescreen.  All else is the established power structure conditioning you to revere a value system that locates its elite members on top of the heap; and by “mystifying” your conditioning so that its parameters appear holy and questioning them becomes strictly tabu, your masters spellbind you into mistaking your chains for artistic worth—for “beauty”.

If this sounds exactly like the hoodwinking our educational gurus are trying to work upon the upcoming generation, we shouldn’t be surprised.  An integral part of the mud-dweller’s m.o. is to project the ugliest impulses of his own soul upon that surrounding world which he strives constantly to condemn as inferior.  The snobby elitism, the abuse of power, the intolerance of open exchanges, and the magnification of a self-serving design to the authenticity of religious revelation all belong to the Playbook of Dead Souls.  There can be no more classic case of the Pot calling the Kettle black.

As a result, I have for several years now taught senior-level English majors—within months of receiving their degree—who cannot read a classical text like the Iliad without inveighing against how women are carried off as chattels, or one like the Odyssey without harping on the hero’s detainment by Circe and Calypso as if he were whoring in Las Vegas.  To them, Euripides’ Medea slays her two sons because of post-partum depression, or because male-dominated society has left her no other options.  As a teacher, I should say that I fail more than half the time ever to convince them that the mythic backdrop of such narratives puts them closer to symbolic commentaries about the human psyche than to social histories.  Our latest graduates don’t understand how there may be a “Medea side” in all of us: too tribal, too passionate, too irrational.  This ancient text and every other are all about men versus women: that’s as far as most of them can go.

Or else they instantly, almost reflexively (thanks again to their academic conditioning) see a Marxist class struggle unfolding.  I was at considerable pains last month to sell a class on the notion that clannish cultures do NOT have an autocratic ruler atop a steep pyramid and masses of slaving peasants beneath—that such stratification occurs only with the rise of complex settlements, as certain people abandon herding or tilling to learn martial arts and protect the community.  And while class struggles are by no means invisible in, say, the Odyssey (whose hero spends much of the epic disguised as an abused beggar), I’m uncomfortable with a student of literature’s retreating immediately to that level of interpretation as the right and only one.  Odysseus is not leading some kind of Marxist revolution.  If anything, he’s showing us that humility and awareness of others are increasingly esteemed virtues in a society where lions and floods are no longer the only kind of existential threat.

Where do students learn to apply such hermeneutical hacksaws to great books?  Why, from their “mentors”, of course!  Only look at the “cutting-edge” publications in a literary database: this same level of severely reductive thought is on display in all the “best” journals.

In my view, we need to know much about a distant work’s cultural environment precisely so that we may filter out those practices that keep us from the common humanity of its creators.  I’m not sure that I will ever quite understand what induced the Aztecs to cut the pumping hearts out of young girls in hideous human sacrifice… but I’m willing to keep trying.  And, yes, it’s grotesque that Achilles should have bestowed his love upon a woman whom he carried off as plunder after murdering her husband and family; but not only was this an unfortunate custom of the times—it is very likely intended by Homer as an ironic indication of how tragically cut off from normal human exchange the shamanic superhero is.  Can we really not get beyond the wounded feelings of the twenty-first century coed who has “sexual harassment” ringing through her head like a persistent migraine?

The squirrels in my back yard have destroyed my apricot harvest for years.  They start when the fruits are green and bitter, taking one bite and then throwing the rest away.  It continues until the tree is bare, usually before a single apricot has actually turned golden.  That’s the Ivory Tower: that’s the “engaged” mud-dweller who sits deeply where he is and slings grime at anyone who won’t stop and jump in.  It’s a world without beauty—a world without spiritual fruition: a mere hall of mirrors whose occupants can see nothing but themselves.


Where Dusk Turns Night: The Moral Putrefaction That Infects Utopianism

In recent weeks, I have thought more and more about what I can only call the “spiritual vector”.  It seems that we are surrounded by so very many people telling us that they are so very good and we so very naughty or depraved… they want to throw open our borders to the poor while we Scrooges want only to hoard our wealth, they want to collect and melt down all firearms while we sadists want only for more children to die in school shootings, they want to liberate women and finance the health care and education of minorities while we patriarchalists want only to keep women pregnant in the kitchen and minorities scrubbing toilets and mowing lawns.  We’re bad, so bad… and they are so very good—oh, is even Heaven worthy of them?

This level of hypocrisy has gnawed away at many of us for years, and even decades.  The open-borders multiculturalist professor who gripes incessantly because his students write poor English and his research on Mycenaean tholos tombs is underfunded… the gun-banning crusader for innocent lives who considers the murder of an unborn child tantamount to wart-removal and turns abusive if the word “baby” appears… the woman-and-minority rights advocate who insists that all the sisters must abjectly “vote their genitals” and that all people of color are genetically too unpromising to make their own way… the list’s could grow by dozens with a moment’s reflection.  If Heaven is populated by such whited sepulchers, I’ll take the other place.

Only in the past few weeks, however, has it occurred to me that something significantly directional distinguishes the humble person of faith from the fire-eating utopian.  Faith draws the spirit outward in constant efforts of clarification and qualification—a challenging, intimate struggle with surrounding realities; theatrical self-righteousness draws everything inward like a black hole to orbit a narcissistic core.  The believer finds and expresses his individuality by channeling his conviction through daily opportunities that exact compromises or require courageous declarations; the spiritual poseur strikes an inflexible posture, as before a mirror (or, these days, a lens framing a “selfie”), and demands that reality arrange itself into appropriate background.  Guns, for instance, must be categorically hideous things whose complete abolition is the only morally tenable stance.  If their use were nuanced (as, say, in the defense of children from psychopaths), then our Saint would not show forth with such éclat.  Resistance to the minimum wage can only be processed as overt racism and class warfare.  If the real-life economic catastrophe posed to blue-collar workers by such thoughtless rigidity were weighed, this would-be personification of society’s moral conscience would have no prancing charger from whose saddle to strike a Napoleonic pose.

In its most elemental form, we see here the wicked delirium of playing God.  The utopian seeks to recreate the human universe just as he would like it to be—just in the fashion that puts him, with his superior moral lights, securely at the summit, handing down laws to Moses and the children, thundering away when he is disobeyed.

A sincere believer is probably distressed that guns exist—but he recognizes an overriding interest in preserving through deadly force the lives of innocents, who must not be left exposed to the mercies of a lunatic ready to harvest them with the joy of a wanton grump whacking down roses with his cane.  For that matter, the believer understands that objects in wild nature, though not endowed with free will, should not be destroyed merely to create an amusement park or a speedier bypass; for the soul profits from acknowledging its partnership with the rest of creation and from sensing the imaginative outpouring that we call aesthetic perception.  To ruin things that stir us just to put more cash in our pockets or to save our lazy bodies five minutes of walking is ignoble and degrading.  A lot of self-styled believers spend too little time reflecting upon this.

But is our Saint Utopian any better off?  I saw two unrelated documentaries last month that portrayed the same shocking variety of self-absorption in different venues.  In one case, protesters were insisting (in the streets and at well-funded conferences) that lions, rhinos, and elephants must be allowed to roam free throughout Africa.  In their incalculable ignorance, they obviously did not know that such creatures would starve themselves into oblivion in their already imbalanced ecosystem if not managed—and, of course, there was no detectable awareness of the stresses placed upon the continent’s burgeoning human population.  In the second case, an equal ignorance was fueling a vigorous lobbying effort to let mustangs range free throughout the American Southwest.  Yet mustang numbers are already so excessive that mass starvations occur regularly, while dozens of plant and other animal species are also imperiled by locust-like over-grazing.

Doesn’t matter.  These zealots have their full reward when they pack up their placards to retreat to Olive Garden in the evening or repair to the hotel bar after the day’s final conference paper.  They are better than you and I: more caring, more animated, more “woke”.  The very animals or people on whose behalf they make endless noise (as others of us work for a living) will likely suffer further—if not die—should their protests effect “meaningful change”.  None of that matters.  The mission is, and always was, to establish their moral superiority.  Mission accomplished.

At some point, naive souls foolishly misled into this maelstrom of egotism must either lose their innocence or paddle out of the whirlpool upon recognizing it as a death trap.  At some point, error morphs into evil.  A person whose life is dedicated to a kind of perpetual “selfie” is a corrupt being from whom no good can be expected.  I could float several theories about why such beings are among us today in such abundance.  Perhaps the electronic lifestyle itself is largely at fault, drawing us deeper into the service of mere appearance—the utterly artificial existence of the supporting actor tossing on something from the wardrobe chest and mouthing a few cliché lines.  Or perhaps the steady accumulation of our sins—our history of hook-ups, abortions, slanders, betrayals, and cowardly flights—has left us (certain ones among us) suffering from so severe a self-respect deficit that we crave an instant and constant infusion of moral superiority.  In this, of course, we only mire ourselves more profoundly in moral squalor.

I grieve for our sick society.  I pity the gullible fools who flirt with lapse into real and abiding wickedness.  I wish I could warn the away from the radioactive company of “God-substitutes” who declare that their own heads are tingling with brave new worlds—and that everyone and everything in the real world must be made to comply if “happiness” is ever to come.  Milton’s Satan is brimming with just such visionary futurism when he looks about Hell and decides that the furniture can be pleasantly rearranged.

We need to recognize this pernicious influence for what it is and mount an effective resistance to it, or else the victims of extermination may include more than equids and pachyderms.

The Unarmed Teacher: A Notion Where Insult Competes With Insanity

The objections I’m hearing to the prospect of classroom teachers and professors carrying a concealed weapon all appear to me to cluster somewhere between the ludicrous and the insulting, with substantial overlap into the insane.

I am assuming for the purposes of this post that the sources of objection are sincere.  That’s a careless assumption, in many specific cases.  Whether you want to believe it or not, the endgame for political insiders who stake out the “gun-free campus” position is usually the confiscation of all privately owned firearms.  No one seems to recall a speech that candidate Obama gave in summer of ’08 wherein he voiced a yearning for a national police force.  Leftist ideologies often let their admiration for Castro and Ché come spilling out, and sometimes even show their love of Mao.  A police state where mere ownership of a purse-sized revolver can get you ten years in the Re-education Camp… that’s what makes them salivate.  Then, of course, they will be able to construct their human ant farm without any reactionary troglodytes mounting a resistance.

But let’s put those Men Who Would Be God—those Hitler hearts wrapped in a Stalin hide—to one side.  Let’s stipulate that certain well-meaning people really do cringe at the notion of teachers bearing arms.  What are their objections?

That people who abhor guns would be forced to carry them.  Perfectly idiotic.  Nobody has proposed that teachers be forced into arming themselves.  Nobody ever would so propose, with the exception of a malign spirit who wanted to churn up protests with false premises.  We’re imagining here that the position’s opponents speak in good faith.

That teachers would accidentally shoot innocent bystanders or themselves due to ineptitude.  Obviously, anyone who carries a gun should be trained in its use.  We don’t let people drive cars without training, either.  But say, in an extravagant scenario, that some panicking school marm starting squeezing off rounds wildly at the rafters: this in itself would be a distraction and a deterrent to the assailant.  Might a bystander be hit by mistake?  Well, that’s true even if Green Berets are charging the shooter.  Should we let him fire at his ease just because return-fire runs the risk of going astray?

That teachers would become premier targets if the assailant knew some of them to be armed.    Oh, no—we teachers certainly don’t want that!  Let the bastard shoot some of our kids before he turns to us: maybe help will arrive in the meantime!

That teachers will create a frightening atmosphere for students if they’re packing.  Again, no one has suggested that educators have a Glock holstered beside their cell phone in some kind of tool belt, and no one who wasn’t trying to pull the debate off track would ever make such an inane suggestion.  Yet the serious proponents of this objection (and, incredibly, there seem to be many) apparently believe that an armed teacher would have a different look in his eye, or that fear of their teacher’s possibly being armed would make students quail at their desks.  Great point.  Let’s leave the darlings undefended, instead, and not even whisper the word “gun”.  If we stop our ears, shut our eyes, and loudly repeat “nah-nah-nah” incessantly, then everything is sure to be fine.

That teachers will in fact develop a more threatening attitude if the power of life and death hides somewhere on their person.  Insanity and offensiveness meet here in equal measure.  God Almighty!  If this is what you think of your child’s teachers, how can you allow toxic chemicals in chemistry class?  Why do you allow a coach to drive the team bus?  Do you suppose that teachers stand back and bet on the winner when two students are fighting in the hallway?  And if this is your estimate of human nature, why in heaven’s name do you want to surrender all such deadly force into the hands of elite government entities whose members’ heads are already swollen to the bursting point with power?

I hear nobody proposing my own objection: that weapons are very hard to conceal except under a trouser leg, and that some roughneck punk could easily learn to spot the bulge and disarm the math teacher bent over another student’s desk—all just on a stupid lark.  I’d like to see weapons issued that would not fire unless they read the legal owner’s palm print on their handle.  An alternative, someday, might be to have the corridors roved by a robot that would deploy immobilizing force upon detecting an elevated heat signature and powder traces—or maybe similar technology built into the ceilings like the sprinkler system.

Even so futuristic a solution, however, would have multiple vulnerabilities.  (What defense do you have in parking lots and on playgrounds?  What if a police officer is detected while returning fire?)  I have to believe that the ultimate sincere objection to an armed educational staff is a neurotic, denying fear of harsh realities—the ostrich’s proverbial head-in-the-sand reaction.  It is painful to see so many adults in positions of authority exhibiting such childish (and, frankly, craven) behavior.  Even if their persistent denials were not costing us children’s lives, they would still inspire a sickened response in the pit of any sane, responsible adult’s stomach.  Blunt paralysis in the face of danger is deeply discouraging.


Why Are Aliens Represented as Morally Superior?

Patient Seventeen, recently uploaded to Netflix, is the only documentary I’ve ever seen that succeeded in shaking me up over the subject of alien abduction—and I’ve seen a few such flicks, as well as many an interview.  Most abductees leave me uncharitably thinking in categories of a) the female wallflower of a certain age who has sexual fantasies, or b) the nerdy male straight out of a Gary Larson cartoon for whom playground bullies have assumed supernatural stature in his traumatized memory.

And some such “victims” surely fall straight into these categories, along with the more vanilla one of attention-seeking hoaxer.  Then again, if real victims of extraterrestrial home-invasion exist, one can well imagine why they would not come forward; for my categories, as I say, are not very charitable—and neither are they exclusively mine.

Patient Seventeen, however, doesn’t fit the pigeonhole.  He’s a strapping fellow who rides a motorcycle to his construction jobs, and who wants very much to believe that the minute metal fragment in his leg does NOT have an unearthly origin.  Once the late Dr. Roger Leir removed the object, though (whose entry had left not a scratch that Seventeen could recall), the tests were conclusive.  A total of thirty-six elements had combined to form the alloy, many of them extremely rare on earth and several quite dangerous to manipulate.  Zinc isotopes, furthermore, were present that not only could not have originated in our solar system, but could not even belong to our corridor of the galaxy.

Seventeen is never named.  Dr. Leir died within weeks of operating on him, and the lab technician entrusted with the fragment has oddly vanished; so he appears to be facing a future of psychological battles more or less alone.  I think he just might make it: he’s a fighter.  In fact, the most impressive part of the film for me was Seventeen’s confiding to the camera that he had succeeded in physically resisting his abductors during the most recent assault and came very close to smashing in some extraterrestrial skulls.  “They’re alien gangsters,” he responded when asked what he would like to tell them.  They break into people’s homes and lives unasked and treat them as insects (he used the image of wicked boys employing a magnifying glass to smoke ants).  They deserve the same reception that any other home-invader invites: a bullet.

This attitude was as refreshing to me as Seventeen’s raw account was unnerving.  I’m sick of the assumption, so often floated in popular serials like Ancient Aliens, that otherworldly visitors must automatically be considered our superiors in every way.  Though I’ve learned some interesting and useful facts from following AA (I now know a smattering about Gobekli Tepe and Puma Punku), segments frequently conclude with starry-eyed claptrap on the order of, “We have to make contact with our visitors so that we can discover our destiny.”  Umm… what?  As much as you lot might like to account for all gods in all mythologies by having recourse to ET’s flight log, these beings are not gods.  If they conduct the sorts of experiment that surviving victims like Seventeen describe, they’re much closer to devils.

Why do we believe that a smarter being is a better being—or why do we believe that physics and engineering are the only kind of “smarts”?  Among our terrestrial scientists, we no longer tolerate whimsical, invasive tinkering even on Rhesus monkeys or white rats… yet our godly visitors are wantonly kidnapping us and filling us with toxic transmitters. Is that really the sign of a superior being?  Assuming that such things are happening in any of the reported cases, they do not bespeak an advanced moral intelligence: quite the contrary.  If we ever manage to verify that abduction is a real phenomenon, then the next order of business must be our figuring out how to make the perverted little bastards behave themselves.

One of Steven Greer’s veiled interviewees (in another documentary) insisted, I recall, that the US government was staging abductions so as to have panic at a constant simmer and ready to be brought to a boil.  That I can well believe.  If “ufology” teaches us nothing else, it proves that our elected officials are lying to us on a massive scale.

It could also be that our uninvited guests are playing “doctor” with us because they are inflexibly programmed robots and, therefore, are incapable of fine-tuning their manners to the particular situation.  If that is so, then… then maybe we ourselves should go running a little less hastily into the embrace of the “transhuman” hybrid said—by Ray Kurzweil, Al Gore, and other crazed prophets of the dark side—to represent our future.


Teaching Barbarism: The Contemporary University

Shock of the week: my discovery that freshmen (excuse me: “beginning students”) do not know how to analyze a text in terms other than seeing it as audience-manipulation.  I had already ruefully observed, here in the final semester of my career, that I enjoy but a tiny fraction of the academic freedom I used to know. I scarcely get to decide what’s done in my own classroom any longer, as if I were teaching third grade.  I can’t choose my own textbook; the state has mandated that I thrust an online tutorial into my syllabus (full of nanny-nags about intellectual honesty that wouldn’t be necessary if our robotic curriculum taught thinking instead of imitation); and my department tells me that every paper assigned must have a citation page, marginal annotations, etc., etc., even though you’re not going to cite other sources if your topic is to think through an issue for yourself.  We once called that “critical thinking”… and, oh yes, the phrase still holds an honored place among various buzzwords.  We just don’t actually teach it any more.

Instead, students for probably about two decades now (for the lifespan, that is, of my fresh-beings) have been taught to profile the intended audience of any given piece, and to adjust their “rhetorical choices” to that audience.  Sounds damn near the same thing as selling a used car.  And what’s the difference, really?  The capitalist system in general, and advertisers in particular, are universally loathed by academics in my area… and yet, what do we teach our own students?  To pitch their position so as to make it maximally appealing where the “target audience” is likely to be most vulnerable.  Apparently, manipulating people for the prospect of reaping a lucrative material profit is squalid and disgusting—but manipulating them for ideological reasons is a skill that every educated, enlightened person should acquire.  Academe agrees entirely with the “putrid business community” that no such thing as objective truth or absolute value exists; but “those people” deal in dollars, whereas we deal in… ideas!

I’m supposed to be preparing students for writing within their special discipline in upper-division courses, so I have attempted to get them to see why science needs quantifiable data reached by replicable experimentation, whereas any field related to human behavior is allowed to consider anecdotal evidence, surveys, art work, and so forth.  What did I find out?  That an archeologist, for instance, takes aerial photos of an ancient site so that the reader won’t get bored, and that a biologist divides a paper into paradigmatic sections so that readers won’t get lost in a complex discussion.  Everything is a courtesy to the almighty reader; none of it is ever a concession to researching the specific kind of truth reserved for the field’s study.

Well, this is what we’ve taught them; this is how we raised them.  If there’s an idiot in your son’s or daughter’s college yearbook, it isn’t one of the kids.  We’ve taught them to ape thinking—to dress up in the costume of a thinker: we haven’t taught them how to connect and prioritize propositions on the basis of logic, probability, common sense, morality, or anything else.  And indeed, the articles that we ourselves grind out as “scholars” are long with needless citation intended to show the world how dazzlingly erudite we are (known as “ethos” in composition textbooks, after a dull-witted misconstruction of Aristotle).  Our writing is full of obscurantist jargon aimed at the same end—and which, frankly, could well stand to be a little more reader-friendly.  The purpose of “scholarship” in our own lives isn’t to draw closer to the truth; for—to repeat—truth does not exist objectively.  No, our publications are engineered to show how incredibly bright we are.  Always ourselves, front and center.

In an act of reading, the reader is of course front and center.  So, you see, it all holds together: put yourself in the middle of everything you do.  If you need people to read your crap, seduce them into believing that you’re serving them hand and foot.  If you need the masses to gape at your opera magna uncomprehendingly, write gobbledygook.  Whatever it takes.

Any wonder that our society is in its present shape?


There Are No Lines in the Sand During a Sandstorm

I continue to read a lot about the desperate situation in Germany.  Without any specific intent, I’ve blundered into adding both Thilo Sarrazin and Peter Helmes to my daily reading.  The former makes the very strong case that recent waves of (mostly Turkish) “refugees” are doomed to undermine German culture without profiting from the German educational system.  Their own cultural conditioning both denies to women any extended exposure to book-learning and disdains in men any preoccupation with it.  The latter, as a columnist, provides a more “on the ground” view of the decline.  For instance, I read a Helmes piece this past week that described how a courtroom in Mannheim was mobbed by dozens of young “guest workers” (during prime working hours on a weekday) who shouted down witnesses and threatened the testifying victim.  Such scenes are now a fixture in parts of Germany.

Something in me wants to join the chorus of voices insisting that Islam is irredeemable: that the Koran explicitly prescribes violence against infidels, that Muslims have always practiced aggression upon their neighbors, and that the innate human decency in many individual believers is overridden by a cultic conditioning that treats members of rival faiths as sub-human.  Perhaps Kipling was right: “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”

At the same time… well, what exactly is the priceless German education system teaching these days?  Helmes has chronicled many a time the ascent of the “Green/Red” coalition to strangle-hold control over public-school curricula.  An initiative to indoctrinate elementary-school children into the “joys of sex”, with heavy brainwash in favor of the notion that gender is entirely fluid, clearly aims at undermining the nuclear family and paving the way for Big Brother to become everybody’s universal daddy.  One has to suppose that Germany’s Muslim community isn’t too happy about this.  If Muslim schoolboys are calling their teachers whores and punching on male instructors… can one say they’re utterly, one-hundred-percent unjustified?  The “teachers”, after all, are doing the work of pimps. Where is the invertebrate Christian community, in any of its denominational forms, during these troubled times that require people of principle to stand up?

You can draw analogies between Germany’s predicament and ours as you see fit.  The parallels are far from precise; Mexico’s Catholic “guest workers”, for instance, are scarcely as alienated from their host nation’s culture as Europe’s “refugee” horde.  The moral meltdown of Western civilization, on the other hand, hasn’t been cooled or stalled by the Atlantic’s waters.  The behavior of tens of thousands of “pink pussyhats” in public spaces last weekend inspired in me a disgust to which no words are adequate, and would simply not have been believed by our grandparents—by mine or yours, no matter who you are.  The epochal moment when human beings consider their genitalia to be the major determinant of their identity has always been a downward-turning indicator for a society’s survival, and no sane adult can suppose that it argues for a strong-willed, independent spirit. The self-governance of a mature will and subjugation to hormones are of two irreconcilable houses.

I honestly don’t know where to turn for truth or support any more, other than within; but as for political parties or religious denominations or educational cohorts… none of it seems to mean anything.  I wrote the other day in a different context that the greatest damage wrought upon us by the 9/11 attacks was what did NOT change the next day… or month, or year.  Our “culture wars” had come to a head as the millennial calendar turned over, and we were poised to “have it out” in some definitive fashion, I think.  Then we were all drawn together as one in defense of “our way of life”… and we failed to notice in time that we no longer shared a way of life.

Now half of us appear passionately to believe that something Donald Trump might have said or might have thought is an imminent threat to Earth’s preserving her orbit and must be punished with fire and sword.  The other half rightly identify the maniacal overreach of CNN/Pelosi-style charges—but respond reactively by embracing any proposition that the Oval Office decides to float on a given day.  I’m not suggesting that the two sides are equivalent.  Lunacy is lunacy, and barbarity is barbarity. You shouldn’t go spitting on your teacher even if she is encouraging your little sister to join “study groups” formed to finger themselves and one another.  Common sense exists, truth and right exist, and manners ought to exist.

We can’t orient ourselves to these morally magnetized polarities, however, if our exclusive attention is paid to those who have steered away from them.  You don’t necessarily put yourself on the right course just by avoiding the zigzags of the drunken pilot beside you.  This “Make America Great Again” stuff… just which America would that be?  The one that has given us Hollywood?  The one whose citizens never read a book because they’re too busy texting and “sexting”?  The one whose book-bred class will not allow Orthodox Jew Ben Shapiro to speak on campus because “he’s a Nazi”?!  Or maybe the one, Mr. Trump, that considers confiscation of private property through Eminent Domain a worthy notion if it “creates jobs”?

I don’t know.  I just don’t know.


A Professor’s Life at a “Christian” College: Assume Nothing!

Once again, very pressed for time, I’ve decided to excerpt from the introduction I’ve just written to some of my past scribbles collected into an anthology.  Will try to be more original next time!

The Greeks called the period of life when a man reached his thirties the acme, or peak. Perhaps I continued to be a late bloomer. In retrospect, it certainly seems to me that I might have awakened to a few unpleasant facts of existence a little sooner.

Foremost among these would have been the truth about the professorial lifestyle. At the beginning of these “acme” years, my unstable professional situation had put my small family into something near survival mode.  I resigned the last tenure-track position that I would ever occupy for numerous reasons, some having to do with how far scattered our extended families had become as I dragged my wife about in search of employment “with a future”; but the ignition point of my resignation, as I’ve never denied to myself or anyone else, was a boss who constantly laid traps for me after carefully removing her fingerprints from the set-up. This went on from Day One, for five years. I had been hired against her will, and her “beef” had soon become pretty obvious. She had to her credit neither a Ph.D. nor a single “significant publication” (as it’s known in the biz). Ever hoping that I would stumble into one of her finely crafted snares, therefore, and have to depart in disgrace, trailing behind me my offensive résumé of publications, she didn’t so much transform life into hell as sabotage my moments of enjoyment with perpetual anxiety about where my front foot was about to fall.

Our first son was born as this period began—the happiest day of my life; and, if the reader will pardon me for taxing credibility, it was only after the general display of interest in and congratulation to my newly expanded family roused her tireless envy that the Boss decided she, too, must have a child. Any eclipse of her place in full sunlight was intolerable. Her own son was duly born (almost as if on command) within a couple of years, she collected her laurels and applause… and then she consigned the child’s rearing to her milquetoast husband and returned to addressing higher rungs of the career ladder. After my departure, I’m told that she addressed them very successfully.

All of this took place in the context of a “Christian” school.  If I devote what may seem an inordinate amount of space to such events, it’s because I would have you accept that they took a very heavy toll on my morale. I probably should have laughed them off… but the priceless endowment of a forgetful, dismissive heart was left out of the package that holds my character traits. There were less shocking incidents, of course—and a lot of them: for instance, the dean who seriously proposed to me that I could fight “grade inflation” in my classes by giving A’s all semester long (thus ensuring good student-evaluations) and then bring the inverted numerical pyramid crashing down at the last moment with a killer final exam worth half the term’s total. Those words were really spoken… and many others in the same genre, always behind closed doors. The fraudulent masks of piety and prayer that covered daily business, month in, month out, made of my life away from home an unending transit through a haunted house.  I’m not entirely ashamed that I couldn’t endure a diet of rotten meat served with honey for twenty years, as did a few genuinely decent people around me in this institution; yet something in me, I’ll admit, wishes that I had owned a stronger stomach.

True, I had a devoted wife—and now a child—to stabilize the weaving hallucinations beyond our doorstep. That should have been enough, some would say. Traditionally, that was supposed to be enough (though I never actually saw it work for anyone in my father’s generation). I’m afraid that the reverse may be true: that the lies you live when you exit your driveway will come slithering through your energy-efficient windows to infect the whole household….